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Of Ghetto and Nation: Gadi Luzzatto Voghera

16Dec(Dec 16)6:00 pm18(Dec 18)6:00 pmOf Ghetto and Nation: Gadi Luzzatto Voghera6:00 pm - 6:00 pm (18)(GMT+00:00) Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16 Street, New York, NY 10011Italian Jewish Studies SeminarItalian Jewish Studies Seminar

Event Details

December 16 at 6:00 pm

Visiting lecturer: Gadi Luzzatto Voghera (University of Venice and Boston University, Padua).

From “Jews” to “Israelites”.  Jewish emancipation and Italian secularism: models for a modern nation.  

Were pre-20th century Italian Jews completely separated from the Italian society? What changes prompted the beginning of emancipation and how were Jews able to fully integrate over the span of a few decades? Was the Italian society ready to accept their emancipation? How did Italian Jews come to re-define themselves as “Italians of Israelite religion”? Did Italian Judaism as a religion take “new forms” or did Jews actually assimilate and disappear in the secular society?

These and other questions offer Gadi Luzzatto a platform to explore the years in which Italian Jews went from being confined in ghettos to fully participating in the public life of a newly unified nation. A little more than thirty years after the abolishment of the Ghetto of Rome, Jews achieved prominent positions in all fields. By 1907 Rome had elected a Jewish mayor, and Italy a Jewish Prime Minister. Jewish emancipation and the general secularization needed to ensure civil reform became aspects of the same process.

Challenging the vision of a monolithic ghetto society, Luzzatto argues that in the wake of unification the Jewish world possessed dynamism and social diversity and ended up providing not only a model of a modern ruling class but also a font of politicians, diplomats, journalists, lawyers, army officers, economists, and administrators.

December 17 at 6:00 pm

Counterpoints: Jewish historiography, Italian history.

In their journey toward emancipation and integration in Italian society, Jews played an important role in history and its writing. Offering a rich and entertaining documentation that spans from historic essays to popular press, Gadi Luzzatto explores the modes and tropes of Jewish self-representation as an historical people in 19th century Italy. As Luzzatto shows, the idea that the confluence of Jewish and Italian history was a product of emancipation co-existed with the various Italian forms of Wissenschaft des Judentums (Science of Judaism) that mostly flourished around the Rabbinical College of Padua.

In Luzzatto’s view, 19th century trends in Italian Jewish historiography are crucial not only to understand the later progress of Italian Jewish Studies as an academic field, but also to fully grasp the mentality and the social dynamics of Italian Jewry between unification and the rise of Fascism.

December 18 at 6:00 pm

From the Mortara Affair to Pio XII: The Shadow of the Church.

After analyzing the reciprocal influences of Jewish emancipation and the forging of modern secularism in Italy, Luzzatto turns to consider how, in the 19th century, the relation between the Jews and the Church took specific forms that are still today part of Italian Jewish identity.

Emancipated, fully integrated, and secular, modern Italian Jews were no longer under the shadow of the Church. Yet, between 1860 and 1945 the attitudes of two Popes significantly permeated their condition in society and ultimately, their fate.

In 1858, in Bologna the Papal police seized the six-year-old Edgardo Mortara under the claim that, having been secretly baptized by a maid of the family, he was now a Catholic and ought to be raised as a ward of the state. A major international movement in support of the rights of the child’s family began.

With the Mortara case the opposition between religious belief and civil rights deepened and pointed to the end of the temporal power of the Church. In the Jewish world, the Mortara affair represented the final impulse for the creation of a transnational organization aimed at promoting Jewish acculturation and fighting anti-Semitism and oppression, the Alliance Israelite Universelle.

Through the “affair” the relations between the Church, the Jews, and the secular society were re-defined in modern terms.

Using era sources, the auto-biography of Edgardo Mortara, and the most recent re-readings of the story, Luzzatto tries to identify the underlying interpretative and polemical patterns that  go from the Mortara case to the controversy on Pio XII.


Jewish historiography in Italy in the 1800s. Gadi Luzzatto Voghera

Il secolo di Mendelssohn differiva dal nostro. In allora non si coltivava tra noi come in oggi lo studio delle antichità: non si andava in traccia con tanta cura di vecchi manoscritti e nomi di scrittori, né si disputava tanto sulla loro patria e sull’epoca in cui vivevano.

