Jews have lived in Italy without interruption from the days of the Maccabees until the present, through a period of more than 21 centuries. Although a general expulsion was never issued for the Jews of Italy, there were frequently partial ones. The Jewish community often enjoyed good relationships with the rulers and general population, and at times in history were even granted special privileges. The community, however, remained relatively small and private, though it continued faithful to their traditions. The record of Italian Jewry provides one of the most complex and fascinating chapters in the history of the Jewish Diaspora. The Jewish population in Italy today is approximately 28,000.
Probably preceded by individual Jews who visited Italy as traders, a Jewish embassy was dispatched to Rome in 161 B.C.E. by Judah Maccabee to conclude a political treaty with the Roman senate. It was followed by others sent by his brother Jonathan 15 years later, by Simeon in 139, and by Hyrcanus I in 133. In 139, either these emissaries or the other Jews living in Rome were apparently accused of conducting religious propaganda among the Roman population and expelled from the city. However, the decree soon became obsolete. Jewish prisoners taken by Pompey during his invasion of Ere? Israel, 63–61 B.C.E., were brought to Italy, but most were probably freed after a short time.
Julius Caesar, who believed the Jews represented a cohesive element in the Roman world, granted them certain exemptions to enable them to fulfill their religious duties. These exemptions were subsequently confirmed by most of the Roman emperors. Under Augustus, the number of Jews in the capital increased. In 19 C.E., during the reign of Tiberius, his minister Sejanus deported 4,000 Jewish youths to Sardinia to fight banditry, ostensibly to punish the Jews for having tried to defraud a woman of the Roman nobility. In fact, this was part of the policy to suppress the Oriental cults, and an edict was also issued ordering the Jews to leave Italy unless they abandoned their religious practices. Tiberius abrogated the measures after Sejanus' execution.
The growing friction between the Jews of Rome and the rising Christian sect led Claudius to rid Rome of both elements (49–50), but this time also the decree was short-lived. The Jewish revolt in Judea against the Romans ended in 70 with wholesale destruction and massacre and mass deportations of Jewish prisoners, a large number of whom were brought to Italy. According to later sources, 1,500 arrived in Rome alone, and 5,000 in Apulia. There too they attained freedom after a relatively short time, and many remained in Italy.
The emperor Vespasian prohibited the voluntary tribute of the shekel that Jews in the Diaspora customarily sent to the Temple and changed it to a "Jewish tribute," the Fiscus Judaicus, to be paid into the public treasury. Under Domitian (81–96) the exaction of this tax was brutally enforced. It was mitigated by his successor Nerva, but the tax was not abolished until two centuries later. The Jewish uprisings against Roman rule which broke out in Judea, Egypt, and Cyrenaica during the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian and culminated in the heroic but vain revolt of Shimon Bar Kokhba (132–5) are not recorded to have affected the Jews in Italy. Antoninus Pius (138–61), Caracalla (211–7), Alexander Severus (222–35), and probably other emperors displayed benevolence toward Jews. Jews were included in the edict issued by Caracalla in 212 that extended Roman citizenship to all freemen in the empire.
From the end of the second century until the beginning of the fourth, the Jewish settlements in the Diaspora, although proselytizing intensely, did not encounter opposition from the Romans, though Septimius Severus in 204 prohibited conversion to Judaism. The Christian communities, however, which expanded rapidly and proved intransigent, were severely dealt with. The fact that the Jews in Italy were of petty bourgeois or even servile origin, and that they were not infrequently suspected of opposing Roman policy abroad, prevented individual Jews from attaining prominence in economic or social life.
It has been estimated that there were 50,000 Jews in Italy during the first century of the empire, of whom more than half were concentrated in or around Rome. In the capital, they engaged in humble occupations and lived in the proletarian sections. Cultural standards were not high, although there were painters, actors, and poets.
The communities centered on the synagogues, of which 12 are known to have existed in Rome, although not contemporaneously. The ruins of one have been discovered in Ostia. Their knowledge of Hebrew was rudimentary. The religious convictions and customs of the Jews aroused a certain interest among some sectors of the Roman population and sometimes attracted adherents. This picture emerges from the numerous inscriptions found in the Jewish catacombs rather than from the evidence provided by the generally hostile Roman intellectuals.
Outside Rome the position was substantially similar, as may be deduced from tombstone inscriptions. Initially, Jews settled in the ports: Ostia, Porto, Pozzuoli, Pompeii, Capua, and Salerno; in Basilicata, Apulia, and Calabria: Bari, Otranto, Taranto, Venosa, and Reggio; and in Sicily: Syracuse, Catania, and Agrigento. In northern Italy, the presence of Jews has been traced in Civitavecchia, Ferrara , Brescia, Milan, Pola, and Aquileia. Their occupations may be inferred but are attested only in a few cases.
No significant evidence concerning Jewish scholarly and literary activities has been preserved. Caecilius of Calacte, an orator and literary critic who wrote in Greek during the Augustan period, was highly esteemed, but none of his works is extant. Josephus composed his major historical works at the imperial court in Rome. It is also known that there was a talmudic academy in Rome which attained distinction in the second century under the guidance of the tanna Mattiah b. ?eresh.
The official acceptance by the Roman Empire of Christianity as a religion and its subsequent expansion marked for the Jews the transition from an era of tolerance to one of subjection. The Christians did not aim at the complete suppression of Judaism, with which they acknowledged affinity in certain common origins and religious convictions. They therefore desired the physical preservation of the Jews, but only in the role of spectral witnesses of ancient truths, with limited possibilities of existence. For this reason, from the fourth century onward the Church Fathers increased their efforts to secure new laws that would restrain the Jews in their religious practices, limit their political rights, and curb them both socially and economically; at the same time, they exerted pressure on them individually to leave their religion.
Constantine the Great prohibited conversion to Judaism and debarred Jews from owning Christian slaves. Constantius (337–61) extended the prohibition to the ownership of pagan slaves and prohibited marriages between Jews and Christian women, imposing the death penalty for such cases.
Church dignitaries sallied forth to the public squares to preach against the Jews and incite the populace to destroy their places of worship. In 315, Sylvester, bishop of Rome, is said to have sponsored a public debate directed against the Jews; in 388, Philaster, bishop of Brescia, encouraged the populace of Rome to set fire to a synagogue, and Ambrose, bishop of Milan, praised the population of Aquileia for doing the same, expressing his sorrow that the synagogue in Milan had not been similarly treated.
The emperor Theodosius II prohibited the construction of new synagogues, permitting only those in danger of collapse to be restored but not enlarged. In addition, he debarred Jews from practicing law or entering state employment. The legal codes that bear the names of Theodosius (438) and later of Justinian (529–34) established a new status for the Jews as inferior citizens. They were obliged to carry out numerous special duties and were excluded from public offices and from several professions.
The disintegration of the western Roman Empire, the weak and remote influence of the eastern one, and the lack of forceful Church leaders, led to continuous changes in the situation of the Jews in Italy, if not always evidenced by the sources. Much depended also on which of the invaders succeeded in gaining the upper hand in the various parts of Italy.
King Theodoric the Ostrogoth proved benevolently disposed toward the Jews and, between 507 and 519, intervened on their behalf against their opponents in Milan, Genoa, Rome, and Ravenna. The Jews actively sided with the Goths when Naples was besieged by the Byzantine general Belisarius in 536. Consequently, they were persecuted by the Byzantines when a few decades later they conquered Italy.
Among the popes of this period, only Gregory I (590–604) is significant for Jewish history. He afforded the Jews protection in Rome, Terracina, Naples, Palermo, Ravenna, and elsewhere against vexations at the hands of local bishops, insisting that although he desired the conversion of the Jews, he was opposed to attaining this by violence. The missionary fervor of the eastern emperors was felt in their Italian possessions, especially in the south.
The Jews in Oria, Bari, Brindisi, Taranto, and Otranto suffered from discriminatory legislation and campaigns of forcible conversion under the emperors Basil I in 873–4 and Romanus I Lecapenus in 932–6. About the same period, the population in the south suffered from raids by roving Arab bands from North Africa. In Sicily, the Saracenic conquest (827–1061) brought more stability and proved beneficial to the Jews of the island.
Toward the end of the 11th century, there were a few Jews living in northern Italy, mostly in Verona, Pavia, and Lucca, a considerable nucleus in Rome, and numerous groups in the south of the country and in Sicily, totaling a significant number.
Although the course of the political events affecting the Jews in these seven centuries is almost completely unknown, the Venosa tombstone inscriptions, particularly from the fourth and fifth centuries, and the chronicle of Ahimaaz of Oria, which relates events from the ninth century on, throw some light on the Jews in some centers in the south. The Jewish occupations are hardly mentioned, although it is known that there were Jewish artisans and merchants, and, especially in the south, dyers and silk weavers; Jews not only owned houses in the towns but also engaged in farming.
Something more is now known about the state of Jewish culture, especially around the tenth century. Tombstone inscriptions were by now composed in Hebrew, and not in Latin or Greek as previously. There were Talmudic academies in Rome and Lucca (connected with the Kalonymus family) and in the south, in Venosa, Bari, Otranto, Oria, and later in Siponto.
A legend telling of four rabbis from Bari, who, after being taken prisoners at sea in 972, were set free and later established rabbinical schools in Mediterranean cities (see Four Captives), would seem to show that Jewish scholarship in Apulia had gained a reputation beyond Italy. The scholars whose names are preserved may be taken to represent the schools or literary circles which had formed around them. Of special importance were the liturgical poet Shephatiah b. Amittai of Oria (ninth century), the astronomer and physician Shabbetai Donnolo (tenth century), and Nathan b. Jehiel Anav of Rome (11th century), who composed the Arukh. The Sefer, a Hebrew work based on Josephus’ Jewish War, was probably written by an Italian Jew in the mid-tenth century.
Italy in the 13th century shows no change in the distribution of the Jewish population, which remained mainly concentrated in the south of the peninsula. Reports of a considerable Jewish settlement in Venice are difficult to verify. There were a few dozen Jewish families resident in Pisa and Lucca, and isolated families elsewhere. Only in Rome were there as many as 200 families. The Jews were prosperous and led an active intellectual life. They lived on good terms with their Christian neighbors, including those of highest rank. It is of no great importance that a Roman Jewish family which had adopted Christianity, the Pierleoni family, produced an antipope, Anacletus II (1130–38), but it is highly significant that Jehiel Anav, a nephew of Nathan b. Jehiel, supervised the finances of Pope Alexander III (1159–81). However, the spirit predominating in the city of Rome must not be confused with that of the Church, which now renewed its efforts to assert its authority.
In this period the Jews of Italy were trapped between two conflicting attitudes manifested by the Church. One is expressed in the bull first issued by Pope Calixtus II (1119–24), beginning Sicut Judaeis, which afforded the Jews protection from assaults against their persons, property, or religious practices, and from conversionist pressures, which was confirmed repeatedly by succeeding popes. The other aspect, manifestly hostile, was enunciated by the Third Lateran Council (1179) which forbade Jews to employ Christian servants, and by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), convened by Pope Innocent III, which made efforts to have the Jews placed in a position of perpetual serfdom, and meanwhile introduced the regulation compelling Jews to wear a distinguishing badge on their garments.
About 20 years later the Inquisition began to preoccupy itself with the Jews, who were submitted to the mercies of the Dominican friars. The rabid campaign against the Talmud initiated in France in 1240 was in due course extended to Italy. The practice of compelling Jews to attend conversionist sermons began in Lombardy in 1278. Jewish life was still centered, however, in southern Italy and in Sicily.
According to Benjamin of Tudela, in the late 12th century there were no fewer than 1,500 Jews in Palermo and about the same number all told in Apulia and the Campania. These reached the height of their prosperity under Frederick II (1212–50), who extended his personal protection to the Jews and secured them the monopoly of the silk weaving and dyeing industries and foreign commerce. He also supported them against the fiscal claims of the bishops and took a personal interest in promoting Jewish culture. When, in 1265, sovereignty of the area passed to the Angevin rulers, the Jews in the south came under the direct influence of the Holy See on which the new dynasty was largely dependent.
