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Rome and the Jews at the Times of the Ghetto

05Nov6:30 pmRome and the Jews at the Times of the Ghetto6:30 pm(GMT+00:00) Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16 Street, New York, NY 10011

Event Details

Rome and the Jews at the Times of the Ghetto, Serena Di Nepi, University of Rome La Sapienza.

Free and open to the public. Reservations:

By establishing ghettos in the Papal States, in 1555 Pope Paul IV marked a milestone in the history of Italian Jews. In spite of the fact that the segregation in Rome came nearly 40 years after the Venetian decree on the settlement of Jews in the laguna (1516) and 9 years after a similar one that was issued in Ragusa  (today Dubrovnik, 1546), it was only thanks to the Pope intervention that the experiment became a successful model.

In the following centuries, a little at a time, Italian States in central and northern areas of the peninsula established new ghettos, the last one in 1783 in Corregio.

Meanwhile, Southern Italy, Sicily and the Duchy of Milan, under direct Spanish rule, took a different route and decided to expel the Jews from their territories: first, in 1493 from Sicily; then  in 1541 from the kingdom of Naples and at last in 1596 from Milan.

In recent years, many scholars have considered the history of Jews in Italy and segregation during the Early Modern period from multiple perspectives. As a result, the phenomenon of the ghetto, which was undoubtedly the most characteristic and significant experience of the period, is investigated “beyond” and “through” the walls.

The well-known history of discrimination, marginalization, and the ongoing pressure of Catholic proselytism can now be superimposed on a narrative full of nuances, at the center of which are the strained relations between Christians and Jews, as well as the many individual stories through which they materialized.

This seminars focuses on the ghetto of Rome and Roman Jewry throughout the centuries of Counter-Reformations. I would like to shed light on the intertwined history  of the Judei and the Urbs as well as on the unique identity developed by Roman Jews.

As one of the oldest communities of the Jewish diaspora and the oldest still in existence, Roman Jews negotiated their terms with the outside world and the powers that represented worldwide the debacle of Judaism and the Jewish land. At the same time, they defined themselves vis-à-vis other Jews whose influences and belief had developed in different parts of the world. A frequently cited example of this attitude is the rejection by Roman rabbis of some of the rulings in Babylonian Talmud of which they obtained adaptations for the “B’nei Romi”.

The Roman ghetto lasted three centuries. Dr. Di Nepi will focus on the establishment of the ghetto, in 1555, in the first month of the pontificate of Paul IV Carafa,when Catholics were still quarreling in Trento on their future and when the last battles of the wars in Italy still raged.

Whatever the Pope’s goal and motivations could have been, the ghetto represented an alternative to the Iberian expulsion and a way to keep Jews within the Christian society.

The presentation will conjure daily life in the ghetto characterized by hardship and poverty but also by a diverse social fabric. The social pyramid was among the pillars of the Jewish society. Rich and powerful families experienced segregation differently from the poor: they were used to travel and to spend time out of the ghetto for business, were in good relationships with Christian authorities, with the aristocracy and the clergy. The relationship between Roman Jews and Rome took shape through this class structure and the continuous Jewish-Christians interaction that occurred in many forms and places.


An expert of the history of the Jewish Community of Rome before and during the ghetto era, Serena Di Nepi received her PhD in Early Modern History in 2007 from the University of Rome La Sapienza.

From February 2011 to January 2014, Dr. Di Nepi has been Adjunct Professor in Early Modern History at the Department of History, Cultures, Religions at La Sapienza.  In December 2015 she become Assistant professor of Early Modern History and a member of the history doctoral program committee at La Sapienza. Together with Prof. Marina Caffiero, she is designing the first Italian advanced specialization course in Jewish history.

Dr. Di Nepi’s curatorial work includes the exhibitions on the history of Italian Judaism at the National Museum of Italian Judaism in Ferrara (MEIS, 2013); and the exhibition dedicated to the late Chief Rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff at The Jewish Museum of Rome (2015).

She has been member of the  Scientific Committee of MEIS between 2011 and 2015. In 2015 she was nominated member of the Board of Trustees of the Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation in Milan and of Jewish Museum of Rome. Since 2016 she is also a member of the board of the National Italian Jewish Heritage Foundation.

Dr. Di Nepi represents the Jewish Community of Rome in the international research group on the Jewish library looted by the Nazis in 1943. The project is supported by a partnership with the World Jewish Congress and the Presidency of the Council of Ministers of the Italian Republic.

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