Samuel David Luzzatto

In this brief article on Jewish historiography in Italy in the 1800s, I intend to trace the journey that a minority, excluded from the major historical events of the peninsula until the moment of emancipation, followed in re-thinking its history and inserting itself in the wider historical matters of the population of the majority.  In their journey of emancipation and integration in Italian society, the Jews played an important role in history and its writing.  In this, they fully immersed themselves in the same journeys that characterized the patterns of emancipation and integration of Jewish communities that were more numerically consistent and more active in their role of cultural production such as those of Germany, Galicia and France.

In considering the rebirth of history in relation to the life of the Jews of the 1800s, Y. H. Yerushalmi correctly affirms that in the nineteenth century history became a faith for the newly assimilated Jews.(1)For Italian Jews this is doubly significant, as the history of various Jewish communities comes to a conclusion  with the struggle for unification and emancipation.  It is a tendency consolidated in the large perspective of historical studies on Jews in Italy; in the 1800s, for obvious reasons, in the 1900s, probably due to a tendency to consider Jewish history only the history of persecution, pursuing a lachrymose vision of Jewish history.  The fact is that it is only in the last ten years that the historiography related to the Italian Jewish community during and after the emancipation has been presented as a field of study rich with unanswered questions, information, and frequent surprises.

With the route that I intend to propose I would like to reconstruct the ways to make history that the Italian Jews of the 1800s followed.  I think – in this way – that it is possible to define their mental strategy as a confluence: the history of the Jews represented a torrent that after emancipation converged until dissolving into the great river of Italian history, becoming integrated without in any way having to write separate pages of history.  This type of approach (that included some exceptions, among which was the notable one of Shadal, Samuel David Luzzatto) lasted a long time. Even in the 1900s, at least until the end of the 1980s, the period of emancipation was seen as the end of Jewish history.  In this, the reflection of Italian Jews on their own history is extraordinarily coherent.

Jewish Historiography in Italy in the XIX Century

In 1899 the Jewish historian David Castelli, of Livorno, published a book declaredly explicative on this history of the Jews.(2)  The text, focusing in large part on the history of the events of the Jewish people in ancient times, dedicates the last lengthy chapter to a general look at Sguardo generale sugli Ebrei nella dispersione e sulla loro cultura (Jews, the dispersion and their culture).  In his distinctive and significant vision, Castelli intended to give credence to the theory of the existence of a true Jewish subject, a people or a nation whose history was worth analyzing, only in the period in which they had institutions, one or more administrations, an army and rulers.  In these ancient times ‘events’ were narrated ‘as they naturally and humanly took place,’() following a scientific method of philological judgement that found justice in the mythology in the historical narrations of the sacred texts.  Moreover, Castelli conceded to Jewish history during the Diaspora (the greatest influence on Jewish history from our viewpoint as twenty-first-century observers) a chapter dedicated to ‘making known what remains of the most important of the intellectual life of the Jews, given that their political existence had ceased, until the French Revolution, when by law even they were allowed to take part in the everyday life of other people.’(4)  The chapter in question finishes with a brief but sorrowful request to Jews that they, after the emancipation and integration into polite society of Western Europe, disappear as an autonomous subject worthy of study.  ‘The Jews should worry about themselves,’ wrote Castelli ‘and show themselves to humankind only as men, only as citizens to the state, and as Jews, if they so desire, only within their religious conscience.’() In the lengthy bibliography presented by the author at the beginning of the volume of the 115 texts cited, only three are works written by Italians, and only one by an Italian Jew.  How is it possible, we ask ourselves, that a sophisticated intellectual, author of a notable number of studies on the history of the Jews, active in the debate on Italian Judaism and  opposed to the already visible signs of a Jewish national rebirth in the form of  political Zionism , how is it possible that Castelli ignored the historiographical production that for at least half-a-century animated  the journals and  publishing houses on the Jewish question?  Was he not familiar with it?  This we can discount.  In all probability, he regarded this as not sufficiently valid and documented on a scientific level, and preferred to steer the reader towards the consultation of texts especially in German and French; in any case, he effected in this way a selection that did not do justice to the efforts made from the last half of the nineteenth century by professional academics and by rabbis improvising as historians, working to bring research on the history of Judaism and the history of Jews in Italy to a new stage.

