the plan for the future
4 April 2014 - 21 April 2014
Lecturer: Professor Bernard Dov Cooperman
This document contains course notes of the course Practising Tolerance in a Religious Society: The Church and the Jews in Italy by Bernard Dov Cooperman, Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland in the United States that is available on Coursera.org. His research focuses on the history of Jews in Italy in the Early Modern period. In this course he intends to explore one of the most sensitive and complex aspects of human social history, which is the point at which cherished values are challenged by the presence of others who do not share those values.
1. Judaism and Christianity in a Classical Context
1.1. Toleration and tolerance
1.2. Who are the Jews
1.3. The Jesus Movement
1.4. Jews: competitors, sinners and saviours
1.5. Religion in society: A meaning-giving system
2. From Sect to Christian Empire
2.1. The "conversion" of Constantine and the birth of orthodoxy
2.2. Legislating Christian identity and negotiating Christian status
2.3. Christians imagine the Jew
2.4. Christian uniformity as a limit on tolerance
2.5. The Roman Papacy
3. Urban Culture, Crusading Armies. Merchants, Moneylenders and Monsters
3.1. Marking status
3.2. Economic specialisation
3.3. Holy wars
3.4. The Jew as a monster
3.5. A persecuting society
4. Contested Space: Expulsions, Conversions and Ghettos
4.1. Polemics: cultural contests to the surface
4.2. Resolution 1: physical expulsion
4.3. Resolution 2: forced conversion
4.4. Inquisitions: reacting to the anxiety of ambivalence
5. Modernisation, liberal nationalism and church reaction
5.1. What is modern?
5.2. The enlightened state and the Jews
5.3. Italian unification and the Jews
5.4. Anti-Semitism and church reactions to modernity
5.5. Kidnapping in the name of God
6. From Fascism to the Holocaust
6.1. World War I and the rise of Fascism
6.2. Fascist rule and World War II
6.3. The Holocaust in Italy
6.4. Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust
6.5. Some final thoughts
1.1. Toleration and tolerance
The definition of tolerance in a historical context is different from the current meaning of the term. In modern times tolerance and intolerance are often used to depict people, groups and civilisations in black and white terms. Those terms often have a value judgement attached to them. Tolerance is often used to judge the values of a majority. Minorities do not have much power, so their tolerance is not subject to debate. Minorities are often seen as passive victims of the majority. The question of tolerance versus intolerance is often moved to the question of oppression and discrimination versus openness and kindness. From the modern perspective there is a metanarrative about what is good and bad in history and in what direction societies should move.
The Jews were the only religious group that the Roman Catholic church tolerated over the centuries. the Church tried to create a homogeneous society devoted to a conception of God, a conception of religion and a social order it thought was proper. Jews rejected the teachings of the Church so it is amazing that Jews were tolerated.
Society was a religious society. Religion is more than text and doctrine. Not all members of society share its official doctrines and religious leaders do not necessarily dictate social practise. Religious leaders are also part of society and directed by developments in society. Professor Cooperman is not interested in texts and doctrines but how religious ideas are activated in a religious society. Most notably he is interested how a certain tolerant or intolerant teachings are acted upon or forgotten. For a historian, religious texts are not authoritative. The teachings of the Church are not only based on the Bible. Sociology of religion studies how religion is formed in society and how society is formed by religion.
There is a difference between tolerance and toleration. Tolerance is an attitude of mind that implies non-judgmental acceptance of different lifestyles or beliefs. Toleration is the practise of deliberately allowing or permitting something of which one disapproves. Philosophers have struggled with the idea of tolerance for centuries. In 1689 John Locke wrote A Letter Concerning Toleration . In 1965 Herbert Marcuse wrote an essay called essay called Repressive Tolerance .
1.2. Who are the Jews
In the first century, Jewish communities existed everywhere in the Roman Empire and on the region east of the Roman Empire. Their number is unknown and estimates vary from 1 to 8 million. Christianity developed in constant contact with Jewish communities. Judaism in the first century meant monotheism, rituals, the Temple of Jerusalem, their ethnic identity and the Torah. Scholars debate about whether or not Judaism was monotheistic in its early stages but by the first century Judaism was monotheistic.
The most important rituals were the observance of the Sabbath, male circumcision and food laws. The Temple of Jerusalem was very important to the Jews. It allegedly was built in the 10th century BC and was rebuilt in the 6th century BC. In the first century BC the temple was expanded and became one of the largest buildings in the world. Jews saw themselves as descendants of one family which gave them a sense of ethnicity. The Torah is the teaching of Judaism and it is often translated as the law. The Torah defines the rituals that were a means of spiritualising everyday life.
In the first centuries after Christ, Judaism was not monolithic. Religion was not a defined system at that time. It was rather a field of debate. Groups in the Jewish community were debating their tradition, their law is and the meaning of the commandments. There were a number of important groups:
- The Sadducees were founded by the high priest Zadok. They were a group associated with the priestly cast. They had power and wealth and dominated the Temple of Jerusalem.
- The Pharisees believed in tradition and tried to find a spiritual life that was in the world but also separate from the world. They had practises such as eating together and ritual bathing. They were the most popular group.
- The Sectarians were groups that left the cities and lived in the desert. The most important example is the Qumran Sect. They were sometimes called the Essenes. They left the Dead Sea Scrolls.
- The Hellenised Jews were Greek speaking Jews that lived outside Judea.
Hellenised Jews were also participants in the Hellenistic civilisation, which consisted of ideas and values spread by Alexander the Great and his forces in the fourth century BC. Alexander the Great founded important cities such as Alexandria in Egypt. Those cities that had a large Hellenistic Jewish population. There was Jewish and Christian opposition to Hellenistic values but it was expressed in Hellenistic terms. Because of this development, Jewish and Hellenistic values merged.
1.3. The Jesus Movement
The very early days of Christianity are often referred to as the Jesus Movement as there was no structure, organised church and Christian scholarship. In the early days the Jesus Movement consisted of Jewish Christians or Christian Hebrews. When Jesus died, he left behind a small group of followers that mostly lived in Galilee. Their language probably was Arameic. The followers of Jesus were very much engaged in the internal practises and debates of the Jewish world so they could be considered as a Jewish sect. It was a world full of debate and sectarian groups. The early Christians had rituals like the last supper that may be a passover meal. They were bound by the traditions of the ritualistic Jewish religion and aware of purity laws and the laws of the Temple of Jerusalem.
The Christians believed that Jesus was the Messiah or the anointed king of the Jews. For that reason he had to come from the House of David and had to be born in Bethlehem as it was the city of David. The New Testament accounts of a census that does not make sense historically to make Jesus birth happen in Bethlehem. His death may have posed a problem to the Jesus Movement. The doctrine became that he was resurrected and will return again. He had not solved the problems of his time and Christians started believe that he will return.
At first the Jesus Movement was concentrated in Jerusalem around his brother James. They had to develop a group identity and explain the nature of Jesus as a Messiah who will bring the ultimate redemption of mankind. At first the group observed Jewish law but this increasingly became a problem when gentiles joined the movement. The Book of Acts accounts of different groups forming in the Roman world and there were debates about the need for gentiles to become Jewish and practise the Jewish law in order to join the movement.
According to Christian tradition, Paul (Saul) of Tarsus was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin . He was born around 5 AD and died around 67 AD under the prosecutions of Christians in Rome under Nero. Paul was first a strong opponent of Christianity and a persecutor of Christians as they were deviating from Jewish law. He then went through a conversion process and became a Christian. When he was on the road to Damascus, he allegedly was thrown on the ground and had a vision of Christ asking him why he was persecuting him. Paul then becomes an active missionary for the Jesus Movement for thirty years. He was called Apostle to the Gentiles in contrast to Peter who was called Apostle to the Jews. Paul was aware of his change and reached out to the gentiles.
1.4. Jews: competitors, sinners and saviours
The relationship between the Jews and the outside world in Roman times has been a source of debate. There is evidence of mockery of Jews and hostility towards Jews. At the same time there is evidence that Jews were accepted as they had a tradition that gave them a sense of legitimacy. They were given exemptions of laws that were imposed on others so they could observe their rituals. Jews were active in spreading their religion. They could be accepted because they did not insist that others converted to Judaism. If people converted to Judaism they did not insist that they abandoned their own communal practises. Apart from converts there were the so-called god-fearers who felt attracted to the Jewish religion and its values. When Christianity began to spread, there was a strong competition of ideas.
From 66 AD to 73 AD the Jews in Judea rebelled against the Roman Empire in what is now called the Great Revolt . In 70 AD the Temple of Jerusalem was lost and subsequently destroyed. After that there were other rebellions such as the Bar Kokhba Revolt between 132 AD and 135 AD. The Jews lost the wars. Because the Temple of Jerusalem was so important in Jewish tradition, as it was the only place where sacrifices to God could be made, the loss of their temple meant that the Jews had to redefine Judaism. Groups that were associated with the temple, such as the Sadducees, disappeared. Also the sectarian groups in the desert were wiped out.
It took the Jews more than a century to redefine their religion. In Galilee a new leadership emerged that claimed legitimacy because it controlled the text and the tradition. In that time the Rabbinic Movement emerged where the rabbis interpreted the law. By the beginning on the third century they had become the dominant branch of Judaism. Because the temple as a centre of Judaism was lost, the Diaspora became an exile. The Jews developed a new historical narrative, in which the exile of the Jews is seen as a punishment. For the Jews it was difficult to explain why they were punished. The Christians viewed the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem as a punishment for the rejection of Christ and the participation of the Jews in his crucifixion.
