History of the Jewish Community in Greece

The history of Jews in Greece dates back to the 3rd century BCE. During the Roman Empire, after 146 BCE, Jews were living in many economical and cultural centers throughout Greece such as Sparta, Delos, Rhodes, Kos, and Crete. The Synagogue in Delos is the earliest known synagogue in the Diaspora. Archaeological findings confirm an organized Jewish community in Athens since the 2nd century BCE.

Until the 15th century, the majority of Greek Jewry was Romaniote and they spoke Judeo-Greek; today, the small Jewish community of Ioannina in NW Greece, is the most similar in characteristics to Romaniote Jews. At the end of the 15th century, Spanish and Portuguese Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula settled in areas of the Ottoman Empire including Greece. The majority of the Jews in Greece settled in Thessaloniki and spoke Ladino (Judeo-Espagnol); after the Balkan Wars (1912-13), Thessaloniki had the largest Jewish population with approximately 100,000 people in the community.

During the Holocaust, 86% of the Greek Jewish population was exterminated in the concentration camps; some communities were completely destroyed, Thessaloniki lost 96% of its Jewish citizens, Athens lost 33% of its Jewish community. Athens was in the Italian Zone of Occupation during the war; due to a strong resistance movement, the actions of the Greek Orthodox Church and the foresight of the Chief Rabbi of Athens, most of the Jews hidden throughout the city were saved from the Holocaust. After the WWII, Athens became a shelter for Jews and the community began to grow.

Today there are approximately 5,000 Jews in Greece and 3,000 live in Athens. Although the Jewish community in Athens is small compared to other capital cities in Europe, it boasts the largest community in Greece. In 1890, a royal decree introduced the original charter of the Jewish Community of Athens. The first synagogue in Athens dates back to 1876; the Etz Haim synagogue, inaugurated in 1905, is the oldest standing synagogue today.