FERRARA , city in N. central Italy, with an ancient and renowned Jewish community. An inscription dating from Roman times and a document of 1088 may relate to local Jewish life. Privileges enjoyed by Jews were recorded in 1275. In the same century two tosafists both named R. Moses b. Meir lived in Ferrara, and perhaps also the philosopher *Hillel b. Samuel of Verona. In the early years of the 14th century some Jews were heavily fined by the Inquisition. Two sonnets by Francesco di Vannozzo (1376) reflect the popular resentment against certain Jews. About 1435 *Elijah of Ferrara settled in Jerusalem. From the middle of the 15th century a period of prosperity began for the community, thanks to the protection of the House of Este. In 1448, on Lionello d' Este's request, Pope Nicholas v curbedthe anti-Jewish sermons of the friars; in 1451 Duke Borso declared that he would protect the Jews who entered his lands; in 1473 Ercole i, in opposition to papal demands, protected his Jewish subjects, particularly the moneylenders. In 1481 he authorized Samuel Melli of Rome to buy a mansion in Ferrara and turn it into a synagogue, which is still used. At this time the geographer Abraham Farissol lived in Ferrara, as well as Abraham Sarfati, teacher of Hebrew at the University of Ferrara, and, in 1477, the printer Abraham b. Ḥayyim the Dyer (dei Tintori) of Pesaro (see below).
The policy of giving refuge to persecuted Jews, especially those who could prove useful, was continued by all successive Este dukes. In 1492, when the first refugees from Spain appeared in Italy, Ercole i allowed some of them to settle in Ferrara, promising to let them have their own leaders and judges, permitting them to practice commerce and medicine, and granting them tax reductions. This was the beginning of the Spanish community in Ferrara, which set up its own synagogue and separate administration. In 1532 Ercole ii is-sued another permit allowing Jews from Bohemia and other countries in Central Europe to come and settle in Ferrara. This was the origin of the German group in Ferrara which also established its own synagogue. In 1524 and 1538 the same duke gave encouragement to the Marranos and in 1553 they were specifically allowed to return to the Jewish faith. In 1540 an invitation to settle in Ferrara was extended to the harassed Jews of Milan and one year later to those banished from the kingdom of Naples. In 1569, when the Jews were expelled from the Papal States (except Rome and Ancona), many from Bologna settled in Ferrara. In the middle of the 16th century there were ten synagogues in Ferrara. However, although the dukes spared their Jews from Church oppression, they allowed the Talmud to be burned in 1553. In 1554 a congress of delegates from the Italian communities was held in Ferrara to decide on precautionary measures, including the precensorship of Hebrew books.
Among the outstanding personalities in Ferrara at that time were Don Samuel *Abrabanel, the last leader of Neapolitan Jewry, the Marrano Gracia *Nasi, *Amatus Lusitanus, who taught medicine at the University of Ferrara, the *Usque family, and the engineer Abraham Colorni. In the sphere of Jewish learning there were the poets Jacob *Fano and Abraham dei Galicchi *Jagel, the physicians Moses and Azriel *Alatino, the chronicler Samuel Usque, his kinsman the printer Abraham Usque (see below), and the polymath Azariah dei *Rossi.
When Ferrara passed under the rule of the Church in 1598, the condition of the Jews grew much worse. In the same year the Jewish *badge was introduced. In the following year all real estate had to be sold, synagogues were limited to three, one for each rite, and the loan banks were closed; however this last decree was repealed a short time later, the banks being finally closed only in 1683. In 1624 the construction of a ghetto was decreed and two years later the Jews were confined to it. The Jews were forced to be present at conversionist sermons and Jewish physicians were forbidden to attend to Christians. A similar state of affairs persisted throughout the 17th and 18th centuries; from time to time the situation was exacerbated by mob attacks on the ghetto (1648, 1651, 1705, 1747, 1754) and by a *blood libel charge in 1721. In spite of this the life of Jews in Ferrara was far more tolerable than in Rome.
The Jewish population numbered 1,500 persons in 1601, was at much the same level in 1703 (328 families), and rose to 2,000 in the 19th century. Outstanding personalities included the rabbi and physician Isaac *Lampronti, author of the talmudic encyclopedia Paḥad Yiẓḥak, and the rabbis Jacob Daniel *Olmo, poet, and Solomon *Finzi, author of an introduction to the Talmud. In 1796, after the French occupation, Jewswere granted equal civil rights and in 1797 the ghetto's gates were removed. The successive alternations in Ferrara of Austrian, French, and finally, in 1814, papal rule were reflected in the vicissitudes of Jewish life. In 1826 the Jews were locked up in the ghetto once more, but in 1859–60 they finally obtained their freedom when Ferrara became part of the Italian kingdom. For the next 80 years there was a new period of prosperity, Jews being appointed to high public offices in the town's administration and taking a prominent part in the affairs of the Italian Jewish community. Renzo Ravenna was sindaco ("mayor") before the Fascist crisis, and Felice Ravenna was president of the Union of Jewish Communities from 1933 to 1937. In spite of this the Jewish population dwindled because of steady emigration.