The Apostle Paul was struggling to find a compromise between the Jews and the non-Jews that were attracted to Christianity. He saw his personal experiences as a metaphor. He strongly felt that he was a Jew so he was observing the Jewish law but he also wanted to reach out to the gentiles. He wrote: "All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law, for it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." (Romans 2:12-13) In his view, non-Jews can obey the law instinctively. Paul also had a moral message to the Jews and stated that they did not live up to their law.
Still he saw the Jews as the people that were chosen by God. He stated: "What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God." (Romans 3:1-2) He saw the failure of the Jews to accept Christ as the key reason why the rest of the world would accept Christ. He then wrote: "I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means!" (Romans 11:1) He continues with: "Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!" (Romans 11:11-12)
With his ambivalence, Paul created a role for the Jews in the ultimate salvation of mankind. He thought that eventually the Jews will have to believe in Christ as their ultimate acceptance of Christ will lead to the Second Coming and the salvation of the world.
1.5. Religion in society: A meaning-giving system
Religion can be defined by religious texts, doctrines and institutions or by personal experience. Religion is also a way in which individuals and societies give meaning to their existence and their environment. Religion is a meaning-making system as it makes sense out of a chaotic reality. It makes things seem right and makes it appear that all events are part of a greater plan. The meaning giving often does not come from philosophical reasoning but from stories and myths that religious groups like all groups teach their children. Myths are narratives that explain or answer larger questions. Religion can justify social hierarchies such as the existence of kings. The constitution of the United States speaks about God-given rights of human beings.
Religion explains why terrible things happen. Humans try to understand and make sense of things. Theodicy is the attempt to answer the question of why a good God permits evil things to happen. Religion builds communities. Meaning systems work better when a group supports it so religions tend to become normative by establishing rules. Religions mystify themselves and make concepts eternal. Religions create a dualistic distinction between good and evil. Outsiders tend to be labelled as evil. When there is a crisis of meaning, religions have to redefine themselves otherwise there is a situation of anomie, which is time without norms and rules. People cannot live with anomie. Jews had to redefine themselves after their temple was destroyed. Christians had to redefine themselves after the death of Christ.
2.1. The "conversion" of Constantine and the birth of orthodoxy
When Christianity became associated with the Roman Empire, the power that came with it changed the dynamic. In modern Western thinking there is assumed to be a division between church and state. This idea is largely artificial. The state may have no role in establishing a particular religion but religion has an important place in public discourse. Religion is a meaning-giving system that legitimises hierarchies of power. The state uses religion to justify hierarchies and devotes itself to principles that are often expressed in religious rhetoric.
In 306 Constantine became Emperor after he was elected by his troops . In 312 he invaded Italy. According to Christian tradition Constantine had a revelation before the Battle of Milvian Bridge. In a dream he saw the Chi-Rho sign representing the first two letters of Christ's name. He converted himself as the thought that the Christian God was on his side. It is often said that from then on Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire. This representation of the facts is a simplified mythological story. It is Christian commonplace (topos) that a vision leads to conversion. Stories are often told in the way people expect them to happen. Christianity did not become the state religion at that time, but at least it became legitimated. This ended a period of intense persecution of Christians that had lasted for decades.
In 313 the Edict of Milan or Edict of Toleration gave the Christians a right to exist in the Empire and the leaders of the Christian church did get some advantages such as tax exemptions . The process of the Roman Empire becoming Christian took centuries. As a consequence the state became involved in Christian religious issues. There were many Christian sectarian groups that were arguing with each other about doctrine, the scripture and the divinity of Christ. The state did not like sectarian chaos and preferred order so the state could have control. The Donatists refused to accept those who symbolically gave up their religion in order to avoid prosecution.The Arians rejected the developing doctrine of the Holy Trinity. They insisted that Christ was created and subordinate to God.
In 325 the First Counsil of Nicea defined the doctrine of Christianity . The conversion of the Emperor to Christianity did not result in immediate suppression of non-Christians as the state had an interest in continuity and stability. The Roman Empire had a heritage of laws about various groups that Constantine wanted to preserve. One of the largest groups in the Empire were the Jews. Jews were tolerated in the Roman Empire from at least the first century BC. The Jews were recognised as a group with a heritage and they were given certain exceptions from rules that applied on other people. For example, they were allowed to observe the Sabbath and if they were called to a court, they did not have to show up on Sabbath. In 212 Jews along with all other groups became citizens of the Roman Empire.
2.2. Legislating Christian identity and negotiating Christian status
Theodosius I the Great was the last emperor who ruled the entire Roman Empire between 379 and 395 . In 380 he recognised Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, which is expressed in the Theodosian Code. It was his intention that all Roman citizens became Christians and had to follow the official doctrine mandated by the state. Anyone who did not accept the official doctrine of the Church became branded as a heretic . The Theodosian Code states:
It is not clear who the heretics were as they could be pagans or deviant sectarians. It is also not clear whether or not the Church used the state to eliminate its enemies. However, it is clear that pagan temples lost their subsidies. As a consequence pagan temples declined and often Christians took over those buildings or looted them. For example, Alexandria had a pagan community and their library was taken over by Christians. Societies constantly renegotiate the shared values that will be supported. Societies seek to form an ideology and to maintain that ideology. It is excruciatingly difficult for a society to let exist in its midst people who are different and have different values.
After Christianity had become the official religion, Christians wanted the Roman Empire to reflect their values. Milan had become the capital of the Western Roman Empire. In 388 the Bishop of Milan, Ambrose, negotiated with Theodosius in Milan's cathedral when Theodosius was attending the mass. Christians had destroyed synagogue and a Gnostic temple in Syria. The local governor had ordered the Christians to rebuild those buildings as the destruction of property is not allowed. Ambrose then negotiated that the Christians did not have to rebuild those buildings as this could be seen as an attack on the status of Christianity as the dominant religion of the Roman Empire.
2.3. Christians imagine the Jew
In Christian theology the Adversus Judaeos tradition emerged. This is a polemical strain within Christian thought that emphasised the distinction between Christianity and Judaism. In this way the Jews became a category for Christian self-definition. Jews became a constructed enemy in Christian terms. Paul and many early Christians were also part of the Jewish community. As the ties between the Christian and the Jewish community gradually vanished, the Jew became an abstract and stylised figure.
After the loss of their temple in 70, there was a period of Jewish recovery and redefinition in the second and third century. They rebuilt their communities and redefined their religion backed with Roman support. The Jews saw the loss of their temple as a divine punishment for a sin of mutual hatred of their fellow Jews. Christians saw the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem as a punishment for the sin of rejecting Christ and facilitating his crucifixion. The Jewish exile was seen as demonstrating that the crucifixion was a turning point in history.
In this way the Christian image of the Jews became frozen in time. Christians did not consider the recreated Judaism of the Talmud. This became the basis for the Adversus Judaeos tradition. Jews became the definition of the opponent. Rejecting Christ became seen as being like the Jews. Christianity and Judaism spread in a Hellenistic world that was defined by Greek ideas, hence cultural competition used Hellenistic categories. People who were educated in philosophy shared certain basic concepts and those concepts were used to systematise Jewish and Christian thought. They developed a theology, which was a logical and coherent way of thinking about their religion. The old myths were seen as inadequate so doctrines were defined using ideas from Greek philosophy.
One of those ideas is a radical division between the mundane and transcendent expressed as flesh and spirit. Paul wrote that he was Jew in the flesh in contrast to Christians in the spirit, by which he meant that he was related to the Jews. In classical Judaism that still existed in the time of Jesus, this distinction did not yet exist and this world was considered to be the place in which religion operates. For later Christians the meaning of those words changed. In this way the words of Paul could be used to support the view that Judaism is a lower level of religion. Some sectarian Christians also began to reject the Old Testament itself as being the religion of the flesh and they saw the God of the Old Testament as a lower God. Some powerful sects tried to distance themselves from this world and they labelled this world as Jewish.
One of those groups were the Manichaeans , which were a subgroup of the Gnostics. Gnosticism is a collection of ancient religions that taught that people should shun the material world created by the demiurge and embrace the spiritual world . Gnostics had a strong dualistic sense of religion with a strong distinction between good and bad or spiritual and flesh.
St. Augustine of Hippo was one of the most important figures in Western civilisation . His books have shaped Christianity and the way Christians understood human existence. St. Augustine of Hippo went through a conversion experience and he wrote about it in his book The Confessions. It is a powerful book that shaped ideas. In his spiritual process St. Augustine went through a Manichaean phase but when he was older he distanced himself from them. He wrote a theology of the Christian faith that defined a religious role for the Jews. He saw the Manichaean rejection of the world and the Jews as wrong. He claimed that the rejection of Christ by the Jews was foretold and that the Jews rejected Christ in order to create Christianity. The crucifixion was needed to make this happen.
He made a comparison with the story of Cain and Abel where the blood of Cain was crying out from the ground (Gen. 4:10). But God also put a mark on Cain so that no one who came upon him would kill him (Gen. 4:15). He stated that like Cain, the Jews too could not be killed and could not be forced to convert. They too must be preserved. Then he quoted from the psalms: "Slay them not, lest thy people forget." (Psalm 59:11-12) For St. Augustine the Jews have a special role in Christianity. He saw them as living proof to the Christians for the truth of the story, and if the Jews do not exist, the Christians may forget. The Jews became a kind of living museum. This justified the continued existence of the Jews in the Roman Empire and it determined the survival of the Jews.
