Romaniote Jews developed a distinct liturgical tradition and religious practices, preserved the architectural form of the earliest synagogues and spoke Yevanic, a Judeo-Greek dialect infused with Hebrew loanwords and written in Hebrew script.

Romaniote synagogues have a unique layout with the Bima, the elevated platform from which the Torah is read, located on the western wall and the seating arranged along the east-west axis with the benches often facing each other. In the synagogue’s Torah shrine, the scroll is kept in a cylindrical (often wooden) casing called tik (from Greek “thiki”). In the Romaniote tradition the Torah is read standing upright in its tik.

In keeping with the specific liturgical rite of the Romaniote Jews, the Minhag Romania, services were mainly in Yevanic, and the tunes of hymns and Torah readings were influenced by Byzantine music. The order of the weekly Torah readings is done in a triennial cycle and thus follows an ancient tradition. There is also a specific form of wedding service with seven blessings upon the betrothal as well as a specific culinary tradition and the custom of elaborately calligraphed birth certificates, called Aleph, with prayers and blessings for new-born boys.

Photos 1, 2, 3: © Nikos Stavroulakis: Sephardi and Romaniot Jewish Costumes in Greece and Turkey, 16 watercolours, Athens 1986.

Photo 4: © Nikos Stavroulakis

Photo 5
Source: public domain

Romaniote costume from Ioannina

Romaniote costume from Ioannina

Romaniote costume from Ioannina

Depiction of traditional dish for Ashure, drawing Nikos Stavroulakis

Compilation of piyuttim (medieval poems) for recitation during services, 19th century

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