Italian Jewish Networks, from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century.
This volume holds a collection of essays delivered at a conference in New York a few years ago. That meeting focused on the interregional as well as the international networks of contacts tying Italian Jews to Jews living in other Mediterranean locations during the Modern Age. This book initially analyzes Italian Jews' social and cultural connections and then opens up to different fields of inquiry. Its purpose is to overview the system of international exchanges operated by Italian Jews during four centuries:
The essays gathered in this volume offer a bird's-eye view of the evolution in the course of four centuries of the supra-local system in which Italian Jews operated--commercial and family networks, intellectual and rabbinical exchanges and circulation of texts, philanthropic and solidarity networks. (p. 22)
Italian Jewish Networks is composed of eight papers (organized in chronological order on the basis of their subject matter, from the end of the 17th century up to present day) which deal with different aspects of different periods. The first essay, by Matt Goldish, deals with the dissemination of Kabbalistic and Messianic faith during the 17th century. In that context, Rabbi Avraham Rovigo's house in Modena became a center for international meetings: "His home served as a way station between Jerusalem and Amsterdam, between Salonika and Lublin, between wealthy and poor, between learned and ignorant, and between the sabbathant and faithful opponents" (p. 34). And again: "The almost even number of Ashkenazim and Sephardim to visit Rovigo similarly enhance the sense of northern Italy as a physical hub connecting the Jewish worlds to each other and mixing them" (p. 38). The second paper, by Matthias B Lehmann, analyzes information and news transmitted by messengers sent to collect charitable offerings during the 18th century. From these news, a "Jewish geography," grounded on the Mediterranean routes and extended from Istanbul to all of Europe and North Africa, emerges. The third work, by Clemence Boulouque, is engaged with the Leghorn-based printing industry and the diffusion of books printed in Leghorn throughout the Mediterranean area. This essay also analyzes the web of relations maintained by famous Rabbi Elia Benamozegh during the 19th century. As Alyssa Reiman describes in the fourth paper, during that century Leghorn became the center of a commercial network which connected the Italian Jewish community in Tunisia with its motherland, France (which ruled the country), and other Italian Jews living abroad. In the following paper, Cristiana Facchini traces some aspects of the cultural exchanges that took place between the 18th century and the 20th century. Tullia Catalan's work analyzes the attitude of the British and French Jewish institutions towards the racist policy of Mussolini's fascist government and points out the creation of international networks aimed at constantly following the situation. From this article, a very interesting and unknown aspect of Cecil Roth emerges: Roth was a careful observer and analyst of contemporary Italian political events and engaged in actions in defense of Italian Judaism. Arturo Marzano's work deals with Jewish refugees in Italy after the Holocaust and the philanthropic organizations that helped them. Finally, Simoni's article discusses how the Jewish Brigade that fought with the British Army was able to influence young Jews (both Italian and refugee) in Italy after the war and affect their decision to emigrate first to Palestine and then to the State of Israel.
This book is important because it proposes to re-evaluate the already existing historiography concerning Italian Jews and to extend its perspectives. In fact, until some years ago, historians tended to focus on a specific topic, a specific country, or a specific period. Thus, important monographs were written, such as the History of the Jews in Italy by Attilio Milano, the History of the Jews of Italy by Cecil Roth, and the History of the Jews in the Duchy of Mantua by Shlomo Simonsohn. However, in more recent years, an opposite tendency has developed to widen historical researches from both geographic and synchronic points of view so as to reconstruct the reciprocal influences affecting apparently different and distant social nuclei. This ambitious type of research brings about a broader and more complex view of reality, thus offering new and stimulating ideas for further investigations. As it requires great knowledge of heterogeneous cultures, this kind of inquiry should lead to a practice that characterizes other disciplines: the formation of teams of scholars able to compare distinct approaches. Therefore, for future research, it would be desirable to study other international networks such as Jewish brotherhoods and companies, and maybe the network (both Kabbalistic and philanthropic) par excellence, the "Shomerim laboker" (the Watchers of the Dawn), which spread both in Italy and abroad from the year 1600 up until the beginning of the 20th century. Future projects should focus on topics a little neglected by scholars so far, such as Jewish political and institutional networks in Italy, the development of their political thinking, as well as their relationships with the surrounding society and Jewish communities and institutions in other countries.
Reviewed by: Andrea Yaakov Lattes, Yaad Academic College, Tel Aviv