2.4. Christian uniformity as a limit on tolerance
By the fifth century most people in the Roman Empire had become Christians. Christianity did not recognise the validity of other religions with the exception of the Jews. The more homogeneous Christian society became, the less comfortable the situation became for religious outsiders like the Jews. In times of sectarianism, the position of outsiders like the Jews improved. For example, barbarians invaded Italy during the fifth century and became the leaders of the Roman Empire. Theodoric the Great, the Ostrogoth ruler of Italy from 493 to 526, was an Arian Christian. As an Arian ruling over non-Arian Christians, Jews and pagans, was less aggressive in imposing his religion on others.
His death proved to be the opportunity for Justinian, the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, to take over. Justinian wiped out the signs of Arian rule. Theodoric and his counsellors were removed from the mosaic of the Church of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, and replaced by curtains, but one hand remained on one of the pillars. It reflects a contest between Justinian who was imposing order and a sectarian ruler who was not in the position to impose his order.
Everywhere in his empire Justinian made an effort to build monuments of his view on Christianity and to impose architectural order on the space of the cities. The most important building was the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Justinian also left the Codex Justianus (Justininan Code) that was built on the Theodosian Code, which clearly articulated a demotion in the status of the Jews in society. Jews became subject to economic restrictions. They were not allowed to lease land on which a church building stands. If a Jew converted to Christianity, his family could not disinherit him. They were denied the honours of public office. Jews could not testify against a Christian in court. The Jews suffered from Christian society becoming more homogeneous.
The state also involved itself with Jewish liturgy and study. When Jews who did not understand Hebrew asked to hear their service in their own language, Justinian granted this permission as Hellenised Jews were using Greek as their language for centuries. After the destruction of their temple, the Jews had developed a new interpretaion of their religion. Justinian forbade those new teachings as they contradicted the Christian view of the Jews. The Jews were allowed to exist as a testimony of the Old Testament or a kind of living museum. The claim of the Jews of having teaching to explain the Old Testament contradicts the view of the Christians that they had the correct explanation.
2.5. The Roman Papacy
The Roman Papacy emerged as the most important diocese of the Western church. Rome had been the capital of the Western Roman Empire for a long time and that gave the city and its bishop a certain degree of prestige. There were also folk tales that surrounded certain bishops of Rome. In particular, Pope Leo the Great, who was Pope in the middle of the fifth century. There were legends about him and his piety and him saving Rome by meeting with Attila the Hun. The bishop of Rome became a legendary character. The Pope became a central figure and his writings about the Jews became important.
Gregory the First was pope in the late sixth century. His letters indicate that he was setting a policy for a much broader network of church institutions. Jews in Western Europe were negotiating with the Pope through Roman Jews. Gregory defined the position of the Jews for the length of the Middle Ages. Gregory had an apocalyptic view based on the crises he saw around them, such as plague, hunger, war and religious decline. He encouraged the conversion of the Jews with positive incentives. He also defended the right of the Jews to continue economically and religiously. Gregory declared forced conversions illegal. The Roman Papacy never abandoned this view, making the Roman Papacy the centre of a system that saw Jews as tolerated and legal.
3.1. Marking status
Modern observers often discuss whether or not Christianity was more tolerant than Islam. Religion however is a meaning-giving system that gives society a structure. Islam seeks to order society along religious lines. Christianity had slowly penetrated into the Roman Empire and became an essential element of the Roman Empire. In 622, which is the year of Hijrah, Mohammed left Mecca and moved to Medina. This marked the beginning of Islam. In 632 Mohammed and his followers came back to Mecca and this marked the beginning of the rise of Islam. A rapid expansion started and it was halted in 732 when in The Battle of Tours (Poitiers) in France the Islamic forces were defeated by Charles Martel. The outcome of the battle enabled Christianity to hold on to Europe.
The rapid expansion created a challenge for Islam. Islam was spread by a relatively small number of people by dynamic military force. A conversion of the conquered peoples to Islam was not possible in a short timeframe. In the first centuries of Islam, the Islamic conquerers had to control the conquered peoples. Muslims consider the expansion as the creation of a Islamic Peace. The Muslims protected the non-Muslims in exchange for tax payments. Islam thus became tolerant to Christians and Jews. Muslims often remained outside the cities in military camps.
In a later stage Islam developed a justification for this arrangement, which is that successive religious revelations supersede but do no delegitimise earlier revelations. Islam defined itself as the final religion and defined Christians and Jews as People of the Book. For example, the Pact of Umar was a treaty between the Muslims and the Christians in Damascus. The tolerance was justified by the Christians willing acceptance of the Islamic overlordship. Islam defined rules for the public behaviour of non-Muslims as non-Muslims had to know their place. Christians could not sound their bells too loud and had to move aside when a Muslim walked by. They could not ride on a horse, which was a sign of nobility. They also had to wear specific clothing. Status marking and spatial rules were a basis for the practise of tolerance.
3.2. Economic specialisation
The topic of economic specialisation is a sensitive issue as it is often associated with rhetoric against Jews. In the Christian world as well as in the Islamic world most Jews lived in cities. They were overwhelmingly involved in commerce and and many Jews became money lenders. There were other areas of Jewish specialisation such as medicine. Because mostly Jews were money lenders this led to hostility and social tensions. Jews were seen as usurers that were parasites on society and stealing from the poor. The usual argument for this specialisation is that Jews had no choice because they were excluded from other professions.
In the Islamic world Jews started to specialise in trade. Islam taxed non-Muslims in ways Muslims were not taxed. One of those taxes was a poll tax or head tax. Another tax was on land and this drove Jews to the cities. Under the Islamic Empire cities grew and this led to more trade, which also attracted Jews to cities. The Islamic Empire reached from Spain to India and trade flourished. Baghdad was one of the cities that experienced growth after it became the seat of the Caliphate. In this way Jews became the most urbanised ethnic and religious minority and they have remained that until today.
In Europe there was a similar process. There are many theories about what caused this development. Some theories suggest that Jews had networks of friends and relatives in different locations. Other theories suggest that Jews could travel between the Christian world and the Islamic world, which was more difficult for Christians and Muslims. The Israeli historian Michael Toch also wrote about this subject. The Jews were also a small minority in a much larger society and they had to fight for their place in society. They were always competing against larger and better organised groups.
Jewish merchants had to operate at the margin and at the frontier. This frontier could be geographic or economic. They often went to areas where urban life was less developed where they could bring in their commercial skills and goods. Operating at the frontier was riskier than staying in the main centres. Taking risk often paid off well. Jews moved from Italy to France and Germany and helped to set up commerce in those areas. A famous case is the German city of Speyer, where the Bishop who was also the ruler, invited Jewish merchants to develop the city and bring in commerce. He promised the Jews guaranteed leases as well as their own space.
By the year 1100, the Jewish community of Rome had reached the limits of its growth. Jews were barred from trade in the well-developed towns of central Italy which were controlled by guilds. By the 13th century a limited number of Jews did get short-term licences to lend money in certain towns. The legalisation of money lending at interest was meant to reduce interest rates. There was much illegal money lending at high interest rates. Small consumer loans at interest were seen as morally reprehensible by Jews and Christians alike. The Old Testament forbids charging interest to the poor, for instance in Leviticus 25:35-38 and Deuteronomy 23:19-20.
The idea has a loophole as it applies to people in the community. It was allowed to take interest from strangers. Society then developed a mechanism for allowing interest as the cities needed loans, primarily for poor people. Jews were outsiders and could get a special licence to lend money at interest. The interest rate the Jews could charge was legally controlled and was much lower than the illegal rates. This was possible because it was a legalised business that was less risky. This allowed Jews of Rome to spread out in Italy and open loan banks. They had to pay fees to the local governments and the Pope for their licences.
At some point legal interest rates became too low to be economical and Jewish money lending was replaced by charity funds. Later both types of money lending were replaced by modern credit. Professor Cooperman sees Jewish money lending as a method of tolerating the Jews.
3.3. Holy wars
The medieval church had been a force for social peace in a violent society whee local lords waged many wars. the Church promoted Pax Dei (Peace of God), which meant that churches were spared during combat. Later the idea became expanded to Treuga Dei (Treaty of God) that designated places where wars could not be fought and also times when wars could not be fought. the Church also promoted the protection of women, children and merchants. On the other hand, religious rhetoric had also been used to mobilise for war. In 1095 Pope Urban II called for a crusade against the Muslims in Palestine.
The crusades also had consequences for the Jews. Count Emicho of Leininger led a populist crusade with terrible attacks on the Jews in Rhineland. His army went from town to town to kill Jews, to force Jews to convert to Christianity and to loot their possessions. In Jewish accounts of history this event is often seen as a turning point in Christian-Jewish relations and that from that time on Jews became less tolerated. As Christians fought the Muslim infidels, it may have seemed justified to attack the Jews too. Other historians note that life returned to normal and that the practises of toleration continued. The Jews that were forced to convert were allowed to return to Judaism.
Christianity and Islam were fighting a battle for centuries before the Crusades started. The central place of this battle was Spain. Spain was conquered overnight by Islamic forces in the year 711. Christian forces held out in the north and from then on there was a constant battle. By 1085 Christians had moved south and had captured the ancient city of Toledo. The war in Spain continued until 1492 when the last Islamic city fell into the hands of Christian armies. At the same time Christian Norman invaders captured lands in Sicily that had been in the hands of Muslims for centuries around the year 1090 .
The crusades that started in 1095 can be seen as a part of a process of general reform within the Christian world that was calling for purification of the Church. Monasteries had to become less luxurious and the indulgences of clerics had to be reduced. When the rogue band of crusaders arrived in Rhineland, the local Christians and their rulers often tried to protect the Jews. Emicho was seen as a man that did not live up to the ideals of Christianity. The violence against the Jews was not characteristic of this period. Bernard of Clairvaux was a French abbot who preached the Second Crusade . He demanded protection for the Jews.
