In 1638 two books written by two Venitian rabbis were published in Venice. They were both destined successfully to reach wide circulation over the following decades. This article aims at exploring the intimate connection between Venice, a city which deeply influenced the imagination of European culture during the early modern period, and its Jewish ghetto, the first of its kind to be founded within Catholic lands.
The author suggests that it was here in Venice, within the liminal space of the ghetto, that the theory of Jews as merchants, marked by undertones of utilitarianism was finally drafted. It also suggests that, in conjunction with this well-known theory, other theories based on religious tolerance were elaborated.
The paper also invites the reader to view the ghetto as a space capable of enacting special religious encounters, mainly driven by an interest in religion and rituals. Therefore, the very specific local and tangible conditions of the urban environment – the city and the ghetto – performed a very important undertaking, for example, debates over the place and role of Jews in Christian society.
Issue ID: 02
The Port of Livorno and its “Nazione Ebrea” in the Eighteenth Century: Economic Utility and Political Reforms
The port of Livorno in Tuscany was a successful example of mercantilist policy at work, from which its Jewish community reaped great benefits in the early modern period: Jews were granted special prerogatives on the grounds of their economic usefulness, gaining liberties precluded to most Jewish communities elsewhere. However, these economic privileges had conservative implications as well. In this essay, I argue that, at the onset of “modernity,” the exceptional nature and economic system of Livorno, together with the long-standing conception of Livornese Jews as commercially useful, contributed to the preservation of traditional structures and norms and prevented the full application of enlightened equalizing policies championed by the Tuscan government. Instead of furthering political integration, the deeply engrained “discourse of Jewish utility” encouraged the permanence of a widespread view of the Jews as an autonomous corporate collectivity protected by the continued benevolence of the sovereign. The article includes a comparison of the Tuscan situation with the better-known French and Prussian cases.1
This article stems from a key question: was Habsburg Trieste truly a cosmopolitan and tolerant city? Building upon the interpretative category of “port Jews”, established by David Sorkin and Lois C. Dubin, this study examines the social, economic and political behaviour of the Triestine Jews in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries, and conducts a comparison with the other religious minorities present in the Adriatic port during this period: Greeks, Protestants, Serbians and Armenians. The picture which emerges allows for the proposition of a new interpretative model, that of the “port-merchant.” The second part of the article focuses on the second half of the nineteenth-century, when the model of Trieste as a tolerant city was challenged by the nationalist fights between Italians and Slovenians, and by the political antisemitism. The city lost its capacity to include the ‘Other’, and was rapidly transformed into a genuine breeding-ground of Italian racism.
Odessity: in Search of Transnational Odessa
(or "Odessa the best city in the world: All about Odessa and a great many jokes")
This article presents a research into, and a very personal approach to, the “Odessa myth.” It races the emergence and development of an idea – that Odessa is different from all other cities. One main element of this mythical or legendary representation is the multi-cultural and transnational character of the city: Not only does Odessa have a Greek, an Armenian, a Jewish, a French and an Italian history, in addition to the more obvious Russian, Ukrainian, Soviet, and post-Soviet narratives, it also finds itself in more than just one place – wherever “Odessity” as a state of mind, a memory, a literary image is being celebrated and constructed.1
This essay will investigate the history of Alexandria from 1881 to 1919, proposing a re-definition of modernity vis-à-vis the city’s Jews. In the first part I will introduce a case of blood libel that occurred in 1881, the Fornaraki affair, and the consequences it had for the making of an urban (Jewish) bourgeoisie and the spreading of a modern social imaginary in-between Egypt and Europe. I will then consider the École des filles founded in Alexandria in 1900 by the Alliance Israélite Universelle, exploring how French secularism, bourgeois femininity, and Jewish religiosity coalesced in this school – as exemplified by the history surrounding the 1901 initiation des jeunes filles. Lastly, I will look at World War One and the philanthropic activities and public commemorations this event engendered in Alexandria, especially following the arrival of Jewish refugees from Palestine in 1914. Focusing upon these historical narrations, I will attempt to interpret modernity as a dynamic blending of tensions and exchanges in-between Jews and non-Jews, Egypt and Europe, local knowledge and foreign ideas.
Vienna is regarded as an outstanding city for Jewish protagonists of modernity as the lives of Sigmund Freud and Theodor Herzl illustrate. Most of these individuals were migrants or had to escape Nazi persecution. Creative Jews were confronted with aggressive anti-Semites, who created the prejudice of Jews as initiators of “unwanted change.” This article reflects that modernity was ambiguous for the Jewish population in Vienna in a socio-historical context such as population growth after 1848, migration and urbanisation, segregation, secularisation.
Why we Watched
Europe, America and the Holocaust
The article is dedicated to the passion for art collecting which was in vogue among the representatives of the Jewish haute bourgeoisie of Budapest in the beginning of the 20th century. In the center of investigation is the collection of Baron Mór Lipót Herzog who not only became one of the leading art collectors of Budapest but influenced the development of the European artistic taste. The Jewish industrialist and banker plaid instrumental role in the rediscovery and popularization of El Greco.
Who Will Write Our History?
Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive
This contribution investigates how the emergence of the first modern Jewish metropolis in Warsaw in the second half of the 19th century challenged traditional visions of community cohesion. It argues that the acceleration of political and societal change within the Jewish community allowed observant elites to achieve political and cultural hegemony in Warsaw, and thus offers a sui generis pathway of Jewish metropolitan modernization. This claim is substantiated by following the communal and political involvement of a leading Hasidic civil leader, Joel Wegmeister (1837-1919), co-founder of the first outlets of the Agudat Israel in the Kingdom of Poland before World War One