Town of southern Italy, capital of the province of the same name (formerly Terra d'Otranto); contained one of the most prominent Jewish settlements in the Neapolitan kingdom before their expulsion. There are traces of the existence of Jews in Lecce at the time of the Normans (G. T. Tanzi, "Gli Statuti della Città di Lecce," p. 19, Lecce, 1898). There seem to be no special records concerning the Jews until the fifteenth century. They occupied themselves at one time with dyeing, cattle-raising, and money-lending; the last-named occupation, however, was prohibited in 1471. The same restrictions were put upon them as in most other lands: they could not own real estate or engage in the higher callings, and they were compelled to wear distinguishing badges on their dress. Still, they were under the protection of the law and seem to have been free from persecutions, as were the other Jewish communities throughout Italy. But when Giannantonio del Balzo-Orsini, the last Count of Lecce, died in 1463, and the city came under the direct rule of Ferdinand I., King of Aragon, a violent outbreak against the Jews occurred, in which the ghetto was sacked, several Jews were killed, and the remainder driven out of the place. The city then excused itself before the king by throwing all the blame upon the Albigenses and other foreigners who lived there. The king issued a decree June 20, 1464, ordering the Jews to be called back, and pointing out the injuries the city had suffered through their expulsion. On March 21, 1495, a mob invaded and set fire to the ghetto, and killed a great number of Jews; the few that saved their lives scattered throughout the kingdom. The synagogue was demolished and a church erected on its site. The Jews probably never returned to Lecce, as they were expelled from the whole Neapolitan kingdom in 1540. Lecce was the birthplace of the grammarian Abraham de Balmes ben Meïr (1450-1523).
- G. Guerrieri, Gli Ebrei a Brindisi ed a Lecce, Turin, 1901;
- Il Vessillo Israelitico, 1901, pp. 84 et seq., 121 et seq.;
- Aar, Gli Studi Storici in Terra d'Otranto, p. 234, Florence, 1888;
- Vogelstein and Rieger, Gesch. der Juden in Rom, ii. 22, 23;
- Castelli, Gli Ebrei, p. 431, Florence, 1899;
- Coniger, Le Cronache, anno 1495, Naples, 1700.