The present paper examines the main biographical traits of the Italian author, politician and Risorgimento activist David Levi (1816-1898). Early in life, Levi abandoned the traditional religious spheres of Judaism but always remained attached to his Jewish heritage, as emerges from his oeuvre. Levi’s relevance derives from his constant effort to amalgamate Italian and Jewish identities in a context of increasing secularity. An analysis of his figure and activities, therefore enables us to investigate some crucial issues at the center of current historiographical debate, such as the nineteenth-century Jewish transition from a traditional to a modern identity, the discussion around the concepts of “assimilation”and “integration,” orientalist researches and the study of religions in nineteenth-century Italy, and the important role of Freemasonry and Saintsimonism in Levi’s; secularization modes. In fact, their concept of “Religion of Humanity” helped him to create a synthesis between Enlightenment’s aspirations to universalism and Risorgimento’s cosmopolitan nationalism.
The essay outlines the biographies of Jacob and his son Tullo in the context of the history of the Mantuan Jews in the age of emancipation. Giacobbe came from a family of the Jewish élite and was brought up to the Enlightenment ideas and to the principles of 1789. Following the path, which had been opened in Mantua by rabbis Simone Calimani and Jakob Rafael Jacob Saraval, Giacobbe turned toward the ideal of the reconcilability of faith with reason, in tune with prevailing tendencies also within non-Jewish bourgeoisie. The inclination to reduce religion to the “love of the neighbor” brought Giacobbe to the more or less explicit recognition of the equivalence of different faiths, which mirrored at a cultural level the social integration between Jewish elites and non-Jewish bourgeoisie.
Tullo’s detachment from traditional faith was even more radical, however a strong need for a faith survived and this was satisfied by the conversion to the religion of the nation. In this sense you can talk of a marked “assimilazionismo.” The animated opposition showed by Tullo in the 1890s against any proposals to make a Jewish identity reviving can be explained by his fear for the centrifugal tendencies, which – along with the escalation of the class struggle – could have endangered the unity of the new State. Massarani was obsessed with these risks and he consequently acted in order to prevent them.
In the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century, Italy held a strong appeal for Russian travelers. Several of these Russian émigrés were women of Jewish lineage, who had come with their families or were sent abroad on their own in order to complete their education at one of the newborn kingdom’s prestigious universities. Elena Raffalovich (Odessa 1842 – Florence 1918) is one of the earliest and most intriguing examples of this phenomenon. While her intellectual trajectory, as a pioneer in children’s education and an advocate of women’s rights, is representative of that of many other Russian Jewish women living in Italy at that time, it also challenges a number of historiographic commonplaces about Jewish women and their emancipation process in nineteenth-century Europe. Moreover, through the archives of different prominent members of the Raffalovich dynasty, it is possible to follow its vicissitudes over at least five generations, completing our knowledge of Elena’s biography and reassessing the importance of her intellectual contribution to Italian culture.
This paper examines Bernardo Dessau’s activities within the Zionist movement in the years between the end of the Nineteenth century and the first two decades of the Twentieth century. Dessau’s important contribution is still little-known and under-explored even by the most recent historiographical studies on Zionism in Italy.
More specifically, this essay will investigate Dessau’s intellectual and propagandistic commitment towards the realization of the Zionist ideal, his views on the main concepts and issues put forward by the Jewish movement of national rebirth and his responses and reactions to the major historical events which affected, both directly and indirectly, the Jewish community in Italy and abroad in the period before the outbreak of the First World War.
In this research two different types of source have been scrutinized and evaluated: on the one hand, printed publications such as articles and pamphlets, and on the other, the private correspondence between Bernardo Dessau and Felice Ravenna, President of the Italian Zionist Federation, all of which is kept in the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem.