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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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Kingdom of southern Europe, with a total population of about 32,000,000, in which there are about 34,653 Jews (1901). This country, which the Israelites, punning upon the name, called "I Ṭal Yah" = "the land of the dew of the Lord" (comp. Genesis 27:39), has been prominent in the history of the Jews. This prominence has not been due to the number of Jews in Italy, which has never been particularly large, but rather to the fact that they were not subjected to those continued and cruel persecutions to which they were exposed in other countries; and they may be said to have enjoyed, especially at certain periods, a fair degree of liberty.

Under the Empire.

The first definite appearance of Jews in the history of Italy was that of the embassy sent by Simon Maccabeus to Rome to strengthen the alliance with the Romans against the Syrians. The ambassadors received a cordial welcome from their coreligionists who were already established there, and whose number at the time of the emperor Claudius was comparatively so great that when, for some unknown reason, he was desirous of expelling them, he did not dare to do so. Moreover, when, toward the end of his reign, by reason of trouble provoked by a Christian propagandist, he actually expelled a portion of the Jews, there remained in Rome a fully organized community, presided over by heads called ἄρχοντες or γερουσιάρχοι. The Jews maintained in Rome several synagogues, whose spiritual head was called ἀρχισυνάγωγος; in their cemetery the tombstones bore the symbolic seven-branched candlestick. Even in the time of Tiberius—who pretended to be friendly to the Jews, but really was as hostile to them as Augustus had been—many converts to Judaism were made in Rome. It was when the wife of his friend, the senator Saturninus, became a convert to Judaism, that Tiberius showed his enmity toward the adherents of this faith by publishing, on the advice of his minister Sejanus, an edict commanding all Jews and proselytes who should not have abjured their faith before a fixed date to leave Rome under penalty of perpetual bondage. A large number of young Jews was ordered to fight against the brigands in Sardinia, where the greater part of them lost their lives. This was the first persecution of the Jews in the West. There were other Jewish colonies at that time in southern Italy, in Sicily, and in Sardinia, but they were neither large nor important.

From Rome, where Judaism had many adherents and enjoyed a certain influence even at court, the Jews spread into other parts of Italy; but the greater number of those who came to such parts somewhat later immigrated from other countries. Thus in Sicily there came from Africa to Palermo about 1,500 families, and to Messina about 200 families. To Tuscany Jews came from Spain; to Lombardy, to Piedmont, and to the territory of Genoa, from central Italy. But they were never numerous; only in Milan, Turin, and Genoa were there communities of some importance; and even from these provinces they were frequently expelled and after an interval allowed to reenter. From the Orient, where the Venetian republic had important colonies, many went to Venice, and also to Ancona and Pesaro. From these cities, too, as from Ferrara, they were at times expelled; and, as elsewhere, they were readmitted. There were some Jews in almost every village of the Venetian possessions; at Padua, Verona, Mantua, and Modena there were long-established and important communities. In the Neapolitan realm the greater number of the Jews were settled in Naples, in Capua, and in other large towns along the Adriatic coast, such as Bari, Otranto, Brindisi, Taranto, Benevento, Sulmona, Salerno, and Trani. In the interior there were scarcely any Jews.

After Judea had been declared a Roman province, the procurators sent thither by the Senate became more and more cruel in their treatment of the Jews, and finally incited them to a rebellion which ended in the ruin of the Jewish state under the emperor Titus (70 C.E.). A large number of prisoners and soldiers were transferred to Italy; but naturally the vanquished did not feel disposed to emigrate to the land of their conquerors and oppressors. Titus had a reign of short duration; and his successor, Domitian, treated the Jews cruelly. To him is attributed the intention to execute a decree which he had forced the Senate to approve, and under which, within thirty days after its promulgation, all the Jewish subjects of Rome were to be massacred. The patriarch, with three of the most illustrious tannaim, repaired to Rome in order to prevent the carrying out of this infamous project; soon afterward Domitian died, and his successor, Nerva, showed himself favorable to his Jewish subjects. He remainedon the throne but a short time and was succeeded by Trajan, a persistent opponent of the Jews, and in whose wars many thousands of them lost their lives in Babylon, in Egypt, and in Cyprus. Hadrian, in turn, was at first inclined to favor the Jews, and he even granted them permission to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem (118). This concession he later withdrew, and, indeed, he became one of their most bitter enemies, issuing an edict forbidding them to continue their religious practises.

Influence of Christianity.

A few years later this hostile legislation, which for the most part had never been enforced, was repealed, and the condition of the Jews was for a short time improved. Through the growth and diffusion of Christianity, however, it soon became worse and worse. As the Christians detached themselves from the Jews, the former became the fiercest enemies of the latter. When Constantine, who at the beginning of his reign had advocated liberty of conscience, became a convert to Christianity, he established oppressive laws for the Jews; but these were in turn abolished by Julian the Apostate, who showed his favor toward the Jews to the extent of permitting them to resume their scheme for the reconstruction of the Temple at Jerusalem. This concession was withdrawn under his successor, who, again, was a Christian; and then the oppression grew considerably. Thus periods of persecution were followed by periods of quiescence, until the fall of the Roman empire.

At the time of the foundation of the Ostrogothic rule under Theodoric, there were flourishing communities of Jews in Rome, Milan, Genoa, Palermo, Messina, Agrigentum, and in Sardinia. The popes of the period were not seriously opposed to the Jews; and this accounts for the ardor with which the latter took up arms for the Ostrogoths as against the forces of Justinian—particularly at Naples, where the remarkable defense of the city was maintained almost entirely by Jews. After the failure of the various attempts to make Italy a province of the Byzantine empire, the Jews had to suffer much oppression from the Exarch of Ravenna; but it was not long until the greater part of Italy came into the possession of the Lombards, under whom they lived in peace. Indeed, the Lombards passed no exceptional laws relative to the Jews. Even after the Lombards embraced Catholicism the condition of the Jews was always favorable, because the popes of that time not only did not persecute them, but guaranteed them more or less protection. Pope Gregory the Great treated them with much consideration. Under succeeding popes the condition of the Jews did not grow worse; and the same was the case in the several smaller states into which Italy was divided. Both popes and states were so absorbed in continual external and internal dissensions that the Jews were left in peace. In every individual state of Italy a certain amount of protection was granted to them in order to secure the advantages of their commercial enterprise. The fact that the historians of this period scarcely make mention of the Jews, proves that their condition was tolerable.