Towards the middle of the 1800s, and with greater intensity from the mid 1870s, historical research, in fact, stood out as a rather significant change in the broad Italian Jewish cultural perspective.  Historical reflection came onto the scene in this period for a series of reasons tied to the dynamics of European Jewish culture and to the rebirth of classical philological studies conducted according to scientific methods.

From the mid-1870s precise work of local historical research began, discovering the roots of large and small Italian Jewish communities.  It was a work in progression, progenitor of even recent works. In any case, it is important to underline, on one hand, the strong similarities to the experience of the new Offices of Native History (institutes created by the new republic of Italy with the intent of animating the study of local history) and, on the other hand, the fact that one of the reasons that initiated such studies was the necessity to clearly establish and define the scope of the ties of Jewish Italians with their land.  That is, to confer to the process of ‘regeneration’ – that had accompanied the political and social integration of Jews in the first decades of the century and was considered completed with the unification and the concession of emancipation – a strong basis of historical and traditional rooting to which the Jews could refer as their entrance as a legitimate component of Italian society.

Along with the push towards integration – which we could define as political – that moved professional scholars and rabbis to write or re-write the history of Italian Judaism, it is necessary, to point out the foundation that the peninsula gained on a scientific level as numerous scholars turned back to the school of Wissenschaft des Judentums (Science of Judaism).

The reconstruction of the link that was established between the exponents of the so-called Science of Judaism and the genuine push inside Italian Judaism towards research of their own historical origins goes beyond a homogeneous philological and theological identity card. It must be noted that the beginning of a rich production of historical research tied to philological studies does not stray far from the tendencies of the overall Italian cultural world.  At least in regards to the philological and historiographical area, for the avant-garde in both Jewish and Italian fields, one could see the influence of German cultural studies.()  A paradigmatic example of the growth of these new philological and historical interests, and to some extent a ‘bridge’ figure between Italian and Jewish research, was Graziadio Isaia Ascoli, of Gorizia, a pioneer of linguistic studies in unified Italy.

There was, therefore, nothing naïve or accidental in the birth of an Italian Jewish historiography in the second half of the century, particularly in the post-unification period.

But how was the practice of historical research carried out in Jewish Italy of the 1800s?  I have already mentioned the absence of a genuine discipline of historical research in Italy.  In this, Italy was not substantially different than the rest of Europe:  David Myers has pointed outhow even in Germany there was great difficulty in establishing the study of Jewish history as a recognized university discipline and how demanding it was for Jewish academics to obtain the distinction of an official post.(7)  Bearing significantly on this were anti-Jewish prejudices and the national resistance that followed the road of Jewish integration and assimilation, more than the recognition of the existence of their cultural distinctiveness.  The situation in Italy was not unlike Germany, where the first professional Jewish historians were gathered in an all-Jewish institute such as the Breslau Seminary founded by Zacharias Frankel in 1854. The first attempts to approach Italian Jewish history and literature according to a modern scientific methodology that had the philological reconstruction dear to German tradition as a model, were carried out by teachers, students and intellectuals who were under the influence of the Rabbinical College of Padova, founded in 1829.  This date is in effect a little precocious; one certainly cannot call this the beginning of a modern Jewish historiographical literature even if between 1829 and 1833 Shadal compiled the first manuscripts of his lessons on the history of the Jewish people. In any case, it can be sustained that the formation of a new generation of rabbis who often proved to be also scholars of Jewish history has its beginning in Padova.

Alongside this new generation of scholars that, in the spirit of and in connection with various exponents of the Science of Judaism in Germany brought about a new season of historical research in the Jewish field from the 1850s, an important school of oriental studies that invigorated traditional Judaic studies on the Italian peninsula, was quickly established in the university setting.  The two backgrounds – not for lack of contact – did not mix, perhaps because the interest in history and accounts of the Jewish past had different motivating factors:  if the studies of antiquity were carried out in large part by non-Jewish scholars and also some Jewish scholars, the historical research on the Jewish presence in Italy (with the exception of some areas in southern Italy) was conducted predominantly by Jewish scholars.  Two requirements that were not incompatible, but certainly equivocal, came together in a single current of research that, over time, fully revealed their contradictions. On the one hand, a serious work of historical research, in which the idea of the inevitable and complete assimilation of the Jews in the purest style of nineteenth-century liberal ideology was expressed ();  on the other, a complex work of research of one’s own roots, in order to reconstruct an identity in danger of being lost post-emancipation and that had to be recreated to connect the past and Jewish memory with the present permeated with the idea of progress.  In particular – with the exception of extremely rare cases() – it was the idea of a Jewish ‘nation’ that was to be wittingly expelled from history; and it is for this reason that the practice of a new Jewish historiography, ideologically directed, is directly connected in Italy to the discussion on religious reform that specifically saw as one of its major points of debate the exclusion of the idea of a Jewish nation.