The Holocaust Period and After
In 1936 the community of Ferrara had 760 members. On Sept. 24, 1941, the synagogue was devastated by the fascists. During the autumn-winter 1943 about 200 Jews were sent to extermination camps, of whom only five returned. Three more Jews were killed in the streets on Nov. 14–15, 1943. The Jewish population in Ferrara was reduced to 200 at the end of the war. The population further dropped to 150 in 1970 and 100 at the beginning of the 21st century.
Hebrew Printing in Ferrara
Under the enlightened rule of the House of Este, Hebrew printing flourished twice for short periods in Ferrara in the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1477 *Abraham b. Ḥayyim the Dyer (dei Tintori; מִן הַצּוֹבְעִים; min ha-ẓove'im), of Pesaro, using Abraham *Conat's type, printed here Levi b. Gerson's commentary on Job, and finished printing the edition of Tur, Yoreh De'ah which Conat had begun in Mantua. The second somewhat longer period extended from 1551 to 1558, when first Samuel ibn Askara Ẓarefati of Pesaro and then Abraham Usque, partly with the former's assistance, printed well over 30 books in Ferrara. Among the first was Isaac Abrabanel's Ma'yenei ha-Yeshu'ah and Jedaiah ha-Penini's Beḥinat Olam. Under Usque, halakhic, theological, and liturgical items were printed, among them the first editions of Menahem ibn Ẓeraḥ's Ẓedah la-Derekh (1554), Ḥasdai Crescas' Or Adonai (1556), Jonah Gerondi's Issur ve-Hetter, and Jacob Fano's Shiltei ha-Gibborim (including an elegy on the Marrano martyrs of Ancona), 1556. Apparently complaints by the Church about this publication led to the closing of the press. Usque also printed a number of works mainly, but not exclusively, of Jewish significance in Spanish and Portuguese, including the Ferrara Bible (1553) and the "Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel" by Samuel Usque (1553). Toward the end of the 17th century an attempt at reviving Hebrew printing at Ferrara was made by the non-Jewish printer Girolamo Filoni, who printed in 1693 a handsome small prayer book (Siddur mi-Berakhah), compiled by J. Nisim and Abraham Ḥayyim da Fano, printers from Mantua. Filoni also issued a broadsheet primer with the Hebrew alphabet and some basic prayers. Shortly after, Filoni melted down his Hebrew type and converted it into a Latin font. The takkanot of the Ferrara community of 1767 provided for less gifted pupils of the Jewish school (Talmud Torah) to attend the workshop of the printer Salvador Serri to learn the craft of Hebrew printing, both for their own good and for the preservation of this important craft (see Asaf, Mekorot 2 (1930), 206–8). No other evidence of Hebrew printing in Ferrara at that period is available.
A. Pesaro, Memorie storiche sulla comunità israelitica ferrarese (1878); idem, Appendice alle memorie… (1880); A. Balleti, Gli ebrei e gli estensi (19302); Milano, Bibliotheca, index; idem, in: rmi, 33 (1967), 364ff.; Kaufmann, in: rej, 20 (1890), 34–72; Perreau, in: Vessillo israelitico, 27 (1879), 108–10, 139–42; Terracini, in: rmi, 18 (1952), 3–11, 63–72, 113–21; G.B. De'Rossi, De typographia hebraeo-ferrariensi commentarius historicus… (1780); Magrini, in: rmi, 10 (1935/36), 126–32; Roth, in: huca, 10 (1935), 466–8; idem, in: Modern Language Review, 38 (1943), 307–17; Ḥ.D. Friedberg, Toledot ha-Defus ha-Ivri be-Italyah (19562), 26ff.
Ferrara, an important Renaissance city in northern Italy, took its name from the wheat (farro) cultivated in the area by the ancient Romans. During the Renaissance, Ferrara increased dramatically in size, and its prosperity came largely from the rich agricultural lands that surrounded it. The city's ruling family, the House of Este, provided centuries of stability and patronage* of the arts.