There was an expulsion of Jews from Bologna, it is true, in 1172; but they were soon allowed to return. A nephew of Rabbi Nathan ben Jehiel acted as administrator of the property of Alexander III., who showed his amicable feelings toward the Jews at the Lateran Council of 1179, where he defeated the designs of hostile prelates who advocated restrictive and odious anti-Jewish laws. Under Norman rule the Jews of southern Italy and of Sicily enjoyed even greater freedom; they were considered the equals of the Christians, and were permitted to follow any career; they even had jurisdiction over their own affairs. Indeed, in no country were the canonical laws against the Jews so frequently disregarded as in Italy. A later pope—either Nicholas IV. (1288-92) or Boniface VIII. (1294-1303)—had for his physician a Jew, Isaac ben Mordecai, surnamed Maestro Gajo.

Early Literature.

Among the early Jews of Italy who left behind them traces of their literary activity was Shabbethai See DONNOLO (died 982). Two centuries later (1150) there became known as poets Shabbethai ben Moses of Rome; his son Jehiel Kalonymus, once regarded as a Talmudic authority even beyond Italy; and Rabbi Jehiel of the Mansi (ANAW) family, also of Rome. Their compositions are full of thought, but their diction is rather crude. Nathan, son of the above-mentioned Rabbi Jehiel, was the author of a Talmudic lexicon ("'Aruk") which became the key to the study of the Talmud.

Solomon Parḥon compiled during his residence at Salerno a Hebrew dictionary which fostered the study of Biblical exegesis among the Italian Jews. On the whole, however, Hebrew culture was not in a flourishing condition. The only liturgical author of merit was Joab ben Solomon, some of whose compositions are extant.

Toward the second half of the thirteenth century signs appeared of a better Hebrew culture and of a more profound study of the Talmud. Isaiah di Trani the Elder (1232-79), a high Talmudic authority, was the author of many celebrated responsa. David, his son, and Isaiah di Trani the Younger, his nephew, followed in his footsteps, as did their descendants until the end of the seventeenth century. Meïr ben Moses presided over an important Talmudic school in Rome, and Abraham ben Joseph over one in Pesaro. In Rome two famous physicians, Abraham and Jehiel, descendants of Nathan ben Jehiel, taught the Talmud. One of the women of this gifted family, Paola dei Mansi, also attained distinction; her Biblical and Talmudic knowledge was considerable, and she transcribed Biblical commentaries in a notably beautiful handwriting (see Jew. Encyc. 1:567, s. Paola Anaw).

About this period Frederick II., the last of the Hohenstaufen, employed Jews to translate from the Arabic philosophical and astronomical treatises; among these writers were Judah Kohen of Toledo, later of Tuscany, and Jacob Anatolio of Provence. This encouragement naturally led to the study of the works of Maimonides—particularly of the "Moreh Nebukim"—the favorite writer of Hillel of Verona (1220-95). This last-named litterateur and philosopher practised medicine at Rome and in other Italian cities, and translated into Hebrew severalmedical works. The liberal spirit of the writings of Maimonides had other votaries in Italy; e.g., Shabbethai ben Solomon of Rome and Zerahiah Ḥen of Barcelona, who migrated to Rome and contributed much to spread the knowledge of his works. The effect of this on the Italian Jews was apparent in their love of freedom of thought and their esteem for literature, as well as in their adherence to the literal rendering of the Biblical texts and their opposition to fanatical cabalists and mystic theories. Among other devotees of these theories was Immanuel b. Solomon of Rome, the celebrated friend of Dante. The discord between the followers of Maimonides and his opponents wrought most serious damage to the interests of Judaism.

Innocent III.

The political and social status of the Jews was also destined to suffer because of the advent to the papal throne of Innocent III. (1198-1216), the chief originator of the many persecutions suffered in later times by the Jews in all Christian lands. This retrogressive pope, the most bitter enemy of freedom of thought, set into operation against the Jews most illegitimate measures; especially did he threaten with excommunication those who placed or maintained Jews in public positions, and he insisted that every Jew holding office should be dismissed. The deepest insult was the order that every Jew must always wear, conspicuously displayed, a special badge.

In 1235 Pope Gregory IX. published the first bull against the ritual sacrifice . Other popes followed his example, particularly Innocent IV. in 1247, Gregory X. in 1272, Clement VI. in 1348, Gregory XI. in 1371, Martin V. in 1422, Nicholas V. in 1447, Sixtus V. in 1475, Paul III. in 1540, and later Alexander VII., Clement XIII., and Clement XIV.

The rise of poetry in Italy at the time of Dante influenced the Jews also. The rich and the powerful, partly by reason of sincere interest, partly in obedience to the spirit of the times, became patrons of Jewish writers, thus inducing the greatest activity on their part. This activity was particularly noticeable at Rome, where a new Jewish poetry arose, mainly through the works of Leo Romano, translator of the writings of Thomas Aquinas and author of exegetical works of merit; of Judah Siciliano, a writer in rimed prose; of Kalonymus ben Kalonymus, a famous satirical poet; and especially of the above-mentioned Immanuel. On the initiative of the Roman community, a Hebrew translation of Maimonides' Arabic commentary on the Mishnah was made. At this time Pope John XXII. was on the point of pronouncing a ban against the Jews of Rome. The Jews instituted a day of public fasting and of prayer to appeal for divine assistance. King Robert of Sicily, who favored the Jews, sent an envoy to the pope at Avignon, who succeeded in averting this great peril. Immanuel himself described this envoy as a person of high merit and of great culture. This period of Jewish literature in Italy is indeed one of great splendor. After Immanuel there were no other Jewish writers of importance until Moses da Rieti (1388), a writer of Hebrew as elegant as his Italian; but despite this, his wearisome and unnatural style could not compare with the pleasing and spirited works of Immanuel.