The almost disarming absence of studies and research on the history of the Jewish presence in Italy in the first half of the nineteenth century comes to an end for political and cultural reasons.  The designated place for texts of historical research in the Jewish field was the journals, and to find further confirmation of what has been previously stated, it is perhaps sufficient to remember the almost absolute lack of attention given to the historiographical field of the first Italian Jewish journal, La Rivista Israelitica by Cesare Rovighi.()  On the contrary, in the Piedmont region where political emancipation had already been achieved a few years earlier, the Educatore Israelita was started in Vercelli in 1853, and already in its first year included a few pieces aimed at recuperating the Jewish historical conscience.

While presenting a work on the history of the Jews in Italy,() Rabbi Giuseppe Levi Gattinara began with a few words to state the objectives of an introduction to the study of the Jewish history of the peninsula: ‘L’Italia,’ wrote Gattinara, ‘è la patria più antica del popolo ebreo nella sua dispersione. […] L’ameremo noi questa terra prediletta? L’amarono i nostri avi quando loro era matrigna, tanto più dobbiamo amarla noi, or ch’ella n’è madre pietosa. L’amor di patria è istinto morale, è dovere religioso. E la scienza della storia non potrebbe rendere più stabile e più forte l’opera della natura e della religione? Noi crediamo e speriamo di sì.’The study of one’s own history, therefore, is, in a propedeutical sense, a means of love of the fatherland.  Gattinara’s history starts with the first settlements of the Jews of Rome in the Republican era. He quickly moves toward the progressive political and cultural marginization that becomes definitive with the temporal power of the church when the tav of a civil death was written on the faces of all the sons of Israel.()  In the review of all the salient points of the historical events of the Jewish Diaspora, from the abandonment of agricultural activity to the imposition of commercial professions, from the intensification of violent anti-Jewish episodes to the growth of the Jewish culture in southern Italy, the Educatore prudently wound up the project with the year 1492, the eve of a modern age marked by fire, expulsions and forced confinement that was not easily compatible with the declaration of intent in the preface to the work.

But the ‘Historical Section’ for which the Piedmont journal annually reserved a certain amount of space, did not belong only to the history of the Jews of the Diaspora.  The constant contributions by two teachers from the Rabbinical College of Padova, Shadal and Lelio Della Torre, is of particular interest, painting a broad picture of the effort in the historiographical field of Italian Jews.  Their essays in the section dedicated to historical events moved well away from the aims of the editorial staff of the Educatore.  Shadal, whose journalistic activity, broadly speaking, had already begun a good number of years earlier in the pages of Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums edited by Ludwig Philippsohn,()  first published the Discorsi storico-morali, and later Discorsi storico-religiosi.()  They were lessons on Jewish history from the perspective of the Science of Judaism for which Shadal was one of the most important exponents.  His historiographical vision – as inferred from these and other writings – was strongly influenced by a theological approach to the Jewish question;  a correct recovery of original sources of Jewish history, from a philological and interpretive point of view, would restore, in his opinion, a former purityto Judaism itself , and, at the same time,  a definitive refusal of the philosophical corruption that, in his mind, had characterized the history of the Jewish people and their doctrine from the Middle Ages on.