3.4. The Jew as a monster
The Blood Libel was the accusation that Jews take little Christian boys and kill them before Passover, which usually coincides with Easter, to use his blood in a ritual process often associated with the baking of the unleavened bread Jews use on Passover. This bread is similar to the cracker or cookie that is sanctified in the Catholic Mass. The Blood Libel is one of the most horrifying false accusations against the Jews. The first example of the Blood Libel was in Norwich, England, where Jews only had been for a short period of time. They were associated with the Norman conquerors of England. In 1144 a boy named William was found dead in the woods outside the town. He was buried in the forest.
A few years later, a monk named Thomas of Monmouth came to Norwich and heard the stories and began to believe that the boy was killed by Jews for ritual purposes. The idea was repeated and Thomas of Monmouth wrote a chronicle and began to spread the story that the Jews of the town had killed the child. The idea is rooted in Christian concepts. It is a little boy as it was supposed that the Jews were reenacting the crucifixion of Christ. They needed an innocent child for this act as Christ was also innocent. Eastern is the time when Christians come to the Church and hear about the crucifixion and resurrection. The Blood Libel did not exist in the Islamic world until recently, when a number of Christian ideas were imported. This has more to do with the struggle between Israel and the Muslims.
The Roman Church generally opposed the rumours about the Blood Libel. For example, in 1475 a small group of Jews had just settled in the city of Trent in the north of Italy close to the Alps. It was a city with a mixed population of German speakers and Italian speakers. At that time a little boy went missing and was found dead in a ditch. A few Jews found the body and brought it to the authorities. Soon there were rumours that the Jews killed him in order to use his blood. The Bishop of the city, Johannes Hinderbach, conducted an investigation and he became convinced that the Jews were responsible. The Jews were then taken into custody and tortured until they confessed. Eventually the men in the Jewish community were executed and the women were forced to convert.
Professor Ron Hsia wrote a book about this trial based on the official accounts that are still preserved . Professor Hsia asked himself the question why the Jews were not killed outright as they had been tortured to the point that they were willing to confess anything. This answer was that the officials did want to do things the way it is supposed to be done. They were following a judicial procedure and maintained a strict set of records. They also wanted to create an "ethnography of blood". They thought they knew that the Jews did it but they wanted the Jews to confess in order to demonstrate that this act was part of Jewish culture.
The Popes were not impressed by this. Pope Sixtus IV seemed to reject the libel but he sent a special ambassador named Battista de' Giudici. Bishop Hinderbach tried to block the papal emissary and it became a bureaucratic struggle over power and policy between different departments within the Church as there were people within the Church bureaucracy trying to further their own careers.
The Blood Libel can be seen as an urban legend. An urban legend is a folk belief that passes around . Most urban legends promote ideas that are absolutely crazy but those ideas come to be believed. Urban legends can be powerful because they can motivate people to act. The Blood Libel can also be seen as an expression of a moral panic. A moral panic is an idea that spreads through society that identifies a group as dangerous and evil. A moral panic can also lead to strong action. The death of a child is a stirring event. Also in the United States there have been cases where people believed that children were being molested by the hundreds in nursery schools and other institutions .
The authorities tried to control the Blood Libel. Not long after the Trent case a little girl was found dead in Rome. The Vatican had showed the body so that people could identify the child. Mobs were forming that were saying that the Jews were to blame for this. The Vatican then moved quickly to hide the body in order to end the riots. The Blood Libel should be understood as a product of circumstances. The question is what sort of situations lead to this kind of activity.
3.5. A persecuting society
It is often argued that the Middle Ages were a dark age of persecution and intolerance because of superstition and backwardness. This idea of the Middle Ages is often associated with Protestant writers. From the Catholic perspective it was a period of cultural flourishing that produced cathedrals and great books of Catholic theology. Those who emphasise the Renaissance and the Reformation often label the medieval period as dark period where culture was at a lower level. The story of the persecution of the Jews became part of this narrative.
Recent research indicates that Christian society had found ways to tolerate the Jews until the High Middle Ages. The Scholar Gavin Langmuir distinguished between religious competition, in which there were religious discussions between Jews and Christians, and pathological hatred that took root in the 12th and 13th centuries. He sees this as the beginning of anti-Semitism .
The scholar R.I. Moore identified the change in the practise of tolerance towards the Jews with structural changes in the broader society . From the 12th century onwards, there was an increased exclusion of many groups, such as heretics with a different view on Christianity, for example the Cathars in southern France. Lepers were also pushed out of society. R.I. Moore sees the changing attitude towards the Jews as part of this development.
The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 produced clear definitions of religious doctrine, including the idea of transubstantiation, which states that the bread and the wine used in the Catholic Mass become, not merely as by a sign or a figure, but also in reality the body and blood of Christ. This opened the door to accusations of host desecration. Christians came to believe that Jews stole the host and used it for obscene acts. As a consequence there was an appeal to mark the Jews with a badge as ethnic aliens such as Jews became associated with the idea of pollution.
According to Moore this development had nothing to do with theology but it was a consequence of society being reorganised. During the 12th and 13th centuries the state was emerging and old ideas about clan loyalties were broken down. The state and the Church combined centralised authority and defined who was part of society and who was not. Crimes against the authorities became persecuted. In this way Christian society became a persecuting society. The clear self definition created a boundary system that was difficult to maintain and eventually broke down.
4.1. Polemics: cultural contests to the surface
Jews and Christians became more aware of each other and were debating fundamental issues between them so they could work out the tensions implicit in their society. The Jews were a minority and were not full members of society. They were a minority by choice as they chose to be separate. This resulted in social and economic specialisation. Because of that Jews on average were often better off as over 90% of the population at that time worked the land directly and lived in poverty. Most Jews were living in cities and some of them were wealthy.
The Jews were a legal minority that was tolerated. This tolerance broke down at times of social anxiety and Jews became targets of violence, for example during wars or the spread of diseases such as the Black Death. Christianity tolerated Jews as they were seen as having a role in the ultimate salvation of mankind, but they were also seen as villains, for example in the Blood Libel.
During the High Middle Ages Christianity became more sophisticated as Europe acquired other systems of knowledge such as Judaism and Islam. Jews and Muslims had preserved much of the knowledge of the ancient world. Jews often acted as translators and transmitters of this new knowledge in Italy. Many Jews knew Greek and Arabic and had studied ancient philosophers in the Arabic language as well as the Arab commentators on the Greek philosophers. As Christian scholars gained more knowledge, they became able to challenge Judaism intellectually.
This led to more active missionary work by Christians who had knowledge of Judaism. It resulted in debates between Christian scholars and Jews. Often converts from Judaism became the spokesmen for Christianity to their former co-religionists. Christians started to challenge the validity of post-biblical Judaism. Already in Justinian's time the acceptability of the rabbinic tradition was questioned. Most Jews at that time believed that there were two Torah's. Both were revealed to Moses at the Mount Sinai. One was written down and one was preserved orally and used to understand the written tradition.
Christians did not understand this and challenged the oral law. The rabbis also relied on a tradition written down in the Talmud. Christians then challenged the right of the Jews to interpret the Old Testament. This intellectual confrontation started in the 12th and 13th centuries. A notable debate was the Disputation of Paris in 1240 in which the Talmud was challenged and Christians began to wonder what was in the Talmud. In 1263 the Disputation of Barcelona took place, which was a dispute between a convert to Christianity, Pablo Christiani, and a rabbi in Barcelona named Moses ben Nahman.
The Christians were able to challenge the Jews on Talmudic grounds. The Talmud was also seen as a reason for the stubborn refusal of the Jews to convert to Christianity. The Christians tended to pick texts from the Talmud that Jews called Aggada or legendary tales. There are many of those tales preserved in Jewish rabbinic works. Those texts were non-binding but had great spiritual significance for the Jews. Moses ben Nahman had to play down the role of those texts in order to legitimise the presence of the Jews and the continuity of Judaism in the Christian world.
In the beginning of the 15th century those debates became very intense and they had an impact. As a consequence a lot of Jews converted to Christianity. There was a large scale Jewish conversion, most notably in Spain that had the largest Jewish community in the world at that time. For example, the debate in the city of Tortosa in 1414 resulted in large scale conversions to Christianity. The Jews were convinced by the power the arguments but also by the power of history as many Jews may have started to believe that the Christian world was winning the battle.
4.2. Resolution 1: physical expulsion
As Christianity became more self-confident at the end of the Middle Ages, it started to challenge the Jewish stubbornness. As a consequence it became more difficult for Christian society to allow Jews in their midst that did not accept the Christian message. Social tensions began to be expressed in terms of sexual anxieties. There were accusations of sexual activities across religious lines. This is a sensitive issue in societies that are trying to maintain status. To avoid sexual contact, Jews were often marked with special badges. An example is a decree issued by the Duke of Mantua in 1577:
Jews were not happy with this arrangement. This was dangerous for the Jews when they were out on the roads outside of cities . Jews were afraid, and sometimes they did get special permissions not to have to wear the badge when they were outside the city. Sometimes they did not have to wear the badge in their own section of town . The rule varied from place to place and in some places it was not even enforced. This balance could not last and Jews were often driven out of society.
The first expulsions were in England. The Normans who conquered England from France in 1066 settled and imposed themselves on the local Anglo-Saxon population. In the areas that the Normans controlled, in the cities, they needed credit and administrators, so Jews follow them from France. England was one of the last places in Europe to be settled by Jews. By 1290 Jews were expelled from England. They were strangers and not very numerous so it was easy to throw them out. Furthermore, the Jews acted as money lenders and the records of their loans were kept by the Norman government, so the king could simply confiscate the debts.
