Tempio Maggiore di Roma (The Great Synagogue of Rome)
The story of Rome’s Jews is an interesting one. It is commonly believed here that the first Jews arrived as envoys from warrior hero Judah Maccabee. Thus, Jews had lived here even before there was a Republic. These Jews were neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardic, but of a unique variety now called Bené Roma. After the Inquisition forced the relocation of Jews in Spain and Spanish-controlled southern Italy, large Sephardic populations moved to Rome also. Beginning in the 1500s, the Popes—who really controlled Italy—began to issue “papal bulls” restricting the Jews. Most notably, these required the Roman Jews to live in a walled ghetto beginning in 1555. This ghetto was only four city blocks on the edge of the unfortified Tiber, which would periodically flood into the community. Jews were only allowed to sell used clothing or be money lenders, and the gates to the ghetto were locked in at night.
The ghetto was finally abolished after the unification of Italy and the dissolution of the Papal states in 1870. However, the little community on the Tiber only grew and thrived once its citizens were fully emancipated. Around 1900, the Jews demolished their five smaller synagogues built something that would be more of a testament to their faith; Tempio Maggiore di Roma. Obviously, the story has continued into the 20th and 21st centuries, with interactions with the Nazis and even the PLO, but I’ve gone on long enough and really just wanted to talk about the building.
Comparatively, the synagogue is a very new temple for Rome. Unfortunately, pictures are not allowed inside, because it’s really impressive and kind of magical. Designed in a Babylonian style, there are ceilings with painted stars, a massive 50-foot free-standing ark, and a uniquely square aluminum dome. Even the architecture is a reminder of the unique blend of Judaism here; Aramaic symbols are mixed with hebrew on the walls. I went for the tour and last night I came back for shabbat services. It’s an Orthodox synagogue, so women are separate, and the prayers were sung differently than I’ve ever heard (even in Israel), but it was interesting and vaguely illuminating. It’s wierd to overhear people say “Ciao, Shabbat Shalom.”
UPDATE: I don’t live in Rome anymore, and I can’t help you figure out how to attend a service or a seder. Sorry. Really, you wouldn’t believe how many requests I’ve gotten like this.