It is also known that Shadal, the sole professional of historical research among many self-taught men, did not hold the work done by the Educatore in high esteem, both in relation to some expressions of appreciation towards the mystical interpretations that dominated the rabbinical school in Livorno, and in relation to the continuing crescendo of pro-French sentiment that seemed out of place in a period in which the cultural ‘motor’ of European Judaism was undoubtedly working in the German sphere. It is possible that behind the progressive alignment of Piedmont Judaism with the French world, lay a sort of instinctive reaction to political events and the constant military contraposition with Austria, that predicted a parallel dissociation, at least officially, from even cultural movements of German influence.  The inheritance of decades of debate on the reform that had even left a mark on Italian Judaism certainly played into the attitude towards the German world.  Certainly, one could read in the pages of the Piedmont journal a sort of intellectual ambivalence; if, on one hand, there were the scientific articles by Luzzatto, son and animator of Wissenschaft, on the other hand there was a continuous condemnation of the German secessional and reform movements using a highly improbable independent research on Italian Judaism that stated that it had played a specific role in the reform, in a moderate sense and respecting tradition. Therefore, in 1859, Luzzatto seriously considered organizing a refined Italian Jewish journal, and to do this, he did not look towards Piedmont, but rather to Livorno, where the second cultural heart of Italian Judaism was beating.

The relations with the Jewish intellectual world of Livorno were nonetheless compromised by the difference of opinion on mythical theology in the history of Jews and Judaism.  The Venetian school, of which Luzzatto was the principle representative but that also included other figures of the calibre of Isacco Samuele Reggio and the entire rank of students from the Rabbinical College of Padova, adhered to the idea that the Cabbalah, the Jewish mysticism that was often associated with the magical and superstitious practices of the people’s religion, was to be considered an artificial element, not essential to the history of Judaism and was to be repelled as a contradictory idea to the new forms of modern scientific rationalism.  For some time Europe had been subject to an analogous contraposition, at times difficult, between the followers of mysticism and the representatives of the Science of Judaism.  ‘The great scholars of past centuries,’ affirms Gershom Scholem, ‘men such as Graetz, Geiger, Luzzatto, Steinschneider, had, to put it mildly, few sympathetic feelings for the Cabbalah.  Ignored and rejected at the same time, it appeared that this was made up of everything that contradicted their ideas and the way of seeing that they hoped to make dominant in the Jewish world.’()  The debate, at times bitter andinvolved students of Luzzatto and Elia Benamozegh, of Livorno duelling in the pages of the Corriere Israelitico, progressively dissolved after the death of Luzzatto in 1865.

Lelio Della Torre had long thought about writing an Italian Jewish periodical before the publication of the Educatore Israelita.  With the conception of this Piedmont journal, and also after, in the pages of the Trieste monthly Il Corriere Israelitico, he contributed in a decisive manner to the development of historical studies in Italy.  If in the 1850s he concentrated a great deal on edifying biographies, with essays dedicated to the life and works of Moses Mendelssohn, the Rothschilds, and Ludwig Philippsohn, it was on the pages of the Corriere() that he broadened the horizons of the Italian reader regarding the new German Jewish historiography.  Compiling several short but accurate critiques of the Società letteraria israelitica in Germania, Della Torre aimed to inform his readers about the principal historical works published in the German language, with the precise objective of arousing interest and studies in the Italian-speaking sector.  In his judgment, the already numerous articles published in European monthly journals were not enough; rather, it was necessary to gather documents ‘in special volumes, dedicated exclusively to history’ and increase the amount of research in the archives to ‘compose the community history, especially in the Middle Ages, an epoch rich in events for us, certainly unpleasant and painful , but that in any case shed light on not only our conditions in various parts of Europe, but also on the origins and the establishment of those communities.’()  His works, which almost completed those of Luzzatto (even if the two scholars did not particularly like each other, and spent as little time together as possible) were devoted to the events of the Diaspora in the historical field, serving as a starting-point for Italy to develop research on the Jewish presence on the peninsula.  He himself dedicated a few short essays to local history.()

Despite the efforts produced by the emulators of the German school, one cannot say that in the nineteenth century a true school of Jewish historiography was born in Italy.  Certainly, one can note an important growth of contributions on the level of documentary and archaeological research, but it must certainly be pointed out that the most important studies on the history of Jews in Italy came from the research of German Jewish scholars, whose works were ignored by the Italian public for many years and were only translated from the 1930s on.()  In nineteenth-century Italy, no scholar emerged with the ambition and methodological capabilities for historical research on the level of Heinrich Graetz in Germany; no one among the scholars or among the cultivators for historical research attempted to complete a comprehensive work on the Italian peninsula. For this reason one had to wait for the first synthesis by Cecil Roth, which appeared in 1948.  Nevertheless, there was a vast proliferation of individual studies that doubtless made up a new element in the wide Jewish cultural perspective, so much so that Graetz consulted these for the parts of his Geschichte der Juden dedicated to Italy – truthfully speaking a rather modest section.  In the 1900s Simon Dubnow had to do likewise.  In his Weltgeschichte des judischen Volkes() he cites the Corriere Israelitico and the Vesillio Israelitico in the bibliography, in addition to other works by Abraham Berliner, Elia Benamozegha and Umberto Cassuto.