Benedict XIII.

The Jews suffered much from the relentless persecutions of the antipope Benedict XIII.; and the accession of his successor, Martin V., was hailed with delight by the Jews. The synod convoked by the Jews at Bologna, and continued at Forli, sent a deputation with costly gifts to the new pope, praying him to abolish the oppressive laws promulgated by Benedict and to grant the Jews those privileges which had been accorded them under previous popes. The deputation succeeded in its mission, but the period of grace was short; for Martin's successor, Eugenius IV., at first favorably disposed toward the Jews, ultimately reenacted all the restrictive laws issued by Benedict. In Italy, however, his bull was generally disregarded. The great centers, such as Venice, Florence, Genoa, and Pisa, realized that their commercial interests were of more importance than the affairs of the spiritual leaders of the Church; and accordingly the Jews, many of whom were bankers and leading merchants, found their condition better than ever before. It thus became easy for Jewish bankers to obtain permission to establish banks and to engage in monetary transactions. Indeed, in one instance even the Bishop of Mantua, in the name of the pope, accorded permission to the Jews to lend money at interest. All the banking negotiations of Tuscany were in the hands of a Jew, Jehiel of Pisa. The influential position of this successful financier was of the greatest advantage to his coreligionists at the time of the exile from Spain.

The Jews were also successful as medical practitioners. William of Portaleone, physician to Ferdinand, King of Naples, and to the ducal houses of Sforza and Gonzaga, was one of the ablest of that time. He was the first of the long line of illustrious physicians in his family.

Influence of the Renascence; Printing.

The revival of interest in the studies of ancient Greece and Rome stimulated the study of Biblical literature; and such men as Pico di Mirandola and Cardinals Ægidius da Viterbo and Domenico Grimani devoted themselves to the study of Hebrew and Hebrew literature. This produced amicable relations between Jews and Christians. At the time of the Medicis Jews frequented the universities and were active in the renascence of letters and of the sciences; but they remained strangers to the fine arts, especially painting and sculpture. The printing establishments of Reggio, Pieve di Sacco, Mantua, Ferrara, Bologna, and Naples were founded at this period. Obadiah of Bertinoro, eloquent preacher and famous commentator of the Mishnah; Messer Leon (Judah ben Jehiel) of Naples, rabbi and physician at Mantua; and Elijah Delmedigo, the philosopher, flourished at this period. Pico di Mirandola was a disciple of the last-named, as were many others, who learned from him the Hebrew language or studied philosophy under his guidance. Driven from Germany and Poland by persecutions, many learned rabbis and Talmudists went to Italy; among these were Judah Minz, who became rabbi at Padua, and Joseph Colon, of French extraction, rabbi successively at Bologna and Mantua. Bothwere opposed to the liberal ideas then dominant in Italy; and soon strife and controversy arose between Colon and Messer Leon, between Minz and Elijah Delmedigo.

Toward the end of the fifteenth century the monks disturbed the relatively peaceful condition of the Jews. The most bitter enemy was Bernardinus of Feltre. Not succeeding in inflaming the Italians with his calumnies, he instigated a bloody persecution of the Jews of Trent, then under German rule. The murder of the infant Simon was attributed to them. In their favor appeared the Doge of Venice, Peter Mocenigo, and Pope Sixtus IV., who at first refused to proclaim as a saint the child found dead, firmly declaring the story of the ritual murder to be an invention.

Refugees from Spain.

A great number of the exiles from Spain (1492) betook themselves to Italy, where they were given protection by King Ferdinand I. of Naples. Don Isaac Abravanel even received a position at the Neapolitan court, which he retained under the succeeding king, Alfonso II. The Spanish Jews were well received also in Ferrara by Duke Hercules I., and in Tuscany through the mediation of Jehiel of Pisa and his sons. But at Rome and Genoa they experienced all the vexations and torments that hunger, plague, and poverty bring with them, and were forced to accept baptism in order to escape starvation. In some few cases the immigrants exceeded in number the Jews already domiciled, and gave the determining vote in matters of communal interest and in the direction of studies. From Alexander VI. to Clement VII. the popes were indulgent toward the Jews, having more urgent matters to occupy them. Indeed, the popes themselves and many of the most influential cardinals openly violated one of the most severe enactments of the Council of Basel, namely, that prohibiting Christians from employing Jewish physicians; and they even gave the latter positions at the papal court. The Jewish communities of Naples and of Rome received the greatest number of accessions; but many Jews passed on from these cities to Ancona and Venice, and thence to Padua. Venice, imitating the odious measures of the German cities, assigned to the Jews a special quarter ("ghetto").

Isaac Abravanel with his sons exercised a beneficent influence alike upon the native Jews and the newcomers. Among the sons the most influential was Samuel; he and his wife, Benvenida, were on terms of intimacy with the court of Naples. The daughter of the governor, Don Pedro de Toledo, was attached to Benvenida, whom she called mother, and continued her love and respect after her marriage to Cosimo II., Duke of Tuscany. These relations with powerful and illustrious families made Abravanel the pride and shield of the Italian Israelites.

