An undocumented source dates the arrival of Jews in Cuneo to the end of the 14th century. A document dated 1436 attests to the fact that the Council of Cuneo tried to expel the Jews at the request of local citizens. They had argued that, on given market days, Jews caused the rise of the price of wheat. It was therefore forbidden for Jews to sell on those days, on pain of confiscation of their goods and a fine of 20 lira.
In 1452, Ludovico di Savoia expelled the Jews of Cuneo, but before abandoning the city they were allowed to sell off all of their properties. The edict was canceled shortly thereafter by the Duke and later, between 1569 and 1570, Jews from Avignon and Comitat-Venaissin moved into town at the invitation of Emanuele Filiberto.
The economic conditions of the Jews deteriorated during the first decade of the reign of Carlo Emmanuele I. Among the causes was the creation of pawnbroking, which replaced Jewish lending in all major centers of Piedmont. In Cuneo, a pawnshop was established in the early 16th century and was managed by hospital friars.
Jewish moneylending activities however remained present in the city until the end of the 18th century.
In 1576, Leone Lattes lent a large sum of money to the City Council. In 1579, in addition to the existing bank led by Tranquillo and Fortunio Lattes, sons of Leone, the Duke granted Moise Lattes, son of Vides, permission to open another bank in the city. In the early 17th century, there were four banks in the city and a number of new licenses had been granted.
As with other Jewish settlements in Piedmont, the establishment of the Jewish community of Cuneo is documented only through scattered sources.
In 1587, Jewish families arrived in Cuneo from Provence: the Lattes, the Valabregas, the Cassins, the Perpignans. The Duke gave them, and their families, permission to live in the city and conduct business.
In 1591, the Infanta granted permission of residence to the Lunelli family from Avignon. They opened a fabric store. In 1603, the Duke renewed Fortunato Lattes’ license for the production of soap. In the same year, with the authorization of Carlo Emmanuele I, the City Council planned to impose upon the Jews an extraordinary tax, aimed at repaying the difficult financial situation caused by the war with France. However, due to strong opposite from the Jewish community – who considered the new taxation unjust – the fee was never collected. In 1613, the Jews were still forced to pay the City 200 florins a year, receiving exemption from a law requiring the provision of housing for soldiers and the active participation in military duty.
In 1687, Hezekiah Lattes and Samuel Isaac Foa founded the Brotherhood of Mercy and Charity, with 11 members, whose job was to organize religious services, study the scriptures, attend the sick and oversee mourning practices.
In 1723, the Royal Constitutions of Vittorio Amedeo III, contained provisions that concerned, among other things, the functions of Jewish community leaders and the acceptance of foreign Jews in the synagogue. It did not, however, modify the statute of the brotherhood. Around 1766, a new institution, the Brotherhood of the Talmud Torah was founded by the then chief rabbi of the city, Solomon Michel Della Torre. It oversaw the education of young people and supported poor boys who attended the Jewish school. In the revolutionary period, the Jews of the city participated in public life, enlisting in the civic guards, enrolling in the patriotic society and serving in the municipal administrations.
Not many documents are left concerning the Community’s religious life. We know that the first synagogue was built in 1587 in the house of the banker Moise Lattes, who paid 100 florins to the city council to obtain permission. The rite was Italian, but some liturgical prayers were recited according to the Sephardic tradition.
According to a questionnaire distributed to the Jews by the parish authorities in 1607, there were two active synagogues in the city; one in the parish of Santa Maria del Bosco and one in Santa Maria della Pieve.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, there were numerous cases of conversion to Christianity. For example, in 1608, a destitute foreign Jew who had settled in the town, converted and received a panhandling license in return. In 1610, the City council donated a certain amount of money to a Jewish woman who lived in the governor’s house and was about to become a Christian. Similar cases can be found throughout the history of the community until the emancipation.