It is difficult to even assemble in a schematic order the works and their authors; and before attempting to it needs to be emphasized that for a long time in Italy the concept of the historian as a professional figure was lacking.  Those Jews interested in history  were, above all, rabbis or former students of rabbinical colleges, people often gifted with great learning and a good knowledge of Hebrew but completely deficient in the most elementary instruments of historical research:  the homogenous use of literary or archival sources, their verification, precise quotations, were only a few of the skills ignored by the majority of those that approached Jewish history and published articles in Italian Jewish journals.  There were, however, a few considerable exceptions.  Besides the previously mentioned Shadal one should begin perhaps by examining the inception of studies on the Jewish population in antiquity (among the authors to note are the works of David Castelli and Elisa Benamozegh);  but also to be considered are the publication of information in archival documentation (Marco Mortara, Moisè Soave, both in continuous contact with Moritz Steinschneider) and the writing of general perspectives on diverse Jewish communities (particularly noteworthy are the works for Flaminio Servi in Corriere Israelitico, that, nonetheless, were lacked scientific rigor).()

There were actually some – rare – attempts to supply ‘programmatic manifestos’ on the necessity of beginning systematic studies of the history of Jews in Italy.  Among these an article published by Esdra Pontremoli in the Educatore Israelita in 1870 was of particular importance, where the question was posed if it was worthwhile to study the events of ‘a people that is no longer a people, that is scattered over all the corners of the globe, that no longer has influence on any global event, that lives a wretched life, and is not considered in the least.’()  The answer, not very scientific but very important, was a violent attack on the biblical critic using biblical narration as historical fact and defining the history of the Jews as an uninterrupted chain of uplifting examples in literary, philosophical and religious knowledge, full of moral implications and unproductive for modern historical research.

It is clear that the weak and assimilated Italian Jewish world was not capable of producing professional historians that in their fields of study dealt with the reconstruction of historical events tied to the presence of Jews in Italy and, more generally, a systematic Jewish history.  The notable (on a quantatative level) research work carried out by rabbis, teachers or professionals interested in history on an amateur level, could not fill the vacuum of authentic historiographical production, even if they produced a number of texts that provide us even today with precious information on a documentary level. As a result, the same Jewish journals were often forced to resort to the translation of non-Italian texts.  This was the case with Mosè, Antologia Israelitica, a periodical printed in Corfu between 1878 and 1885 and linked to the teachings of the then-closed Rabbinical College of Padova, which published the translation of James Darmesteter’s history of the Jewish people() – a workthat did not differ in any substantial way from a moralistic vision of Jewish history and that, without presenting any original documentation to discuss and organize a coherent historical argument, offered a flat and edifying description that concluded with rather questionable affirmations on the absence of contrasts between teachings of the Jewish tradition and scientific progress.

Given these productions in the Jewish field, a somewhat consistent volume of archaeological research was developed on the Jewish catacombs of Rome and Venosa, Neapolitan epigraphs and the history of the southern Italian communities, Sicily in particular, carried out by non-Jews.()What slowed the beginning of serious historical research in the Jewish field was an attitude that, starting from the unification of Italy, characterized in a growing measure the written expression of Italian Judaism.  At the end of the century – with the emergence of a new anti-Judaism and with the Dreyfus affair – there was a partial failure of the liberal emancipatory project; alongside the assimilated upper-middle-class Italian Jews there remained a vast group that was still far from complete integration.  In addition, Judaism, with its cultural and religious specificity, knew how to reorganize itself, without being cancelled out of the new social order. This achievement provoked reactions that were more or less explicit rejections in Italian society, a society which, in the last two decades of the 1800s, saw the rise of racist theories that gave life to a vigorous, modern anti-Semitism.  In this environment, the essay by journalist and rabbi, Flaminio Servi, on the Israeliti d’Europa nella civiltà() gained an emblematic and paradigmatic value with regard to the cultural attitude adopted by the Italian Jewish elite.  Through a declaredly explicative work, that ‘could not have therefore anything to do with all the other histories that in France and Germany on the Israelites had come into being,’ Servi compiled a mixed work of anecdotal and statistical history with the intent of uniting Jews and Christians in the construction of a modern European civilization.  To do this he did not turn back even in front of the distortion of history: ‘Questo libro,’ he wrote in the Proemio, ‘fu proposto perché di azioni nobili si parli, di fatti d’amore fraterno; atti d’intolleranza dobbiamo tacere o appena accennare. É omai passato il tempo dei fanatici e degli energumeni. Se v’ha qualche eccezione, non deve spaventarci, non può durare a lungo, non durerà.’()

