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The Activities of the Officials of the Sephardic Jewish Congregation in Venice for the Redemption of Captives (1654–1670) / פעילות הממונים על קופת פדיון שבויים שבוונציה בשנים 1654—1670

דניאל קארפי and Daniel Carpi
Zion / ציון
Vol. סח‎, חוברת ב‎ (תשס"ג / 2003), pp. 175-222
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23565052
Page Count: 48
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The Activities of the Officials of the Sephardic Jewish Congregation in Venice for the Redemption of Captives (1654–1670) / פעילות הממונים על קופת פדיון שבויים שבוונציה בשנים 1654—1670
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Abstract

This article deals with the activities of the 'Officials for the redemption of captives' (Deputados de Pidiom Sebuim) who had been appointed for this purpose by the Congregation of Sephardic Jews in Venice (Kahal Kadosh Talmud Torah, or Scola Ponentina in Italian). They were meant to work in coordination with their colleagues from the Levantine Congregation (Scola Levantina). This article is primarily based on a record book of letter copies, 494 in total, which these officials wrote over a period of sixteen years (September 1654 — November 1670). The subject of all of these is the activity for the redemption of Jews held in captivity and sold into slavery. About one half of the letters deals specifically with the affairs of the prisoners held on the island of Malta where there was a large slave market, and many of the Jews captured and sold into slavery were taken there. The efforts to redeem them were the principal concern of the Venetian Deputados, hence, many of the letters copied in the record book are addressed to their representative in Malta, or even to the prisoners themselves. Many other letters are addressed to the officials for the redemption of captives in the Sephardic communities of Livorno, Amsterdam and Hamburg, and also to other communities in Italy and beyond. These were asked to contribute to the undertaking that was regarded as one of the greatest mitzwot ha-Torah. In this record book of letters, a special chest (Caixeta) for the redemption of captives belonging to the Congregation of Sephardic Jews in the town is consistently mentioned. From the record book of resolutions (haskamot) of that Congregation, which was also one of the main sources for the present research, we find that the Deputados de Pidiom Sebuim were in fact elected in the Congregation Council (Ma'amad) like other functionaries, the sole difference being that their elections took place every two years and not annually. The Deputados were, therefore, officials of the Congregation, who were placed in charge of a chest which belonged to the Congregation and who acted on its behalf. The fact that the undertaking was carried out in an established manner, by officials representing the Congregation and not, as is usually thought, through a voluntary confraternity, makes it possible to appreciate the unusual scope of the undertaking, for which very large monetary funds were required. The two congregations, the Sephardic and the Levantine, obtained these funds by imposing a special tax that was collected once a year from the Jewish merchants for all their goods imported to, and exported from the city. We do not know when the collection of this tax began, but apparently it was already in practice in Venice in 1615, as it was already in practice in that year in the Congregation of Livorno. Much can be learned from the letters of the officials of Venice in general, and from those to the Livorno Congregation in particular, about the ties formed between the Jewish Congregations and the methods they employed to carry out the task. At the same time we are reminded of the great suffering that was the lot of the Jews lingering in captivity who, despite all the efforts, were compelled to wait months and even years for the day of their liberation. As is known, this subject was addressed by Cecil Roth some seventy years ago, who, in his research, relied upon the record book of letter copies from the same Deputados starting from the year 1671. There can be no doubt that this was the immediate sequel to the record book upon which the present study is based.

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