On September 14th, 2017, Centro Primo Levi and the Jewish Museum of Rome will open a learning space, The Rome Lab, dedicated to the history of the Roman Jews and of the twenty-two centuries relations between Rome and Jerusalem. The Rome Lab, located in the Selz Gallery at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street will offer weekly presentations through January 14th 2018. The public, students and scholars are welcome to join and participate in the conversation. All programs are free.
The project is designed to respond to and converse with the Yeshiva University Museum’s exhibition The Arch of Titus – from Jerusalem to Rome, and Back, which explores the Arch of Titus as symbol of continuity and rupture in the history of the Jewish people and state sovereignty. In the year 70 C.E., when Roman troops raided Jerusalem destroying the Second Temple and taking its treasures and the legendary golden menorah to Rome, a new era began. From then, the Jewish diaspora born with the Babylonian exile, was presented with a new gravitational center: Rome.
The Rome Lab, consisting of a semester long series of presentations, will be open daily offering a window onto the history, culture and traditions of Roman Jews through the virtual mapping of the collections of the Jewish Museum and the Historical Archive of the Rome Jewish Community. It will be a unique occasion to explore extraordinary documents and liturgical objects that testify to twenty-two centuries of uninterrupted history.
Art historians Alessandra Di Castro and Olga Melasecchi, respectively Director and Curator, of the Jewish Museum of Rome, will make special appearances illustrating treasures from the collection. Beyond their physical beauty, these object often have an added point of interest in that they continue to be used in liturgical and communal functions, within the oldest Jewish community in the Western world. Their presentations will focus on the tradition of covering and uncovering the Torah scroll. In Rome, this ritual has given origin to an art form, practiced mostly by women. It was the women who specialized in sewing the “garments of the Torah,” embroidering them with text that point to fragments of community life, love and friendship, joy and loss, beginnings and ends. The Roman rite includes a special blessing for these women.
Among other prestigious guests from Rome will be the cantor of the Spanish Temple, Rav Alberto Funaro, and the scribe and Jewish manuscripts expert, Rav Amedeo Spagnoletto. Their knowledge and views on Judaism will add a meaningful and yet unheard voice to the diverse spectrum of Jewish life of New York City.
Delving into the history of a community that traces its roots to antiquity and to the formative centuries of European diasporic Judaism, this program invites the public to reflect upon the relation of a minority to empire and dominant religions, compliance and resistance, the transformation of Judaism into a Western culture.
The historic and symbolic relation of Judaism to Rome developed against the background of major revolutions: the partition of the Roman Empire, the rise of Christianity as state religion, the confrontation with Islam and the Crusades, the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain, the invention of the printing press and portable fire arms, and the formation of modern nation states. Throughout the centuries, the images of the Roman Forum and the Temple of Jerusalem, interconnected by narratives of war and peace, continued to be appropriated and transformed by Jews and non-Jews.
With the Rome Lab series Centro Primo Levi invites the public to explore periods of Jewish history and perspectives that, in spite of their formative role up to the early modern period, are today almost absent from prevailing Jewish narratives mostly informed by Ashkenasy heritage and the modern Jewish experience in Northern and Eastern Europe.
How did Mediterranean Jews of the 1st century see themselves, the empire, and their land of origin? What was their status as minority? What kind of interaction and negotiation on religious authority existed between the Jewish elite of Judea, the Roman community and their Babylonian counterpart? And how did relations within the Jewish diaspora change after the Roman’s destruction of Jerusalem, or after the eclipse of the Sasanian Empire and the rise of Islam?
Hebrew University scholar Paula Fredriksen will open the roundtables series with a talk entitled A Tale of Two Cities: Rome and Jerusalem. The juridic status of the Jewish minority in the Roman Empire and its progressive modifications will be the topic of a conversation between Alessandro Saggioro of University of Rome La Sapienza, and Seth Schwartz of Columbia University. A session with Amram Tropper (Ben Gurion University), Ron Naiweld (French, National Centre for Scientific Research) and Shai Secunda (Bard College) will explore the rabbinical elite’s views of the Romans and the foundational story of Yavneh.
In late antiquity and early Middle Ages, the paradoxical image of Rome as a repository for “Jewish” artifacts and Jewish past is analyzed by Princeton University scholar Ra’anan Boustan to illuminate the strategies by which Roman Jews and Roman Christians rooted their quite distinctive claims on the ancient past in the terrain of the shared city.
A poetry reading of the work of Immanuel Romano, a personal friend of Dante Alighieri, by Ann Brener (Library of Congress) and Isabelle Levy (Columbia University) will offer further insight on the dynamics of cultural interaction within the Roman world.
Poetry will also be the focus of a lecture by Daniel Leisawitz (Muhlenberg College), who will take a retrospective look at the language of Roman Jews, Judeo-Roman, and its traditions.
By the time Spanish Jews were expelled from their country and Roman Jews segregated in the ghetto, the world had changed dramatically, Christianity was facing internal schism, Jerusalem, long contended by “Moors” and “Knights,” was ruled by the Ottomans and the Temple was inscribed in philosophical, scientific, and national narratives.
A presentation by Giuseppe Veltri of the University of Hamburg will focus on Abraham Portaleone (1542–1612) and his use of the Temple symbolism in response to Christian and secular interpretations.
Serena Di Nepi (University of Rome La Sapienza) will accompany the public through the early years of the ghetto, the conflicted arrival of Spanish Jews to Rome and the shaping of modern ideas on Jewish self-governance. A panel with Michela Andreatta (University of Rochester) will take on Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, the last grand epic of the premodern world, in the context of its Jewish readership and the definition of otherness. Back in Ottoman Jerusalem, presented by Asher Salah (Bezalel Academy), the adventures of two Roman Jewish travelers let us capture a glimpse of the social and spiritual turmoil that enveloped the modern world at the dawn of a new era.
Finally, closing the where the project began, with a reflection on the Arch of Titus, Marina Caffiero of the University of Rome La Sapienza, will discuss it in two historical contexts relevant to the Jews of Rome: the massive restoration of 1821 by Giuseppe Valadier, and its use in the ceremonies of the papal adventus which traditionally passed under the Arch.