The Talmudic school at Padua, presided over by Judah Minz, enjoyed great repute. Not only young men but those advanced in life came to him from Italy, from Germany, and even from Turkey, to attend his lectures. He died at an advanced age; and his son Abraham continued the school, though with diminished success. At Bologna during the first half of the sixteenth century flourished Obadiah Sforno, who, while practising as a physician, applied himself with much earnestness to Biblical exegesis and to philosophy. He dedicated some of his works, written in Hebrew but furnished with a Latin translation, to King Henry III. of France. At Ferrara Abraham ben Mordecai Farissol, philosopher and exegete, enjoyed the protection of Hercules I. of Este, a patron of literature, science, and art. It became common in the Italian cities for learned Jews to enter into discussions of theological questions with the monks, and in several of these Farissol took part. By order of the duke his dis sertations, originally written in Hebrew, were translated into Italian, so that his opponents could prepare a defense. Among those who assisted Reuchlin in aid of the Jews was Ægidius da Viterbo, head of the Augustinians, disciple and patron of Elijah Levita, and student of Hebrew literature and poetry. "Fighting with you," he wrote to Reuchlin, "we fight for light against darkness, aiming to save not the Talmud, but the Church." The watchword which went forth from Italy and passed on everywhere was "For the salvation of the Talmud."

In Italy Elijah Levita numbered many Christians among his disciples. Just as many illustrious Italians, among them princes of the Church, devoted themselves with zeal to Hebrew studies, so the Jews with equal ardor devoted their energies to Italian, which they spoke with ease and elegance and which they sometimes employed in their writings. A famous writer was Leo Hebræus (Judah Abravanel), known through his "Dialoghi di Amore." His language was fluent and correct, and his work was everywhere enthusiastically received.

Spread of the Cabala.

In the sixteenth century cabalistic doctrines were introduced into Italy by Spanish exiles, Abraham Levita, Baruch of Benevento, and Judah Ḥayyaṭ, among others. These awakened much interest, and their mystical ideas appealed to many. Moreover, the fact that prominent Christians, such as Ægidius da Viterbo and Reuchlin, were devoted to the Cabala, exercised a great influence upon the Jews. The wide-spread dispersion of the Jews had weakened in many minds faith in a final redemption; so that the new Messianic interpretations of the cabalists appealed to them. The indefatigable Abravanel wrote three works in which he attempted to show the truth of the Messianic doctrines; but, carried away by the dominant error of the times, he unwisely fixed a date for the advent of the Messiah. In Istria—a country which had been under Venetian dominion—appeared Asher Lämmlein, a German, who pretended to be a prophet, and who announced with much solemnity the coming of the Messiah in the year 1502. In this "year of penitence" there were much fasting, much prayer, and a generous distribution of alms.


The movement was so general that even Christians believed Lämmlein to be possessed of the true prophetic spirit. The year came to an end, and the prophecy remained unfulfilled. Discouraged, many embraced Christianity. The cabalists, however, were not disheartened, and, supported by reports of miraculous happenings, they began to revive the courage of their coreligionistsand to preach again faith in the coming of the Messiah. They were disposed to place credence in the most improbable assertions; and accordingly, when David Reubeni made his appearance in Italy, he found ready a large body of supporters. His mission was to gain support, especially from the pope, to fight the Turks. David went to Venice and to Rome, where he presented himself before Pope Clement VII., by whom he was received with all the honors accorded to an ambassador. The idea of a crusade of Jews against Turks was a most pleasing one to the pope. After a year's sojourn in Rome David was called to Portugal. Here he found a champion in a Marano in service at the court, who, undergoing circumcision and changing his name to Solomon Molko, announced his fealty to Judaism. The Maranos and cabalists maintained generally that the sack of Rome in 1527 was a sign of the coming of the Messiah. But David lost favor, and was expelled from Portugal. Thereupon the Maranos were condemned to the stake by thousands. Many succeeded in escaping to Italy; and the pope, together with the college of cardinals, wishing to restore prosperity to Ancona, assigned to the exiles an asylum in that city. Molko also went to Ancona, where, as a professed Jew, he delivered public Messianic sermons, and held theological disputations with illustrious Christians. In some of his sermons he prophesied a great flood. At Rome, where, after thirty days of fasting, he presented himself to the pope, he was favorably received, and was given a safe-conduct through all the papal dominions. The flood which he had prophesied really came to pass (Oct., 1530); and on his return to Rome he was greeted as a prophet. Accompanied by a faithful servant, he escaped the Inquisition and reached Ancona, where he again began his preaching. The fierce persecutions suffered by the Spanish and Portuguese Maranos induced Molko and Reubeni to repair to Ratisbon and appear before the emperors Charles V. and Ferdinand of Austria to solicit their aid. Josel of Rosheim gave them his support; nevertheless both enthusiasts were made prisoners. Molko was burned on the pyre at Mantua, and Reubeni was imprisoned in Spain, where he died three years later.

Expulsion from Naples.

The ultra-Catholic party tried with all the means at its disposal to introduce the Inquisition into the Neapolitan realm, then under Spanish rule. Charles V., upon his return from his victories in Africa, was on the point of exiling the Jews from Naples, but deferred doing so owing to the influence of Benvenida, wife of Samuel Abravanel. A few years later, however (1533), such a decree was proclaimed, but upon this occasion also Samuel Abravanel and others were able through their influence to avert for several years the execution of the edict. Many Jews repaired to Turkey, some to Ancona, and still others to Ferrara, where they were received graciously by Duke Hercules II.

After the death of Pope Paul III., who had showed favor to the Jews, a period of strife, of persecutions, and of despondency set in. A few years later the Jews were exiled from Genoa, among the refugees being Joseph ha-Kohen, physician to the doge Andrea Dorea and eminent historian. The Maranos, driven from Spain and Portugal, were allowed by Duke Hercules to enter his dominions and to profess Judaism without molestation. Thus, Samuel Usque, also a historian, who had fled from the Inquisition in Portugal, settled in Ferrara; and Abraham Usque founded a large printing establishment there. A third Usque, Solomon, merchant of Venice and Ancona and poet of some note, translated the sonnets of Petrarch into excellent Spanish verse, which was much admired by his contemporaries.

