ARTA , Greek town in southern Epirus. Jews were living there in the 11th century while the area was under Byzantine sovereignty. This early community later united around the synagogue known as Kehillat Kodesh Toshavim ("Congregation of the Inhabitants"). In 1167 *Benjamin of Tudela found about 100 Jews (or perhaps 100 families) in Arta. In the 15th century under Ottoman rule, the Jews of the city were relocated to the capital, Istanbul, in the sorgun. By the 16th century Jews had repopulated the town. In the 16th century after the arrival of exiles from southern Italy, several synagogues were founded in Arta by communities from various places of origin – Corfu, Sicily, Calabria, Apulia – each one jealously preserving its religious autonomy. The juxtaposition of such diverse cultural elements gave rise to conflicting concepts of ethics and customs, reflected in the numerous disputes and congregational regulations issued during the 16th and 17th centuries. One subject of heated controversy was whether a bridegroom is permitted to visit the home of his betrothed.
The Jews of Arta agreed in regarding the scholars of *Salonika as the highest religious authority, and the youth were sent there to study. *Benjamin Ze'ev b. Mattathias (author of Binyamin Ze'ev) was rabbi of the Corfu congregation in the 16th century, and other noted rabbis of the 16th century included Solomon ben Rabi Samuel Sefardi, and Caleb Ben Rabi Yohanan. Many Jews left Arta in the 17th century. The Jews of Arta were mainly merchants, or peddlers who traded in the villages. In the early 19th century, the famous Artan Jewish-born mathematician Hoca Yitzhak Effendi, a convert to Islam, was a translator for the Ottoman navy and Imperial divan, and occupied numerous important diplomatic positions from 1806 onward. In 1869 the Jewish population was estimated at 800. Local Jews were patrons and supporters of Skopos, a local literary-musical association founded in 1896. Thirty-six Artan Jews fought in the Balkan Wars of 1912–3. In 1915 the Zionist organization Mevakshei Zion was established. The bridge of Arta has been the focus of numerous Sephardi romances. In 1940 there were 384 Jewish inhabitants.
Under the Italian occupation during World War ii relations between the Jewish community and the Italian authorities were good and life continued almost normally for nearly three years. However, on March 24, 1944 a detachment of Gestapo arrived in Arta, obtained the names and addresses of all Jewish families from the City Hall, and arrested 352 Jews. Only a few managed to escape. Together with the Jews of Preveza, they were taken to Athens (April 2, 1944) and after a few days sent to Auschwitz, where they were put to death. After the German defeat a few Jewish families returned to Arta. Joseph Zakar was a rare survivor among numerous Artan Jews who worked in the Sonderkommando in Birkenau. By 1948 there was an attempt to reorganize a Jewish community, but the number of Jews dwindled to only 20 in 1958.
Rosanes, Togarmah, 1 (19302), 113–4, 155–60; 2 (1938), 41–42; 3 (1938), 78–79; 4 (1935), 35, 156–7; 276–7; 5 (1938), 54; Yaari, Sheluḥei, index; M. Franco, Essai sur l'histoire des israélites de l'Empire Ottoman (1897), 43–44; M. Molcho and J. Nehama, Sho'at Yehudei Yavan (1965), index. add. bibliography: L. Bornstein Makovetski, "Arta," in: Pinkas Kehillot Yavan (1999), 59–66; Y. Kerem, The History of the Jews in Greece, 1821–1940, i (1985), 99–112.
[Simon Marcus /
Yitzchak Kerem (2nd ed.)]