Rhodes Old Jewish Cemetery
Romaniot, Greek-speaking Jews are mentioned as residing in Rhodes as early as the second century B.C.E. The 12th century traveler Benjamin of Tudela noted a Jewish community of around 400 Jews. The Jews built a synagogue during the rule of the Knights of St. John (1309-1522). An earthquake in 1481-82 destroyed the Jewish quarter and many left the island. Towards the end of the 15th century, at the time of the Spanish and Portuguese expulsions, anti-Jewish sentiment mounted in Rhodes. The Jews were expelled in 1502 but some remained and newcomers arrived. Refugees from Spain and Portugal, as well as 40 families imported from Salonika by the Turkish Sultan, formed a predominantly Sephardi community that became known for its rabbis, its numerous rabbinical institutions, and its rabbinical court. A second synagogue was built in 1577. A number of associations were established, dealing with various aspects of the community’s life (burial, hospitality, welfare, redemption of captives, and education). From 1714-36, R. Moshe Israel held the position of Chief Rabbi of Rhodes. During his tenure, the island gained renown as a centre of Torah study. A severe epidemic broke out in 1837 and killed 10 Jews. Earthquakes in 1851 and 1863-64, an explosion in 1855, and fires in 1865 and 1867, caused severe material damage and financial losses to the Jewish community. The Jewish population in 1884 was 2,401. In 1899, a boys’ school that included the study of French was opened and received support from the Alliance Israelite Universelle. In 1902, a Jewish girls’ school was founded. In 1912, the Jews numbered 4,500 (of a total population of 14,100). In the 1920s, Zionist groups were active. The Jewish population in 1938 was 4,000. The Jewish population in 1940 was 2,200 (of a total population of 55,181). In 1943, the Jewish population was 1,900. Survivors of the Holocaust returned to Rhodes after the war and numbered 200 in 1947. The community decreased thereafter and only 50 remained by 1959.
The exact period of the cemetery’s establishment is unknown, but it can be assumed it was founded in the 12th century.