While the return to Judaism of the Marano Usques caused much rejoicing among the Italian Jews, this was counterbalanced by the deep grief into which they were plunged by the conversion to Christianity of two grandsons of Elijah Levita, Leone Romano and Vittorio Eliano. One became a canon of the Church; the other, a Jesuit. They violently slandered the Talmud to Pope Julius III. and the Inquisition; and as a consequence the pope pronounced the sentence of destruction against this work, to the printing of which one of his predecessors, Leo X., had given his sanction. On the Jewish New-Year's Day (Sept. 9), 1553, all the copies of the Talmud in the principal cities of Italy, in the printing establishments of Venice, and even in the distant island of Candia (Crete), were burned. Still more cruel was the fate of the Jews under Pope Marcellus III., who wished to exile them from Rome because of a charge of ritual murder. He was restrained from the execution of this cruel and unjust project by Cardinal Alexander Farnese, who, animated by a true love for his fellow creatures, succeeded in bringing to light the infamous author of the murder.

Paul IV.

But the most serious misfortune for the Jews was the election of Paul IV. as Marcellus' successor. This cruel pontiff, not content with confirming all the more severe of the bulls against the Jews issued up to that time, added others still more oppressive and containing all manner of prohibitions, which condemned the Jews to the most abject misery, deprived them of the means of sustenance, and denied to them the exercise of all professions. They were finally forced to labor at the restoration of the walls of Rome without any compensation whatever. Indeed, upon one occasion the pope had secretly given orders to one of his nephews to burn at night the quarter inhabited by the Jews; but Alexander Farnese, hearing of the infamous proposal, succeeded in frustrating it. Many Jews now abandoned Rome and Ancona and went to Ferrara and Pesaro. Here the Duke of Urbino welcomed them graciously in the hope of directing to the new port of Pesaro the extensive commerce of the Levant, which was at that time exclusively in the hands of the Jews of Ancona. Among the many who were forced to leave Rome was the illustrious Marano, Amato Lusitano, a distinguished physician, who had often attended Pope Julius III. He had even been invited to become physician to the King of Poland, but had declined the offer in order to remain in Italy. He fled from the Inquisition to Pesaro, where he openly professed Judaism.

Persecution at Ancona.

The persecutions at Ancona now became barbarous. Three Jews and a Jewess, Donna Maiora, wereburned alive at the stake, preferring death to apostasy. The glories of their martyrdom were sung by three Jewish poets in elegies which are still recited in the synagogue at Ancona on the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple. Another interesting personality was Donna Gracia Mendesia Nasi. Charles V. and other potentates had frequently had recourse to the bank founded by her husband in Portugal. At her husband's death Donna Gracia moved with her children to Antwerp, and thence, after protracted wanderings with varying fortunes, to Venice, Ferrara, Rome, Sicily, and finally to Turkey, where she succeeded in persuading Sulaiman to force the pope to set at liberty all the Turkish Jews imprisoned at Ancona. These tragic events, and in general the unprecedented cruelty and violence of Paul IV., induced the Jews to unite and to form a plan of retaliation by allying themselves with the Jews of the Levant to boycott the port of Ancona, to stop all commercial relations with that papal state, and thereby to cripple its activity. This plan was partially carried out, and the city of Ancona began rapidly to decline. Special circumstances, however, interfered with the complete execution of the scheme, especially the supreme authority of the pope throughout Europe, which enabled him to prejudice popular feeling against the Jews in countries other than Italy and to intensify the antagonism toward them in his own land. At the end of a year the condition of Ancona was so desperate that the magistrates of the city complained to the pope, urging that if steps were not soon taken the city would be entirely ruined. As the league against the pope waned in influence, the Duke of Urbino, who, as stated above, had hoped to attract to Pesaro all the Eastern Jewish trade and had been disappointed in his expectation, withdrew his protection from the Jews. A very large number of them emigrated, including Lusitano, who settled at Ragusa. Even the Duke of Ferrara showed himself less favorable to the Jews at this time, so that Abraham Usque, being deprived of the duke's protection, was forced to close his printing-office at Ferrara.

The School of Cremona.

But it was about this time that there was founded in the city of Cremona and under the protection of the Spanish governor of Milan, a famous school, directed by Joseph of Ettlingen (Ottolenghi). This eminent Talmudist knew where to gather a goodly number of hidden copies of the Talmud and of other Jewish works; and he had other copies printed at Riva di Trento, which were sent to Germany, Poland, etc. Thus the study of the Talmud was resumed, and learning flourished in northern Italy. But peace was concluded between the pope and the Spaniards; and some fanatics, aided by certain baptized Jews, persuaded the governor of Milan to destroy all the Hebrew books in Cremona. Twelve thousand volumes were burned in public in May, 1559, including all Jewish books except the Zohar, which, according to the opinion of most of the cardinals and princes of the Church, contained the mysteries of Christianity, and the introduction to which had been printed (Mantua, 1558) by Emanuel Benevento under Paul IV. with the sanction of the Inquisition. Somewhat later a complete edition of the Zohar was printed at a Christian establishment in Cremona, with an introduction by the baptized grandson of Elijah Levita, Vittorio Eliano, who had already contributed so much to the destruction of the Talmud. This predilection of the Church and the clergy for the Zohar lasted but a short time; for a few years later this book was likewise placed upon the Index.

Pius IV., the successor of Paul IV., was in every respect a better man than his predecessors; but, being sickly and weak, he submitted to the influence of the Jesuits. Mordecai Soncino appeared before him to obtain for the emperor Ferdinand absolution from an oath made by him to expel the Jews from Prague. The absolution was granted; and the Jews were favored, particularly during the succeeding reign of Maximilian. The Soncinos had established printing-presses in various cities of Lombardy, also at Constantinople and at Prague. They printed not only Jewish works, but also Latin ones, among them the poems of Petrarch. Permission to reprint the Talmud, but under another name and with the omission of all that might be considered contrary to Christianity, was granted to a deputation which waited on Pius IV. with a large gift of money. The Talmud was immediately reprinted at Basel.

Expulsion from Papal States.