Under Charles II a blood libel was raised against the Jews of Trani and developed into a violent crusade to convert all the Jews in the south, then numbering probably between 12,000 and 15,000. The campaign lasted until 1294; by then about half the Jewish population had been forced to abjure their faith, entire communities had been annihilated, and many of the synagogues, of which there were four in Trani alone, were converted into churches. Most of the Jews who did not submit fled, while others continued to observe their faith in secret.
Jewish intellectual activity in Italy during this period is represented by several scholars, who interested themselves in various fields without predominating in any. In general, their works on philosophy, ethics, philology, and Kabbalah reflect the influences of contemporary Spanish Jewish literature. There were noteworthy Talmudic academies in Rome and southern Italy, in particular at Bari and Otranto. Prominent among the scholars in Rome toward the end of the 12th and during the 13th century, were Menahem b. Solomon b. Isaac, a biblical exegete who also probably arranged the liturgy according to the “Roman” or Italian rite; the philosopher and biblical scholar Zerahiah b. Shealtiel Gracian; and several members of the Anav family (Benjamin and Zedekiah b. Abraham, Jehiel b. Jekuthiel, Benjamin b. Judah), who extended their activities to almost every field of Jewish learning. Outside Rome, there were the philosopher Hillel b. Samuel of Verona, Isaac b. Melchizedek of Siponto, commentator on the Mishnah, and the halakhist Isaiah b. Mali of Trani (the Elder). Several of these at the same time practiced medicine, wrote liturgical poetry, and translated from Latin and Arabic into Hebrew or vice versa. Members of the ha-Meati family, following in the footsteps of the founder of the family Nathan b. Eliezer, distinguished themselves as translators, as also did Jacob Anatoli of Naples, Faraj b. Solomon of Agrigento, and Ahitub b. Isaac of Palermo. In their task of spreading knowledge they received support from the Hohenstaufen and Angevin courts at Naples. Judeo-Italian began to be spoken by the Jews of southern and central Italy in the early Middle Ages, then by all Italian Jewry, toward the 14th–16th centuries.
Toward the end of the 13th century and beginning of the 14th, the Jews in Italy embarked on a new sphere of economic activity as small-scale moneylenders (loan bankers). They were driven into this occupation partly because no regular form of financial assistance was available from other sources for small merchants or needy individuals, and partly because of the Church prohibition on lending money for interest by Christians. Many Jews on the other hand had large amounts of liquid capital, realized after they were obliged to leave the south at the end of the 13th century, or when they left Rome, which declined after the Holy See moved to Avignon in 1309. It was in fact from the south and Rome that a phalanx of Jews wishing to establish themselves as moneylenders made their appearance in several towns and districts in northern and central Italy. They were admitted into these localities and openly encouraged by the local rulers, although often received more hesitantly by the general population. At the same time numerous Jews from Germany, and some from France, crossed the Alps to escape persecution and established themselves in towns in the north of Italy, where they opened loan banks.
The 14th and 15th centuries were periods of expansion and consolidation for the Jewish loan bankers. Their activities resulted not in the accumulation of large fortunes in the hands of a few, but in small fortunes in the hands of many, which led to widely spread prosperity. It is difficult to estimate the number of localities in the peninsula in which Jews were living around the middle of the 15th century – possibly 300 or more. However, it is certain that the prosperity resulting from their moneylending activities was of more benefit to the Jews in Rome and in the north than those in the south. These activities brought them into contact with all sectors of the population, both poor and rich, the small shopkeeper and the lord of the town, the illiterate and the scholar. Hence many of these bankers tended to adopt the way of life of the gentile upper classes, or what has been termed the “Man of the Renaissance,” with his taste for letters and art, and pleasure in affluent living.
Nevertheless, the Jews of Italy never became estranged from their Jewish intellectual and religious heritage. This was a period of unprecedented cultural activity, and the Jewish scholars, poets, physicians, and codifiers, who at the same time cultivated secular disciplines and languages, are significant more for their number than for individual excellence. Among the most important were the kabbalistic exegete Menahem b. Benjamin Recanati, the Talmudist and biblical exegete Isaiah b. Elijah of Trani (the Younger), the poet Immanuel b. Solomon of Rome, who composed in Italian as well as in Hebrew and also wrote biblical commentaries, his cousin, the philosopher and translator Judah b. Moses Romano, Kalonymus b. Kalonymus, of Provençal origin, author of the satires Massekhet Purim and Even Bo?an, and Shemariah b. Elijah of Crete, author of a philosophical commentary on the Bible. Outstanding from the end of the 14th century to the middle of the 15th are the poet and physician Moses b. Isaac Rieti, author of Mikdash Me’at, a poetical work in Hebrew modeled on Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Obadiah of Bertinoro, author of the classical commentary on the Mishnah.
A few decades later saw the activity of the philosophers Elijah Delmedigo and Johanan Alemanno, both associated with the humanistic circle of Pico della Mirandola, the halakhist Joseph Colon, Judah b. Jehiel, and David Messer Leon, father and son, the former a philosopher and the latter a biblical scholar. Of Spanish origin were two of the most outstanding personalities and philosophers of their time, Don Isaac Abrabanel and his son Judah (Leone Ebreo), author of the famous Dialoghi d’amore. In addition, there were the pioneers of Hebrew printing and other Jews who distinguished themselves in medicine, art, and drama.
However, these brilliant economic and cultural achievements did not exclude some darker interludes. Pope Urban V (1362–70) confirmed the bull giving protection to the Jews, as also did Boniface IX (1389–1404), who surrounded himself with Jewish physicians. The situation deteriorated after the final condemnation of the Talmud in Spain in 1415 and increasing anti-Jewish activities by the Franciscan friars.
Delegates of the Jewish communities assembled in Bologna in 1416, and in Forli in 1418, to combat these and other dangers. They succeeded in their representations to Pope Martin V (1417–31), who issued two favorable bulls in 1419 and 1429, and endeavored to control the anti-Jewish preachings of the Franciscans, and especially the activities of their most aggressive representative, John of Capistrano. However, in 1442, Eugenius IV introduced harsh anti-Jewish measures which Jewish delegates meeting in Tivoli in 1442 and in Ravenna in 1443 tried unsuccessfully to oppose. In these circumstances, many Jews preferred to move to the territories of rulers who were better disposed, like the Gonzaga in Mantua and the Este in Ferrara.
In the following decades the official Vatican attitude again moderated. On the other hand, the Franciscan preachers, often opposed by the civic authorities, violently attacked the Jews and especially Jewish moneylenders, demanding that they should be expelled, and their activities replaced by Christian charitable loan banks to inflame the populace, the friars spread all manner of slanders against Jews, of which the most distressing was the charge of ritual murder in 1475 at Trent. Other incidents took place elsewhere and were followed by expulsions, generally of a temporary nature.
Two factors undermined the existence of the Jews in Italy from the end of the 15th and throughout the 16th centuries: the attitude of the Spanish crown toward its Jewish subjects which extended to its Italian possessions, and the confusion caused by the Counter-Reformation struggle in Italy. When the edict of expulsion of the Jews from Spain was issued in March 1492 both Sicily and Sardinia were under Aragonese rule so that the measure was applied there also. Promulgated in May, it was at once implemented, and the process of expulsion was completed by January 1493.
In Sicily, 6,300 Jewish-owned houses were confiscated, and a levy of 100,000 florins was imposed. It is calculated that almost 40,000 Jews in all left the country. In Sardinia, the numbers affected were far less. Most of the exiles went to continental Italy, but a considerable number chose other lands: North Africa, Greece, Turkey, the Levant.
The Jews of the two islands were not the only ones to seek shelter in the Kingdom of Naples under the protection of King Ferdinand. They were joined by about 9,000 Spanish Jews. Spanish Jews also received a generally benevolent welcome in other Italian states, and even in the Papal States under Pope Alexander VI (1492–1503). However, in 1503, the Kingdom of Naples also passed under Spanish rule and, in 1510, the expulsion of the Jews was ordered – probably some tens of thousands, though the exact number is difficult to ascertain. The decree was not carried out immediately and 200 wealthy families were formally permitted to remain. In 1515, the edict of expulsion was extended to the New Christians – that is to Jews who had become converted to Catholicism more or less sincerely and their descendants. In 1515 and 1520, the quota of tolerated wealthy families was increased, and then lowered again. In 1541, this agreement was definitively abrogated and the law excluding Jews remained in force in southern Italy for over three centuries.
Conditions in central and northern Italy were completely different. In Rome Popes Julius II, Leo X, Clement VII, and Paul III, although differing in character, were well-disposed toward the Jews under their jurisdiction. The same applied to the Medici in Florence, the Este in Ferrara, and the Gonzaga in Mantua, who encouraged the activities and talents of their Jewish subjects, both the older inhabitants and the new arrivals. In Venice, the senate began to treat the Jews with a little more consideration, although in 1516 Jewish residence was confined to the ghetto.
The reaction of the Roman Church to the rise of Protestantism reached a climax in the middle of the 16th century. In its efforts to preserve Catholics from all possibility of religious contamination, the Church acted with harshness against the Jews. The first blow fell in 1553, when Pope Julius III ordered that all copies of the Talmud be confiscated and burned throughout Italy, on the charge that it blasphemed Christianity (see Burning of the Talmud).
The attack became more violent under Paul IV (1555–59). His bull Cum nimis absurdum of July 14, 1555, obliged the Jews in the Papal States to lock themselves in the ghetto at night, prohibited them from engaging in any commercial activity except the sale of rags, required them to sell their houses, and submitted them to all the most harassing restrictions enacted during the preceding centuries.
At Ancona, on the pope’s orders, 25 Portuguese Marranos found guilty of having returned to Judaism were sent to the stake. Under Pius IV (1559–65) the oppression abated but rose to even worse excesses under Pius V (1566–72), who expelled the Jews from all the Papal States, except Rome and Ancona. Some relief was afforded under Sixtus V (1585–90), who permitted Jews to resume their activities in the towns they had recently been forced to leave. However, all vacillation ended with Clement VIII (1592–1605), who, in a bull of February 25, 1593, reverted to the harsh measures of Paul IV and Pius V and ordered the Jews to leave the papal domains within three months, except Rome, Ancona, and Avignon. For over two centuries this restrictive papal legislation continued to apply to the Jews living in the papal territories and was adopted with almost no exceptions by the other Italian states. In the meantime, 900 Jews were banished in 1597 from the duchy of Milan, then under Spanish rule.
Jewish cultural and spiritual life did not suffer because of these vicissitudes. Every town of standing had its yeshivah, that of Padua becoming important under Judah and Abraham Minz and Meir Katzenellenbogen. Scholars of this period include the philosopher and biblical exegete Obadiah Sforno; the religious philosopher Jehiel Nissim of Pisa; the grammarians Abraham de Balmes, Samuel Archivolti, and Elijah (Ba?ur) Levita; the physician and lexicographer David de’ Pomis; the geographer Abraham Farissol; the chroniclers Solomon Ibn Verga, Gedaliah Ibn Ya?ya, Joseph ha-Kohen, and the antiquarian Abraham Portaleone; the scholarly historian Azariah de’ Rossi, author of Me’or Einayim; the poet Moses b. Joab; and the dramatist Judah (Leone) de’ Sommi Portaleone, who wrote in both Hebrew and Italian.
In addition, many Jews individually contributed to art, drama, music, and the development of printing. Outstanding in the medical profession were the papal physicians Bonet de Lattes, Samuel and Joseph Sarfati, Vitale Alatino, and Jacob Mantino; also, Amatus Lusitanus, author of Curationum Centuriae, Elijah Montalto, and the Portaleone family of Mantua, five generations of whom attended on the Gonzagas.
This period is generally known as the Age of the Ghetto. It logically begins in 1555, when compulsory segregation was imposed by Paul IV, or even with the isolated instance when the Venice ghetto was established in 1516. However, it was at the end of the 16th century that the ghetto became an accepted institution in Italy, from Rome to the Alps. Every ghetto had its individual character. Some were overcrowded and unhealthy like that of Rome, the largest of all; others were more spacious and vivacious as in Venice (long the center of Hebrew printing), Ferrara, and Mantua; some had only a nominal existence, as in Leghorn. All the ghettos – except that of Leghorn – were locked at night; the houses, even if owned by Christians, had fixed rents (jus gazaga; see ?azakah).