Este Rule. Legally, Ferrara and its territory fell under the authority of the papacy*. However, in the early 1200s the pope had granted control of the city to the House of Este. Ferrara's local government, run by male guild* members, had little real power. Whenever one Este ruler died, the council simply named another as the new signore, or lord—a position with almost absolute power in the city. The city government dealt with some matters, such as street cleaning and the maintenance of public buildings, but all decisions required the approval of the signore. The Este dukes handled foreign relations and controlled appointments to all important government positions. The citizens of Ferrara were not unhappy with the rule of the Este, who promoted public well-being. Few revolts occurred, and most of those arose out of rivalry between Este family members.
Although the Este family controlled other large territories in northern Italy, the dukes usually lived in Ferrara and its surrounding lands. Throughout the 1400s, they provided generous support for the arts, particularly architecture. The Este castle, built in 1383, went through many renovations. The Este also constructed magnificent summer palaces, built and remodeled many churches, and erected statues at prominent locations in the city.
Architecture and Court Life. By the mid-1400s, the city of Ferrara had grown beyond its medieval* walls. Two successive rulers, Borso d'Este and Ercole I d'Este, extended the city walls, nearly doubling Ferrara's enclosed area. Duke Ercole also had the city within the walls remodeled along classical* styles. Architect Biagio Rossetti widened Ferrara's main thoroughfares and straightened crooked alleys. A wide new road ran in a straight line from the north gate of the city wall to the Este castle. New public squares also brought light and air into the city. Rossetti's changes placed three important buildings—the castle, city hall, and cathedral—at the heart of the city. His work represented the first example of large-scale urban planning during the Renaissance.
Culture in Ferrara centered on the Este court. The Este dukes promoted various public spectacles. Duke Borso sponsored tournaments, while Ercole I held theatrical performances in the courtyard of his palace. Lavish musical entertainments formed part of Este weddings and the city's annual carnival. The Este also promoted more serious activities. In 1442 duke Leonello d'Este established the University of Ferrara. It had some well-known professors and many foreign students over the next 100 years. In addition, the dukes supported charitable institutions within the city. The Hospital of Santa Anna, founded in 1444, received a generous contribution from the Este.
In the late 1400s, overspending by the Este rulers led to increased taxation and discontent. Over the next century, a general neglect of both public and private property caused the city's standard of living to decline, even as the life of the Este court grew increasingly luxurious. In 1598 the pope reclaimed control of Ferrara, ending Este rule in the city.
- * patronage
support or financial sponsorship
- * papacy
office and authority of the pope
- * guild
association of craft and trade owners and workers that set standards for and represented the interests of its members
- * medieval
referring to the Middle Ages, a period that began around a.d. 400 and ended around 1400 in Italy and 1500 in the rest of Europe
- * classical
in the tradition of ancient Greece and Rome
City of northern Italy that was an important center of art patronage under the d'Este family during the Renaissance. The d'Este dynasty began in the thirteenth century with the victory of Azzo VII, who was named podesta of the city in 1242. The d'Este court was renowned for its opulence, and in 1402 with the opening of the University of Ferrara the city became a center of learning and scholarship. The dynasty grew even more powerful when Boros d'Este was granted the cities of Reggio and Modena from Emperor Frederick III in 1452, and was named Duke of Ferrara by the pope in 1471. Under Ercole I, Ferrara began a long rivalry with the much larger and wealthier city of Venice, and became an important center of music, notably with the presence of the Flemish composer Josquin des Prez and several Italian composers who pioneered new styles of composition. Under later dukes several of Italy's most notable poets, including Ludovico Ariosto and Torquato Tasso, found a home with the d'Este family, and scholarship flourished in the city in the work of men such as Giovanni Aurispa, who journeyed to eastern Europe and returned with many ancient manuscripts that were still unknown in Italy.
Ercole's daughter, Isabella d'Este, reigned over a court that became a model for the Renaissance princes and nobility for its splendor, patronage, and courtly manners. The best artists of Italy, including Titian, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and Andrea Mategna, visited her court or lived within her palace as official painters. Alfonso d'Este, who succeeded his father in 1505, made Ferrara a pivotal city in the Italian Wars that had been touched off by an invasion of the French in the 1490s. Caught between the more powerful states of Venice, Milan, and the papacy, Alfonso carried on the war with Venice and a campaign against the ambitious popes, who sought to extend their authority in northern Italy. This resulted in Alfonso's excommunication by Pope Julius II in 1509. Alfonso patronized leading writers and artists, including Titian and Giovanni Bellini, who completed his final painting, The Feast of the Gods, while at Ferrara. Alfonso's son Ercole II, who reigned from 1534 to 1559, carried on the family tradition of patronage of artists and writers; Alfonso II, the next duke of Ferrara, died without a male heir in 1597, after which the d'Este court passed into history and Pope Clement VIII declared Ferrara to be a fief of the papacy.
See Also: Ariosto, Ludovico; d'Este, House of; d'Este, Isabella