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The Jews of Libya Between the 19th Century and the Colonial Era

25Apr9:30 am2:00 pmThe Jews of Libya Between the 19th Century and the Colonial Era9:30 am - 2:00 pm(GMT+00:00) Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò, 24 West 12 Street, New York, NY 10011Italian Jewish Studies SeminarItalian Jewish Studies Seminar

Event Details

David Meghnagi (University of Rome 3)

Mordechai HaCohen: Rabbi and Ethnographer

Mordekahi Cohen (1856 – 1929) was a prominent rabbi in the Libyan Jewish community. A talmudic scholar, he compiled a monumental work on the Jews of Libya and their relations with the Islamic and Arab world which was published for the first time only in 1978. Rabbi Cohen became interested in early Zionism. A selection of his writings was published in 1931 by Martino Moreno. More recently the Italian publisher La Giuntina released an anastatic copy of Moreno’s edition curated by David Meghnagi. The english edition is curated by Harvey Goldberg of the Hebrew University.  Prof. Meghnagi will explore Rabbi Cohen’s work within the context of his cultural milieu, his theological views and personal profile.

Friday, April 25, 2014

NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò | 24 West 12th Street
The program is free. Reservations are required at

Zionist activist in Tripoli, Libya; teacher, author, educational reformer, and rabbinical court judge.
Although Mordechai Ha-Cohen was born in Tripoli, his family had come from Genoa, Italy. His father, Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Cohen, died in 1861. His mother worked as a seamstress, supported her children, and had Rabbi HaCohen assist by giving instruction in Bible and Talmud. On his own, he studied arithmetic and the literature of the Hebrew Enlightenment (Haskalah). He married in 1883, worked as a Hebrew teacher, and when his income was insufficient, taught himself to repair clocks. As his family grew (four boys and nine girls), he studied rabbinic law and worked as a clerk in the court. His major work was a manuscript titled Highid Mordechai, in which he describes the history, customs, and institutions of Tripolitanian Jewry.
As a reformer, he advocated changes in the educational system that were eventually adopted against the will of the establishment. He supported young Zionists and joined the Zionist club, Circolo Sion, when the community leaders opposed it. He contributed news items to the Italian Jewish paper Israel and to Hebrew papers in Warsaw, London, and Palestine.
As a jurist in Tripoli, Ha-Cohen was in conflict with lay and religious leaders on matters of rabbinic law. In 1920, he was appointed magistrate in the rabbinic court of Benghazi, Libya, where he served until his death on 22 August 1929.

De Felice, Renzo, Jews in an Arab Land: Libya, 1835 – 1970, translated by Judith Roumani. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985.
Goldberg, H. E. Cave Dwellers and Citrus Growers, A Jewish Community in Libya and Israel, Cambridge, U.K.: University Press, 1972.
Ha-Cohen, Mordechai, The Book of Mordechai: A Study of the Jews of Libya, edited and translated by Harvey E. Goldberg. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1980.

Barbara Spadaro (University of Bristol)

From “Mapping Living Memories” to Investigating Postcolonial Histories. Narratives of the Jews from Libya in Historical Perspective.

Woven into the colonial past which binds Italy and Libya, the histories and memories of the Jews from Libya provide a crucial perspective on the transnational framework where Italian ideas of race, difference and citizenship have been elaborated and transformed over the 19th and 20th centuries. Since the eve of the Italian occupation of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, the multiple modes of belonging and transnational trajectories of these Jews have contributed in shaping representations, perceptions and identities between the two shores of the Mediterranean. Historical changes in a context of colonial and global relations have repeatedly shifted the position of these subjects inside and outside ideas of Italian and European belonging. Such shifts have affected the relations between fellow Jews from Italy and Libya, the memories and representations of the history of this community, as well as their patterns of incorporation in Italian national narratives.

The immigration, and naturalization, of this community from North Africa – the “Tripolini”, as they are known in Rome – challenge representations of Italian identity as homogeneous, nation-centered, and white European, and raise important questions concerning notions of Italian Jewish and non-Jewish identity. The narratives and feelings of belonging expressed by Libyan Jews reveal how ideas of Italian and European identity have been constructed, negotiated and contested by multiple subjects inside and outside the continent over time. Thus, a whole set of questions over the historical context of the encounters between Italy and Libya raises from the trajectories that members of this Jewish community have followed, calling for further, more inclusive, postcolonial historical accounts.

David Meghnagi was born in Tripoli and moved to Italy with his family after the pogrom of 1967, the third in 22 years. He is a professor of Clinical Psychology at the Università di Roma Tre where he also teaches Group Psychology, Psychology of Religion and Jewish Culture. He is a full member of the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA). In the 1980s Prof. Meghnagi became active in Israeli-Arab and Jewish-Christian dialogue. He held the position of vice-president of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities and is a member of the Italian delegation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA).
Prof. Meghnagi is the editor in chief of “Trauma and Memory,” the European Review of Psychoanalysis and Social Science, and a member of the board of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis.He is a frequent contributor of many Italian newspapers and magazines and participated in the production of several documentaries on Jerusalem, on Wilfred Bion, on the Marranos and on Wolf Murmelstein.
He received the Fiuggi Prize for the application of psychoanalysis to historiographical research in the book  “Israel’s Challenges” (Marsilio 2010).
Prof. Meghnagi’s studies on Jewish elements in Freud’s work are considered a classic in the field. Hs publications include: Il Kibbutz (Roma, 1975), Modelli freudiani della critica, (Roma 1985), Freud and Judaism (London 1993), Il Padre e la legge (Venezia 1992, 2004). Carteggio Freud-Zweig (Venezia, 2000), Le memorie di Marek Edelman (Roma 1985),  Interpretare Freud (Venezia, 2003), Tra Vienna e Gerusalemme (Firenze, 2002), Ricomporre l’infranto (L’esperienza dei sopravvissuti alla Shoah) (Venezia, 2005), Le sfide di Israele (Venezia, 2005).
David Meghnagi is also an expert of Jewish liturgical music and began a preservation project whose first result is the CD Shiru Shir: The Cantorial Tradition of the Libyan Jews.

Barbara Spadaro  is Researcher at the University of Bristol for the AHRC Project: Transnationalizing Modern Languages: Mobility, Identity and Translation in Modern Italian Cultures. She is the author of Una colonia Italiana. Incontri, memorie e rappresentazioni tra Italia e Libia, (Le Monnier, Firenze, 2013), and of a series of articles on history of Italian colonial relations and gender. Her research investigates the historical transformation of ideas of gender and citizenship between Europe and the Mediterranean (19th-20th centuries) focusing on memories, representations and the study of Italian social and cultural practices across North Africa and Libya.

After obtaining her PhD in Modern and Contemporary History from the Istituto Italiano di Scienze Umane (SUM), she has been Postdoctoral Fellow at the British School at Rome and has been awarded a Rothschild Foundation European Source Material Grant for the project Mapping Living Memories. The Jewish Diaspora from Libya across Europe and the Mediterranean, with Dr. Piera Rossetto (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice) and the Centro di Documentazione Ebraica (CDEC) of Milan. She is a member of the Editorial Board of the journal Genre et colonisation/Gender and Colonization, and she is active in the Società Italiana delle Storiche (Italian Society of Women Historians, SIS).

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