Jews who went outside the ghetto were obliged to wear a distinguishing badge on their garments. They could not enter the professions except (with severe restrictions) that of medicine. To travel out of the town they required special permits. Almost everywhere they were compelled to attend conversionist sermons.
The police gave adequate protection to the ghetto from concerted attacks, but only reluctantly in cases of individual molestation. There were approximately 30,000 Jews living in Italy in the 17th and 18th centuries, of whom between 4,000 and 7,000 lived in Rome, somewhat fewer in Leghorn, and the others distributed in almost 70 places. The position of the Rome community was the most critical. Conditions had steadily deteriorated through the restrictions on earning a livelihood and the high taxation imposed by the Holy See. From the middle of the 17th century some of the popes (Innocent X, XI, and XII) attempted to mitigate their lot, but were unable to prevent the community from being declared bankrupt in 1698.
In the 18th century also other pontiffs (Clement XI, Benedic t XIV, Clement XIV) were moved to sympathy by the desperate plight of Rome Jewry, but any measures they introduced were counteracted by hostile successors. In the first year of his pontificate, Pius VI (1775–99) published an “Edict Concerning the Jews,” characterized by utter obscurantism. In the other towns of the Papal States with Jewish communities, Ancona and (from 1598) Ferrara, the pressure upon the Jews was less extreme.
Elsewhere, in the 18th century, in small communities – e.g., in Piedmont – Jews who were considered useful to the economy received assistance. In Veneto the Jews helped to arrest the decline of the towns where they were living, particularly Venice. In Tuscany, the Jews of Leghorn, who were completely free to utilize their commercial ability, were so successful that the grand dukes of the House of Lorraine, in particular Leopold I (1765–90), began to treat their other Jewish subjects similarly and to improve their conditions.
When the French armies entered Italy in 1796–98, the new revolutionary spirit momentarily triumphed: the walls of the ghetto were demolished, and the Jews received equal rights. However, with the restoration of the old regimes in 1799, all the new-found liberties were abolished. Napoleon’s campaign of 1800 again brought freedom to the Jews, but, in 1815, the restoration resulted in a complete and almost general return of the old conditions.
Intellectual life within the ghetto was inevitably inferior to that of the preceding period. Learned Jews were obliged not only to renounce their contacts with the outside world, but also any participation in academic institutions and, hence, pursuit of secular studies. This resulted in a very different literary orientation. Among the authors of Jewish apologetics were Leone Modena, Simone (Sim?ah) Luzzatto, and Isaac Cardozo.
Controversies arose between the supporters of Kabbalah, Mordecai Dato, Aaron Berechiah of Modena, Menahem Azariah of Fano, Moses Zacuto, and Solomon Aviad Sar Shalom Basilea, and its opponents, Azariah de’ Rossi and Azariah Figo. Benjamin b. Eliezer ha-Kohen Vitale and Abraham Rovigo tended toward Shabbateanism. Joseph Ergas and Malachi b. Jacob ha-Kohen were instrumental in transferring the center of kabbalistic theosophy to Leghorn.
Besides the emergence of two poetesses in the Italian language, Deborah Ascarelli and Sarah Coppio Sullam, poetry was represented by Jacob Daniel Olmo, the brothers Jacob and Immanuel Frances, and Isaiah and Israel Benjamin Bassani, father and son. Important as a poet, dramatist, and ethical writer was Moses ?ayyim Luzzatto. Salomone Fiorentino, who wrote poems in Italian toward the end of the ghetto period, was much admired.
Talmudic studies attracted such illustrious scholars as Isaac Lampronti, author of the stupendous compilation Pa?ad Yi??ak; barely less distinguished were Moses Zacuto, Solomon Finzi, Samuel Aboab, and Samson Morpurgo. ?ayyim Joseph David Azulai also spent much time in Italy.
It would be wrong to state that the walls surrounding the ghetto and its high buildings resulted in intellectual darkness. In fact, the contrary is true. Through scrupulous observance of the mitzvot and self-imposed regulation, either to supply the communities with necessities or to avoid excesses in entertainment and dress, the ghetto became a hive of activity, necessarily confined but tremendously alive. Many had several synagogues, all well attended, some with fine architecture such as those of Venice, Padua, Pesaro, and the small Piedmontese communities. There was a constant supply of teachers to listen and instruct. Moral and religious observance was strict but not oppressive. A social-service network helped all those who lived within the ghetto, especially well organized at Venice and Rome. In consequence, when they withdrew at night into the ghetto, the Jews did not have the feeling of living in prison.
The record of the half century that passed between the reestablishment of many ghettos and their final abolition differed in the various regions. In Tuscany, after the restoration of the grand duchy in 1815, the Jews there were granted relative equality; only the army and public office remaining barred to them. In the duchy of Parma, the most stringent restriction was that prohibiting Jews from residing in the capital. In the Lombardo-Venetian kingdom under Austrian rule, where there were the important communities of Mantua, Venice, Verona, and Padua, and the growing community of Milan, conditions were not particularly irksome. In Naples, where Jews had begun to resettle, the only restriction was that they were not allowed to constitute an official community. Elsewhere, however, their situation was now again deeply humiliating, especially in contrast with the freedom they had tasted. In the duchy of Modena, all the old disabilities were restored. The same applied to the Kingdom of Sardinia, comprising Piedmont and Genoa, where the only relaxation was that the Jewish badge was not reimposed. In the Papal States intolerance increased, until in 1827 Pope Leo XII even resuscitated the notorious anti-Jewish edict of 1775.
Jews once more living in such sad conditions no longer had to rely only on the assistance, mainly ineffectual, of their more fortunate brethren. The middle-class Italian population which was struggling to liberate the country from reactionary regimes, especially the Carboneria and the Giovine Italia movements, had among their aims the elimination of all anti-Jewish discrimination. Distinguished politicians and writers such as Vincenzo Gioberti, Niccolò Tommaseo, Ugo Foscolo, and Cesare Balbo fought for the same ideas. Some expressed these aims in writings which reached a wide public, for instance Carlo Cattaneo in his Ricerche economiche sulle interdizioni imposte dalla legge civile agli israeliti (1837), on the economic restrictions imposed on the Jews, and Massimo d’Azeglio, Dell’ emancipazione civile degli israeliti, which appeared at the end of 1847.
The Jews did not wait for their aspirations to freedom to be fulfilled through outside assistance and took an active share in the struggle. The Risorgimento movement, which started in Piedmont in 1820–21, became more daring in Modena in 1831 and culminated in the 1848–49 revolutions in Milan, Rome, and Venice – the last under the leadership of Daniele Manin. The movement included in its ranks many Jewish volunteers from various parts of Italy. Before the uprising broke out in 1848, even the most reactionary governments hastened to grant the Jews some concessions.
Pope Pius IX (1846–78), having abolished compulsory Jewish attendance at conversionist sermons and other humiliating regulations, admitted Jews into the civic guard; in 1848, he ordered that the gates and walls of the ghettos be demolished in Rome and in other towns of the Papal States. In Piedmont, in June 1848, the House of Savoy introduced into the constitution of the kingdom a provision that established equal civil and political rights for all citizens, without religious distinction.
In some retrogressive centers popular insurrections later broke out, after which, in 1849, two Jews were members of the constitutional assembly of the newly proclaimed Roman republic, and in Venice two others, Isaac Pesaro and Leone Pincherle, became ministers in the provisional republican government. When, at the end of 1849, some of the ousted rulers returned and attempted to reimpose the humiliating anti-Jewish measures, they succeeded in doing so only on paper because they no longer had the support of wide sectors of the public. The darkest reaction indeed still prevailed in the towns of the Papal States: Rome, Ancona, Ferrara, and Bologna. The Jews here were again confined to the ghettos, although the gates were not locked at night. Jewish students were excluded from the public schools, and Jews were barred from commercial partnerships with Christians. They were subjected to pressures to accept conversion; these culminated in the notorious kidnapping of the child Edgardo Mortara in Bologna in 1858, and of Giuseppe Coen in Rome as late as 1864.
Even in the Lombardo-Venetian kingdom, the Austrian government became hostile to the Jews, who were suspected of holding liberal ideas. Only Piedmont upheld the emancipation of 1848, and as it extended its jurisdiction over the new areas which in 1861 became the Kingdom of Italy, additional Jewish groups were admitted to complete equality. Between 1859 and 1861, Emilia, Romagna, Tuscany, Lombardy, the Marches, and the Kingdom of Naples were absorbed; in 1866, Veneto and, in 1870, Rome were incorporated in the new Italian kingdom. Trieste, which remained outside the boundaries of the Kingdom of Italy until 1919, had a large Jewish community under Austrian rule, generally well-disposed toward Jews.
As soon as equality had been extended to the Jews, the fact was accepted by the Italian people, anxious to demonstrate that the previous segregation had been imposed by political and ideological considerations and did not reflect popular feelings. The Jews reciprocated with alacrity. The principle that religion should not be an obstacle, whether in law or in fact, and the total absence of ill feeling or prejudice between Christians and Jews led to two far-reaching consequences. First, Jews felt free to embrace any career – political, military, academic, professional, administrative, or commercial – and to attain the highest positions. Second, freedom to associate on equal terms with other citizens encouraged Jews to minimize existing differences – some even concealed their Jewish identity or rejected it.
The Jewish population formed 0.15% of the total in 1861 and 0.13% in 1938: yet 11 Jews sat in the chamber of deputies in 1871, 15 in 1874, and nine in 1921; in the senate there were 11 in 1905, and 26 in 1923. In the universities the proportion of Jewish professors was 6.8% in 1919, and 8% in 1938. The proportion of Jews in the liberal professions and public administration was 6.4% in 1901 and 6.7% in 1928. Jews attained outstanding positions in several branches of national life, not only quantitatively but qualitatively. Among many examples were Luigi Luzzatti, for almost 20 years minister of finance, who became prime minister in 1910; Giuseppe Ottolenghi, minister of war in 1902–03; Leone Wollemborg, minister of finance from 1901; after 1923, Ludovico Mortara was for many years president of the Court of Appeals and, for a time, minister of justice.
In this period, the structure of the Jewish communities changed radically. In 1840, about 70 organized communities existed, in 1938, only 23. In 1840, Italian Jewry numbered 37,000, in 1931, 47,485 (including many newly arrived immigrants). The distribution of the Jewish population also changed. Many small rural communities disappeared, while medium-sized urban ones suffered through migration to the larger centers.
Before the establishment of united Italy, each community had its own administrative and social structure, the central organization imposed by Napoleon lasting for only a short while. A first step toward introducing some measure of coordination among the communities was established by the Rattazzi Law of July 1857. But it was only in 1911 that a “Union of Italian Jewish Communities” (Consorzio delle comunità israelitiche italiane) was set up on a voluntary basis. Finally, the law of October 30, 1930, established on an obligatory national basis the Unione delle comunità israelitiche italiane and defined its administrative competence and that of the individual communities. It also defined the prerogatives of the rabbis, including authorization to perform marriages, provided that the relevant articles of the Italian legal code were read. The law laid down that all those considered Jews by Jewish law automatically belonged to the community if they did not make a formal renunciation.
The upheavals which took place in Jewish life in Italy in the 19th century had important consequences on the nature of Jewish scholarship. Isaac Samuel Reggio (1784–1855), a disciple of Moses Mendelssohn and of N.H. Wessely, propagated the view that it was necessary to diverge from rigid orthodoxy and give a wider place to secular studies. These ideas he wished to put into practice in the rabbinical college of Padua (later Collegio Rabbinico Italiano) founded in 1829. However, when Lelio della Torre and Samuel David Luzzatto, one of the great pioneers of the scientific study of Judaism, directed the college, they followed the traditional path, and under their control it became one of the most highly esteemed rabbinical seminaries in Europe. Luzzatto was an outstanding scholar and an acute exponent of vast portions of the Jewish heritage, including the philosophy of religion, history, literature, ritual, and Hebrew linguistics. Luzzatto’s death marked the end of the college in Padua; its functions were partly assumed by the rabbinical college of Leghorn, under the direction of Elia Benamozegh. The Padua college itself, after brief vicissitudes, was transferred to Florence in 1899 under the dynamic Samuel Hirsch Margulies; after his death in 1922 it relapsed into inactivity, to be resuscitated later in Rome. Among those trained in these institutions were Mordecai Ghirondi, Marco Mortara, David Castelli, Umberto Cassuto, Dante Lattes, and Elia S. Artom. These and other scholars were able to publish the results of their research and studies on general problems in the numerous Jewish periodicals that appeared in Italy from the second half of the 19th century.
