Community in Italy - World Jewish Congress

Jews on the Italian peninsula can be traced back as far as 200 B.C.E. during the late Roman-Republican period.

The representative body of Italian Jewry is the Unione delle Comunità Ebraiche Italiane (UCEI), the Union of the Italian Jewish Community – the Italian affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate
Unione delle Comunità Ebraiche Italiane (Union of the Italian Jewish Community)

Uriel Perugia

Tel: 39 6 580 3667/580 3670
Fax: 39 6 589 9569
Email: or

Social Media:
Facebook: Unione delle Comunità Ebraiche Italiane
X: @ucei_it
YouTube: UGEI - Union of Young Jews of Italy

President: Noemi Di Segni, also member of the WJC Executive

Italian Jewish communities historically were divided into four distinct groups, each with its own unique background and traditions. The Jews of the 'Italian rite' have deep roots in Italy, tracing their presence back to Roman times. The Piedmontese Jews from Asti, Fossano, and Moncalvo were expelled from France during the Middle Ages, contributing to the diversity of Jewish communities within Italy. Following the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1497, as well as migrations from the Kingdom of Naples in 1533, Sephardic Jews settled in various parts of Italy, bringing with them their own cultural and religious practices.

Meanwhile, Ashkenazi Jews, primarily located in the northern regions of Italy, maintained their distinct traditions within the broader Jewish community. Ashkenazi Jews have lived in northern Italy since at least the late Middle Ages. In Venice, they formed the oldest Jewish community, predating both the Sephardic and the Italian congregations. Following the invention of printing, Venice became a major publishing center for Hebrew and Yiddish books for Jews across Europe.

Furthermore, the exodus of the Piedmontese Jews from France led to the development of distinctive liturgical practices that included aspects of the French Jewish traditions of the Rashi era. This was particularly clear in their celebration of the Holy Days.

Today, Italian Jewry also comprises Jews from San Nicandro Garganico in Apulia; Persian Jews from Iran, most of whom live in Rome and Milan; and Jews from Libya, who mostly reside in the capital. Throughout history, these communities often remained separate: a given city often had an “Italian synagogue” and a “Spanish synagogue,” as well as, on occasion, a “German synagogue.” In many cases, these synagogues have since amalgamated, although a synagogue often offers services for more than one rite.

Italian Jews can be traced back as far back as the second century before the Common Era, and tombstones and dedicatory inscriptions marking their presence during this period still survive today. At that time, Jews mostly lived in the far south of Italy, with a branch community in Rome, and were generally Greek-speaking.

The Spanish Synagogue of Venice was originally regarded as the "mother synagogue" of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities world-wide. It was among the earliest to be built, and the first prayer book was published there. Later communities, such as Amsterdam, followed its lead on questions of ritual. With the decline in the importance of Venice in the 18th century, the leading role passed to the Jewish community of Leghorn (Livorno), which acted as a link between the Spanish and the Portuguese.

Italian Jews began facing discrimination in the 16th century. In 1516, the Jews of Venice were forced to live in an enclosed area known as the "ghetto,” which was locked at night. In 1555, Pope Paul IV, who had overseen the burning of the Talmud two years before, issued a decree similarly requiring the Jews of the Papal States, including Rome, to live in isolation from their Christian neighbors in ghettos. Pope Paul IV also decreed that Jews had to wear symbolic clothes to distinguish themselves, which meant yellow hats for men and veils or shawls for women. Such Jewish ghettos existed for over three centuries thereafter until Pope Pius IV decided to ban Jews from all his dominions and expel them from all the Papal states except Rome and the port city of Ancona.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, many Italian Jews maintained a trading and residential presence in both Italy and the territories of the Ottoman Empire, and even those Italian Jews who settled permanently in the Ottoman Empire kept their Tuscan or Italian nationality. In the late 19th century, with the establishment of the new unified Italian state, Italy’s Jews obtained full equality.

Between the two World Wars, Libya was an Italian colony, and, as in other north African countries, the colonial power found the local Jews useful as an educated élite. Following Libyan independence, and especially after the Six-Day War in 1967, most Libyan Jews left either for Israel or for Italy; today, they represent the majority membership of the Sephardic synagogues in Rome.

In 1986, Pope John Paul II visited the Great Synagogue in Rome, marking an important moment in the warming of relations between the Vatican and the Jewish community. On January 17, 2016, Pope Francis similarly visited the Great Synagogue after laying wreaths at memorials, respectively, to Jews murdered in the Shoah and to the memory of a two-year-old boy killed in a 1982 terrorist attack on the synagogue.