This was only the beginning. In 1306 there was a series of expulsions from France. They were expelled, allowed to come back, and expelled again. During the 14th century much of French Jewry was expelled. The expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula began in 1492 with the Alhambra Decree stating that Jews had to convert or leave. There had been a marriage between the king of Aragon and the queen of Castile, Ferdinand and Isabella, that unified Spain. In 1492 they conquered Grenada, the last Muslim city in Spain, which suggests that there was a place for the Jews as long as power was divided between Christians and Muslims.
England as well as Spain were in a process of becoming a modern state. There was a centralisation of power in the hands of the monarchy and an end of local power. England expelled the Jews first because England was the most centralised of all the European states. The papal territories in Southern France did not expel the Jews because the papacy had a long tradition of tolerating the Jews. In the rest of Italy a different kind of arrangement is worked out, which was a concentration of the Jewish population in large cities. There were expulsions in areas where Spain had the ability to dictate policy as Spain ruled in parts of Italy from 1504 until the early 18th century.
In 1497 Ferdinand and Isabella wanted to marry their daughter to the king of Portugal and they put pressure on the king of Portugal. The Iberian monarchs were incorporating Portugal into their Iberian state, and in doing that they needed religious uniformity. As a consequence there was a massive forced conversion of Jews in Portugal. They were told to come down to the ports to leave, but then they were simply forced to convert to Christianity. A cleric who was watching described the events. He wrote about how horrified the Jews were and how the mothers tried to protect their children from the baptismal water that was thrown at them by priests.
4.3. Resolution 2: forced conversion
In 1391 riots had broken out all over the Iberian peninsula and especially Aragon . Many Jews were killed and many others were dragged to churches and forced to convert. Hundreds of Jews then converted. In 1492 many Jews have converted so they could stay in Spain. In 1497 there were forced conversions in Portugal. There also had been forced conversions in Italy around 1290. A mass conversion could create a social crisis. Similar to the emancipation of the slaves in the United States in 1863, former Jews became equal citizens and old categories of difference that structured society no longer worked.
It was not easy for Christian society to tolerate equal rights. There were examples in Spain on a large scale, but also elsewhere on a smaller scale, of people rejecting or resenting these converts and trying to marginalise them. In Spain they were called Marranos, which is a pejorative word and means pigs. Conversos is a more neutral term for them. In Toledo people from Jewish descent could not hold a public office or join certain military orders. There was discrimination based on blood. In Spanish literature this is called 'limpieza di sangre' or purity of blood. People often had to prove the purity of their blood if they wanted to get into university or get into a military position.
the Church in Rome absolutely disapproved this approach because the Church in Rome is dedicated to the idea that every individual can convert to the truth and be saved. The 1449 Toledo rules that tried to enforce purity of blood were rejected and declared illegal. The position of the Church was complicated because of the Christian rhetorical justification of the expansion of the Spanish empire and Portuguese empire. There were all kinds of contacts with native peoples and those contacts were not easy as there was a process of enslaving them or taking away their independence in the name of converting them to Christianity.
There was a popular hostility towards the Conversos who had fled to Italy. For example, in Florence at the end of the 15th century, a young member of a group called Marranos got involved in a knife fight with a local Christian gang. He was accused of defacing a Christian statue. A crowd became so incensed that he was pulled off the cart as he was being taken to the place of execution, and literally pulled him apart alive. The Conversos presented a problem to Italian Christians because their identity was not clear. Jews were recognised and could be tolerated. The ambivalent status of Conversos threatened the nature of Christian society in Italy. The papacy tolerated the Conversos and allowed them to revert back to Judaism because their conversion was seen as a forced conversion.
4.4. Inquisitions: reacting to the anxiety of ambivalence
The Conversos created anxiety in the Christian society because they were not clearly Jews or clearly Christians. The Pope let them revert to Judaism, which was a difficult position to take as the Conversos were often born as a Christian and baptised as it were their parents or even grandparents that converted to Christianity. These refugees either escaped from Spain or left Spain and came to Italy to seek permission to settle down. In the early 16th century they were asking permission to become Jewish. This happened in a period of religious turmoil, in which the Protestant reformation and the Catholic reformation took place.
Christian society believed it had the right to dictate the behaviour and the beliefs of its members. In 16th century the demand for control over behaviour and belief became more important. The Renaissance is a period of more sophistication and greater learning when people were rediscovering ancient texts. People started to understand that rules should not be vague but clearly defined. Humanism called for a better understanding of the Bible and better translations of the Bible. More people understood what was going on in the Church and it was not enough to do things just as a tradition. In that context there were higher demands on everybody's behaviour.
The existence of the Conversos became more threatening as society was in a flux. The Catholic Church was embroiled in the Catholic Reformation, which was a reform to eliminate abuses and to spread doctrine, and to make people know more about what Christianity means. Before that period many people were Christians in name but did not know very much about their religion. It is also the period of the Protestant Reformation, where Catholic ideas were being challenged. the Church is fighting on many levels to control belief, to control knowledge, and to purify itself. the Church had to deal with the Conversos who were living ambivalent lives.
The main institution that the Church had to investigate proper behaviour and proper belief was the Inquisition. There were many inquisitions, and a main distinction can be made between the Papal Inquisition, which began in the Middle Ages, and the Iberian Inquisitions, which happened in the 1400s and the 1500s. The Papal Inquisition began with the investigation of heresy in southern France. It was an institution which had its roots in the obligation of local bishops to make sure that everything in their area of control was properly observed. The Inquisition developed under a series of rules and laws from the Middle Ages.
The Iberian Inquisitions were not purely Church institutions. If somebody was found guilty of heresy such as secretly being a Jew, and their belongings were confiscated, half and sometimes more of those belongings went to the state. In this way the Inquisition served the needs of the state and there was often very little reality to the supposed religious deviance. In Italy the inquisition remained under the control of the Church itself. The inquisition had no authority over Jews the state challenged the Inquisition's right to interfere with the business of local people. Conversos also had received licences to return to Judaism, often issued by the Pope.
The beginning of this process was in the 1520s and 1530s in Ancona, when Portuguese merchant Conversos came to Ancona and said that they were returning to Judaism, and that they always had been Jewish in the first place. By 1550 the Pope's regularly issued licences to them to openly have synagogues and live as Jews. In the middle of the 1550s, a new Pope named Paul IV could not accept the idea that people who had been converts reverted to Judaism. He had a large number of these Portuguese in Ancona arrested. Nevertheless, the precedent had been set, so in Florence, Venice, Ferraro and elsewhere, which were areas not under Papal control, Portuguese and Spanish Conversos were given licences to go back to Judaism.
5.1. What is modern?
Periodisation is the way historians divide into blocks to make sense of all the things that happen and to generalise. Historians in the English speaking world define as modern the 19th and 20th centuries. In other countries such as France, Italy and Spain, modern is used for the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. They use the term contemporary for the 19th and 20th centuries. The word modern suggests that there is progress or improvement, which implies a teleological view of history. Recent historians have come to question this view of history as things may not be getting better. There have been disastrous wars in the 20th century and technological development has a negative side and it may not be sustainable. The modern era is characterised by secularisation, urbanisation and nation states.
Secularisation means that in a society religion, organised religion and religious thinking, are less and less dominant in the lives of people. Urbanisation means that more and more people live in cities. Population growth and improved agricultural techniques have led to a situation where most people do not work in agriculture. More and more people to move to the cities where they don't grow their own food. In the Middle Ages 95% of population lived on a farm and farmed directly. It is estimated that by 2050 approximately 85% of the world's population will live in cities. Some of the implications are that there is a loss of community and things break down. A third development is the rise of the nation state.
Before this period, Europe was dominated by large empires such as the Russian Empire, the Austrian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. The argument was that the nation is expressed through the state. The state was seen as the government institutions, while the nation was seen as the body of people who legitimise the state. Only by expressing themselves in a state was a nation able to achieve true freedom and self-expression. This implied that the nation had to impose identity on individuals in a way that the empires did not have to do. The state needed more control in order to make people pay taxes or serve in the army. There was need for an educational to learn people a common language and to perform their duties for the state.
All these demands had an impact on the Jews, first of all inside their own communities. The secularised society challenged the right of the Church to determine social agendas. Secularisation created public spaces where religion was not operating where people could get together and talk to each other to discuss the government, ideas of faith and religion, society and social norms and how families should be organised. Coffeehouses emerged as places where people can get together socially to talk to each other. Newspapers and journals arose as places where issues were discussed openly. The rise of universities as secular institutions was part of that development.
Urbanisation also implies anonymity and in the city everybody can be himself or herself. Religion became a domestic affair. The nation state insisted that people became part of society and so the nation stated offered Jews new ways to belong to society. They did not need to convert so they joined the nation states quite enthusiastically.
Italy as a nation did not exist at the beginning of the modern period. Italy was broken up into a series of little countries and many of them were governed by outside powers. Italy was also divided by many languages and dialects like many nation states so it became necessary to create a common language so the state could exist. The writing of dictionaries was seen as a great act of national patriotism, There was need for a common history. the Church in Italy was a secular power with extensive territory in and around Rome. the Church was closely linked to the ruling forces in Italy, so modernisation posed a direct challenge to the Church and its right to remain a secular power in Italy.
5.2. The enlightened state and the Jews
Modernity gradually changed the definition of a citizen and what it means to be a citizen. The Enlightenment is set of ideas that emphasise the use of reason and downplays religion. There was a religious enlightenment as well. The Enlightenment sees the use of logic was a way to achieve understanding of God and other big themes that used to be thought of as beyond human understanding. The Enlightenment is also associated with a certain view of society. In the United States the Enlightenment is often associated with the American Revolution that rejected the authority of an absolute ruler a monarch.