From Benito Mussolini’s accession to power in 1922 until late in 1937, the Fascist government did not formally interfere with the social and legal equality enjoyed by Italian Jewry. However, even in its early stages, the Fascist movement showed evidence of intolerance toward minority groups. Some of the party leaders, including Mussolini, made mention of the potential danger to national unity inherent in the “alien character” of the Jews, with their international, cosmopolitan contacts.
When the Fascist movement came to power, the government gave priority to real or imaginary pragmatic considerations over ideological principles. The government wanted to make use of “international Jewry” to strengthen its policies as a whole and increase its penetration into the Levant in particular. The Fascist government also sought to prevent the Zionist movement from being attached solely to British interests in the Middle East.
However, many Fascist leaders feared the fancied political and economic strength of the Jews. The Abyssinian War of 1935, the worsening of relations between Italy and Britain, the attempts at a rapprochement with the Arab nationalists, and, above all, the strengthening of links with Nazi Germany in late 1936 reversed the political considerations which had been paramount until then. Italian Fascism then turned to militant anti-Semitism. In this, as in other matters, the Fascist government was forced to present a united front with its ally, Germany, and to foster the ideological program and the organizational and legislative network of Nazi racial anti-Semitism.
The change of attitude was heralded by a section of the press which condemned “the Jewish and Zionist danger.” Early in 1937, Pietro Orano published his book, Gli Ebrei in Italia, stressing the “alien” character of the Jews. The book sparked a vociferous anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist campaign in the Italian press; when the party newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia, joined in, it was clear that the die had been cast. The Manifesto della Razza appeared in July 1938, ostensibly the work of a group of scientists but apparently edited by Mussolini himself. The Manifesto asserted the existence of a “pure Italian race of Aryan stock,” into which the Jews had never integrated, and called for the implementation of a clear racial policy of a “northern Aryan character.”
In September 1938, the first two laws against Jews were passed, one forbidding them to study or teach in any school or institution of higher learning, the other ordering the deportation of all Jewish aliens who had found refuge in Italy after 1919. A “department for demography and race” was established to coordinate the policy of racial discrimination in all branches of the government, and to conduct a census of Jews living in the country.
On October 7, 1938, the Supreme Council of the Fascist Party determined the principles on which detailed anti-Jewish legislation was to be based. This legislation, passed on November 17, 1938, included prohibitions on marriage between Jews and Aryans and decreed severe civil and economic restrictions, such as interdictions against Jews serving in the army, working in the government, municipal service, or any other public institution, or employing Aryan servants, and the confiscation of Jewish property. The law defined a member of the “Jewish race” as a person with one Jewish parent but exempted Jews in special categories, such as recipients of military awards and those who were wounded in World War I. The restrictions gradually grew more severe as decrees or mere instructions from the party secretary were enacted and executed. Jews were forbidden to own radio sets, visit holiday resorts, enter public libraries, publish newspapers, or be partners in business firms with “Aryan” Italians.
The opening of the racial campaign severely affected the small Jewish community, not only from the economic point of view, but also ethically and organizationally. Many Jews, who from birth were accustomed to complete social equality and who regarded themselves as Italians in every sense, found it hard to understand the meaning of the discrimination and persecution to which they were now subjected. Some were unable to stand the test and tried to find a way out by conversion to Christianity.
In 1938–39, 3,910 cases of apostasy were recorded, as against 101 in the previous two years. Over 5,000 others preferred to emigrate. The Jewish community in Italy, which according to the official census of 1931 numbered 47,485 persons, was reduced by 1939 to 35,156 persons, or 0.8% of the total population. Nevertheless, Jewish institutions managed to surmount the crisis, organized themselves for efficient action, gave help to the needy and refugees, and established Jewish elementary and high schools.
Italy’s entry into World War II as Germany’s ally (June 10, 1940) caused no drastic change in the status of most of the Jews. In the early months of the war, 43 concentration camps were set up in Italy for enemy aliens, and several thousand Jews of foreign nationality, as well as about 200 Italian Jews, were interned; however, conditions in the camps were, overall, bearable. In May 1942 the government decreed that all the Jewish internees would be mobilized into special work legions in place of military service. This order was only partially carried out, and the number of Jews mobilized did not exceed 2,000 men. The fall of the Fascist regime on July 25, 1943, and Italy’s surrender to Germany on September 8, 1943, were turning points. The country was cut in two, with the south in the hands of the Allies, and central and northern Italy under German occupation.
The Italian Jewish community, which for historical reasons was concentrated in Rome and in the north, found itself in the German-occupied area, i.e., the Fascist protectorate called the Italian Socialist Republic, headed by Mussolini. Within an extremely short period of time, these Jews passed from a regime of civil and economic discrimination (September 1938–July 1943), through a brief period of liberty and equality (July 25–Sept. 8, 1943), to find themselves victims of the horrors of the “Final Solution,” together with thousands of Jewish refugees from France and Yugoslavia who had escaped into Italy during the early years of the war.
At first, the authorities in the Italian Socialist Republic contented themselves with a declaration of principles which defined members of the “Jewish race” as aliens and, for the period of the war, as members of an enemy nation (Nov. 14, 1943). This was followed by an order issued by the Ministry of the Interior that all Jews, without exception, should be interned in special concentration camps and all Jewish property confiscated (Nov. 30, 1943).
In the meantime, the occupation authorities, through Theodor Dannecker, Adolf Eichmann’s emissary from the RSHA’s IVB4 office, or through SS and Gestapo officers, completely took over the administration of the move to murder Italian Jewry. When the German occupation began, the first outbreaks of violence occurred against Jews in Merano (Sept. 16, 1943) and around Lake Maggiore (Sept. 22, 1943). With a detailed list of names and with the assistance of the Fascist armed forces, the Germans hunted out Jews in the principal towns. In Rome, the Germans surrounded the Jewish quarter and on a single day (October 16) arrested more than 1,000 persons, who were dispatched directly to Auschwitz; immediately on arrival (October 22 or 23) most of them were murdered. Similar Aktionen were held in Trieste (October 9), Genoa (November 3), Florence (November 6), Milan (November 8), Venice (November 9), and Ferrara (November 14).
Jews who were caught were at first imprisoned in local jails and later sent to special concentration camps set up in northern Italy, especially in Fossoli and Bolzano. When the camps were full, the inmates were sent on to extermination camps, mainly to Auschwitz. It is hard to estimate the exact number of Jews arrested in this early stage, but it may be as many as half the total number of Jews deported from Italy during the German occupation.
A second stage began toward the end of 1943, when Jewish life in Italy went underground and organized Jewish public worship became impossible in the country for the first time in 20 centuries. Numerous Jews managed to cross the border into Switzerland; others found their way through the front line, despite many obstacles, to southern Italy, or joined the groups of anti-Fascist partisans in the mountains. However, the great majority preferred to seek sanctuary among the Italian population, in the homes of “Aryan” acquaintances, among peasants and the working classes, and even in Catholic religious institutions. Manhunts were, however, regularly carried out by the German and Fascist police, with the concomitant danger of betrayal by Fascist or avaricious citizens, and the constant need to seek new shelter. At the hour of greatest danger, many discovered that the greater part of the Italian people was willing to help the persecuted for humanitarian reasons alone, despite the heavy penalties that they risked by their actions.
Of the approximately 2,000 Jews who fought against the German and Fascist forces in the ranks of the partisans, more than 100 fell in battle and five won the highest medals for bravery. Others served in the Allied armies or intelligence services. The number of Jewish victims in Italy is estimated at about 7,750 out of a Jewish population of about 35,000 at the beginning of the German occupation.
The arrest, manhunts, and deportations of entire Jewish populations that the Italians had witnessed in western Europe and Greece, the atrocities performed before their eyes in Croatia, and the rumors about events in eastern Europe convinced many Italian soldiers and diplomats that it was their human duty to assist the persecuted Jews regardless of their nationality. What was no less than a rescue operation was then mounted in the region controlled by the Italian army in Dalmatia and Croatia, where 5,000 Jews from the remainder of Yugoslavia had found asylum; in southern France, where more than 25,000 Jews had gathered, mostly refugees from northern France; and in Athens and other parts of Greece in the Italian zone, where there were some 13,000 Jews. Altogether some 40,000 Jewish refugees from various countries found a haven in the areas of Italian occupation. (In addition, a few thousand refugees had been permitted to enter Italy itself and gained asylum there.)
Despite repeated protests, in no case did the Italians surrender the Jews to the Germans, the Croatian Ustasha, or the Vichy police. They maintained this position in the face of intense pressure, coupled with demands for extradition made by the Germans at various diplomatic levels and even upon Mussolini himself. At least twice Mussolini succumbed to these pressures and gave orders to surrender the Jewish refugees in the Italian zone of Croatia, but the diplomats and high-ranking military officers around him joined forces to evade implementation of this criminal order. Among those who acquitted themselves honorably in this affair were Deputy Foreign Minister Giuseppe Bastianini and senior diplomats Luca Pietromanchi, Luigi Viau, and Roberto Ducci in Rome; diplomatic representatives Guelfo Zamboni, Giuseppe Castruccio, and Pellegrino Ghigi in Greece; the diplomats Vittorio Zoppi, Alberto Calisse, and Gustavo Orlandini in France; and Vittorio Castellani in Croatia. Among military personnel three generals, Giuseppe Pièche, Giuseppe Amico, and Mario Riatta, merit recognition. Other distinguished figures were Police Inspector Guido Lospinoso, who operated in southern France, where he was assisted by the Jewish banker Angelo Donati and the Capuchin friar Pierre-Marie Benoît.
Unfortunately, some of the Jews who had found asylum in the Italian occupied zone were arrested by the Germans after September 8, 1943, and were killed in the Holocaust.
Italian Jewry’s losses resulting from Fascist persecutions can be estimated at about 40%: by deportations (7,749 dead out of 8,360 deportees, around 16% of the Jewish population in 1938), conversion to other religions (5,705 cases during the period 1938–43, around 12%), and emigration (approximately 6,000 persons, around 13%). Indirect consequences of the persecutions were a drastic decline in the birth and marriage rates, which further aggravated the already precarious demographic conditions of Italian Jewry. In the course of the persecutions, the small communities, which were already declining in numbers, suffered severely. At the end of World War II, 29,117 Jews remained in Italy, and a further 26,300 refugees originating mainly from central and eastern Europe were added to this number. Italy was a main gathering place for the refugees en route to Palestine, and the great majority later reached Palestine, legally or illegally.
Meanwhile, the difficult work of reconstructing the communities was begun, with the help of Jewish international relief organizations. Politically, the Jewish minority in Italy lived under generally good conditions after World War II. The Italian Jews and their institutions enjoyed full rights guaranteed by the Constitution and by the respect of the greater part of the Italian people.
At the end of World War II, a certain number of refugees settled permanently in Italy. Subsequently, immigrants arrived, mainly from Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries and from North Africa, especially following the persecutions of Jews after the Sinai Campaign in 1956. At the same time, immigration also took place from Hungary and other eastern European countries, although to a smaller extent.
Schematically, the following three groups could be distinguished in Italian Jewry: the Jews of Rome, the great majority of whom were born there, who partly still lived in the old ghetto, endowed with a sturdy vitality that could be linked in part to the modest conditions of the community and in part to the survival of strong bonds with Jewish tradition; other Italian-born Jews, widely scattered geographically, with more tenuous links with Jewish culture but steadily growing ties with secular Italian culture, and hence more open to social contacts with non-Jews, mixed marriages, and increasingly rapid assimilation; and Jews born abroad, characterized by greater social cohesion, but inclined to adopt rapidly the habits and customs of the less vital groups of Italian Jewry.
