||Hand-written autograph financial document dated April 27 1537, written in a cursive style in Renaissance Italian on parchment. This rare and unusual document has two elaborate insignias on the bottom of the second page one with a cross at the top and the intials H. T, the other with an x over an extended line and the intials IA. It is apparently a contract between the Christian ruler of Mantua a Pietro Giacomo Fodefchini and the "Ebreo Isac de Portu". Isaac Porto's signature appears on the top verso - perhaps not to sign with a Christian on the same side of the sheet.
Mantuan Jewry has a long and distinguished history. The first mention of Jews in Mantua dates from the twelfth century, when R. Abraham ibn Ezra finished (1145) there his grammatical work "Ẓhḥot." Apparently he was in that city again in 1153. There are no further references to Jews in connection with Mantua until they are mentioned in the new statutes of the city at the end of the fourteenth century, when a large number seem to have lived there. In 1459 a special tax of 2,000 ducats was imposed on the community, though by vigorous protest they succeeded in having it reduced to 600 ducats. The importance of the community about that time is evident from the fact that two famous rabbis, R. Joseph Colon and R. Judah da Napoli (Messer Leon), officiated in Mantua, although, on account of their inability to agree, both were expelled from the city in 1475. In the following year, with the consent of the pope, the Jews were permitted to lend money at interest, and eight years later Bernardino da Feltre founded a "monte di pietà" there, the granting of its charter being one of the first acts of the government of the new prince, Francesco Gonzaga (1466-1519), who was generally ill-disposed toward the Jews. In 1485 he ordered all of them, with their wives, to attend Bernardino's anti-Jewish sermons. In 1496, when the preachers again demanded that restrictions be placed on courtezans and Jews, the wife of the prince, during his absence, ordered the wearing of the Jewish badge.
From this time the treatment of the Jews varied, and intermittently they were favored by the princes. Although Frederick Gonzaga, the first Duke of Mantua, had a Jewish physician, R. Abraham Portaleone, he forbade the Jews to keep Christian servants, an exception being made in regard to necessary services performed on the Sabbath. In 1531 the Marano Solomon Molko was burned publicly at the stake during the visit of Emperor Charles V. Although the congregation had received permission from Pope Clement VII. in 1530 to build an Ashkenazic synagogue, the duke did not confirm it until 1540, at the earnest solicitation of Isaac Porto; the last-named was called to the rabbinate of Mantua in 1550, as the first of an uninterrupted succession of rabbis whose names are preserved in the communal archives.
The condition of the Jews improved under Duke Frederick's successors. A decree of 1545 says: "We desire that the Jews shall be as free and secure in pursuing their business and professions in our city and in our duchy as the Christians." These were the best days of the community, the numbers of which probably were augmented by Portuguese immigrants. The Jewish merchants of Mantua carried on extensive business with foreign countries. Jews were often welcomed at court, and after 1542 the duke had Jewish musicians and Jewish actors. Nevertheless, oppressive measures were enacted against them; their cemetery was taken from them in1549 that an extension to a monastery might be built in its place. Guglielmo Gonzaga, who was also the first Duke of Monferrato, confirmed their old privileges and suppressed a riot which threatened them in 1562. The security which the community enjoyed enabled it to interest itself in Jewish affairs at large, and it was instrumental in securing the reception of a delegation from the Jewish communities, in 1563, by the Council of Trent, which delegation obtained permission to print Hebrew books.
In 1577 new edicts were issued regarding the wearing of the badge. Evil times came with Vincenzo Gonzaga (1587-1612), who, in 1590, expelled all foreign Jews from the city to prevent the increase of the Jewish population. In the following year this decree was reinforced by menaces against the entire community. On April 22, 1600, Giuditta Franchetti, eighty years of age, was publicly burned on a charge of witchcraft, and other members of the community were sentenced to heavy punishments. In 1602, however, in spite of these rigorous proceedings, the Franciscan monk Bartolomeo da Salutivo publicly accused the prince of leniency toward the Jews. As the populace was threatening them, Vincenzo was obliged to interfere sternly in their behalf (Aug. 14), although at the beginning of the year he had issued orders for the complete separation of Jews and Christians. He next forbade Jewish physicians to treat Christians without special permission, and, at the instance of Pope Clement VIII., decreed (Nov. 7) that the Jews should sell all their real estate within a year; he placed all their civic and commercial affairs under the jurisdiction of a special official termed "commissario degli Ebrei," and in certain other relations they were subjected to ecclesiastical control. This office of Jewish commissioner existed until 1765. In 1610 the establishment of a ghetto was decreed, and in Feb., 1612, the Jews were compelled to move into it. The new edict called the "Tolleranza Generale" subjected them to still more rigorous treatment; it was renewed every eight years, on payment of a large sum, and remained in force until 1791.