CES:Explaining Modernization of Jews in Nineteenth Century Italy


Thursday, April 20, 2017, 4:15pm to 6:00pm


Adolphus Busch Hall, Hoffmann Room, 27 Kirkland Street, Cambridge

Jews in Modern Europe Study Group: 


Marco Di Giulio

Associate Professor of Hebrew Language and Literature, Program of Judaic Studies & Italian Department Franklin & Marshall College

This talk will analyze how modern Jewish translations of traditional religious texts into Italian have served as a platform for ethnic self-definition and, more recently, for engaging in forms of identity politics.


Unlike German Jews, who had generated eight translations of the Bible by the mid-nineteenth century, Italian Jews completed their first translation between 1866 and 1875. In the same period, several anthologies of rabbinic literature were compiled by Jewish authors and translated into Italian. This body of publications was a signal moment in the history of the Jews of the peninsula, marking the end of the centuries-old Catholic ban on vernacular translations of traditional religious texts by Jews. Although Italian Jews proudly viewed these achievements as a sign that they were transitioning out of a ghetto culture into the modern nation state, the style of these translations was old-fashioned and sometimes excruciatingly literal. Was the traditionalist character of these projects the result of a deliberate aesthetic choice by the translators, or did it reveal Italian Jews’ unspoken anxiety over deeper intra-communal transformations in the age of emancipation?

About one hundred and fifty years after the publication of these texts, the Union of Italian Jewish Communities and the Italian government embarked on a long-term project to translate the entire Talmud into Italian. The first tractate completed, Rosh ha-shana, was published in 2016 and earned unprecedented full national coverage.

Does this initial success merely mask another moment of crisis, or is it a genuine indication of the beginning of a new era in the history of the Jews of Italy?