According to the results of a statistical inquiry carried out, on a national basis, under the auspices of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 12,000 Jewish families were living in Italy in 1965, comprising about 32,000 Jews out of a total population of 52,000,000 (a density of 0.6 per thousand). The geographical distribution of the Jews was 42.2% in Rome; 7% in Milan; 21.8% in the six medium-sized communities of Turin, Florence, Trieste, Genoa, Venice, and Leghorn; and 8.3% in the 15 small communities of Naples, Bologna, Ancona, Mantua, Pisa, Padua, Modena, Ferrara, Verona, Alessandria, Vercelli, Parma, Merano, Gorizia, and Casale Monferrato. Isolated Jews were also spread over more than 200 minor centers.
A few demographic details from the above survey will suffice to indicate the state of decline of the Jews in Italy. The birth rate for the Jews was 11.4 per 1,000 as against 18.3 per 1,000 for the entire population; the fertility rate (children from birth to four years per 1,000 women of age 15–49) was 210 for the Jews as against 360 for the general population; the marriage rate was 4.6% as against 8.0%; the mortality rate in general was 16.1% as against 9.6%; the Jews were considerably older: the average age was 41 years as against 33 years for the total population; finally, the demographic balance of the Jewish population was negative, -4.7%, as against +8.7% for the general population. In contrast to the general population, the Jewish population was almost entirely urban and limited to the regions of the center and north. Its educational level was higher, with a large proportion of university graduates (14% as against 1.4%). The largest concentration in occupational distribution was to be found in the business and services sectors (80.7% of the Jews as against 30.3% of the general population), with a certain representation in industry (18.7% as against 40.6%) and an almost total absence from agriculture (0.6% as against 29.1%). The majority were self-employed, followed by those employed in commerce, in the free professions, and as executives and employees. In Rome, the number of hawkers was considerable.
The central organization of Italian Jewry was the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, which represented Jewish interests vis-à-vis the government. Under the successive presidencies of R. Cantoni, A. Zevi, R. Bonfiglioli, and S. Piperno Beer, the Union intervened on behalf of Italian Jews in the face of anti-Semitic incidents and acted on behalf of the heirs of the victims of the Holocaust in matters of reparations and compensation.
The Union also had a special section for cultural activities, rabbinical activity, on the other hand, being under the supervision of the Italian Rabbinical Council. Each community was responsible for organizing all religious and welfare services and cultural activities, as well as administering its own property. Jewish education was carried out through a system of Jewish schools, recognized by the state, in which the syllabus of the state schools was followed with the addition of Jewish subjects. Such schools existed in seven communities in 1970; in 1965–66 the total number of their students amounted to 1,986. The greatest number of pupils, however, was to be found in the elementary schools; in the higher grades the number of Jewish students attending Jewish schools fell drastically in favor of state schools. Rabbinical training was given at the Collegio Rabbinico Italiano, in Rome, and the S.H. Margulies Rabbinical School in Turin. Finally, a few hundred Jewish students attended technical courses at ORT.
Among Italian-Jewish publications were La Rassegna Mensile d’Israel, a Jewish cultural magazine; Israel, a Jewish weekly of moderate Zionist tendencies; its cultural monthly, Shalom; and Ha-Tikvah, the monthly organ of the Federation of Jewish Youth. In general, assimilation of young Jews, particularly those born in Italy, was very noticeable and was also evident from the data on mixed marriages. In Milan, during 1952–66, 46 out of 100 Jewish bridegrooms married non-Jewish brides, and 26 of the 100 Jewish brides married non-Jews.
In 1955, the Center of Jewish Contemporary documentation (CDEC) was founded in Milan for the promotion of didactic activities and research on contemporary Italian Judaism, Shoah and anti-Semitism for researchers, students, and schools. The Italian Zionist Federation encouraged aliyah, which, though small in numbers, was well qualified professionally. It also organized various cultural and educational activities concerning Israel, frequently in collaboration with WIZO (ADEI) and other representatives of world Zionist organizations.
Soon after World War II, due partly to the presence of the Jewish Brigade, many young Italian Jews were imbued with Zionist enthusiasm which led to their participation in Israel’s War of Independence (1948) and in some cases to settlement in Israel. This, however, did not always have strong ideological roots and, as a result a considerable number returned to Italy. Also during that period, the major part of the population of the Apulian village of San Nicandro was converted to Judaism under the leadership of D. Manduzio and subsequently settled in Israel.
Jews were more modestly represented in realms of culture and in public life than in the first few decades of the 20th century. Many representatives of the Jewish intelligentsia had either left Italy, however, because of the racial laws or perished during the persecutions. Among the Jews who rose to distinction in Italy in the post-World War II period in the humanistic field were the writers C. Levi, A. Moravia (Pincherle), G. Bassani, and P. Levi; in the field of science, the mathematician G. Castelnuova, president of the Academia Dei Lincei, the physicist Emilio Segre, Nobel Prize winner in 1959, and the physicist B. Pontecorvo, who caused a storm when he defected to the Soviet Union after the war. General G. Liuzzi was head of the General Staff of the armed forces in the years 1954–59.
There was a more modest Jewish participation in Italy’s political life as compared with the period before the rise of Fascism. In the legislatures of the Italian parliament there was a succession of Jewish representatives, on the average about ten out of 1,000 deputies and senators in the two houses. Of special note is a leader of the Communist party, Umberto Terracini of Turin, who was president of the Constituent Assembly in 1947.
At the start of the 1980s there were some 41,000 Jews in Italy, of whom 36,000 were permanent residents, some 2,000 Israeli students, and some 3,000 Russian Jews, most of whom were in Rome awaiting emigration visas to other countries. Of the permanent Jewish population, 14,500 lived in Rome and 9,500 in Milan, while the communities of Turin, Florence, Trieste, Leghorn, Venice and Genoa accounted for 6,000, with the remaining 2,000 in 14 small communities. Two characteristic demographic traits of the community were aging and assimilation. The Jewish birthrate continued to be low while, for the first time, the rate of intermarriage reached a level of more than 40 percent in Rome and was considerably higher in other towns.
In 1993, the number of Jews officially registered in Italian communities was 31,000, with an estimated additional 10–15,000 unaffiliated. Mixed marriages fell from 50% to 40% in ten years. During the 1980s several small communities died out. Rome Jewry was the most homogeneous, made up mostly of families – most of them store owners – who survived the war and a dynamic post-1967 Libyan Jewish community by now well-integrated, although they had their own synagogue. The Milan community was of international origin with groups of Syrian, Iranian, Lebanese Jews and others, each with their own synagogues. Lubavitch families had settled in various cities, attracting some of the youth. Friction arose initially because the Lubavitch rabbis accused the Italian rabbis of laxity in maintaining halakhic standards, challenging Italian Jewry’s elastic traditions of accommodating all forms of religiosity under an umbrella definition of Orthodoxy. A modus vivendi was found, resulting in greater cooperation. No Conservative or Reform congregations existed in Italy because they are traditionally regarded as a threat to Jewish unity and a step toward assimilation.
Along with the general community, Jews also suffered from the continuing erosion in political stability and public order which characterized Italy during the 1970s, and at least three Jews were abducted and held for ransom. In November 1977, the liberal journalist, Carlo Casalegno, joint editor of La Stampa and a good friend of the Jewish community and of Israel, was killed in an ambush in Turin.
Despite certain self-defense precautions taken by Jewish institutions, there was a general feeling of frustration and distrust in the Jewish community which stemmed from a ceaseless trickle of anti-Semitic events, often combining anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist elements and trends. These ranged from a variety of Nazi-Fascist or Marxist-Leninist graffiti to more committed documents by intellectuals and official bodies, to bombs thrown against synagogues (which, however, caused neither casualties nor any considerable damage).
Research on anti-Semitism in contemporary Italy, directed by Professor Alfonso Di Nola, suggested a possible connection between Italian proletarian, revolutionary and reactionary interests and Arab terrorist groups. In fact, Arab organizations continued to make Italy one of their European strongholds and acted with increasing effrontery against Israeli interests and property, particularly air transport between the two countries.
The main cause of concern to Italian Jews was the consequences of the radicalization of the political struggle on the general scene. A dangerous political instability prevailed in 1974–75. In this connection it was difficult to disentangle wholly the implication of the Middle East crisis from purely local factors.
The Italian mass media, headed by the government-controlled radio and television, adopted an open pro-Arab attitude during the Yom Kippur War. One incident received considerable publicity. A satirical article on Col. Qaddhafi, written by two non-Jews, appeared in La Stampa, of which Arrigo Levi – a former volunteer in the Israel War of Independence – had been appointed editor a few months earlier. The Libyan government issued a formal protest, demanding, inter alia, the dismissal of the editor and threatening a total boycott of all products of Fiat, which owned the newspaper. Although Levi could retain his post, the Italian government issued a “balanced statement” on the matter, showing understanding of the Arab position. This was later openly manifested when Italy voted in favor of the admission of the Palestine Liberation Organization as an observer at the UN General Assembly.
The resurgent neo-fascism and the anti-Israel tide did not cause any actual direct damage to the Jewish community. Nevertheless, fears for the personal safety of Italian Jewish leaders reached a peak after the arrest in Jerusalem of Greek Catholic Archbishop Capucci. There was evidence of an anti-Jewish mood subtly penetrating intellectual, cultural, and artistic circles. It could be observed in most Italian universities, including most departments of political science and history, where the Middle East conflict is usually taught, and as a result the academic objectivity and scientific standing of these institutions was slowly being compromised.
On the other hand, there were a few positive highlights, such as the courageous stand taken by Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff in a few debates on radio and television, which were widely followed, and the support given Israel by a group of members of the Italian parliament, a delegation of which went on a mission to Israel in 1974. Vigorous and effective pro-Jewish stands were taken in the Jewish and non-Jewish press by such writers as Carlo Gasalegno, Aldo Garosci, Tullia Zevi, Marsimo Della Pergola, Alberto Nirenstein and the editorial board of the Roman Jewish monthly Shalom which had favorable repercussions in the country.
In November 1976, an official proposal was published to grant a conditional release to SS Lieut. Col. Herbert Kappler, who had directed the slaughter at the Fosse Ardeatin (near Rome), after 28 years of imprisonment. The reaction in the Jewish community was immediate; they hastened to the military hospital where Kappler was held. Larger demonstrations followed in anti-Fascist circles, and the proposal was eventually dropped. On Aug. 15, 1977, however, Kappler was suddenly abducted by his wife to the townlet of Soltau in West Germany. An immediate request of extradition, submitted by the Italian government, could not be complied with under German constitutional law. For a few weeks there was some tension between the Italian and German governments (the Germans had been exerting pressure to obtain Kappler’s release), and only his death a few months later brought the case to an end.
There were also some expressions of intellectual revisionism which attempted to minimize the extent of the Holocaust, or to find psychological or political Jewish responsibilities for it. Some of the most vociferous theories about “Jewish racism” were heard in 1976 on the occasion of a strike by a leftist union at the Sonzogno publishing house, to prevent publication of the Italian version of a report on the IDF rescue operation at Entebbe. Nor was the Vatican’s position more encouraging; in February 1976, the Vatican delegation at an Islamic-Christian conference held in Tripoli voted in favor of a document stating that Zionism is an aggressive, racist movement, foreign to Palestine and to the whole of the Orient.
During the 1980s, the Middle East political situation continued to make itself felt. A Palestinian terrorist attack on the Rome synagogue on October 9, 1982, resulted in the death of a two-year-old boy; 40 Jews were wounded. In October 1985, the Italian cruiser Achille Lauro was hijacked and an invalid Jewish passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, shot and thrown overboard. On December 27, 1985, terrorists struck at the El Al counter of Rome’s Airport, leaving many dead and wounded. In June 1986, the Italian government signed an agreement with the U.S. for cooperation against terrorism.
