According to Jewish sources a Jewish community with a cemetery existed in nearby Salona in the third century of the Christian era. When Salona, the capital of the Roman province Dalmatia was destroyed by the Avars in 641, the Jews fled to the Diocletian's fortified palace which later became the town of Spalato . The Jewish ghetto was next to the north-west gate, side by side to the palace of Diocletanus. Today the street Daniel Rodrigo, which used to be called Usred Geta (The Center of the Ghetto), and the streets Bajamontjeva and Krasimirova were part of the ghetto.
Before the 14th century Jews had only one name and people used to add to the name the words Hebrej or Židov. Later they started adding as a surname the name of their father and even grandfather. Many added the name of the place they had come from. As in Italy many of the local Jews had also an Italian variant of their names.
The first Jews to settle in Spalato were Ashkenazi Jews who escaped from persecution from western European countries in the 14th century. Most of them were merchants, others made a living from loaning money to the local population. After the expulsion in 1492 from Spain and Sicily, which at that time belonged to Spain, many of the Jews escaped to Italy, but in the middle of the 16th century, after the ascendance of Pope Paulus IV (1555-1559) and the limitations imposed by him on the Jews in the Papal States, many of them moved to Dalmatia in the Eastern coast of the Adriatic sea.
After the Lisbon massacre in the spring of 1506, Portuguese Jews (some of whom were Jews expelled from Spain in 1492), who were converted by force in mass to the Christian faith in March 18th 1497, also escaped to Italy. A larger wave of converso Jews escaped from Portugal after the establishment of the Inquisition in 1539. Some of them went to Amsterdam and Antwerp (among them the father of Baruch Spinoza and the famous Dona Gracia Nassi), others fled to the Venice Republic and the Ottoman Empire. Whereas the Jews in Venice were obliged to live in the Ghetto, the Jews in Spalato (today's Split) could live wherever they liked and only after 1541 they were obliged to live in the local Ghetto.
In the 16th century there were two groups of Sephardic Jews in Spalato: the "Ponentine" (western) and the Levantine (eastern). The first group were Jews who originated from Italy or came from Spain or Portugal via Italy. The second group were Jews from the Ottoman territories in the Balkan countries. Both groups merged into a single Sephardic congregation.
Among the most notable families in Spalato were Pardo, Macchiero, Abram, Thiose and Vitta Ventura, Valenzin, Altaras, Misrai (Mizrahi), Penso (Finzi), Jesurun (Yeshurun), Hajone, Albachari, Coen, Luzzato and others. There were also Ashkenazi Jews, among them: the Morpurgo family from Maribor in today's Slovenia, Hirsfild from Hungary, Steiner and others. The Ponentins, predominantly Sephardic Jews, while talking among themselves in their Italian and Portuguese influenced Spanish dialect, spoke, in their daily dealings, in the local Croatian language and in a Venetian dialect of the Italian language.
After the Portuguese converso Jew Daniel Rodriga succeeded, with the authorization of the Senate of Venice, to establish a free port in Spalato, many Jews became rich traveling to the Ottoman territories in the neighboring Balkan countries and exporting wares to Venice.
In 1573 Daniel Rodriga managed to obtain from the local authorities a site for a Jewish cemetery in the slope of mountain Marjuan. The cemetery was used until the beginning of the WWII. This cemetery still exists and a large amount of gravestones lie spread in the ground. The tombstones are mainly of two shapes: flat and horizontal or in the shape of sarcophagus. The inscriptions are in Hebrew written in Sephardic (Rashi) orthography. The cemetery, which is easily accessible, is completely neglected now. Presently the local municipal cemetery Lovrinac is used by the small local Jewish community.
The Jews were so identified with the interests of Spalato that when the Turks attacked Spalato in 1657, the Jews were assigned the defense of a tower which later became to be known as "the Jewish Position" (Posto degl' Ebrei).
In the beginning of the 18th century there were several attempts to exclude the Jews from the food trade and from tailoring. In 1738 there was a law in the Venetian possessions, including in Spalato, regulating Jewish rights and duties. The law included the wearing of a yellow hat cover for the Levantine Jews and the wearing of a red one - for the Ponentine Jews. Jews were also confined to the ghetto between midnight and sunrise and prohibited to employ Christians. As a result many Jews left Split. Part of them went northeast to Sarajevo, Belgrade and from there some settled along the Danube cities. Others went southwest to Thessaloniki, Istanbul and the city of Smyrna. Coming from the west they were called there "francos'.
The ghetto was abolished by the short Napoleon regime between 1806 and 1813. When Split passed to Austria in 1814 the Jewish laws valid in Austria were applied to the Jews in Split too. Between 1823 and 1878 fifty families left Split. Most of them moved to Sarajevo and Trieste while others went to Dubrovnik, Zadar, and Padova It was only in 1873 that full emancipation was granted. In 1903 we find in Split 60 Jewish families, most of them Sephardic, but many Ashkenazi Jews too.
The Jews had a well organized community named Comunita Israelitica di Spalato. The community was headed by a Council (Consiglio,), to which every men over the age of 24 could be elected. The heads of the Council were elected every two years. They also had social organizations which took special care of poor and sick Jews. The Council would issue rules which the Jews had to obey. For example man and woman were forbidden to walk hand in hand in the city. Female children could marry at the age of 13, whereas boys had to be at least 18 years old. The bride had to bring a dowry to her husband.
Most of the Jews worked in the textile industry and engaged in commerce, others worked as goldsmiths. From documents of the 17th century we learn about Moshe Haban Sagiad who owned a meat shop and supplied meat to the local Jewish community.
According to sources, the Jews had a well organized educational system. They studied four or five years in the Talmud Torah religious schools Those who continued their studies learned to read and write the Venetian dialect of the Italian language as well as mathematics. It must be taken into consideration that at that time a cultural atmosphere reigned in the Venetian republic. In the 16th century alone about 100 books were printed in Italy, while Venetia was the center of the printers activity. Many Jews had an academic education and contributed to the cultural and musical life of Split. One of the most culturally outstanding figures in the beginning of the 17th century was the Portuguese converso Jew Emanuel Aboab who wrote the book "Nomologia" containing a description of Jewish traditions. Many Jews also worked in the medicine professions. We know about Jerolim Melamed and Salomon Tobi, distinguished doctors and surgeons in the first part of the 17th century. In the war against the Turks, in the second part of the century, Juda Lomboso stood out as a military doctor praised by the General Commander of the army Leonard Foscola. Between 1729 and 1732 Josip Stariji (Iseppo Senior) became famous as a good surgeon who, after an official mission to Poland, joined the Split hospital. The highly influential last Rabbi of the Venetian ghetto Abramo Jona (1784-1815) was also born in Spalato.