In Europe there were a number of absolute monarchs who wanted to make the existing system aligned better with the enlightened values that have been promoted by philosophers and thinkers. States tried to educate their peoples in order to make them better more useful to the state. In the Enlightenment of 18th century education was promoted as part of the process of changing people. In 1782 the Austrian Emperor Joseph II passed the Edict of Tolerance .
Jewish reformers saw this as an opportunity. Jewish reformers started to redefine themselves as modern citizens. On the one hand the Jewish reformers were making themselves useful to the State, but on the other hand they were reshaping themselves to make them fit a model of what constitutes the modern citizen. Traditional Jews saw this as a threat to their way of living and Jewish education. One of the most famous educational reformers who called for creating a new system of educating Jews, was the Danish German Naphtali Herz Weisel . In 1802 he wrote a pamphlet that was called the Words of Peace and Truth in which tried to argue for what Jewish education should be all about. He did not want to threaten the Jewish traditionalists and their educational ideas.
He then argued that there are two Torahs (teachings), the Torah (teaching) of God and the Torah (teaching) of man that is shared by all human beings. He wrote that one cannot properly understand the Torah of God without understanding the Torah of man. In this way he legitimised studying history, geography and philosophy as universal categories of knowledge. He saw Jewish knowledge as an unique view that Jews have through their tradition and their ritual, which can be learned only after people have been trained to become real citizens. The traditionalists saw this as nonsense and heresy and an attack on traditional education.
His pamphlet was meant as a call for founding new Jewish schools. The only school that was really established on this model was in Trieste, which was an Italian city under Austrian control at that time. This is not a coincidence as the letter of toleration of Joseph II was demanding while specifically Italian Jews were attracted to these ideas. The Jews of Trieste wrote to Weisel and asked for more details. He then wrote a second part to the pamphlet, which was meant specifically for their school.
The Enlightenment had an alternative revolutionary model that aimed at overthrowing monarchies. It was implemented in France during the French Revolution. In 1789 the French mobs rioted and there was a revolution. The King and many of the nobility were executed by the guillotine. The revolution could justify itself, and the killing of the king and the nobility, only in the name of the people. The people had the right to create the state. If the government did not obey the will of the people, the government had to go. Charles Dickens, who was English and did not approve of the revolution, wrote A Tale of Two Cities in which he depicted the revolution as a horrible event because it was followed by a terror that destroyed the establishment and killed many people in the process.
A citizen was then defined as a person who participated in the nation state and was part of the political system. There is a difference between political rights and civil rights. Foreigners have civil rights but not political rights as they cannot vote or be elected in a political office. During a meeting in parliament, the French revolutionaries decided that everybody had to become part of the State. People were not longer just a member of a community or a member of an estate that had certain privileges, but each individual became a direct member of the state. Catholics and Protestants all became members of society and this could also apply to the Jews.
There were about 40,000 Jews in France. The Jews formed a small community that had lived under special privileges and special charters, which was not acceptable under the new arrangement. In 1790 and 1791, in a two stage process, they were given the right to be citizens of France. There were social frictions and non-Jews still saw them as Jews and saw themselves as Christians. Society began to rethink what had happened. In 1806, the French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte, who was taking revolutionary ideas around Europe, began to wonder whether or not the Jews did fit in. He ordered a special meeting of the Jews, called a Sanhedrin, which is a Hebrew word for the ruling body of Jews in ancient times. There has not been a Sanhedrin in centuries.
Napoleon wanted the Jews to become loyal citizens of the new state. He favoured Jews that were more cultivated, assimilated, and in line with the ideas of the revolutionary state. Many of the representatives to the Assembly of Notables in 1806 and to the 1808 Sanhedrin were Italian Jews, which indicates that, even though Italian Jews had been for the most part living in ghettos separate from the rest of society, they had bought into the idea of modernity and were recognised as a more modern group of people, willing to follow the line that the government wanted.
5.3. Italian unification and the Jews
Italy did not exist as a nation before the 19th century so the nation and the state had to be created. There is a huge difference between the north and the south which have different weather and different economic bases and organization. The North is more industrialised and urbanised. The South is more rural and agricultural. Italy was created by expanding the rule of the House of Savoy of the Kingdom of Sardinia in a slow process of conquest with the aid of foreign powers such as France. Venice is incorporated in 1866 and Rome in 1870. Trieste is incorporated in Italy in 1919 after World War I.
The Jews were a small minority of around 30,000 people so they never were a significant social problem. The Jews were never significant in terms of numbers but they had an important symbolic significance as they were the only significant religious minority In Italy throughout the centuries. Whether or not they could be incorporated into the society depends on the nature of the society itself. Charles III was a Bourbon and Spanish enlightened absolutist ruler. He established himself as King of Naples and wanted to make society more modern. In 1740, 200 years since the Jews were expelled from Naples, he allowed them to come back.
Even though only a few Jews came to Naples, they became a major issue in the question of whether or not the Church would recognise the reign of Charles II. This was an example where a trivial number of people become an issue in the debate about how society had to be shaped. This was a harbinger of change. In 1789 the Roman Jews address a letter to the papal government in Rome. They wished to have more privileges. They wished to be able to live outside the ghetto and be able to participate more freely in the society. They made this point based on three kinds of arguments.
First, the Jews pointed at the privileges they already had in charters and all the rules that existed before. They wanted those privileges reinforced and recognised. Second, they point to the Ius Commune or common law. There were all kinds of traditional legal categories that stipulate that Jews should be tolerated and allowed to participate. Third, they pointed at natural law, which was not invented by the Enlightenment but one of the elements that the Enlightenment promoted. Natural law is the idea that laws are valid, not because the government decreed them, but because they are universal .
The Napoleonic invaders argued that they represented the values of the Enlightenment, in the form of freedom, equality, brotherhood (liberté, egalité, fraternité). They felt that they had the right to come in and overthrow the medieval feudalistic attitudes and the backward institutions that were represented by the Church. When the French forces came to Italian cities, they knocked down the gates of the ghettos. As the ideas of freedom, equality, brotherhood were imported by invaders, Italians began to seem them as alien.
There was a series of riots called the Viva Maria riots in Tuscany in 1798 and 1799. Viva Maria means long live the Mother of Christ. The rioters used religious rhetoric to express other concerns including xenophobia. In some places where there was the Jewish community the Jews became the focus of the riots. For example, in Siena strangers from Arezzo came to the city and desecrated the synagogue. People were killed and there was a bonfire in the middle of the ghetto where the corpses were burnt together with the Torah scrolls from the synagogue.
Italy was created by the House of Savoy that presented itself as an Italian institution. It legitimised itself by creating a sense of nationalism and liberalism. The nationalist movement presented itself as liberal. There were a number of political operatives of the nationalist movement who are the creators of Italian liberalism and Italian nationalism. Massimo d'Azeglio was a one of the main literary figures at that time. He was almost seen as a prophet who advocated the new values.
Massimo d'Azeglio wrote a pamphlet addressed to the popes in Rome about the situation of the Jews and the horrifying conditions in the ghetto of Rome, such as poverty and overcrowding. He wrote that if the Church wanted to attract Jewish followers to get them to convert, the Church should be kinder to them. His liberal argument was based, and this is almost unique in European liberalism, on the idea of Christian charity. At that time unification of Italy was not yet on the agenda so the power of the Papacy itself was not challenged.
The House of Savoy passed a constitution in 1844, and one of the things it offered, was equality for the Jews. The majority of the Jews reacted to this approach very positively and they identified themselves with the calls for a nation state. Jews were over represented in the forces of Garibaldi, who invaded Sicily to unify Italy. The famous Italian scholar, classicist, historian and writer Arnaldo Momigliano once said that in Italy the Jews became modern by becoming Italian. The Italian situation was special as the nation state had to be created and the Italians had to be created. Jews become part of that process and they opted into that process.
5.4. Anti-Semitism and church reactions to modernity
The issue of anti-Semitism is often grossly oversimplified. The way the term anti-Semitism is used in scholarly and politicised literature, suggests that anti-Semitism existed all the time. Professor Cooperman argues that this is not a good way to look at the issue. He sees anti-Semitism is created and bound by specific historical circumstances. It is rooted in ethnographic and anthropological concepts that developed in the 19th century. At that time Europeans studied cultures all over the world. There were traveler's reports and more systematic studies about the nature of foreign societies. The Europeans also started to categorise the peoples they researched.
In Middle East they studied the societies of Middle Eastern peoples and they generalised about these people. According to the Bible, Noah was the only survivor of a massive flood that wiped out the human race. One of hisaccording to tradition the people of the Middle East descended him so they are called Semites. Semitic languages such as Arabic, Aramaic, Hebrew, and Amharic are similar to each other and derived from a common source. Semitic was an adjective for language but Semitic became also an adjective for culture and from that use came a noun Semitism, which means Semitic culture itself. That notion led to the idea that culture is inherited and determinative. Opposition to Semitism then became known as anti-Semitism.
Over time that became coupled with racial theories about human identity. This produced the idea that Semitism is a genetically inherited form of identity. At that time the idea of Semitism became part of the European view of itself and outside groups. But the 1870s this argument was politically activated by political opponents of modernity. They argued that the Jews in Europe were Semites and opposition to the Jews in Europe, opposition to improvement of their position, and opposition to Jewish political goals can be called anti-Semitism. Scientific themes about Semitism were used to justify this position. People began to think that Jews were behind all changes, that Jews were corrupting society and that modernity itself was a Jewish plot. There was a rise of anti-Semitic political parties in Germany and France.