Given this declaration, it cannot be considered shocking if – save rare exceptions – the historical research on Italian Jews followed a route, from that point on and for several decades, of historiographical fiction that brought meagre results; a production in which the mirage of assimilation at any cost took the place of the desire for research that, even in Italy, had animated the beginnings of a Jewish historiography.


1 Y.H. Yerushalmi, Zakhor, Storia ebraica e memoria ebraica (Italian Edition Parma 1983).

2 D. Castelli, Gli Ebrei. Sunto di storia politica e letteraria (Florence1899); about Castelli see also F. Parente, ‘David Castelli,’ in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, sub voce.

3 Ibid., VII, almost the same words of the famous ones used by Leopold von Ranke who wrote about history ‘wie es denn eigentlich gewesen ist.’

4 Ibid., VIII.

5 Ibid., 446.

6 See  B. Croce, Storia della storiografia italiana nel secolo decimonono (Bari 1930), in which he write about the Storia degli ebrei by A. Bianchi-Giovini (Milan 1844) cited as a ‘not scientific work’ (292); a work that was, on the contrary, well considered by S.D. Luzzatto and D. Castelli.

7 D. Myers, Re-inventing the Jewish Past (Oxford 1995), 21.

8 R. De Felice, ‘Stato, società e questione ebraica nell’Italia unita’, in F.Sofia – M.Toscano, eds., Stato nazionale ed emancipazione ebraica (Rome 1992), 421-32.

9  D. Lattes, ‘L’idea nazionale ebraica nel sistema di Elia Benamozegh,’ Rassegna Mensile di Israel XIV, 8 (Nov. 1948), 336-42.

10  S. Foa, ‘Il primo giornale ebraico d’Italia,’ Rassegna Mensile di Israel XXIII, 2 (Feb. 1957), 86-90.

11 G. Levi Gattinara, ‘Degli ebrei in Italia e della loro condizione politico civile antica e moderna. Sunto storico,’ Educatore israelita I (1853), 246-51, II (1854), 203-8, 235, 263, 306, 335.

2 Ibid., II, 206; the letter taw is the last one of the Hebrew alphabet.

3 See the letter to Abraham Lattes, 1 March 1838 in S.D. Luzzatto, Epistolario italiano francese latino (Padova 1890).

4 L’Educatore Israelita III (1855), IV (1856), V (1857), VI (1858), VII (1859), VIII (1860).

5 Cfr. G. Scholem, Le grandi correnti della mistica ebraica (Turin 1993), 15.

6 The first articles of L. Della Torre on German Jewish historiography were written on the magazine Cronica Israelitica edited in Corfù (Greece) between 1861 and 1863 by M.D. Levi and Z. Nacamulli, see A. Milano, ‘Un secolo di stampa periodica in Italia,’ Rassegna Mensile di Israel, ‘Scritti in onore di Dante Lattes’ (1938), 96-136.

