Letter of Estelle Bretttman on Jewish Inscriptions from Nocera Superiore (1990)

To the Editor of the Jewish Advocate:

I am delighted that Judith Antonelli's excellent May 3, 1990 Advocate coverage of the International Catacomb Society's Inaugural Lecture for its Commemorative Founders'' Lecture Series, given at Hebrew College by Dr. Marisa de Spagnolis Conticello, Director of the Excavations Office at Nocera-Sarno in Italy, sparked the interest of an indomitable Ellen Feingold to visit Norcera Superiore in the region of Campania, Southern Italy - the site for Dr. de Spagnolis Conticello's significant find. Indeed, such persistence in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges is often rewarded in Italy by unexpected bonuses, and the enthusiastic cooperation and response of the Italians who are so pleased when stranieri or foreigners manifest interest in and knowledge of their historical and cultural treasures. Going to extreme lengths to resolve any language barriers, the Italians will assist in any way possible. Their precipitous mountain roads are so well-constructed that the adventurous, off-the-beaten path traveller is usually rewarded with insights into comparatively tranquil small-town life and the nostalgic, pastoral, harvesting and fishing scenes as of yore, far from the frenetic pace of heavily-frequented tourist haunts. I have been fortunate in experiencing this serendipity for many years, either during the course of my own investigations or in conducting tours. 

Perhaps Ms. Feingold and her readers would be interested in knowing that the two Jewish inscriptions from Dr. De Spangolis Conticello's excavation point to a date of the fourth to fifth centuries CE for the synagogue and congregation supported by this hitherto unknown organized Jewish community in ancient Norcera. Also, to emend her chronology further, the visible remains of the fourth-century synagogue at Ancient Ostia, near the airport of Rome, which may have undergone even earlier stages of remodeling, rest on the vestiges of a first-century building, perhaps the earliest synagogue in Europe known to date. Another major revelation, inferred by the Norcera inscriptions, brings more corroborative evidence to the the notion that women could have held religious offices within some Jewish congregations of the Roman Empire. As Ms. Feingold concludes, we can only hope that such valuable sites which illuminate our past will continue to be explored and preserved. The mission of the International Catacomb Society is to assist in this endeavor by creating an awareness of the existence of these sites and their importance. 

Transcripts of Dr. De Spagnolis Conticello's lecture are available from the International Catacomb Society, 61 Beacon Street, Boston, MA, 02108.

- Estelle S. Brettman, Executive Director, International Catacomb Society


April 25, 1990, Hebrew College
Marisa de Spagnolis, Director of the Office of Excavations of Nocera and Sarno, Italy
“The Ancient Jewish Congregation at Nocera”
Co-sponsored with Hebrew College
Inaugural Lecture of the International Catacomb Society's Commemorative Founders' Lecture Series in Memory of Dr. Mark D. Altschule, Lt. Gen. James M. Gavin, Louise LaGorce Hickey, and Robert M. Morrison