The first Jews in Oria, Taranto and Otranto arrived after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The affluent community they formed was for centuries a center of cultural and economic exchange for the Mediterranean basin. Following an attack by Saracen raiders in the 10th century, the community lost most of its assets and prestige. Today, the Jewish presence in Oria can be traced through a few remaining buildings, inscriptions and names.
Ahimaaz ben Paltiel, in his Chronicle, represents his ancestor Amittai I. as living in Oria as early as 850; Hananeel, Amittai’s son, held a disputation with the Archbishop of Oria in 880; and Ahimaaz traces his family in the city down to about the year 1060.
Oria was a home of Jewish scholarship: the study of philosophy and the Talmud was pursued there; the Jews studied Greek and Latin also, and were not averse to the profane sciences (medicine and natural science). Oria was the native city of the first Hebrew writer that European Judaism produced: Shabbethai Donnolo (b. 913). Ten scholars of the community, which could not have been a very large one, fell in the massacre that took place when the Arabs under Ja’far ibn ‘Ubaid conquered Oria (July 4, 925). The Jews shared the fate of the Christian inhabitants, with whom they were probably on friendly terms; at least, Donnolo had friendly relations with the archbishop Nilus.
The latest relic of the Jewish community is an epitaph, in Hebrew and Latin, of the year 1035, but Jews probably lived in Oria until toward the end of the fifteenth century.