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April, 2013

12Apr10:30 am- 1:30 pmBeyond the Ghetto: New Research Perspectives on the History of Jews in ItalyNYU Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò, 24 West 12th Street, NYC10:30 am - 1:30 pm Italian Jewish Studies Seminar:Italian Jewish Studies Seminar

Event Details


Marina Caffiero is Professor Early Modern History at the University of Rome “La Sapienza” and directs the PhD section of the Department of History, Cultures and Religions. She is the author of Forced Baptisms – History of Jews, Christian and Converts in Papal Rome (University of California Press, 2011).
Serena Di Nepi (PhD) is a researcher of Modern History at the University of Rome La Sapienza. Her upcoming book is The Birth of the ghetto – Jews and Christians in Counter-Reformation Rome, (Viella 2013).

April 12 | 10:30 am to 1:30 pm
NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò | 24 West 12th Street
The seminar is free and intended for students and faculty. Seats may be assigned to the general public depending on availability. Registration is required: rsvp@primolevicenter.org

Marina Caffiero (University of Rome “La Sapienza”)
Serena Di Nepi (University of Rome “La Sapienza”)

The history of the Jews and that of the Christians amount to a history of institutional, social and cultural interactions and exchanges that are impossible to separate. From this point of view, the new research on the modern age and the period of the ghettos (XVI-XIX centuries) published in Italy, presents historiographical innovations of great interest. These studies – based on the rigorous analysis of neglected documentary sources and archives- shed light on the history of the Jewish minority from a new perspective and bringing forth unexpected results. The Jewish experience in the Italian peninsula, though subject to rules and restrictions, appears as an essential component of the society at large. In Italy, the lack of attention on the intersection and parallelisms between Jewish history and Christian history has meant that the Jews have long been “invisible” from the overall historical narrative. This led historians to neglect the valuable wealth of information that emerges from the analysis of institutions, norms and behaviors related to the Jews, which today prove essential for a deeper comprehension of Italian society from a national and European perspective.

Cross-analysis of the data in administrative, notarial and criminal records, with data found in the laws, rules and treatises highlight the need to include a full history of the Jews in the overall history of Europe. Thus the history of the Jews finds its place as an integral and fundamental part in the European transformational processes offering insight into historical phenomena of general interest such as the definition of heresy, the hunt for banned books, the interpretation of witchcraft, sexual exchanges, the construction of the “lexicon of injury”, discrimination, the discourse on rights and citizenship, the development of international trade and cross-cultural exchanges, etc.

During the modern era, between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, Italian society was less closed than we usually think, and the Jews (with their culture, their books and their representatives) had their place within it, despite strict rules and the recurring anti-Jewish propaganda. The history of the Jews and their historical relations with Christians is a central chapter of the history of Italy and an extremely relevant one today, in view of the challenges posed by the coexistence of different religions and cultures and the problems regarding the way a society relates to minorities.

Within this interpretative framework, Marina Caffiero will discuss the relationships and exchanges – cultural, social and institutional – between the Jewish minority and the Christian majority. Although the Jews were viewed as “different”, thus dangerous to the established religious and secular powers, they participated in most aspects of daily life in the Italian cities of the time. Caffiero’s argument, grounded in the comparison between the evolution of legislation regarding the Jews and newly found inquisitorial documents, points to a significant gap between the rules governing Jewish lives and their actual impact on peoples lives. Despite severe restrictions, Jews and Christians often found places and times for ongoing discussion and cross contamination. In other words, Italian society during the modern era was characterized by a far greater freedom and open mindedness than its own rules and prohibitions suggest.

Serena Di Nepi’s work focuses on the years immediately before and after the establishment of the ghettos commissioned by Pope Paul IV Carafa (1555). Starting with an analysis of the political and religious climate in Rome at the time of the arrival of Jewish refugees from Spain in 1493, and the protection accorded to them by an Iberian Pope, Alexander VI Borgia, Di Nepi traces the steps that led to cultural and ideological changes during the first half of the sixteenth century, leading to the Church’s policy of accepting the Jews, but segregating them while awaiting for their conversion. The alternative to the ghetto was the expulsion of the Jews, a possibility which was in fact examined and discarded. Ultimately it was decided to force them into a cloistered existence, following the 1513 Libellus of Querini and Giustiniani. Through a detailed examination of Jewish and Christian documents, it is possible to draw a picture of the Jewish condition in Rome immediately before the erection of the ghetto and in the following decades. In doing so, questions arise concerning the Jews’ survival strategies and the ways in which despite everything, they were able to endure more than three centuries of imprisonment and aggressive proselytism. Further, Di Nepi will highlight the key role of the rabbinate in the management of Jewish institutions and communal life, drawing on parallelisms between the Rabbinate’s attempts to discipline and confessionalize and similar intents well documented within the Christian world.

Marina Caffiero is Professor Early Modern History at the University of Rome “La Sapienza” and directs the PhD section of the Department of History, Cultures and Religions. Her work focuses on the social and cultural history of the modern age, with particular interest in the history of religious minorities in Italy and in Europe. She has published widely on the history of anti-Semitism and the relationship between Jews and Christians in Italy and Rome. Her Forced Baptisms – History of Jews, Christian and Converts in Papal Rome (University of California Press, 2011, ed. Ago. Viella, Rome 2005) examines the doctrines, social practices and bitter conflicts that opposed Jews and Christians on the theme of forced baptisms. Her latest work is Dangerous Liaisons – Jews and Christians – Heresy, Witchcraft and Forbidden Books (Turin: Einaudi, 2012).

Serena Di Nepi (PhD) is a researcher of Modern History at the University of Rome La Sapienza. She specializes in social history and the history of mental attitudes, with specific emphasis on religious minorities in Rome in late medieval and modern age. She has published numerous essays on the history of the Jewish community of Rome in the modern age and the upcoming The Birth of the ghetto – Jews and Christians in Counter-Reformation Rome (Rome, Viella 2013).

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