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September 28, 1973 - Image 10

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1973-09-28

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10—Friday, Sept. 28, 1973

Jews of Rome: Historicity and Survival

Once they were free to ever defectively, was consid-
leave the ghetto after 1870, ered to be a Christian.
(Copyright 1973, JTA, Inc.)
The House for Catechu-
the Jews spread slowly into
ROME (JTA) — The Jews neighboring streets and then, menates still exists today, a
of the Eternal City have seen as they became wealthier, prisonlike building near the
the Caesars come and go. many moved to modern sub- Colosseum. Jewish converts
must still go there for their
They were here long before urbs.
the Popes. They can claim
But stores established by baptism papers, but the rec-
to be the most Roman of all Jewish clothiers and haber- tor, Msgr. Federico Federici,
the Romans.
dashers, goldsmiths, jewel- said he has had only two or
There is a flourishing corn- ers, tanners and cabinetmak- three conversions in the past
munity of about 16,000 Jews ers still are common in the five years. Instead, the"build-
in Rome, including some 1,- ghetto area and Romans ing is used as a hostel for
500 recent refugees from know they will usually get a working girls and as a kin-
dergarten for local children.
good bargain there.
Although Jews were made
But not more than 500 or
The stores have typical
so of them live in the area Italian-Jewish names like da figures of fun and contempt,
of the old ghetto between the Milano, Perugia, Sonnino, di they came to earn the re-
Forum and the Tiber River, Segni, di Castro, Anticoli or spect of their Roman neigh-
according to community lead- Piperno — many of them bors, especially in the revo-
lutionary days of the past
ers. The ghetto has virtually based on place names.
disappeared except for its
There is La Luciano's century when they played a
bitter memories, although a kosher restaurant and, just large part in the movements
couple of streets, like the Via down the street, a Jewish that eventually led to the
unification of Italy and the
della Reginella, still preserve bakery.
overthrow of the Papacy.
its ancient character.
Turning into a d a r k,
"The Jews are better Chris-
The Inquisition Pope Paul cramped courtyard that can-
IV walled the Jews into the not have changed much since tians than we are and they
ghetto—or the Seraglio degli ghetto times, the visitor sees are brainier," wrote the 19th
Ebrei as it- was then more hanging among the washing century Roman poet G. G.
romantically called—in 1955. a tablecloth embroidered with Belli.
The population density in the Star of David. "Viva Is-
Author Sam Waagenaar,
the ghetto was four to five rael," is chalked on the wall. who last year published a
times greater than the rest Outside the front door, a book called "The Ghetto on
or central Rome. The houses moneybox is set into the wall the Tiber," said the Jew of
were decrepit, insalubrious. under an appeal written both the ghetto was "completely
As an example of how bad in Hebrew and Italian: "Give Roman to the core. The more
the conditions were, 800 of for orphans."
restrictions were placed on
the 4,000 persons living in
Opposite t h e synagogue him, the more he looked for
the ghetto in 1656 died in a stands part of the 2,119-year- a way out. He had an above
plague epidemic.
old Portico of Octavia, a average dose of the usual
The ghetto was pulled down building with particularly Rome cunning."
after the temporal fall of the bitter memories for the Jews.
For example, Waagenaar
papacy in 1870 to make way
It was here that the Em- said, when Jews were or-
for the present cluster of peror Vespasian and his dered to wear yellow hats
apartment buildings and the
outside the ghetto, they very
square-domed syna- son Titus reviewed their slowly added red die to the
gogue, built in 1904. It takes rusalem and the destruction yellow. Before long, they
at the most 10 minutes to
were walking around in hats
of the Temple.
walk leisurely around the
Slaves captured during the
area of the original ghetto.
In poorer parts by the riv- campaign were used in the
er, several families had to building of the Colossuem,
share each room. The misery but were thought unsatisfac•
was intensified when the Ti- tory because of their refusal
ber overran its banks—a reg- to work on the Sabbath.
ular occurrence before this Freed slaves or their chil-
century when retaining walls dren helped swell Rome's
Jewish community.
were built.
Vespasian's and Titus' vic-
The fortunes of the Jews
depended on the severity or tory parade is depicted on
laxity of each individual the Arch of Titus in the Ro-
man Forum, where a Bas Re-
"The Jews are to be re• lief carving shows slaves car-
spected, p r o t e c t e d—and rying the seven-branched can-
taxed," decreed Pope Sixtus delabra from the Barbarian
V in 1585. He was considered invasions of the fifth century.
A church, Sant'Angelo in
one of the more lenient pon-
tiffs. Under other reigns, the Peschiera, was built into the
Jews were neither respected ruins of the portico in very
nor protected, but always early times, and this, too, has
unpleasant memories for the
Forbidden to manufacture Jews. It was here that they
new articles, the Jews of were forced to listen to Chris-
Rome became masters of tian sermons on their own
what would now be known as Shabat.
Papal guards, who had a
recycling. They were rag and
bone men, scrap metal deal- barracks and a gallows just
ers, money-lenders or finan- outside the ghetto, used to
ciers depending on the size of round up 100 Jewish men and
their operation, fortune-tell- 50 women to Listen to the
ers and makers of love-phil- Saturday sermons. They used
ters. Not much else was open lnog staves to keep order or
to them. The only learned to beat Jews who tried to
profession permitted to Jews keep out the streams of ora-
was that of medicine, per- tory by plugging their ears
haps because several pontiffs with wax.
To add insult to injury, the
trusted physicians from the
ghetto and the skills they in- Jews also had to pay the
herited from exiled Sephar- Church to maintain a "House
for Catechumenates and Con-
dic Jews.
The old clothes gathered verts" where many of them
by the rag and bone men sent — usually against their
often were used to stuff mat- will—for 40 days of Chris-
tresses and even today there tian indoctrination. If they
are several mattress-makers then refused baptism, they
in the ghetto area. But now were sent back to the ghetto
they use foam rubber or with a bill for their board
wool, which they hang in and keep.
There are cases on record
yellow-white hanks outside
of Jewish children being forc-
their shop doors.
The Jewish peddlers of the ibly or surreptitiously bap-
past have given way to street tized and then snatched away
vendors, some of whom can from their parents and sent
be found selling rosaries, cru- to the catechumenate's home.
cifixes, medal s, trinkets, The law said no Christian
slides and postcards outside could live in a Jewish home
and anyone baptized, how
Rome churches.

