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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News September 2008

September 8, 2008

Selected Publications Supported by the Memorial Foundation

Attached is a select list of publications that resulted from our doctoral, fellowship and institutional grant programs which were received at the Foundation during the 2007-08 academic year. These publications provide testimony to the key role the Foundation plays in nurturing Jewish scholarship and creativity around the world. The Foundation has since its inception assisted in the publication of approximately 4,000 volumes covering all aspects of Jewish culture, broadly defined.

 

Italia Judaica

On the attached list of publications resulting from Institutional grants awarded by the Foundation in the academic year 2007-2008, you will find six volumes on the Jews in Sicily. These volumes, covering the economic, social and religious history of the Jews in Sicily, are part of Italia Judaica, one of the most comprehensive Jewish historical ventures ever undertaken. This monumental project, the life's work of Shlomo Simonsohn, Professor of Jewish History of the Tel-Aviv University, was established by him in 1969 to document the history of Jews in Italy. This project has been generously supported by the Memorial Foundation almost from its inception.

The project consists of the following parts: a) A Documentary History of the Jews in Italy. Twenty-eight volumes have been published to date containing documentary material scattered in archives throughout Italy which pertain to the history of the Jews there. The communities covered in the 28 volumes include Lombardy, Piedmont, Umbria, Rome, Genoa and Sicily. Six more volumes are in the process of publication. b) The Apostolic See and the Jews. This is a eight-volume history of papal policy toward the Jews in the Middle Ages, tracing the evolving relationship between Jews and the Catholic Church from 492 to 1555, based on documents from the Vatican archives never previously published. c) The Italia Judaica series also encompassed a Bibliography of the History of Jews in Italy in 4 volumes and a Historical Lexicon of the Jews in Italy.

 

A Unique Paradigm of Communal Survival

It is presumptuous in any report of these publications to present even a bird's-eye view of the sweep and range of the monumental historical research undertaken by Prof. Simonsohn and his colleagues. From the Memorial Foundation's perspective, one point deserves attention – the very unique example of the survival of Jews in Italy during the two millennia of their existence, especially in light of the persecutions of the church.

The Jews of Italy are the oldest Jewish community in Europe – going back to the days of the Roman Republic. Jews enjoyed a continuous existence on the Italian Peninsula, albeit often beset with hostility, at times degenerating into persecution, especially by the Catholic Church. Significantly, the Jews of Italy hardly ever numbered more than 50-60,000 and constituted no more than a fraction of a percentage point of the total population. Furthermore, a large portion of Italian Jews lived in tiny settlements, often consisting of no more than a single family at a time, and situated at some distance from the nearest Jewish community, at times in almost total isolation. Their survival as Jews is therefore remarkable and deserves our attention as we, in contemporary Jewish life, contemplate the challenge of Jewish survival in our Diasporas.

In covering in great detail the important cultural and religious influences on Italian Jewry, Prof. Simonsohn emphasizes the strong influence the Jewish Palestinian and Babylonian centers had on Italian Jewry, including their attitudes to forced conversion and martyrdom, which occurred during the widespread persecutions of the Jews in Italy in the Middle Ages.

Prof. Simonsohn also describes the changes in the geographic distribution of the Jews in Italy in the Middle Ages, leading to their forced isolation in ghettos in Italy in which Jews enjoyed a large measure of autonomy, but were subject to enormous pressure from the church for Jewish mass conversion. Living in the sordid and often abominable living conditions of the ghetto also made Jewish existence exceedingly difficult.

According to Prof. Simonsohn, the survival of Italian Jews, like that of their brethren elsewhere, was not due solely to their steadfastness in the face of outside pressures. Luckily, the Jews of Italy enjoyed more halcyon days than stormy ones. It was during the peaceful intervals that Italian Jews created the substance of their existence and of their cultural life and values.

Italian Jews took an active part in the social, economic and cultural life of their environment, much more so than the Jews of Central Europe, and at least as much as the Jews in Spain. This did not detract from their Jewish identity.

What appears unique for the Jews in Italy is the combination of their strong Jewish convictions and their involvement in Italian life – cultural, scientific, social, economic and political, where their contributions were considerable, particularly if viewed in the light of the numerical insignificance of Italian Jewry. Nor was this limited to any one community or area of the country.

The Palestinian martyrology traditions assimilated by Italian Jewry and their cognate literary expressions, and their absorption of and into, the Italian cultural and social environment without foregoing their Jewish identity, makes the history of Italian Jewry especially unique.

At a meeting of the executive committee in 1999 which the Memorial Foundation organized in Florence to celebrate our support of the Italian Jewish community and its scholarship, the leaders of Italian Jewry there declared their capacity to survive modernity as they did Christianity. In the words of one of the past presidents of the community in Florence, they not only aspire to survive as Jews, but as Italian Jews, committed to their Italian Jewish heritage.

Italia Judaica demonstrates the unique paradigm of survival achieved by Italian Jewry.

 

Other Monumental Histories of Jewish Communities

The Memorial Foundation has initiated and supported other monumental histories of Jewish communities. Hispania Judaica, directed by Prof. Haim Beinart of Hebrew University was established to collect and publish documents on the history of Jews on the Iberian Peninsula from the earliest times until the Middle Ages. Eleven volumes have been published in the series to date, including History of the Jews in Aragon: Regesta and Documents 1213-1327; Trujillo: A Jewish Community in Extremadura on the Eve of the Expulsion from Spain; Conversos on Trial: The Inquisition in Ciudad Real; The Jews of Navarre in the Late Middle Ages; The Conversos of Majorca: Life and Death in a Crypto-Jewish Community in XVII; The Jews of Santa Coloma de Queralt; Conversos and the Inquisition in Jaen; Three Jewish Communities in Medieval Valencia: Castellon de la Plana, Burriana, Villarreal; The Jews of the Kingdom of Valencia; Two Portuguese Exiles in Castile: Dom David Negro and Dom Isaac Abravanel; Medieval Ketubot from Sefarad.

Another ongoing project in this series is the Sources for the History of Jews in Spain of which 6 volumes have been published so far including: The Jews in Barcelona 1213-1291; The Expulsion of the Jews from Calatayud 1492-1500; The Jews of Tortosa 1372-1492; The Jews in the Crown of Aragon 1066-1492; and The Tortosa Disputation 1412-1416.

The highlight of our work with this project was the publication of Moreshet Sefarad, the Sephardic legacy edited by Prof. Haim Beinart in English, Spanish and Hebrew. The volumes, commissioned by the Memorial Foundation, describe the contribution of Sephardic Jewry to Jewish and world history. They were the centerpiece of a meeting we organized in Madrid in 1992 commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Jewish expulsion from Spain. On that occasion these volumes were presented to the King of Spain.

Similarly, the Foundation has supported Germania Judaica at the Hebrew University, a series which covers the history of the Jewish communities in Germany

In more recent years the Foundation has commissioned two works dealing with the two major Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. The first, The Broken Chain, Polish Jewry through the Ages, a one-volume work edited by Profs. Israel Bartal and Yisrael Gutman was published by the Shazar Center for Jewish History in 1997, aimed at making Polish Jewish history accessible to the generation of Polish Jews living in the west and in Israel who know very little about their historical antecedents.

The second project, also commissioned by the Memorial Foundation and now in the process of preparation, is a three-volume history of Russian Jewry from its inception to post-Glasnost Russia. The general editor on the project is Prof. Israel Bartal. This history will also be published by the Shazar Center for Jewish History.

These monumental works, in which the Foundation played a central role, provide us with an in-depth understanding of the history of some of the major communities of European Jewry.

Best wishes for a New Year of peace and good health.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President