The Catholic church opposed to this view. Catholic theology argues that Jews, like all people, are all individuals who have a chance to be saved by Christ. There are examples of secular anti-Semitism in Italy, early in the 19th century, but anti-Semitism does not take root in Italy in the same way that it did in Germany or in France, simply because Italy is so informed by the Catholic doctrine of the idea of the individual's salvation of each person. On the other hand, there was a set of processes going on that led to the Church being associated with some of the most reactionary elements in Italian political society. the Church had political power but that was lost when the Church lost its territory in central Italy.
Pope Pius IX forbade the participation of Catholics in the new Italian state because the new state was seen as anti-Catholic. By dropping out of the political process, the Church precluded the development of a Catholic right-wing political party. the Church was driven out of the political process and moved more and more to a reactionary stance, which was justified purely in religious terms with almost no concern for practical reality with no ability to participate and to compromise. In the 19th century the church doctrine became more and more rigid. For example, in 1864 a list of heresies was drawn up in a document called Quanta Cura that opposed individual modernity, science and religious freedom. In 1870 Pope Pius IX sanctioned the doctrine of papal infallibility.
The Pope had become a religious figure and not a political figure. Because the Pope was declared infallible, the Church was leaving little room for any kind of flexibility in any matter. In 1884, the papal encyclical called Humanum Genus (The Species of Man) was issued . It divided the human race into two parties, the side of God and the side of Satan, which was led or assisted by the Freemasonry. In the 19th century and even into the 20th century, Freemasons were associated in many places with the most liberal and enlightened thinking. They were illegal in some countries and joining the Masons was seen as an act of questioning the legitimacy of the government. The Freemasons were seen as organising and sponsoring modern ideologies. They were also called Illuminati or enlightened.
the Church began to see the Feemasons as the enemy. In 1899 the Freemasons in Rome took up a charity contribution to mount a statue of a famous early modern monk and philosopher named Giordano Bruno. In 1600 Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in Rome in the Campo dei Fiori. This was exactly the same place where the Jewish Talmudic books were burned in 1553. Pope Leo XIII is said to have fasted and mourned because of this event. the Church reacted to modernity in a way that was increasingly reactionary because the Church saw modernity as threatening church political power. It was also reacting against modernity because modernity was questioning the values of the Church. In this way the Church maneuvered itself into a corner of rejectionism.
5.5. Kidnapping in the name of God
Edgardo or Edward Mortara was a Jewish boy of six years old who was taken away from his family by the police in 1858. There had been similar cases. The police had received orders to take the boy because there had been reports that he had been baptised. The child had to be raised as a Christian for that reason. The family was shocked and frightened about losing the child. The father went to the authorities to find out what was going on but there was nothing he could do. The child was taken to Rome where he would be given over to various Christian institutions. He was raised as a Christian and eventually became a Catholic priest. Bologna as wel as Rome were still part of the Papal State at that time. The police of Bologna appeared to be uncomfortable with this situation.
It soon became an international scandal as the news was reported internationally in newspapers all over the world. It became a major basis for attacks on the Church and its, attitude towards the Jews. The Jews organised themselves about this issue. Moses Montefiore, a wealthy and influential Jew who was born in Italy and lived in England, who was a relative through marriage of the Rothschilds and and other elite people, had taken up the task of representing the Jews and improving their situation. They traveled a lot and he also came to Rome to try to meet the Pope but he never managed to do this. He eventually arranged a meeting with the Vatican Secretary of State over the issue but there was almost nothing he could do.
One of those big issues at that time was the unification of the Italian state, the expulsion of foreign powers and the weakening of the control of the Church as it held extensive territories. Bologna was a city that regularly rebelled against Papal rule in the 1830. By calling on Austrian troops the popes were able to reimpose their rule over Bologna. In 1848, a year that was called the spring time of nations, when there were rebellions all over Europe, Bologna participated. There were critiques on the ideological harshness of Papal rule, the ineptitude of Papal government, where governors did get their positions because they were attached to the Church and not because they had abilities and the required training.
In 1859 Bologna rebelled again and it immediately declared equality and universal citizenship to everybody including the Jews in the city. It banned the inquisition, which had been established in the city up until that time. It is often argued that the Mortara case tarnished the reputation of the Church and the Pope. In the years after 1859, the Italian state emerged and Bologna became part of Italy.
Apart from the political background there was also a religious background. The Catholic church recognised the idea that infants can be baptised without being aware of it and that they become Christians by baptism. In earlier centuries the Church protected the Jews and even conversos. the Church and the Catholic society had been more flexible in the past. In the 16th and 17th centuries the Catholic Church regularly issued charters to Jews that baptised children can revert to Judaism because they were minors when they were baptised. In the 19th century the Church became rigid and stating that once the child had been baptised, it had to remain Christian.
In the Mortara case there had been a report that from servant girl who lived with the family. This is a time when many families had servants. Jews in most Christian areas were told that they could not have Christian servants. It offended people that a Jew would be the boss over a Christian but there were also fears about a young servant girl sleeping in a Jewish house. It was common and certainly by the 19th nobody really paid much attention to these rules. Young girls came from villages to the cities to work as domestics so they could save some money, perhaps for their marriage.
The young woman who worked for Mortara family supposedly told a confessor that when little Edgardo was only a year old, he became very sick. She had gone to an apothecary or a doctor and told him that the child was sick and he going to die. She was then advised to baptise the child, not to make it a Christian child, but because a lot of Christians believed that there was some curative power in the waters of baptism. She then baptised the child and it got better. Six years later she confessed, and the Church heared that the child had been baptised. the Church, through the office of the Inquisitor of Bologna, then took the child.
The state often took children away from their parents. The state took children away from Aboriginals, American Indians or Canadian Indians, in order to give them a good education and to raise them in a better fashion. Nowadays this is seen as a terrible practise but at that time it was considered meritorious to take children out of backward families and to raise them in a good setting. Similarly, church officials perceived of this act as a good deed.
In previous centuries, the Church had traditions of allowing Jewish families not to be baptized or even to reverse baptism. By the 19th century this was not possible any more as the Church was in a crisis of meaning. The basic structures of Catholic belief and Catholic social structure were being challenged by the state, by rebellious people, and by new ideas. One of the reactions was that religion became more rigid. The great scandal was not caused by people suddenly beginning to question the Church values on some specific issue, but by a broader development of modernity challenging the Church and the Church reacting to it.
6.1. World War I and the rise of Fascism
At the beginning of the 20th century Italy was a unified country that went into World War I. Italy was associated with the triple alliance, which was a military alliance with Germany and Austria–Hungary. Through secret negotiations Italy stayed neutral and after some time it entered the war on the Allied side. After the war, Italy gained some small but important territories in the north such as Trieste and southern Tyrol. There was no stable government in the years after the war.
There was a strong left but there were tensions between the south and the north. There were peasant uprisings in the south and industrial uprisings in the north. Some tried to link together rural and urban industrial workers into a coherent left but that did not work. There were bands of Anarchists who were more like terrorists. An anarchist assassinated the King of Italy Umberto I in 1900. The left was had a series of ideological, cultural, social and class divisions that prevented the left from becoming a coherent organised block. By 1920 it became clear that the left could not organise a government.
There were also groups on the right. Their intellectuals were referred to as the Futurists. They adopted a language of activism, virility, power, and used a rhetoric of aggressive nationalism as well as imperialist adventurism. Italy had been experimenting with empire already and had established a colony in Libya. Benito Mussolini was a member of the Socialist Party, but he was thrown out because he is pro-war and he favoured aggressive nationalist rhetoric. He then moved to the right. In 1921 there were un decisive elections in Italy.
The Fascists, as the group under Mussolini was called, used as a symbol the fasces or a bundle of sticks, which was a Roman imperial symbol. The Fascists were talking about reviving the power of the Roman Empire and trying to rebuild Italy's glory. King Victor Emmanuel III invited Mussolini to form a government because the left and the centre could not. There was a March on Rome in 1922 of groups of militias associated with the right. Mussolini then quickly eliminated the opposition while there were militias on the streets. There was a threat of violence. People were arrested and imprisoned. Up to 50,000 people are put in jail or sent to internal exile to remote areas in the south or on islands.
Mussolini took up the old imperial and colonialist efforts that already started in the 19th century. As part of the creating of a national identity, the Roman past was revived. Mussolini consolidated Italian rule in Libya and began colonising the country by sending Italians. Many Italians left for the New World and went to Argentina, the United States and Canada. Mussolini gave Italians a chance to go to Libya where they were still part of Italy so they were not completely lost. Italy also expanded into Ethiopia and Eritrea. In 1936 Ethiopia is overwhelmed in a cruel war with the use of modern technology against tribesmen. It gave Italy a new Jewish population. To justify the conquest and colonialising efforts, Mussolini turned to the rhetoric of racism and the racist categories of superior Italian and inferior Jewish and black people.
6.2. Fascist rule and World War II
Mussolini had a social relations with some Jews and one of his mistresses was Jewish. Despite that, some consider Mussolini as an anti-Semite because he believed that there was an international Jewish power structure, which was one of the central ideas of modern anti-Semitism. At some point Mussolini called upon Zionist leaders to make a deal with their secret leaders to help Italy to gain power in the Eastern Mediterranean in exchange for a Jewish country in Palestine. In the 19th century Jews had become modern by becoming Italian. They identified themselves with the state and they find a place for themselves in that state. Many Jews served in the army. Jews occupied themselves with creating a national culture and became prominent in universities. There were Jewish bureaucrats and administrators.
