Fioretta Kalonymos Chalfan (c.1500-c.1560)

Fioretta Chalfan is the only member of the Chalfan family whose grave has been found in the old Jewish cemetery on the Lido in Venice. She died around 1560, according to the style of her grave, which has no date. She was the mother of Rabbi Dr. Abba Mari Chalfan who moved from Venice to Prague.

Fioretta was the wife of Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu ben Abba Mari Chalfan of Venice. Rabbi Chalfan is famous for a number of different things. First, he was apparently in contact with the false messiah Solomon Molcho, a Portugese Jew who escaped to Italy and after a number of escapades, was burned at the stake by the Inquisition. Second, at the behest of the Christian Cabalist Francesco Georgio, Chalfan provided Richard Croke a religious opinion in favor of King Henry VIII in his attempt to convince Pope Clement VII that his so-called “levirate marriage” to Catherine of Aragon should be annulled because she had previously been in a marriage (lasting only five months) to Henry’s brother Arthur and had not borne a son. Third, in a collection of responsa compiled by Joseph Graziano of Modena, Chalfan gives his opinion on the question whether a Jew may instruct Christians in Hebrew. Citing numerous passages from the Talmud, which he elucidates with logical acumen, Chalfan shows that elementary instruction may certainly be given, if only for the purpose of enabling non-Jews to comply with the seven laws given to Noah.  Eliyahu Chalfan’s father Abba Maria Chalfan went to Naples in 1492 to study astronomy. He authored explanatory notes on the Alphonsine Tables, which provided data for computing the position of the sun, moon, and planets relative to the fixed stars. Eliyahu’s mother was the daughter of the foremost talmudist of his generation in Italy Josef ben Salomon Colon (the MaHaRIK), an exile from Chambery France who lived in Mestre, near Venice, and was later rabbi in Bologna and Mantua, and died in Padua around 1480.

Fioretta’s father Kalonymos ben David Kalonymos was court astrologer of the Duke of Bari. His father Dr. David Kalonymos of Bari wrote in 1464 two astronomical treatises, dedicating one to King Ferdinand I of Naples in an attempt to win religious liberty for his coreligionists, and was later given permission to live in Naples.

It seems very likely that the Chalfan and Kalonymos families moved to Venice from southern Italy no later than 1517, due to persecution by the Inquisition which was active in the Kingdom of Naples, a territory of the Spanish crown. Thus they were certainly among the first families locked at night in the Venice ghetto, which was established on March 29, 1516.


Der Seelen Wurzgarten, Ulm: Konrad Dinckmut, 1483
An illustration in the 14th century Codex Manasse of the Jewish poet Süßkind von Trimberg wearing a Jewish hat similar to the type Venetian Jews were required to wear. (Wikimedia)
Rothschild Miscellany shows a Jewish custom at the time, mid-15th century, that of mixed dancing. The mixed dancing is that of couples, husband and wives dancing with each other, and not that of unmarried men and women dancing In Italy, where this manuscript was composed, mixed dancing was apparently common during this period.

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