OPINION A New Perspective on the History of the Jews in Italy

gadi-luzzatto-vogheraBy Gadi Luzzatto Voghera*

The importance of the Italian Jewry, the main significance of its history, is related to the Jewish experience in the Renaissance period. In those centuries many events occurred to the lives of the Jews in Italy, and most of these became main points and more general issues for the history of the Jewry and for the history of its comparison with the non-Jewish society: the rise of a new publishing industry, the burning of the Talmud, the making of the Ghetto, the confrontation (and sometimes the clash) between the “edòth”, the secularization process starting during Renaissance and continuing through the Baroque period, and so on.

The historical debate is now devoted to those topics, and one of the main questions remains the interpretation of the so called “Ghetto era”. Although in the last decades many renown scholars have had great doubts around the significance of the Ghetto in the history of the Jews, we are being confronted all the time with the deep and diffused perception of a homogeneous and uniform period that lasted about two and a half centuries in which the Jews in Italy were restricted by law and lived a tremendous and dramatic separation from the gentile society. We know this is not completely true. And I think we are now coming to face the challenge of changing the “dictionary” of the history of the Jews in modern Italian history.

In 2016 the world will commemorate 500 years from the establishment of the first modern Ghetto (in Venice). This is the right time, I think, to definitely stop speaking about a “Ghetto era” and start to refer to that period as the “Era of the Encounter”. Yes, of course I know the existence in many cases of a hard legislation of separation and oppression, but nonetheless we are discovering exceptions all the time, therefore we should start looking at this past with different eyes.

In general, when we think about the Ghetto we are forced to think about its walls; let us start to think about the gates. Gates could be in different times open or closed, but they are a place through which people pass, and Jews and Gentiles used those passages to meet each other. And through the Ghetto gates passed people, goods, languages and ideas.

*Boston University Study Abroad Center, Padua