The Lebanon War in 1982 and the Intifada in 1987 set off media campaigns against Israel, often tinged with anti-Semitism. Newborn Italian “Progressive Judaism” movements proposing a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians began a constructive dialogue with the traditionally critical Italian Left. An Israeli-Palestinian meeting was held in 1989 by the Milan Center for Peace in the Middle East. Jewish and Italian groups joined Shalom Akhshav in a Jerusalem “Time for Peace” march in 1989.
During the Gulf War, the Italy–Israel Friendship Association staged a 1,000-person Solidarity for Israel demonstration outside Israel’s Rome Embassy.
On May 25, 1992, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro was elected president of the Italian Republic only two months after having been nominated the first president of the newly formed Italy-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Association. On March 20, he had defended Israel as “a land for which we Europeans have still not been able to assure the basic requisites of security.”
Two Italian Jews were elected to parliament: Bruno Zevi on the Radical ticket in 1987 and Enrico Modigliani, a Republican, in 1992. With Italian support, the European Economic Community lifted the freeze on scientific cooperation with Israel in 1991.
In 1991-92, economic instability and political scandals shook coalition alliance parties and strengthened the newly emerged Northern Lombard League favoring regional autonomy, a stop to immigration, and the expulsion of southern Italian migrants. Italy’s extreme-right fringe became more audacious, permitting Fascist salutes and racist slogans. There were anti-Semitic outbursts in sports stadiums (rival teams being referred to as “Jews”), desecrations of Jewish cemeteries, and violence against foreign immigrants. In June 1992, an international revisionist congress was held in Rome, but Italian authorities blocked further meetings.
A massive Kristallnacht anniversary demonstration against anti-Semitism in Italy’s major cities on November 9, 1992, concluded a week of chain reactions to a misleadingly alarmistic report on anti-Semitism in the weekly Espresso. Following the issue, 30 Jewish stores in Rome were plastered with yellow stars with the message “Zionists Out of Italy” and other graffiti proclaimed “Jews – Back to Africa.” About 100 Jewish youths then stormed the headquarters of the Fascist “Movimento Politico Occidentale.”
At the end of 1992, parliament was debating a bill updating and reinforcing existing laws against anti-Semitism, neo-Fascism and racism in all its forms.
A record total of Italian tourists, mostly pilgrims, went to Israel in 1992. El Al increased flights and extended coverage to Venice, Verona, and Bergamo. From 1992 on, all organized pilgrimages included visits to Yad Vashem. In February 1991, Milan’s Cardinal Martini led 1,250 pilgrims, traveling in four planes from Milan and two from Rome. The Italian Touring Club published its first “Green Guide” to Israel in 1993.
A subject of central importance because of its possible impact on communal life was the proposed revision of the Concordat between Italy and the Vatican, in force since 1929. The question of the special role of Catholic religious norms admitted by the Italian Constitution and ordinary law, had a general relevance on the nature of the Italian state, and antagonized both Catholic and secular political forces. The Jews, more particularly, pointed to four areas of inequality in comparison to the Catholic majority, and supported reform of existing legislation:
(a) The Concordat virtually makes Catholicism the official religion of the state, other cults being merely “accepted,” and therefore, although formally unequal, are free to organize themselves according to their own principles.
(b) Catholicism has a privileged status in public education.
(c) Although Catholic religious marriages are exclusively regulated by Canon law, they are granted civil validity, while in the case of Jews, religious and civil marriages, though usually performed by the same official in the synagogue, lead to separate jurisdictions in case of controversy.
(d) The Vatican has exclusive property rights and jurisdiction over all catacombs, including Jewish ones. In fact, the Jewish catacombs are closed and inaccessible, and there were fears of their being damaged and despoiled. The Jews asked that these monuments, of the greatest historical and religious importance, be turned over to the Jewish community, which would set up an international committee to supervise maintenance and further research and excavations.
The chance that all these points would be accepted for reformulation was remote. Related to revision of the Concordat was a possible reform of the Law of Jewish Communities (1930), under which membership in Jewish communities in Italy is compulsory. Certain Jewish circles advocated a new communal structure, based on voluntary membership. This was opposed by persons fearing it would considerably reduce the financial support to communities, impairing the functioning of their services, particularly of Jewish schools which provide at least a few years of Jewish instruction to about 75 percent of Jewish children in Italy. The largest complex is in Rome with 1,200 children between the ages of 5 and 18.
The Union of Italian Jewish Communities held national congresses in 1982, 1986, and 1990. Tullia Zevi, a journalist from Rome, was elected as the UIJC’s first woman president in 1982, a position she still held in 1992. The 1982 keynote address on the importance of historical memory was written by Primo Levi, the distinguished novelist and Auschwitz survivor. The Italian Jewish biologist, Rita Levi Montalcini, co-winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize for medicine, addressed that year’s UIJC Congress, which was also attended by the president of the Italian Republic, Francesco Cossiga.
In 1984, the Italian Constitutional Court repealed a 1930 law requiring compulsory membership and taxation of Jews by local communities. This law was successfully contested by a Libyan Jewish immigrant. In 1987, a new intesa (agreement) between the UIJC and the Italian government was signed, becoming effective in March 1989 and containing allowances for Sabbath requirements, legalizing rabbinic marriages, and making rabbinic ordination equivalent to university degrees.
Similar intese were stipulated with other religious minorities in Italy and, in 1992, negotiations began between the government and the c. 100,000-strong community of Muslim immigrants.
Italy became a state of religious pluralism on February 18, 1984, when a revised Concordat between the Holy See and the Italian Republic abolished Catholicism’s privilege of being the “state religion,” for the first time in 16 centuries.
In December 1992, the UIJC decided to call a special national congress on the possibility of financing the Jewish communities by opting for voluntary contributions from tax payers of “8 per 1000 lire” of their income taxes – a system already adopted by the Catholic Church, Protestants, Seventh Day Adventists, and Mormons.
Many new books dealing directly or indirectly with Jewish subjects were published from the 1970s on, showing continued interest in the subject by a wide public. The most interesting new initiative was the series of books of Jewish culture issued by Carucci. They mainly included reprints of scholarly essays by such authors as Elia Benamozegh, Martin Buber, Umberto Cassuto, Dante Lattes; satirical Jewish poetry by Crescenzo Del Monte; translations and exegeses of biblical texts; and a new demographic, sociological and political analysis of Italian Jewry by Sergio Della Pergola.
Fausta Cialente was awarded the 1976 Strega Prize for her Le Quattro Ragazze Wieselberger, including autobiographical flashbacks on Jewish society in Trieste at the turn of the century and in Egypt in the 1940s. The 1977 Portico d’Ottavia Prize was awarded to Richard Rubenstein for the Italian translation of his essay “The Religious Imagination,” a psychoanalytical analysis of Jewish sources. Given honorable mention on the same occasion were Gitta Sereny’s In Quelle Tenebre (a vivid evocation of the Holocaust) and Paolo De Benedetti’s La Chiamata Di Samuele. A new volume of the scholarly Yearbook of Jewish Studies was issued by the Collegio Rabinico Italiano, now a division of an expanding Instituto Superiore di Studi Ebraici which provided a framework for scientific study and research on Jewish subjects.
In June 1977, a new cultural popular festival was inaugurated in the area of the old ghetto in Rome, attracting for one day many thousands of Jews and non-Jews to theater, music, sport, and cooking exhibitions. Alberto Vigevani was awarded the literary prize Portico d’ Ottavia for a collection of tales, Fine delle domeniche, bringing his youthful reminiscences of a vanishing Jewish identity in the assimilated, bourgeois environment of a small Jewish community. Elsa Morante’s La storia, including vivid flashbacks to the ghetto of Rome during the Nazi occupation, was very favorably reviewed by literary circles and had a great commercial success. Several books were published on the history of local Jewish communities, most noteworthy of which was Gli ebrei a Perugia by Ariel Toaff.
In 1976, the publication began of the scientific-historical review Italia – Studi e ricerche sulla cultura e sulla letteratura degli ebrei d’Italia. An interesting new edition of the Passover Haggadah was issued by the Federation of Jewish Youth in Italy, in which the translation of the traditional text was complemented by modern Jewish prose and partisan songs. Cultural links between Italy and Israel were strengthened after a new cultural agreement between the two countries became fully operative.
In May 1981, a five-day international congress, “Italia Judaica,” was held in Bari under the joint sponsorship of the Italian Ministry for the Protection of Cultural Patrimony and Environment and the State Archives; the papers presented covered various aspects of Jewish history and culture in Italy.
Major efforts were made to preserve Italy’s vast and precious but rapidly deteriorating Jewish heritage. Private foundations and government sponsorship could only partially cover the enormous costs required for maintenance and restoration.
The National Jewish Bibliographic Center was established in Rome in 1984 and, in 1990, a new wing was inaugurated. In 1986, a grant from the Olivetti group permitted work to begin on the collection and preservation of about 25,000 volumes of archival and bibliographical materials from extinct and small communities all over Italy. Other contributions included a donation by Nobel Prize winner Rita Levi-Montalcini. Israeli experts came to help in the framework of Italy-Israel cultural agreements and Father Pierfrancesco Fumagalli, secretary of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, himself a specialist in illuminated Hebrew manuscripts, contributed his expertise. In April 1992, a three-year agreement was made with the musicological departments of the University of Cremona and The Hebrew University for collecting, recording, and transcribing liturgical and other music by Italian Jewish composers for a special section of the Library.
The Vatican transferred the custody of the Roman Jewish catacombs to the Italian state in 1985; but for lack of funds for guards and upkeep, the Villa Torlonia catacombs are not yet open to the public.
The Venice and Rome synagogues were refurbished and the restoration of ancient synagogues and cemeteries in small communities were under way. Excavations in Calabria unearthed a fourth-century synagogue.
In 1990, the Italian government announced plans for renovating the Roman ghetto.
The works of Josef B. Sermoneta and Roberto Bonfil, both professors at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, best articulate the problem of interpretation of Jewish culture in the Italian Renaissance. Sermoneta (“Aspetti del pensiero moderno nell’ebraismo italiano tra Rinascimento e età barocca,” Italia Judaica, II, 1986) argued that the familiarity with Italian literary and cultural trends did not entail assimilation: in short, participating in the cultural enterprises of the Renaissance went hand in hand with asserting Jewish uniqueness and spiritual superiority. Bonfil (Gli ebrei in Italia nell’epoca del Rinascimento 1991) urged Jewish historians to renounce harmonistic interpretation and to study Jewish history “on its own terms,” that is by defining the social status of Jews in Renaissance Italy, and then reconstructing their unique Jewish experience. The studies of David Ruderman, Michele Luzzati and Kenneth R. Stow show many interesting aspects of Italian Jewish history.
Congresses. Among initiatives made possible by renewed Italy-Israel cultural and scientific agreements were five international “Italia Judaica” conferences including in Genoa, 1984, on “Italian Jewry in the Renaissance and Baroque Periods”; in Tel Aviv, 1986, on “Jews in Italy from Ghetto Times to the First Emancipation”; in Siena, 1989, on “The Jews in United Italy 1870–1945”; and in Palermo, 1992, on “Jews in Sicily up to the Expulsion in 1492.”
Throughout 1992 Italy commemorated the 500th anniversary of the arrival in Italy of Jews expelled from Spain. A major international congress was held in Genoa. In Ancona, a monument was unveiled to the memory of a group of Marranos burned at the stake in 1556.
Exhibitions. In 1989, a “Gardens and Ghettos” exhibition on Italian Jewish art was shown in New York and Ferrara, and 1992 saw an important exhibition in Rome of all Judaica literature published in Italy from 1955 to 1990.
The National Museum of Italian Judaism and the Shoah (MEIS), is a national museum in Ferrara, Italy dedicated to remembering and preserving the Jewish culture and history of Italy. Located in a building which had served as a Jewish prison during the Holocaust, the MEIS was born out of an Italian law passed in 2003 that mandated the creation of an institutional space to teach about the Holocaust and all aspects of Italian Jewish life. The museum opened its doors in 2017, and large parts are still under construction.
