Italy is the only country, except Palestine and neighbouring countries, with a continuous Jewish story. The Jewish community of Rome is the most ancient in Europe and there are testimonies about Jews since second century A.D. The Jews had some privileges among the Romans like sending contributions to Palestine. In 66 a.D. The Jews rose up against the Romans‘ harassments and began a war, which ended with the conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. After the defeat the Jews were used as slaves, some of them were unleashed by the Jews who didn't live in Palestine.
In 313 a.D., with the Edict of Milan, the persecution of the Christians and of all the other religions ended, but since that time the Christians began to persecute the Jews even if these weren't driven out from Rome, to show the veracity of Gospels.
About 1000 a.D. guilds were created and only the Christians could be members of them, so Jews became bankers. At this point they became important and were tolerated everywhere. After the third Lateran council the Church decided that Christians usurers couldn't be buried and the Jews became indispensable. In the fourth Lateran council Pope Innocenzo the Third ordered that the Jews had to wear a yellow cloth mark to isolate them, since he didn't manage to convert them.
When the plague broke out the Jews were accused to poison wells, so they were persecuted. In the fifteenth century the Jews kept on being persecuted especially by the Church and preachers. This hostility caused lots of murders. Because of all that hate Monti di Pietà were institued to impede the Jews'economic activity .
In 1492 Jews were expelled from Spain, and then also from Sicily and Sardinia. Many of them took refuge in Southern Italy. In 1500, after the Treaty of Granada, the kingdom of Naples was divided between Louis XII of France and Ferdinand the Catholic of Spain, in the fight that ensued between French and Spanish, the latter prevailed: in 1505 the Spaniards came to Naples, ending the Jewish communities that arose within the kingdom. Some Jewish refugees came to live in Rome, another in Turkey.
In 1516 the ghetto was established in Venice, the first ghetto in the world; the second was in Rome. Ghetto is an urban area enclosed by walls and locked gates at night, where Jews were forced to reside. Ghetto of Venice
Towards the middle of the century came to Italy from Spain groups of Marranos, Jews who had converted to Christianity in order to remain in Spain but in fact continue to live as Jews in their homes, taking the risk of being discovered by the Spanish Inquisition. In the first half of the century in Italy was born a Messianic movement by David Reuben who presented the Pope proposed to arm the Jews to conquer Palestine.The Pope rejected the proposal and sent by the King of Portugal with a letter of recommendation. His arrival in Portugal revived all the hopes in the hearts of the Marranos. One of them, Diego Pires minister of the king, upon his arrival he declared openly Jew. Imprisoned and then expelled from Portugal arrived in Italy where, along with Reuben, continues to preach, and go together to push the Emperor against the Turks. His fanaticism but worried the Jewish community in Italy, that, in order not to compromise their position, denounced him to the Inquisition.
Throughout the period of the Renaissance, being lively interest in the study of ancient languages, including Hebrew language finds its devotees among non-Jews, among them there were two important humanist Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Reuchling. The revival of the studies had a beneficial effect even in the Jewish ladies, in developed flourishing Jewish communities, the Lords were in need of loans and so the common people so they developed the activities of Jewish bankers, similarly to what happened in the courts, protected the Jewish scholars. Well-known Hebrew manuscripts are in fact of this era and of Italian origin. The Jews cultivated many kinds of arts. Goldsmiths were in fact, excellent doctors and opened some printing the various cities such as Venice.They were also very interested in theater.
With the Counterreformation of 1500 begins a sad period for the Jews of Italy. Their condition continues to deteriorate to reduce them to slavery, which lasted until the Risorgimento. The reasons which lead to the reform are numerous and among them we can mention: the sale of indulgences, corruption of the papal court, the discontent of foreign princes forced to pay taxes to the Roman court.
In 1543, thanks to Ignazio of Loyola, opened at Rome the House of catechumens for the infidels passed to the Catholic religion. Every synagogue in the papal state had to pay an annual tribute to the House of catechumens at the expense of Jews. In 1553 Cornelius from Montalcino, since it was convinced that the Jewish religion was true, was burned alive in Campo dei Fiori in Rome. That same year, a large amount of Jewish books were publicly burned in Rome, Bologna, Ravenna and Venice. This causes a large protest by rabbis. Then a papal bull explained that only the Talmud and other works blasphemous against Christians were to be destroyed.
In 1555 Cardinal Caraffa became pope with the name of Paul IV, we know him as fierce relentless persecutor of the Jews and heretics. After his election, he issued immediately a bull whose main points were: the segregation of Jews, the Jewish sign, the absolute prohibition to negotiate and talk with Christians, prohibition of owning houses, prohibition to hold Christians stand open on Sundays, the ban Jewish doctors to treat Christians provision as regards loans and interest, prohibitions to keep records in Hebrew, and they can only have a single synagogue per city. Never until now there had been such a tough anti-Jewish, because after a period of relative tolerance rushes into deeper reaction. Enter now starts the obligation of Jewish sign and begins the construction of the walls of the ghetto.
