The Italian Ghenizah, Mauro Perani, University of Bologna
For the past 20 years, under the guidance of late Prof. Joseph Sermoneta, Hebrew University, and then of Prof, Mauro Perani, thousands of Hebrew manuscripts recycled as binding of notary books were discovered in Italian archives and libraries. The magnitude of the finding paralleled that of the Cairo Genizah and provided an unprecedented resource for the study of inquisitorial confiscations of Hebrew books carried out in the Counter-reformation period.
The phenomenon of the re-employment of materials and manuscripts of every kind was well known during the whole period of the Middle Ages: thousands of Italian, Greek and Liturgical manuscripts have undergone this treatment, from which even Hebrew manuscripts were not exempt
In July 1981 the late Professor Joseph Sermoneta, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, initiated a “Project for the research, cataloguing, restoration and photographing of medieval Hebrew manuscript fragments found in the bindings of volumes in Italian Archives and Libraries.” He assembled a team to systematically examine State Archives, Libraries, private and Vatican archives.
There have been discoveries of Jewish documents in other European countries, but not as richly as in Italy, where 85% (8,000 fragments, half of which in Bologna, the remainder throughout Italy and Sicily) of the known documents of Europe are located.
The massive work of inventory, identification and digitalizing these manuscripts (Many Italian archives contain up to 25 miles of shelving) is done in coordination with the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts at the Jewish National & University Library in Israel. Various data are also entered on card, relating to the measurements, type of parchment, the color of the ink, the ruling and pricking techniques, type of script and the Italian or Latin titles written by Italian archivists or notaries and date of the records contained in the register bound by the manuscript.
The phenomenon of re-employment spread chronologically from the second half of the XVI century and throughout the XVII. Significant examples of this discovery are a two-sheet from the same manuscript containing the Sefer Mordekay with commentaries: one was found in Modena, while the other one in Mantua. 350 sheets from the Talmud Bavli. One folio from a 10th century document representing the most ancient known testimony of square oriental script.
On the Jewish communities of Emilia Romagna
The Jewish presence in Emilia Romagna dates to the Middle Ages. Prior to the unification of Italy, the communities of Parma, Modena, Reggio Emilia, Bologna and Ferrara, experienced varying relations with local authorities, ranging from the Houses of Este and Gonzaga to the Vatican. In early modern age the Jewish community, which included Italian, Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews, was largely granted the freedom and civil rights necessary to participate in most aspects of public life.
When at the end of the Sixteenth century nearly the entire region fell under the control of the Papacy, many of the Emilian cities saw the creation of ghettoes and the imposition of severe restrictions to the Jewish communities. Though many families emigrated to the Ottoman Empire, Jewish life and scholarship continued to thrive within the walls of the ghettos.
While the Emilian cities were among the first to see emancipation in Italy under the influence of the Napoleonic wars, Bologna was also the stage of the tragic kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, the child who was abducted from his family to be raised a Catholic in the Vatican.
In modern times the community joined in the creation of the State of Italy and enjoyed full civil rights until the promulgation of the racial laws in 1938. At the end of the war many of the Emilian Jewish communities regrouped and managed to renew their cultural and religious vitality.
Dr. Pardo’s lecture illustrates the history of the Jewish community in Emilia Romagna through real life tales and fascinating anecdotes, while showing some of the extraordinary artistic treasures from the local libraries and museums.
Testimony of a flourishing early modern Jewish life in the region of Emilia are beautifully designed synagogues, an extraordinary number of libraries and archives holding rare Hebrew collections, most notably the Rossi collection at the Biblioteca Palatina. The Jewish community of Bologna has had longstanding ties to the renowned university, the University of Bologna, the oldest in Europe, founded in 1088. In 1488 the university of Bologna created the chair of Jewish Studies, almost continuously assigned to Jewish professors. In recent years Bologna became known for the creation of a state-of-the-art Jewish Museum while digitalizing and cataloguing of text, ritual objects and ephemera documenting Jewish life in the Emilia Romagna.
Intimately linked to Judaic studies in Bologna, were the many Jewish printing houses, particularly that of the Soncino family. Originally from Germany, the Soncinos moved to Italy where they developed a successful banking business and in c.1475, Joshua Solomon—physician and scholar —decided to initiate a printing house, which became one of the most influential publishing ventures in the Mediterranean and survived well into the 20thc as an authoritative publisher of primary Jewish texts.
In the mid sixteenth century a dispute over the rights of Maimonides’ work ignited a controversy that reached the ecclesiastic authorities in Rome and was recast as a trial against Judaism. With a 1553 Papal decree ordering the destruction of all copies of the Talmud, the golden age of Hebrew publishing in Italy began its decline. The tradition however survived to the present maintaining its original cultural standards.
The music, the language and cuisine of the Jews of Emilia Romagna is an example of Italian subtlety and multilayered elegance. Solomone Rossi was the director of the Gonzaga court orchestra at the time of Monteverdi and one of the leading exponents of violin music in the 1600’s. The rediscovery of some delightful melodies that developed in the area of Bologna were made possible in the past ten years by the research of Francesco Spagnolo on the Leo Levi recorded archives.