But this tolerant pope was succeeded by Pius V., even more cruel than Paul IV., and excelling him in wickedness. He brought into force all the anti-Jewish bulls of his predecessors—not only in his own immediate domains, but throughout the Christian world. In Lombardy the expulsion of the Jews was threatened, and, although this extreme measure was not put into execution, they were tyrannized in countless ways. At Cremona and at Lodi their books were confiscated; and Carlo Borromeo, who was afterward canonized, persecuted them mercilessly. In Genoa, from which city the Jews were at this time expelled, an exception was made in favor of Joseph ha-Kohen. In his "'Emeḳ ha-Bakah" he narrates the history of these persecutions. He had no desire to take advantage of the sad privilege accorded to him, and went to Casale Monferrato, where he was graciously received even by the Christians. In this same year the pope directed his persecutions against the Jews of Bologna, who formed a rich community well worth despoiling. Many of the wealthiest Jews were imprisoned and placed under torture in order to force them to make false confessions. When Rabbi Ishmael Ḥanina was being racked, he declared that should the pains of torture elicit from him any words that might be construed as casting reflection on Judaism, they would be false and null. It was forbidden to the Jews to absent themselves from the city; but many succeeded in escaping by bribing the watchmen at the gates of the ghetto and of the city. The fugitives, together with their wives and children, repaired to the neighboring city of Ferrara. Then Pius V. decided to banish the Jews from all his dominions, and, despite the enormous loss which was likely to result from this measure, and the remonstrances of influential and well-meaning cardinals,the Jews (in all about 1,000 families) were actually expelled from all the papal states excepting Rome and Ancona. A few became Christians; but the large majority migrated to Turkey. A great sensation was caused in Italy by the choice of a prominent Jew, Solomon of Udine, as Turkish ambassador to Venice to negotiate peace with that republic, which was accomplished in July, 1574. As there was pending a decree of expulsion of the Jews from the Venetian domains, the Senate was at first in doubt whether it could treat with this Jew; but later, through the influence of the Venetian diplomats themselves, and particularly of the consul, Marc Antonio Barbaro, who esteemed Udine highly, he was received with great honors at the palace of the doges. In virtue of this exalted position he was able to render great service to his coreligionists, and through his influence Jacob Soranzo, agent of the republic at Constantinople, came to Venice. Solomon was successful also in having the decree of expulsion revoked, and he furthermore obtained a promise that it should never be reissued and that those Jews who had left Venice should be allowed to return and settle in peace. Laden with honors and gifts, Solomon returned to Constantinople, leaving his son Nathan in Venice to be educated. The success of this mission cheered the Jews in Turkey, particularly in Constantinople, where they had attained great prosperity.

Azariah dei Rossi.

At that time there lived in Italy a man of the highest intellectual attainments, one who could have done much for Judaism had he been possessed of greater courage or had the times been more propitious—Azariah dei Rossi (Min ha-Adummim), a native of Mantua and the author of "Me'or 'Enayim." He went from Mantua to Ferrara, and thence to Bologna; and everywhere he was regarded as a marvel of learning. Rossi was conversant with all Jewish literature, Biblical as well as Talmudical; he was likewise familiar with Latin and Christian literature, with the works of the Fathers of the Church as well as with those of Philo and of Flavius. The orthodox rabbis opposed the "Me'or 'Enayim," the rabbi of Mantua prohibiting its study by young men under twenty-five years of age; but it found favor in the world at large and was translated into Latin. A contrast to Rossi was Gedaliah ibn Yaḥya of northern Italy, who traveled about as a preacher in that part of the country. His short history of the Jews, entitled "Shalshelet ha-Ḳabbalah," is a mixture of fables and fantastical tales; but it was more generally appreciated than the careful work of Dei Rossi. At this epoch there became famous in the field of the new Cabala Vital Calabrese and Isaac Luria, both of whom were well received at Safed, the center of the adherents of the new occult doctrine which was to bring such great loss to Judaism.

Persecutions and Confiscations.

The position of the Jews of Italy at this time was pitiable; the bulls of Paul IV. and Pius V. had reduced them to the utmost humiliation and had materially diminished their numbers. In southern Italy there were almost none left; in each of the important communities of Rome, Venice, and Mantua there were about 2,000 Jews; while in all Lombardy there were hardly 1,000. Gregory XIII. was not less fanatical than his predecessors; he noticed that, despite papal prohibition, Christians employed Jewish physicians; he therefore strictly prohibited the Jews from attending Christian patients, and threatened with the most severe punishment alike Christians who should have recourse to Hebrew practitioners, and Jewish physicians who should respond to the calls of Christians. Furthermore, the slightest assistance given to the Maranos of Portugal and Spain, in violation of the canonical laws, was sufficient to deliver the guilty one into the power of the Inquisition, which did not hesitate to condemn the accused to death. Gregory also induced the Inquisition to consign to the flames a large number of copies of the Talmud and of other Hebrew books. Special sermons, designed to convert the Jews, were instituted; and at these at least one-third of the Jewish community, men, women, and youths above the age of twelve, was forced to be present. The sermons were usually delivered by baptized Jews who had become friars or priests; and not infrequently the Jews, without any chance of protest, were forced to listen to such sermons in their own synagogues. These cruelties forced many Jews to leave Rome, and thus their number was still further diminished.

Varied Fortunes.

