In this article I examine the presence and influence among Italian Jews of Max Nordau’s image of the “muscle Jew” and more broadly of a virile imaginary, intertwined with Zionist and Italian nationalist ideas. I first document the relevance of an early phase of Italian muscular Judaism at the beginning of the twentieth century, at the time of the rise of Zionism in Italy. I then study the development, in the 1920s and 1930s, of a virile imagery among the two trends of Italian revisionist Zionism and of what we may call Italian Jewish Fascism. I end by asking whether there were not inherent contradictions, or at least relevant tensions, in the ideal of the muscle Jew, between radical nationalism and Jewish forms of virility, as developed after the First world war and in connection with the rise and stabilization of Fascism.
Author: Simon Levis Sullam