In mid-2018, the first synagogue to exist in Palermo, Sicily for 500 years, was opened. The archbishop of Palermo, Corrado Lorefice, granted the Jewish community permission to rebuild their synagogue in an unused Baroque oratory known as Santa Maria del Sabato, located in what used to be the city’s Jewish Quarter. The building’s interior and exterior were refurbished, with the costs being covered by the city.
A special commemorative edition of Italy’s 1939 racial laws was published in 1989 by Italian authorities in Rome. In Florence, Israeli architect David Cassuto was awarded a silver medal in honor of his father, Rabbi Nathan Cassuto, for moral courage in wartime Italy.
In 1986, RAI-TV produced a series of programs on Nicola Caracciolo’s book on Italians and Jews in World War II; in 1987, Susan Zuccotti’s The Italians and the Holocaust was translated into Italian; in 1991, Liliana Picciotto Fargion’s Libro della Memoria containing the individual stories of every deportee from 1943 to 1945, published by the Milan Jewish Documentation Center (CDEC), was presented in a solemn public ceremony in Rome.
Education Against Anti-Semitism
In 1992, CDEC, with government sponsorship, inaugurated a “Videothéque of Jewish Memory,” offering 700 selected videocassettes for free loans to individuals and groups. On November 10, 1992, the Italian Ministry of Education made an agreement with the Union of Italian Jewish Communities on the use in schools of audiovisual programs on Jewish history. A course on Israel for high school teachers was held in Bergamo, organized by the Federation of Italy-Israel Friendship Associations.
In October 2013, the Italian Senate’s Justice Committee approved a bill to amend part of Italy’s criminal code to specify Holocaust denial as a crime. The move will strengthen a law which already says defending crimes against humanity can be punished by up to five years in prison. The decision came as Italy marked the 70th anniversary since Jews were rounded up from the Rome Ghetto and sent to concentration camps.
A poll by Eurispes released in January 2020 found that more than 15% of Italians believe the Holocaust never happened, an increase from less than 3% in 2004. Nearly 24% of the respondents said Jews control the economy and media, and 26% said they control U.S. policy. About 20% agreed that Mussolini “was a great leader who only made a few mistakes.”
A special document on Ecumenism by the Diocese of Rome in 1983 called for the Church to ensure that sermons did not contain “any form or vestige of anti-Semitism,” and called for “a rediscovery of our Jewish roots.”
After the revision in 1984 of the Concordat between Italy and the Holy See, Catholicism was no longer a “state religion,” and attendance at Catholic religious courses in schools became voluntary.
In 1985, the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews promulgated Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis. These were discussed in the Vatican by a Jewish delegation which was received by Pope John Paul II to mark the 20th anniversary of the Nostra Aetate declaration.
On April 13, 1986, John Paul II visited Rome’s main synagogue, the first such visit by a pope in history, and addressed Jews as “our cherished older brothers.”
In October 1986, the pope invited leaders of the world’s main religions to prayer at Assisi. Judaism was represented by ADL Representative Dr. Joseph Lichten and Rome’s Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff, who led a study session in front of an ancient synagogue.
In 1987, the pope received Austrian President Kurt Waldheim in private audience, arousing worldwide Jewish protest.
The 1988 Vatican Document, The Church and Racism, contained the statement “Anti-Zionism serves at times as a screen for anti-Semitism, feeding on it and leading to it.”
On January 17, 1990, the Italian Episcopal Conference celebrated its first annual national day of dialogue with Judaism in parish churches throughout Italy – the only national Episcopal Conference to have taken this initiative at that point.
That same year the cult of “Saint Domenichino” (an alleged Jewish ritual murder victim) in Massa Carrara was abolished by the Catholic Church, declared illegitimate, and without any historical foundation.
In November 1990, the pope declared that “Anti-Semitism is a sin against God and man,” endorsing a statement made by the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee in Prague, in September 1990.
On July 29, 1992, a bilateral permanent working commission was established between “the Holy See and the State of Israel, in order to study and define together issues of reciprocal interest and in view of normalizing relations,” according to a joint communiqué. This was described as a first step toward diplomatic recognition.
The various strata of Italian Jewry and the diverse origins of the Jewish communities are reflected in the variety of their musical traditions. Six stylistic traditions can be distinguished:
(1) The Italian rite (also called lo’azi, Italki or Italyani) came to the communities of north central Italy in the late Middle Ages. In 1970, it was still in use in “Italian rite synagogues” of Turin, Padua, Mantua, Venice, Ferrara, Alessandria, Ancona and Siena. In Pitigliano, Reggio Emilia, and Florence it ceased some decades earlier. In Milan and Bologna, it was adopted in the modern synagogues.
(2) Sephardi rites and chants which came from Spain, either directly or by way of North Africa, to the communities on the west coast, chiefly Leghorn. Their use eventually spread to Genoa, Naples, Pisa, and in the 19th century to Florence (where they replaced the Italian rite and its melodies).
(3) The Sephardi chant, originating partially from Marranos in Spain but mainly from the Balkan Peninsula and the Orient, and received by the communities on the Adriatic coast, chiefly Venice, and later Trieste, Ferrara, and Ancona. In the Venetian “colonies” of Spalato and Ragusa this tradition is extinct.
(4) The rite of three small communities in Piedmont: Asti, Fossano, and Moncalvo (extinct), which were settled by Jews from France in the 14th to 15th century and called APAM after their Hebrew initials.
(5) The Ashkenazi rite used by the communities of south-German origin formed in the 16th–17th century at Casale Monferrato, Padua, Verona, Venice, Gorizia. It is extinct in Rovigo, Vercelli, Modena, Sandaniele del Friuli, and other small centers.
(6) Rome, where until the beginning of the 20th century various congregations had “Scole “(synagogues) which, according to their origin, were called Sicilian, Castilian, Catalan, or Italian. In the 20th-century Great Synagogue, inaugurated in 1904, the different musical traditions fused into a single rite, in which the Italian element predominated, but in which the influences of Sephardi chant and ancient and modern Roman Christian liturgy could be discerned.
The most important element common to these different traditions is the Italian pronunciation of Hebrew. Because of the nasalization of the ayin, the loss of the he, the pronunciation of the tav without dagesh as d, and especially since all the vowels (including the sheva na at the beginning and frequently at the end of a word) are fully pronounced, a peculiar sonorousness of musical expression emerged which completely Italianized the tunes, including those of German and Spanish origin. Concomitantly, the chants of Germanic origin underwent a leveling of their pentatonic and characteristically wide intervals, and those of Oriental origin lost such exotic elements as the interval of the augmented second, the plaintive and excessively melismatic turns, and the coloratura passages. Most of the chants and their style of performance are characterized in all Italian rites by an ecclesiastical solemnity or, at times, by operatic idioms. In the 18th–19th centuries, the singing was also influenced by the “learned” styles of Italian music or by popular songs.
In the synagogues built according to the “Italian plan,” i.e., bipolar construction, the tevah or bimah is situated in an elevated niche, like a counterapse, in the western wall opposite the aron; the benches are therefore arranged in two rows along the northern and southern walls and the worshipers are thus able to see the face and gestures of the ḥazzan. The singing therefore developed responsorial forms with much public participation. Under the direction of the ḥazzan, who became a kind of conductor of this homophonous choir, there was participation even in the recital of the introductory formulae of the Shema and the psalms.
In the 19th century, with the construction of modern synagogues where the bimah is closer to the aron, participation by the public was reduced; but following the example of the Reform synagogues in Vienna and Paris, an organized choir (male, sometimes mixed or female) was introduced for which new collections of liturgical chants were composed, even in such small Jewish communities as those in Vercelli, Asti, Trieste, Saluzzo, and Mantua. Those chants were composed mainly in 19th-century idiom, reminiscent of the operatic style of Verdi or Rossini, or based on patriotic songs of the Italian Risorgimento in which the Jews had enthusiastically taken part. This music required the use of an organ; however, after World War II, the organ was abolished in all Italian Jewish communities.
It should be noted that the development of “cultured” 19th-century music had its precedents in many Italian cities in the art music composed for synagogue use by Jewish and some non-Jewish musicians during the ghetto period of the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Jewish musicians and composers were greatly appreciated by, and enjoyed the favor of, the local rulers. Salomone de Rossi of Mantua, Leone de Modena of Venice, and the Christian Carlo Grossi of Modena are examples of this Jewish-Italian musical symbiosis.
The Italian rite in Rome and in the northern communities possesses its own tradition of biblical cantillation in the reading of the parashah, the haftarah (including a special “festive” intonation of the haftarah), and in the sung rendition of the psalms. This tradition is documented in the notations of parashah and haftarah tunes published by Giulio Bartolocci (1693) and in the intonation of the psalms, noted first by E. Bottrigari (1599) and some years later by Jacob b. Isaac Finzi, ḥazzan of the Ashkenazi community of Casale Monferrato, according to the tradition of his teacher, R. Abraham Segre (preserved in the Hebrew manuscript, Jews College, London, Montefiore 479, fol. 147b).
In this tradition, only five or six of the main (disjunctive) accents are rendered by musical motives of their own, the subservient (conjunctive) accents being disregarded. The application of the motives does not coincide with the “Tiberian” accentuation system with which the biblical text is provided, implying the existence of an independent system based on an oral tradition. This independent system is related to the old Near Eastern practice of Ekphonesis, an early Byzantine term meaning public reading of the Scriptures. Since the Italian rite derives from the Palestinian which dates from an earlier period than the one in which the Tiberian system of the Masoretic accents became established, it may be proposed that this method of biblical cantillation is equally ancient.
The cantillation is limited to a strictly tetrachordal (four-tone) range, and tends to be syllabic, without melismas, the musical motifs being spread over entire words or groups of words. In the Sephardi and Ashkenazi synagogues of Italy, too, this syllabic rendition prevails in biblical cantillation and even more so in the melodies of the prayers. The medieval and Oriental taste for melismatics is preserved only in some archaic melodies of the APAM rite or in rites of more conservative and isolated centers such as Gorizia (Ashkenazi) and Leghorn (Sephardi). However, there too, cantorial improvisation in the Oriental style is excluded, the melodic formulas for each liturgical ceremony being fixed by tradition in the form of leitmotiv-like systems which are peculiar to each community. Italian rabbis often protested against the melismatic influences of Oriental or Ashkenazi ḥazzanim on the repertoire of a community, not only because they wished to keep the local musical traditions intact, but because melismas interrupted or distorted the rendering of the text according to the correct grammatical accentuation.
No liturgical or quasi-liturgical Judeo-Italian vernacular songs are found in the tradition, and perhaps none existed. There are, however, a few exceptions: songs in “Bagitto” (the Jewish Livornese dialect), in Judeo-Corfiote (in Trieste), and in Piedmontese-Jewish, all of which are translations of Hebrew Passover songs, Purim parodies, and the like. Moreover, in the middle of the 19th century, some poems written in Hebrew, with parallel Italian translation, were set to compositions and popular anthems of the Risorgimento to celebrate the emancipation of the Jews.
The hymns of the proselytes of San Nicandro, created between 1930 and 1950, form a separate and peculiar repertoire. The hymns are of biblical inspiration, but the language is the dialect of the Gargano-Puglia region and the melodies are adaptations of regional songs. Women perform the hymns in a kind of primitive polyphony.
The only systematic collection of traditional synagogal melodies for the annual liturgical cycle is Federico Consolo ‘s Libro dei canti d’Israele (1892), containing the Sephardi tradition of Leghorn. A collection of Ashkenazi melodies of Ferrara was made in 1925–35 on the initiative of A.Z. Idelsohn, but most of the material has been lost. A collection from the present repertoire of the Roman synagogue has been published by A. Piatelli (see bibliography). An early and interesting musical transcription is the “Twelve Biblical Intonations” of the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews of Venice. Performed by the gentile composer Benedetto Marcello, they were used by him as a melodic basis for his psalm-paraphrases in the paraphrases, Estro poetico-armonico (Venice, 1724–27).
Although Italy was one of the Axis powers during World War II, this fact left no imprint on her relations with Israel. The active help given in Italy to the survivors of the Holocaust from all over Europe – in particular toward their migration to Palestine – and the fact that, even under the Fascist regime, Italy did not participate in the horrors perpetrated by her German ally but rather actually helped in the rescue work, served to place Israel-Italian relations on a regular footing from the outset.