Within six months Jews must sell their owns and is also set a law that regulated relations between the owners of the houses in the ghetto and the Jews. Ancona is an example of these persecutions because there a group of Portuguese Marranos including Amato Lusitano had obtained guarantee of protection by the previous pope, but Paul IV nullifies the granting of the Marranos so some were burnt alive and others imprisoned. These events were of great impression everywhere; because some of the Jews were subjects of the Ottoman Empire Sultan raised a protest to release. In 1559 Pope Paul IV died and as the population had heard of his death struck all the emblems of the house Caraffa, attacked and destroyed the palace of the Inquisition and dragged through the streets of the city the statue of the Pope over his head after having put a yellow hat on it that the Pope himself had imposed on Jews because they were objects of derision from the population.
On 10th June 1593 Ferdinand I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, promulgated a law which gave hospitality in Livorno to all foreigners, including Jews.
In this way another Jewish community was created in Livorno. This community will become very large and important.
At the end of the seventeenth century most of the Jews were living in ghettos. Italian ghettos were formed by a rectangular courtyard along which were aligned houses and shops, so-called Chatzèr. They could also were formed by a square or by a main street in which side streets flow into .The smallest were composed by a district with two gates. Jews in the ghetto were strictly controlled, they couldn’t leave it except with Jewish visible sign or with a special authorization. Jews adapted to new conditions of life, the society of the ghetto was divided into three classes: bankers, ragpickers and grants. Many ghettos became study centers in which Jews spent their free time. At that time Italian Jews excelled among all European Jews in Jewish studies.
In the seventeenth century in some countries (America, Holland and England), Jews had nearly the same rights than Christians while in Italy the Jews were in conditions of humiliating inferiority. The consequences of this situations were: 1)Exodus from various Italian communities or to Livorno whose community increases in number and importance, or to northern Europe (especially England); 2) Apostasy, which is the formal abandonment of their own religion. In 1733 the conditions of Jews were still worsening: was emanated a code against Jews with severe obligations and charges. In 1755 the inquisition (Ferrara) ordered that the tombstones of the Jewish cemetery were to be broken. Also the people were incited against Jews.
Under Pope Clement XIV (1769-1774) Jews had a period of peace and tranquility. This pope abolished the Jesuit order , improved the conditions of Jews and revived the Jewish community from the state of misery in which it was. He also defended the rights of the Jewish family about children oblates. Unfortunately his papacy was short, the next Pope Pio VI emanated the “Edict on the Jews”, one of the most monstrous documents of persecution that the history of humanity has ever known.
This edict was composed of twentyfour clauses of which we can remember the followings: 1)The Jew who spent a night outside the ghetto is sentenced to death; 2) The "yellow sign" should have also brought within the walls of the ghetto; 3) Funeral processions are prohibited; 4) It is forbidden to study Talmud; 5) It is prohibited the sale to Christians of bread, meat, milk; 6) It is forbidden to have stores outside the ghetto; 7) It is forbidden to have Christian servants; 8) R elations with Christian neighbors are prohibited; 9) It is prohibited to invite the Christians in the synagogues; 10) It is forbidden to Christians to enter the synagogues; 11) It is forbidden for Jews to enter the churches and monasteries; 12) It is forbidden to approach the "House of catechumens “.
Persecutory laws had repercussions elsewhere (Genoa, Modena, Parma, Sardinia), but the Jews of the Venetian Republic suffered the most serious consequences: 1)Jews were allowed to exercise their profession only as ragpickers. 2)Jews couldn’t reside where there was a ghetto. At the same time the papal state continued to be cruel against Jews: inhuman code of 1755 is tightened and were repeated cases of oblation. In all Italian communities were noted symptoms of decay , three centuries of ghetto life gave this result: physical decline: the jew was a short man with a ruined nervous system; and moral; superstition instead of culture, and lack of dignity by the poor. The only city where Jews could live quietly was the only Italian city that had never had a real ghetto Livorno, commercial harbor of the toscany Duchy, increasingly more important for its trade;due to this Jews flock to this city from other centers.
While The french revolution is yet to come, the strong laws laid down from Rome weren’t strictly followed as they used to be in the past. In Trieste, where resided one of the most well off communities, the jewish mark was repealed in 1738; jews were allowed to live in other parts of the city -despite of residing in their own quarters- in 1753. In Genova Jewish took part in the city’s economy, supporting merchants and bankers; In Tuscany they had their own party in the local council. Everything seemed to be foollowing the revolutionary wind from the illuministic ideas of freedom and equality before the law.
Since he entered Italy in 1796 with the french army (nothing seemed to stop him), until his leaving in the spring of 1798, the Jewish communities in Italy gained a sort of equality before the law and more freedom: rooting out any kind differences based on religion was one of the main concepts of the revolution.
In Ancona the French army entered the city while the inhabitants were besieging the ghetto of the city: it is told that the soldiers snatched their yellow hat and placed on their cests some white, red and green ribbons. However, the french conquer didn’t dig deep enough to delete all the anti-jewish ideas from people’s minds. As Napoleon left there were many reactions in each city aganist them ( as in Naples , where they were obliged to pay again taxes for huge sums of money).