2/04/2019 Gina Brown

The New Italy and the Jews: a new faculty publication.

Professor Scott Lerner has recently published The New Italy and the Jews: From Massimo D’Azeglio to Primo Levi, together with co-editor Professor Jonathan Druker of Illinois State University. Here’s how he describes this multi-year collaborative project:

On the eve of the Revolution of 1848, the Italian patriot Massimo D’Azeglio, calling on Pope Pius IX to abolish the Jewish ghetto of Rome and emancipate the Jews, explicitly connected the status of Italian Jewry to the project of Italian unification and nationhood. D’Azeglio’s dual campaign on behalf of Italian Jewry and Italian unification stands as the point of departure for this volume, which addresses these and many other questions related to the place of Italian Jewish culture and history in the birth and development of the Italian nation from the nineteenth century Risorgimento to the present. 

The publication contains an introduction and 19 original essays by an international group of scholars working in a variety of academic fields, including F&M’s Professor Lerner and Professor Marco Di Giulio, chair of the Department of Italian Studies and of the program in Judaic Studies.

Professor Lerner’s article, "Massimo D’Azeglio and the New Italy in the Jewish Mirror" opens the volume. In this essay, he shows how D’Azeglio’s Italian patriotism was connected to his  campaign for Jewish civil rights in 1847–48. By working toward Jewish emancipation, D’Azeglio and other liberals put their ideas about the distinction between faith communities and liberal societies into action. The ultimate goal of the campaign on behalf of the Jews was not to convert or assimilate them, even though the liberals generally assumed that Judaism was an anachronism and had been superseded by Christianity. Rather, by making the case for elevating the Jew to the status of equal member of society, they defined the foundational principles of the new order.

Professor Di Giulio discusses two ongoing projects designed to promote Jewish history and culture in Italy in “Negotiations of Jewish Memory: Rome’s Holocaust Museum and the Progetto Traduzione Talmud Babilonese.” He compares the so-far unsuccessful effort to build a national Holocaust museum in Rome to the enormous undertaking, organized by the Jewish community of Rome and well supported by the Italian state, to translate the Babylonian Talmud into Italian for the first time. Di Giulio argues that Jewish leaders backed the Talmud translation project because it would allow the Jewish community to distance itself from the Shoah-inflected Jewish identity promoted by the museum by participating in an endeavor that signifies the reconstitution of Italian Jewry’s cultural, intellectual, and religious heritage.

The volume contributes to a new understanding of the integral role of the Jewish cultural and religious minority in the building of modern Italy, and offers an insight in the type of intellectual collaborations across academic fields that F&M encourages and supports.

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