The Jewish community between the two wars
The peace Conference in 1919 declared that all minorities should enjoy full rights, but this was never applied to the Jews. The same year a Jewish Community, to which Split belonged, was established in Jugoslavia. According to the census only 38 Jews lived at that time in Split. According to their family names these Jews were Sephardic newcomers from Bosnia, whereas the old Jewish inhabitants had left Split or died. In 1940 the number of Jews living in Split grew to 284. Among them stand out Lucciano Morpurgo (b.1886) - poet and publisher, and Vittorio Morpurgo (b. 1890) - longtime head of the Jewish Community, who used his influence and supported the activity of the lazaretto – hospital for poor people, erected at the end of the 16th century by Daniel Rodriga.
The Holocaust Period
In World War II, when the Italian army occupied the town about 300 Jews were living in Split. Although at that time the Dalmatian coast belonged to the quisling pro-Nazi Croatian state, the Italian army prevented the regime from persecuting the Jews. In June 1942 a mob devastated the synagogue, community offices, shops and private Jewish houses. Under German pressure the Jews were interned in Italian camps on Dalmatian islands. When Italy capitulated in September 1943, hundreds of Jews crossed the Adriatic in small boats to Italy, while others joined the partisans in the mainland. The remaining male Jews were arrested in October by the German authorities and sent to the Sajmiste camp near Belgrade where 150 of them perished. Some 300 women and their children were sent to the Jasenovac and none of them survived. After the proclamation of the State of Israel, half of the Jewish population of Split immigrated to Israel. In 1947 there were 163 and in 1970 only 120 Jews in Split.

The Jewish Community in the 21st Century
Around 100 Jews from Ashkenazi and Sephardic origin live presently in Split - many of them families of mixed origin. Almost none of today's families are originally from Split. Most of them came to Split from Bosnia in the 20th century. The Jewish community called Savjet Židovski Obæina employs a secretary and is presided by the electronic engineer Zoran Morpurgo, descendant of the old Morpurgo family. The community functions from the same building it owned before WW II in Židovski Prolaz street.
The community observes the Jewish tradition but is not religious. It is active, employs a secretary and has a club, which during Jewish Holidays serves as synagogue. Every Friday there is a Kabalat Shabbat celebration and the community celebrates all Jewish holidays. For Pesach they receive Matzot and wine from the "Joint". The food served in the community is "kasher" which they receive from time to time from Zagreb and freeze. There is no rabbi presently but a rabbi comes from Zagreb 2-3 times a year. The community intends to employ a young rabbi from Israel soon.
They are very few youngsters in the community. When they graduate from high school they usually leave for Zagreb or for other countries. The teenagers are usually sent to Jewish summer camps and seminars in order to meet other Jewish youngsters. The activities of the community are financed by income from old real-estate properties it still owns, as well as by donations from the American Joint Distribution Committee. The modern Old Age Home in Zagreb accepts old age Jews from Split too. The new Jewish cemetery is situated next to the Christian one.

Joseph Covo

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- Copyright 2006: Mose Rahmani -