History or comments

One of the oldest continuously inhabited Jewish communities in the world.

Phoenician mariners settled on Malta, and its adjacent island, Gozo, nearly three thousand five hundred years ago. There is physical evidence that Israelites were occupying the area too. Most likely, the Jews were from the tribes of Zevulon and Asher, accompanied the Phoenicians.

The most famous Jewish visitor to Malta was St. Paul, who lived in Malta for three months. Later, Avraham Ben Shmuel Abulafia lived for many years in Malta. Abulafia was a visionary prophet, cabalist and proclaimed himself to be the Messiah.

By the Middle Ages the Jewish community of Malta had grown to about 250 persons while Malta’s total population was approximately 1249. While Jews prospered there and lived in harmony, the island was often a target of slave traders and beset by horrendous wars, invasions and sieges over the centuries. As recently as World War II bombing raids took a terrible toll. Perhaps the most well known siege was the Great Siege of the 1500s when Malta was defended by troupes led by the Knights of St. John against an overwhelming Ottoman force.

In her history of the Order of St. John, Claire-Eliane Engel comments that during the Great Siege, ‘les juifs de Malte avaient ete d’une loyaute au-dessus de tout eloge’ [the Jews of Malta had behaved with a loyalty above all praise].

In the last days of St. Elmo, the Grand Master allowed one final volunteer force to attempt to force their way to the relief of the doomed fort. Anyone who went on such a mission faced certain death, but nevertheless two Jews of the island chose to join the relief expedition.

During the 1990s the old Jewish Synagogue in the city of Valletta was destroyed as part of a slum clearance project. Today, the Maltese Jewish community is comprised of about 25 families who have purchased and outfitted a condominium unit for use as a synagogue. The building, known as the Florida Mansions, is located in the town of Ta’Xbiex, where lay led services are conducted.