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DIENCHELELE , from the Hebrew דיין כללי, dayyan kelali ("general judge"), an office instituted in Sicily in 1396 by King Martin I of Aragon. The holder of the office was both the judgeand final court of appeal in cases judged according to Jewish law. The appointment was made from among those in special favor with the royal family, and since the dienchelele was often regarded as the actual representative of all the Jewish communities on the island, he was looked upon with suspicion by the Jews themselves. Joseph *Abenafia, personal physician to the king and queen, was appointed dayyan kelali in 1396 and held the office until 1407. In 1399, with the king's approval, Abenafia issued a series of ordinances that attempted to change and reform local customs. He forbade the marriage of underage girls, display of excessive grief at funerals, loaning money at interest, and gambling and he ordered that informers be punished. The holder of this office had wide powers in all matters governing community life: he appointed judges in all Sicilian communities, decided on the number of elected officials, and confirmed elections. This attempt at centralization was opposed by both the Jewish communities and the Sicilian cities because they feared it would infringe on their autonomy. Parallel to the institution of the general judge in the Kingdom of Sicily, another was appointed for the queen's lands (Camera reginale), an autonomous territory in the southeastern part of the island whose capital was Syracuse. The first judge appointed to this area was Rais de Ragusa, who remained in office until his death in 1414. After his death, Queen Bianca appointed Isaac son of David de Marsiglia, who was followed in 1416 by Sadone de Gaudio, all of them physicians. They, too, encountered the opposition of the local leadership. Although similar to the office of the court rabbis of Castile and Aragon, the Sicilian general judges did not enjoy the same power and they dealt only in matters concerning Jewish law, while criminal and civil jurisdiction was entrusted to a Christian official appointed as protector and judge of the Jews. In 1420 King Alfonso appointed Moses de Medici *Bonavoglia (Hephetz) of Messina, a physician who completed his studies at the University of Padua, as general judge. His appointment was contested first by the city of Palermo, claiming that he had no jurisdiction as he was not a citizen of the city. Then, in 1421, at the request of the city councils of Palermo and Messina and their respective Jewish communities, the king revoked his appointment. Bonavoglia was reinstated in 1438 but only after a long process that necessitated the king's intervention. As a courtier, Bonavoglia intervened in 1431 to revoke the king's order of 1428 that the Jews of Sicily attend the sermons of the Franciscan Matteo Giummarra of Agrigento. Moses Bonavoglia died in 1446. He was succeeded by Joshua b. Nachrim de Manopelo of Randazzo. During his short stay in office he was accused of heresy for having summoned a priest to his sickbed and later denying the Christian faith; he was found innocent by a special commission ordered by the king. Joshua b. Nachrim was the last dienchelele. After having been twice in abeyance, the office was definitely abolished in 1447, at the request of the communities, in return for a heavy monetary payment.


B. and G. Lagumina, Codice diplomatico dei giudei di Sicilia (1884), passim. add. bibliography: S. Simonsohn, The Jews in Sicily, iii (2001), passim; S. Fodale, "Mosè Bonavoglia e il contestato iudicatus generalis sugli ebrei siciliani," in: N. Bucaria (ed.), Gli ebrei in Sicilia, Studi in onore di Monsignor Benedetto Rocco (1998), 99–109; H. Bresc, Arabes de langue, juifs de religion. L'evolution du judaïsme sicilien dans l'environment latin, xiie–xve siècles (2001), 303–12.

[Attilio Milano /

Nadia Zeldes (2nd ed.)]