When the young State of Israel approached the question of her foreign ties, Italy was among the first countries in which an Israeli diplomatic mission was established. Israel established an embassy in Rome and a consulate-general in Milan (the Israeli ambassador also maintains contact with the Vatican), and Italy’s embassy was in Tel Aviv. The development of essential ties, however, was quite slow, due mainly to Italy’s postwar policy, the principal aims of which were settlements of territorial questions directly relating to her and a return to a position of equality in the family of nations. Over the years, increased contacts and a strengthening of ties was achieved, because of Italy’s rising influence in the various European organizations in which Israel was actively interested; the rise in Italy’s position as a Mediterranean country, and her anxiety in view of the Soviet Union’s increasing penetration into the Mediterranean basin; the decline – from Israel’s point of view – in France’s influence after her change in policy on the eve of the Six-Day War (1967); and the great diplomatic ability Italy displayed when an El Al plane was hijacked to Algeria in 1968 (the release of the plane, its crew, and passengers were secured through Italy’s intervention), and when a TWA plane was hijacked to Damascus in 1969 and six Israelis were held prisoners after the release of the rest of the passengers.
Objective difficulties existed in some areas, such as that of commercial ties, since the economies of the two countries had a certain similarity in important fields of production (e.g., citrus), and it was therefore not easy to realize their mutual desire to increase trade between the two countries. Italy even placed obstacles in the way of Israel’s affiliation with the Common Market because of citrus competition. Italy’s active ties with Israel were linked to its general relationship with the Middle East, in which it had important interests. It did not develop a unilateral policy on the question of the Israel-Arab dispute, and its cautious diplomatic initiatives were aimed at advancement toward a negotiated peace.
The significant improvement in relations between Italy and Israel under the Berlusconi government and the historic visit of Gianfranco Fini to Jerusalem in 2003, when he repudiated the Nazi-Fascist Republic of Salò for the first time, are developments at the center of discussion within Jewish communities. Giulio Terzi di San’Agata, Italy’s ambassador to Israel during 2001–3, worked to improve these relations between the two states with great success. Meanwhile, most Italian leftists continued to support the Palestinian cause. In 2002, the liberal newspaper Il Foglio organized a demonstration in Rome in support of Israel, called Israel Day, with a large turnout of Italian citizens, politicians, and journalists.
The dominant pattern of an excess of Israeli imports over exports to Italy continued. Thus, exports from Italy to Israel rose from $13.6 million in 1960 to $314.9 million in 1980, whereas imports to Italy rose from $10.6 million in 1960 to $285.1 million in 1980. In 2004, exports to Italy stood at $810 million, while imports climbed to $1,566 million. A considerable expansion in the number of tourists from Italy to Israel, which rose steadily from 2,400 in 1960 to 37,000 in 1977 and 55,800 in 1980, indicated the growing interest for the Holy Land among Jews and non-Jews. In 2004, 42,000 Italians visited Israel.
Classified communications between the Italian and Israeli government were released by Wikileaks in February 2016, including a document highlighting Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu working together to repair the damaged U.S.-Israel relationship. In the leaked document, Berlusconi promised to “put Italy at Israel’s disposal,” in helping mend its ties with Washington. To read this leaked document, please click here.
A series of 10 simultaneous conferences occurred across Israel in late May and early June 2016, hosting a large delegation of Italian academics. Everything from robotics, to heart disease treatments, to futuristic plastic surgery techniques were discussed at these conferences, which were attended by more than 60 Italian researchers as well as representatives from the Italian Conference of Rectors.
During 2015, 353 Italian Jews made aliyah to Israel, the highest number since 1948. Since there are only approximately 30,000 Jews in Italy, this number represents a significant portion of the population.
The Italian Parliament passed legislation outlawing Holocaust denial on June 9, 2016. The new law, which was added to an existing anti-racism bill, targets those who deny genocide or crimes against humanity and carries with it the possibility of a jail term of two to six years.
During a November 2016 ceremony honoring scientific cooperation between Israel and Italy, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni praised collaboration between the two nations. “Italy looks to Israel not just for partnership and political dialogue,” Gentiloni said, “for us Israel is also a model of science, for the synergy that it has managed to create between research and new entrepreneurial initiatives.”
Pilots from Italy joined those from Israel, the United States, Germany, France, India, and Poland in June 2017 for the Blue Flag exercise, the largest aerial training exercise to ever take place in Israel.
In January 2018, Italy and Israel completed a 4 billion NIS reciprocal trade deal signed six years earlier. Israel received 30 Leonardo M-346 Lavi jets from Italy in the deal, and Italy purchased an equivalent amount of Israeli technology, including satellites and two G550 Conformal Airborne Early Warning and Control (CAEW) surveillance planes.
In December 2018, Italian Interior Minister and deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini came to Israel for two days of talks, which included discussing cooperation in fighting terror.
Bibliography: The history of the Jews in Italy has attracted the attention of a considerable number of scholars. Over 2,000 major and minor historical works have been published of local, regional, or general interest. A complete classified bibliography may be found in: A. Milano, Bibliotheca historica italo-judaica (1954), with supplements in 1964 and in: RMI (Nov. 1966). Complete histories are: C. Roth, History of the Jews of Italy (1946); A. Milano, Storia degli ebrei in Italia (1963); and on a smaller scale, G. Volli, Breve storia degli ebrei d'Italia (1961); C. Roth, Jews in the Renaissance (1959); and the corresponding work in Hebrew, M.A. Szulwas, ?ayyei ha-Yehudim be-Italyah bi-Tekufat ha-Renaissance (1955); as well as collections of essays by the last-named writers, all dealing with individual aspects of Italian Jewish history. See also bibliographies to articles on specific cities, in particular Rome, Leghorn, Venice, Florence, and Mantua. FASCIST PERIOD: J. Starr, in: JSOS, 1 (1939), 105–24; M. Michaelis, in: Yad Vashem Studies, 4 (1960), 7–41; D. Carpi, ibid., 43–56; idem, in: Rivista di studi politici internazionali, 28 (1961) 35–56; idem, in: Dappim le-?eker ha-Sho'ah ve-ha-Mered, 3 (1968); R. de Felice, Storia degli ebrei italiani sotto il fascismo (1961): U. Nahon, in: Scritti… Leone Carpi (1967), 261–84; R. Katz, Black Sabbath (1970). CONTEMPORARY PERIOD: R. Bachi, in: JJSO, 4 (1962), 172–91; Unione delle Communità Israelitiche Italiane, VII Congresso, Relazione del Consiglio (1966 – 5726) (1966); F. Sabatello, in: P. Glikson and S. Ketko (eds.), Jewish Communal Service (1967), 107–12; S. della Pergola, in: Bi-Tefu?ot ha-Golah, 10:1–2 (1968), 159–77. MUSICAL TRADITION. SOURCES: Jews' College, London, Ms. Montefiore no. 479, fol. 147b: Notation of Psalm intonation by J. Finzi in Casale-Monferrato, 1600; S. Rossi, Ha-Shirim asher li-Shelomo (Venice, 1622–23); A. Kircher, Musurgia Universalis (Rome, 1650), pt. 1, 64–67; G. Bartolocci, Bibliotheca magna rabbinica, 4 (Rome, 1675–93; repr. 1969), 427–41; M. Zahalon, Me?i? u-Meli? (Venice, 1715); B. Marcello, Estro poetico-armonico (Venice, 1724–26); F. Consolo, Libro dei canti d'Israele (1892); E. Ventura, et al., in: RMI, 5 (1931), 429–32; A.Z. Idelsohn, in: HUCA, 11 (1936), 569–91; E. Piattelli, Canti liturgici ebraici di rito italiano (1967); STUDIES: E. Birnbaum, Juedische Musiker am Hofe von Mantua (1893); E. Werner, in: MGWJ, 81 (1937), 393–416; L. Levi, in: L'Approdo, 3 (1954), 37–44; idem, in: Sefer ha-Mo'adim (1954), 182–6; idem, in: RMI, 23 (1957), 403–11, 435–45; 27 (1961); idem, in: Yeda Am, 2 (1955/56), 59–69; idem, in: Centro Nazionale Studi di Musica Popolare, Roma, Studi e Ricerche (1960), 50–68; idem, in: Scritti… G. Bedarida (1966), 105–36; Adler, Prat Mus, index; idem, in: Jewish Mediaeval and Renaissance Studies (1967), 321–64; S. Naumbourg (ed.), Cantiques de Salomon Rossi (1877, repr. 1954); F. Rikko (ed.), Salomon Rossi, Ha-Shirim asher li-Shelomo, 3 vols. (1967– ). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: D.A.L. Bidussa, G.L. Voghera. Oltre il ghetto: momenti e figure della cultura ebraica in Italia tra l'Unità e il fascismo (2005); R. Bonfil, Rabbis and Jewish Communities in Renaissance Italy (Heb., 1979; published for the Litman Library by Oxford University Press, 1990); idem, Gli ebrei in Italia nell'epoca del Rinascimento (1991); idem, Tra due mondi. Cultura ebraica e cultura cristiana nel Medioevo (1996); E. Capuzzo, Gli ebrei nella società italiana: comunità e istituzioni tra Ottocento e Novecento (1999); E. Collotti, Il Fascismo e gli ebrei. Le leggi razziali in Italia (2003); S. DellaPergola, Anatomia dell'ebraismo italiano: caratteristiche demografiche, economiche, sociali, religiose e politiche di una minoranza (1976); R. De Felice, Storia degli ebrei italiani sotto il fascismo (1961, 19884; Jews in Fascist Italy: A History (2001)); E.R. Gruber, Virtually Jewish. Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe (2002); B.D. Ruderman (ed.), Preachers of the Italian Ghetto (1992); idem, Essential Papers on Jewish Culture in Renaissance and Baroque Italy (1992); G. Fabre, Mussolini razzista: dal socialismo al fascismo: la formazione di un antisemita (2005); A. Milano, Storia degli ebrei in Italia 1963 (rist. 1992); G. Formiggini, Stella d'Italia Stella di David. Gli ebrei dal Risorgimento alla Resistenza (1970, repr. 1998); Italia judaica: gli ebrei in Italia tra Rinascimento ed età barocca: atti del 2. Convegno internazionale, Genova 10–15 giugno 1984 (1986); Italia judaica. Atti del III Convegno internazionale (1989); L. Picciotto Fargion, Il Libro della memoria. Gli Ebrei deportati dall'Italia (1943 – 1945). Ricerca del Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea (1991, 20022); M. Sarfatti Mussolini contro gli ebrei. Cronaca dell'elaborazione delle leggi del 1938 (1994); idem, Gli ebrei nell'Italia fascista: vicende, identità, persecuzione (2000); G. Schwarz, Ritrovare se stessi: gli ebrei nell'Italia postfascista (2004); A. Stille, Benevolence and Betrayal: Five Italian Jewish Families under Fascism (1991); R.K. Stow, Theater of Acculturation: The Roman Ghetto in the Sixteenth Century (2000); M. Toscano, Ebraismo e antisemitismo in Italia: dal 1848 alla guerra dei sei giorni (2003); C. Vivanti (ed.), Gli Ebrei in Italia, I. Dall'Alto Medioevo all'Età dei Lumi (1996); idem (ed.), Gli Ebrei in Italia, II. Dall'emancipazione a oggi (1997); K. Voigt, Il rifugio precario. Gli esuli in Italia dal 1933 al 1945, 2 vols. (1993 and 1996); M. Michaelis, Mussolini and the Jews: German-Italian Relations and the Jewish Question in Italy, 1922 – 1945 (1978); idem, La Persecuzione degli ebrei durante il fascismo: Le leggi del 1938 (1998); M. Sarfatti: Le leggi antiebraiche spiegate agli italiani di oggi (2002); S. Zuccotti, The Italians and the Holocaust: Persecution, Rescue, and Survival (1987); Dalle leggi antiebraiche alla Shoah: Sette anni di storia italiana 1938 – 1945 (2004); D. Carpi, Between Mussolini and Hitler: The Jews and the Italian Authorities in France and Tunisia (1994).
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