7 L. Della Torre, ‘Società letteraria israelitica in Germania,’ Corriere Israelitico III (1864-65), 338.

8 See ‘Storia del Ghetto di Padova durante la peste del 1631,’ Archives Israélites (1861).

9 A. Berliner, Geschichte der Juden in Rom von der ältesten Zeit bis zum Gegenwart (2050 Jahre) (Frankfurt a.M. 1893); Ibid., Luchoth Avanim,on the Ancient Jewish Cemetry of Venice (1881); M. Steinschneider, ‘Die italienische Litteratur der Juden,’ Monatschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums (1898-1900); D. Kauffmann, Dr. Israel Conegliano und seine Verdienste um die Republik Venedig bis nach Frieden von Carlowitz (Vienna 1895); Ibid., Die Chronik des Achimaaz aus Oria (Vienna 1896); L. Zunz, Die hebräische Handschriften in Italien (Berlin 1864); Ibid., ‘Storia degli ebrei in Sicilia,’ Archivio Storico Siciliano IV (1879), 69-113; E. Carmoly, Annalen der hebräischen Typographie von Riva di Trento (1558-1562), (Trento 1883).

20 S. Dubnow, Weltgeschichte des jüdischen Volkes Band IX Die neueste Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes. Das Zeitalter der ersten Reaktion und der zweiten Emanzipation (1815-1880), (Berlin 1929), 517.

2 E. Benamozegh, Storia degli Esseni, (Florence 1865); D. Castelli, Il Messia secondo gli ebrei, (Florence 1874); Ibid., Storia degli israeliti dalle origini fino alla monarchia, (Milan 1887-88); Ibid., Gli Ebrei; M. Mortara, Catalogo dei manoscritti ebraici della biblioteca della Comunità Israelitica di Mantova, (Livorno 1878); Ibid., Indice alfabetico dei rabbini e scrittori israeliti di cose giudaiche in Italia, (Padova 1886); V. Ravà, ‘Notizie e documenti per servire alla storia degl’Israeliti d’Italia,’ Corriere Israelitico (1872-73); S.Jona, ‘Gl’Israeliti nel medio-evo,’ Corriere Israelitico (1874-75); A.Paggi, ‘Storia Giudaica dall’800 dell’ E.V. ai giorni nostri,’ Vessillo Israelitico (1877-78).

22 E.Pontremoli, ‘Lo studio della storia israelitica. Lettera ad N.N.,’ Educatore Israelita (1870), 265-270.

23 J.Darmesteter, ‘Rapido sguardo alla storia del popolo ebreo,’ trad. by Clotilde Lenghi, Il Mosè  (1882-1883).

24 I. La Lumia, ‘Gli ebrei siciliani,’ Nuova Antologia 4 (Mar. 1867); R. Starrabba, ‘Di un documento riguardante la giudecca di Palermo,’ Archivio Storico Siciliano 1 (1873); Ibid., ‘Transazione tra il Comune e la Giudecca di Palermo del 2 novembre 1491,’ Archivio Storico Siciliano n.s. 1 (1876); Ibid., ‘Guglielmo Raimondo Moncada ebreo convertito siciliano del secolo XVI,’ Archivio Storico Siciliano n.s. 2 (1878); G. Spano, ‘Gli ebrei in Sardegna,’ Rivista Sarda 1 (1875); D. Spanò-Bollani, ‘I giudei in Reggio Calabria dal secolo XIII sino al primo decennio del secolo XVI,’ Archivio Storico per le Provincie Napoletane VI (1881); F. Mondello, ‘Due iscrizioni ebraiche a Trapani,’ Archivio Storico Siciliano n.s. 8 (1883); F. Lionti, ‘Documenti relativi agli ebrei di Sicilia,’ Archivio Storico Siciliano (1883-1889); B. Lagumina, ‘Di alcune iscrizioni ebraiche scoperte nella demolizione dei baluardi siracusani,’ Notizie degli scavi di Antichità (Rome 1889); Ibid., ‘Le giudaiche di Palermo e di Messina descritte da Obadia da Bertinoro,’ Atti R. Acc. di Scienze Lettere ed Arti di Palermo s.III vol.IV (1896); Ibid., ‘Codice diplomatico dei Giudei di Sicilia,’ Soc. Siciliana di Storia Patria VI (Palermo 1884); R. Garrucci, ‘Descrizione del cimitero ebraico di Vigna Rondanini sulla via Appia,’ Civiltà Cattolica s.V vol.I (1862) and s.V vol.VI (1863); Ibid., ‘Cimitero ebraico di Venosa in Puglia,’ Civiltà Cattolica s.XII vol.I (1883).

25 F. Servi, Gli israeliti d’Europa nella civiltà. Memorie storiche, biografiche e statistiche dal 1789 al 1870, (Turin 1871).

26  Ibid., 17.

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