At first many Jews joined the Fascist party as there were labour strikes, there was chaos and nothing worked right. They hoped that the state was going to make things work. Younger Jews did not always agree with this as many of them were attracted to socialist causes and did not agree with their parents' identification with the nation state with its imperialism and with its violence towards its opponents. There are examples of Jewish young people who were attacked by the Fascists. Other Jews could not identify themselves with Italian nationalism, and thought that there was no future for them in Italy, turned to Zionism in order to have our own homeland.
Surprisingly Italy, in this period, was far more hospitable to Jews than other parts of Europe so a lot of young Jewish people came to Italy. In the early years of Fascist rule, the Italian Jewish population grew to 50,000. By 1936 German pressure on the Italian Fascists began to have its impact on the position of the Jews. In 1938 the fascist government will pass a series of racial laws that institutionalised anti-Semitism as a policy of the government. Jews were thrown out of the government. Jews were thrown out of the schools. Foreign Jews were now rounded up and imprisoned. The position of the Jews in Italian society was eroded.
World War II started in 1939 with the German invasion of Poland. Initially, Italy was neutral but the country was dragged into the war by a number of factors. Italy had supported Franco in Spain. Italy was also involved in military operations in Albania because of its own imperialist ambitions. By 1940 Italy was officially in the war. There were small victories and Italy gained small territories in Southern France, Greece and Yugoslavia. On the whole the war was disastrous for Italy and in 1943 Mussolini was deposed by the Fascist counsel and soon Italy surrendered to the Allies who had invaded the south of Italy. The Germans then invaded the north Italy and made Mussolini the head of a puppet state in the north. Italy then became a battleground.
This situation made it possible for the Italians to create a myth of the Brava Gente (Good People). The myth stated that Italians fought in World War II but they were not mean to others as they were Fascists and not Nazis. They were the victims of a German invasion. The story became that all the bad things that happened were either caused by crazy Fascists that were just a small minority or the terrible Germans that had invaded the country. Italy began to create a mythology of its own history in which it understands itself as not having done bad things. This myths was picked up in films and literature. An extreme example is the argument that actually Italy was a nice place for the Jews and that the Holocaust in Italy was not real. Young Italian historians have been questioning the myth of the Brava Gente for the last decades.
6.3. The Holocaust in Italy
The Holocaust has become a major compass point for morality of the modern world. It has become a kind of absolute standard by which things are judged. During the first part of the war Italian areas were relatively safe for Jews. After Germany invaded Italy things became become much more difficult for the Jews. Germans started rounding up Jews, putting them in transit camps and shipping them to death camps elsewhere in Europe. From Rome some 1,100 Jews were sent to Auschwitz. There were also Jews who were engaged in partisan activities that were arrested and sent to prison camps. About 9000 of the estimated 50,000 Jews living in Italy in 1943 were killed, which was a relatively low number compared to other areas of Europe.
It is remarkable that around 80% of the Italian Jews survived. Most of them survived because they received help from Italians who provided them with a place to hide or gave them a false identity. All kinds of people were involved in saving Jews, such as peasant living in the mountains and people living in the cities. Church institutions also played a significant role. Many Jews were hidden by clerics in monasteries and convent schools. There were also Jews hidden in the Vatican. Many of the people hiding in the Vatican were Jews according to Nazi racial laws but to the Vatican they were Christians because they had converted to Christianity. The Vatican also hid a significant number of people who were not Christian.
There are a number of reasons why so many Jews in Italy could survive. Most importantly, the Fascist government was allied with the Germans so they had more freedom in treating their Jews. Other allies of the Germans also saved relatively large percentages of their Jewish populations. The places where most Jews were killed were those areas where German armies invaded and had freedom of action to do whatever they wanted to the local population including the Jews. Still the question may arise why the church in Italy, church people in Italy and the Italian population were able and willing to save so many people?
6.4. Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust
Pope Pius XII was the head of the Catholic Church during the years of the Holocaust. A number of questions have been debated by historians. One question is why did the Pope, who saw himself as the head of Christian society on Earth, did not save the Jews. Some historians even went further and asked whether or not Catholicism was responsible for the Holocaust as it had been preaching for centuries that Jews were rejecting Christ and took part the crucifixion, and perhaps were ultimately most responsible for it. Remarkably those questions were not raised right away. At first Pope Pius XII was thanked for saving Jews. He was praised by various Jewish leaders in Italy and Israel for his help to the Jews during the Holocaust.
In 1963 everything changed when Rolf Hochhuth published a play named The Deputy, which became a worldwide sensation. It focused on the character of Pius XII who had been the papal ambassador to Nazi Germany and then became Pope himself. Rolf Hochhuth accused the Pope of hatred against the Jews and he made Pope Pius XII as representative of the Church in some sense responsible for what Germany did to the Jews. In subsequent years, scholars and philosophers have challenged the way Hochhuth analysed his data. Some people accused him of having had links to the East German secret police, the Stasi. Despite that, the accusation of Christianity, Catholicism and Pope Pius XII in particular being responsible in some way for the Holocaust, has not gone away, and it remains a theme of best sellers.
The Holocaust, as the historian Alun Confino has pointed out, has become a sort of moral compass point for Western civilisation, and perhaps for world civilization. People tend to point at it as the ultimate evil. As a result the role of Pope Pius XII came under close scrutiny as he was the leader of the major religious group within the Western world and Europe at that time. There have been tremendous efforts by historians to get to the bottom of this question. People have gone into the archives and the Vatican released documents related to the Papacy and the Holocaust much earlier than their normal archival procedures allowed. Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church in Rome have defenders such as David Dalin who wrote The Myth of Hitler's Pope.
The problem with this entire argument is that it sometimes gets caught up in debates about right-wing as opposed to left-wing politics and attitudes towards what is going on in the Middle East. Another problem with dealing with Pius XII is that the field keeps expanding as people talk about what the Church said about what was going on in Germany in the 1930s and what the Church said about Slovakia, Hungary and other Catholic countries.
Soon after the Germans took over the north of Italy, they started an unannounced roundup of Jews on 15 and 16 October 1943. It was said to have happened under the windows of the Vatican to suggest that the Pope saw it happen. Italians immediately contacted the Pope, for example an Italian princess named Pignatelli Aragona Cortes who was informed by a Jewish friend, informed the Vatican about what was going on. Immediately the Vatican sent the secretary of state to the German ambassador and told him that this must stop, which it did. The 1,000 Jews that were rounded up were practically all killed in Auschwitz but 5,000 Jews in Rome survived. The Vatican opened up buildings began to allow Jews to hide in Vatican properties in Rome, and the word went out to save Jews elsewhere.
People have argued that only average Italians and local priests acted on their own behalf to save Jews. The evidence suggests that this is not true. Both Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, who were Cardinals at the time, and have helped to save Jews during the war, stated that they were acting on the orders of Pope Pius XII. Germany lost the war so questions about what did the Pope do are victor's questions. When looking at what the Church and what the Pope did in those years, it must be remembered that it was war time and a time of chaos, and what to do and how to influence events was not as clear as moral black and white categories suggest. Historical judgements should avoid moral anachronisms.
6.5. Some final thoughts
The course treated 2,000 years of history, with many different people and many different events. History courses and history books often tell a story. A story depends on the punch line and the ending is the result of the story that led up to it. If the ending of our story is that a thousand Jews were rounded up under the windows of the Vatican and sent to Auschwitz then, if that is the punch line, the story is who created this situation and made it possible. If the story is that thousands of Jews were saved at a time of danger by institutions of the Church then the question is what made that bravery possible.
It depends on the actors in the story. If the story is that there were people in the Christian tradition, or during the 20th century, or during the Holocaust, who said things that we would now label as anti-Semitic, then indeed the question is how did they come to be within the story of the Christian church? If, on the other hand, the actors are everyday people, and clerics in the hierarchy of the Church, who for two millenniums were willing to allow and to protect, to debate about and to restrict, and to ultimately free and to protect a group of people who did not accept their values, then there is a different question to ask.
An important question is what the actors were thinking. Tolerance and intolerance exist on a spectrum. It is not a question of black and white. The historical process is often more complicated than actual rules and actions, such as decisions whether or not to restrict or to open up or to expel or to tolerate. Religions often justify themselves as a revelation in the ancient past and many people see religion as a legacy coming from the past that never changes. Religion is always changing as it is a system by which a society gives meaning to the reality of life itself and the outside world. To the Catholic Church in Italy the Jews have always been part of that meaning giving process of the community.
Nationalism is often seen in negative terms today as it seen as oppressive and invasive. Nationalism is also related to the nation state. Most notably in the United States, there is a fear for the power of the state. It is part of the American legacy, the American revolution, independence and, constitution, to look at the nation as a body with a monopoly on force that imposes its will on the individual. In Italy nationalism was born in a liberal spirit. At first, the Fascist state of Italy was tolerant towards the Jews, even though there were elements in the imperial and nationalist effort under Mussolini that led towards the racial laws of 1938. It is not so simple how the nation creates meaning and how religion creates meaning. These things are being negotiated and change all the time.
At different times, the religious society that dominated in Italy, found mechanism means to maintain, tolerate, allow, and even foster a Jewish presence, and that decision was very much a part of how Italian Catholicism and Italian civilisation defined itself. In the 19th and 20th century the Church was under the pressures of secularisation and nationalism. The Church lost its control over society and lost its territorial power and became less and less flexible towards the Jews. However, in the wake of the Holocaust, the Roman Catholic church had changed enormously. There has been a revolution in its inner theology which is reflected in the declaration named Nostra Aetate or Our Age of 1965. It was an attempt to redefine the Catholic attitude towards the Jews and all other none Christian people. Once again the Jews serve as a major focus for Christian self-examination, which is also the punch line of the course.
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