Under the following pope, Sixtus V., the condition of the Jews was somewhat improved. He repealed many of the regulations established by his predecessors, permitted Jews to sojourn in all parts of his realm, and accorded to Jewish physicians liberty in the practise of their profession. David de Pomis, an eminent physician, profited by this privilege and published a work in Latin, entitled "De Medico Hebræo," dedicated to Duke Francis of Urbino, in which he proved to the Jews their obligation to consider the Christians as brothers, to assist them, and to attend them. The Jews of Mantua, Milan, and Ferrara, taking advantage of the favorable disposition of the pope, sent to him an ambassador, Bezaleel Massarano, with a present of 2,000 scudi, to obtain from him permission to reprint the Talmud and other Jewish books, promising at the same time to expurgate all passages considered offensive to Christianity. Their demand was granted, partly through the support given by Lopez, a Marano, who administered the papal finances and who was in great favor with the pontiff. Scarcely had the reprinting of the Talmud been begun, and the conditions of its printing been arranged by the commission, when Sixtus died. His successor, Gregory XIV., was as well disposed to the Jews as Sixtus had been; but during his short pontificate he was almost always Clement VII., who succeeded him, renewed the anti-Jewish bulls of Paul IV. and Pius V., and exiled the Jews from all his territories with the exception of Rome, Ancona, and Avignon; but, in order not to lose the commerce with the East, he gave certain privileges to the Turkish Jews. The exiles repaired to Tuscany, where they were favorably received by Duke Ferdinand dei Medici, who assigned to them the city of Pisa for residence, and by Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga, at whosecourt Joseph da Fano, a Jew, was a favorite. They were again permitted to read the Talmud and other Hebrew books, provided that they were printed according to the rules of censorship approved by Sixtus V. From Italy, where these expurgated books were printed by thousands, they were sent to the Jews of other countries.

In the Ducal Dominions.

It was strange that under Philip II. the Jews exiled from all parts of Spain were tolerated in the duchy of Milan, then under Spanish rule. Such an inconsistency of policy was designed to work ill for the interests of the Jews. To avert this misfortune an eloquent ambassador, Samuel Coen, was sent to the king at Alessandria; but he was unsuccessful in his mission. The king, persuaded by his confessor, expelled the Jews from Milanese territory in the spring of 1597. The exiles, numbering about 1,000, were received at Mantua, Modena, Reggio, Verona, and Padua. The princes of the house of Este had always accorded favor and protection to the Jews, and were much beloved by them. Eleonora, a princess of this house, had inspired two Jewish poets; and when she was ill public prayers were said in the synagogues for her restoration to health. But misfortune overtook the Jews of Ferrara as well; for when Alfonso I., the last of the Este family, died, the principality of Ferrara was incorporated in the dominions of the Church under Clement VII., who decreed the banishment of the Jews. Aldobrandini, a relative of the pope, took possession of Ferrara in the pontiff's name. Seeing that all the commerce was in the hands of the Jews, he complied with their request for an exemption of five years from the decree, although this was much against the pope's wish.

The Mantuan Jews suffered seriously at the time of the Thirty Years' war. The Jews exiled from the papal dominions had repeatedly found refuge in Mantua, where the dukes of Gonzaga had accorded protection to them, as they had done to the Jews already resident there. The next to the last duke, although a cardinal, favored them sufficiently to enact a statute for the maintenance of order in the ghetto. After the death of the last of this house the right of succession was contested at the time of the Thirty Years' war, and the city was besieged by the German soldiery of Wallenstein. After a valiant defense, in which the Jews labored at the walls until the approach of the Sabbath, the city fell into the power of the besiegers, and for three days was at the mercy of fire and sword. The commander-in-chief, Altringer, forbade the soldiers to sack the ghetto, thereby hoping to secure the spoils for himself. The Jews were ordered to leave the city, taking with them only their personal clothing and three gold ducats per capita. There were retained enough Jews to act as guides to the places where their coreligionists were supposed to have hidden their treasures. Through three Jewish zealots these circumstances came to the knowledge of the emperor, who ordered the governor, Collalto, to issue a decree permitting the Jews to return and promising them the restoration of their goods. Only about 800, however, returned, the others having died.

The victories in Europe of the Turks, who brought their armies up to the very walls of Vienna (1683), helped even in Italy to incite the Christian population against the Jews, who remained friendly to the Turks. In Padua, in 1683, the Jews were in great danger because of the agitation fomented against them by the cloth-weavers. A violent tumult broke out; the lives of the Jews were seriously menaced; and it was only with the greatest difficulty that the governor of the city succeeded in rescuing them, in obedience to a rigorous order from Venice. For several days thereafter the ghetto had to be especially guarded.

Leon of Modena.

At the end of the sixteenth and during the seventeenth century several Hebrew writers attained considerable fame. Among them was Leon of Modena, who wrote Italian and Latin verse. At Venice, where there was a population of about 6,000 Jews, he and Simon Luzzatto (Simḥah), both holding liberal views, were members of the rabbinical college. Several Jews of this epoch wrote elegant Italian prose and verse. Two women merit special mention, Deborah Ascarelli and Sarah Copia Sullam. Even more cultured and profound than Modena was his friend and disciple Joseph Solomon Delmedigo, who had a special aptitude for mathematics, and whose instructor was the great Galileo. Simon Luzzatto, in his "Discorso sullo Stato degli Ebrei," without concealing their faults, took up the defense of the Jews. Isaac Cardoso of Verona did likewise, in a work entitled "Sulla Excellenza degli Ebrei." These liberal Italian thinkers persistently combated, as did others in various parts of Europe, the spirit of the Cabala as well as some of the exaggerated practises introduced later into Judaism; for this reason their works did not meet with popularity.

Mordecai of Eisenstadt.

A strange phenomenon in the history of the Italian Jews was Mordecai of Eisenstadt, a man of commanding presence, and a disciple and partizan of Shabbethai Ẓebi. Aḅraham Rovigo and Benjamin Coen, rabbis of Reggio and Italian cabalists of the school of Zacuto, were captivated by him and greeted him with enthusiasm. He proposed that they should go to Rome to preach Messianic sermons. The majority considered him a madman, and feared the unlucky consequences of this foolish agitation; others declared that it would be necessary for him to become a Christian in order to achieve his purposes. The Inquisition, failing in its attempts to convert him, became suspicious; and his friends counseled him to leave Italy and to go to Bohemia.

Moses Ḥayyim Luzzatto (born at Padua in 1707; died at the age of forty) was a savant of the highest order among Italian Jews famous in science and in Hebrew poetry. He elaborated a new Zohar, which brought upon him much trouble. Finally he was persecuted, excommunicated, and forced to abandon his family and country and to become a wanderer. Isaac Lampronti compiled a monumental work of rabbinical science, the great Talmudical cyclopedia entitled "Paḥad Yiẓḥaḳ." Isaac REGGIO, influenced by Mendelssohn's works, above all by his German translation of the Pentateuch, translated portions of the Bible into Italian. He was the author also of various poetical and philosophical works.