JTA Rome Correspondent


To any ,state. Also drivers furnish:
ed to -drive your car anywhere.
Legally insured and I.C.C. licensed

We have no thoughts of our
fit for a Roman Catholic car- own, no opinions of our own;
they are transmitted to us,
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However difficult life was trained into us.—Mark Twain.
Detroit, Mich. 48204
made for them, the Jews
WE 1-0620-21-22
clung tenaciously to their Classifieds Get Quick Results
faith, even though a baptism
certificate would have guar-
anteed their entry into the
wider Rome society. Waage-
naar said an average of not
more than 20 Jews converted
to Catholicism each year dur-
ing the entire three centuries
the ghetto was in existence.
But those who did convert
were among the worst of per-
The history of the Jews in
Italy, and particularly in
Rome, has often been soft-
ened by native tolerance, de-
spite the harsh measures in-
troduced by the Catholic
The Jews were well accept.
ed in classical Roman times,
and enjoyed complete free-
dom right through the middle
ages. At one stage, a con-
verted Jewish family, the
Pierleoni, controlled both city
and papacy.
As Rome declined in the
wake of the Barbarian inva-
sions and medieval wars, so
did the Jewish community
and in the 12th Century one
Spanish traveler, Benjamin
of Tudela, found only 200
adult male Jews in Rome.
But they were living in peace
and prosperity with no spe-
cial taxes to pay, Benjamin
The Jewish population of
Rome suddenly expanded
after 1492, when Ferdinand
and Isabella expelled the
(Continued on Page 16)

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