Italian Jews have long been fully integrated into multiple spheres of societal life. Historically, there have been two Jewish prime ministers: Alessandro Fortis from 1905 to 1906 and Luigi Luzzatti from 1910 to 1911, and Ernesto Nathan was the mayor of Rome from 1907 to 1913. More recently, Emanuele Fiano, the former director of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI) and past president of the Milan Jewish community, was elected to the Italian Chamber of Deputies. Other prominent Italian Jewish figures include Carlo Levi, author of Christ Stopped at Eboli (1945), and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi, author of If This Is a Man (1947). Guido Jung, who was baptized in 1938, served as Minister of Finance from 1932 to 1935. Rita Levi-Montalcini was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1986.

The Years of the Holocaust

In 1938, the fascist Mussolini government passed a series of antisemitic laws restricting the rights of Italian Jews, who had previously been on an equal legal footing with their non-Jewish neighbors. Italy, which sided with Germany when it entered the war in 1940, typically refused to deport its Jewish residents, though foreign Jews living in Italy were arrested by the government. Following the German occupation in 1943, the Nazis began deporting Italian Jews from Italian territories under their control.

The Germans deported 8,564 Jews from Italy, Italian-occupied France, and the Greek islands of Rhodes and Kos; over a thousand were returned, but the remainder were transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Germans killed 196 Jews, almost half of them at the Ardeatine Caves, in March 1944. Approximately 100 more people perished nationwide in prisons or in police transit camps. More than 40,000 Jews survived the Holocaust in Italy.


Italian Jewry is especially diverse, comprising a mix of Italian, Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Persian, and Libyan Jews. The 27,300 Jews living in Italy today form a thriving community concentrated in the major cities of Rome, Milan, Turin, Florence, and Leghorn (Livorno). Interest in Jewish culture is widespread among the wider Italian population, though knowledge about Judaism is often limited. 

Community Life

The Unione delle Comunità Ebraiche Italiane (UCEI), the Union of the Italian Jewish Community, is the community’s umbrella organization and an affiliated member of the World Jewish Congress. Its headquarters are based in Rome. For further information, consult the UCEI at or visit the general Italian communities webpage.

Additionally, there are synagogues in all the major Italian cities, with kosher restaurants in Rome, Florence, Milan, Venice, and Bologna. There are Jewish schools in Rome, Milan, Turin, and Trieste. Rome has a Jewish Museum, and the Ghetto of Venice is an important Italian Jewish cultural site. 

Numerous Jewish-themed cultural events, including festivals, food tastings, book launches, and concerts, are held throughout the year across the country. On the annual European Day of Jewish Culture, nearly 60,000 Italians—most of them non-Jews—generally flock to Jewish-themed lectures, exhibits, and other events held in 50 towns and cities up and down the peninsula.

Religious and Cultural Life

The customs and religious rites of the Italian-rite Jews are, to some extent, a mix between the Ashkenazi and the Sephardic traditions, showing similarities to both. Although a division is recognized between Minhag Benè Romì, practiced in Rome, and Minhag Italiani, practiced in northern cities such as Turin, the two rites are generally very similar.

One reason for this is that Italy was an early center of Jewish printing, which allowed Italian Jews to preserve their traditions when most other communities had to opt for a standard “Sephardic” or “Ashkenazi” identity. It is often claimed that the Italian prayer book contains the last remnants of the Judaean/Galilean Jewish tradition.

Kosher Food

Kosher food is available in the main cities that have large communities.


The Unione dei Giovani Ebrei Italiani (Italian Union of Jewish Youth) is an association of Italian Jewish youth organizations. Their magazine, HaTikwa, was established in 1949. In Italy, there are Jewish cultural clubs in Rome and Milan that cater to both the general public and young groups. Youth movements like B'nai Akiva and Hashomer Hatzair are also active.

Jewish Media

In October 2009, the Jewish umbrella organization Unione delle Comunità Ebraiche Italiane (UCEI) launched the first national Jewish newspaper, Pagine Ebraiche ("Jewish Pages"), targeted at a non-Jewish readership. The newspaper appears jointly with an online Jewish information portal, which was launched as part of a media offensive aimed at bolstering the Jewish voice in Italy. The website is also the Italian Jewry portal of the daily newsletter "l’Unione informa" and of the Press Review of Italian Jewry.

In addition, the UCEI publishes Italia Ebraica and DafDaf, a monthly magazine for children. The Rome Jewish community publishes a monthly periodical, “Shalom,” and the Milan Jewish community’s publication is called "Bolettino delle Comunità" ("Community Bulletin.")

A bi-weekly Jewish television program co-produced by UCEI and state-run RAI television draws 200,000 to 400,000 viewers, nine out of ten of whom are not Jewish.

Relations with Israel

Italy and Israel enjoy full diplomatic relations and generally good ties.

Embassy of the State of Israel
Via Michele Mercati 14
00197 Roma
Telephone: +39 06 36198 586
Fax: +39 06 36198555

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