Map of Italy Showing Places Where Jewish Communities Have Existed.

Reaction After Napoleon.

Among the first schools to adopt the Reform projects of Hartwig Wessely were those of Triest, Venice, and Ferrara. Under the influence of the liberal religious policy of Napoleon I., the Jews of Italy, like those of France, were emancipated. The supreme power of the popes was broken: they had no longer time to give to framing anti-Jewish enactments, and they no longer directed canonical laws against the Jews. To the Sanhedrin convened by Napoleon at Paris (1807), Italy sent four deputies: Abraham Vita da Cologna; Isaac Benzion Segre, rabbi of Vercelli; Graziadio Neppi, physician and rabbi of Cento; and Jacob Israel Karmi, rabbi of Reggio. Of the four rabbis assigned to the committee which was to draw up the answers to the twelve questions proposed to the Assembly of Notables, two, Cologna and Segre, were Italians, and were elected respectively first and second vice-presidents of the Sanhedrin. But the liberty acquired by the Jews under Napoleon was of short duration; it disappeared with his downfall. Pius VII., on regaining possession of his realms, reinstalled the Inquisition; he deprived the Jews of every liberty and confined them again in ghettos. Such became to a greater or less extent their condition in all the states into which Italy was then divided; at Rome they were again forced to listen to proselytizing sermons. But the spark of the French Revolution could not be extinguished so easily; a short time after it burst forth into a flame more brilliant and enduring. In the year 1829, consequent upon an edict of the emperor Francis I., there was opened in Padua, with the cooperation of Venice, of Verona, and of Mantua, the first Italian rabbinical college, in which Lelio della Torre and Samuel David Luzzatto taught. Luzzatto was a man of great intellect; he wrote in pure Hebrew upon philosophy, history, literature, criticism, and grammar. Many distinguished rabbis, of whom several still fill important pulpits, came from the rabbinical college of Padua. Zelman, Moses Tedeschi, and Castiglioni followed at Triest the purposes and the principles of Luzzatto's school. At the same time, Elijah Benamozegh, a man of great knowledge and the author of several works, distinguished himself in the old rabbinical school at Leghorn.

Modern History.

The return to medieval servitude after the Italian restoration did not last long; and the Revolution of 1848, which convulsed all Europe, brought great advantages to the Jews. Although this was followed by another reaction, yet the persecutions and the violence of past times had disappeared. The last outrage against the Jews of Italy was connected with the case of Mortara, which occurred in Bologna in 1858. In 1859 all the papal states became the united kingdom of Italy under King Victor Emanuel II.; and except in Rome, where oppression lasted until the end of the papal dominion (Sept. 20, 1870), the Jews obtained full emancipation. In behalf of their country the Jews with great ardor sacrificed life and property in the memorable campaigns of 1859, 1866, and 1870. Of the many who deserve mention in this connection may be singled out Isaac Pesaro Maurogonato. He was minister of finance to the Venetian republic during the war of 1848 against Austria, and his grateful country erected to him a memorial in bronze. There was also erected in the palace of the doges a marble bust of Samuel Romanin, a celebrated Jewish historian of Venice. Florence, too, has commemorated a modern Jewish poet, Solomon Fiorentino, by placing a marble tablet upon the house in which he was born. The secretary and faithful friend of Count Cavour was the Piedmontese Isaac Artom; while L'Olper, later rabbi of Turin, and also the friend and counselor of Mazzini, was one of the most courageous advocates of Italian independence. The names of the Jewish soldiers who died in the cause of Italian liberty were placed along with those of their Christian fellow soldiers on the monuments erected in their honor.

After the death of Luzzatto the rabbinical college rapidly declined; the wars and the revolutions that convulsed Italy absorbed the interest of the Jews entirely. When the Venetian province became part of Italy the college was abolished with the intention of establishing another elsewhere. Somewhat later (1887) such a college was founded at Rome, which had been made the capital of the kingdom. The rabbinical school at Leghorn continued its work. The abandonment of the Jewish college in Padua not only resulted in a loss to Jewish studies in general, but was felt throughout Italy likewise in the scarcity of able Italian rabbis. The rabbinical college at Rome was opened under the leadership of Rabbi Mortara of Mantua, Professors Ehrenreich and Sorani being among the instructors. It was not successful; and it was transferred to Florence, where it flourished under the direction of Dr. S. H. Margulies.

In 1853 the rabbis Pontremoli and Levi founded at Vercelli a monthly review, which was entitled "L'Educatore Israelita," for the discussion of vital questions of Jewish literature and history. This was published with the title "Vessillo Israelitico" at Casale Monferrato, and was under the direction of Flaminio Servi until his death (Jan. 23, 1904). About fifteen years ago another Jewish magazine, the "Corriere Israelitico," was founded by Abraham Morpurgo at Triest, where it is still published.

The small and obscure old synagogues situated in narrow streets have been replaced by magnificent and imposing temples in Milan, Turin, Modena, Florence, and even at Rome, where the community, which is the largest in Italy, and contains between 12,000 and 14,000 Jews, is now being completely reorganized. As head of this most important community Prof. Vittorio Castiglione of Triest has lately been chosen chief rabbi. In order to make a place in the service for the choir, the ritual has been shortened, while the sermons have become more general and elevated in tone. In exceptional cases Jews have become ministers of finance (Leone Wollemberg in 1901, and Luigi Luzzatti, for the fifth time, in 1903) and minister of war (Ottolenghi in 1902-3). The Italian Jews, like those of other countries, are worthily represented in all fields of human activity; and it may be added that Italy remains free from the contagion of anti-Semitism with which too many of its influential European neighbors have become inoculated.


V. C.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Italy'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​i/italy.html. 1901.
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