quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History 8 (2015)

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quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History 8 (2015)
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Portrait of Italian Jewish Life (1800s–1930s)

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Quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History
Fondazione Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea via Eupili 8 20145 Milano Italy E-Mail: <> Tel.: +39;
Wyrwa, Ulrich

This monographic issue of Quest resumes this old practice of biographical trajectories, and aims at presenting six Italian Jewish characters whose lives and work span from the early nineteenth century to the first half of the twentieth century. The six characters in search of a narrative are respectively David Levi (1816–1898), Tullo Massarani (1826–1915), Elena Raffalovich Comparetti (1842–1918), Bernardo Dessau, (1863–1949) Alfonso Pacifici (1889–1983), and Laura Orvieto (1876–1953), whose lives were entwined with Italian and European history. Their biographical trajectories intersect the local, national, and transnational dimensions of nineteenth and early twentieth century history. The Jewish facet of their lives tells a great deal about the diversity of their choices as Jews and as Italians, in respect to culture, politics, and religion.
These six stories will give us the chance to delve into some tenets of Jewish culture in the nineteenth century from a perspective that will also offer new insight into concepts of Judaism and religion.

In order to analyse some of the issues fundamental to the history of Jews in Italy, from the emancipation of 1848, to the Fascist period of the 1930s, the essays in this edition of Quest adopt a biographical approach. This decision is motivated by the fact that, following the Italian Jews’ acquisition of civil and political rights, their route towards integration in the majority society is composed of thousands of unique, individual experiences, rather than a single, monolithic vision.

As some of these biographies demonstrate, Jewish thinkers and intellectuals who inhabited Italian and European culture in the nineteenth century were fully involved with the political issues of their time. Their lives tell a story of strong commitments to social, political, and economic issues. They were often involved in religious questions and, despite their various paths to secularization, they contributed to a discussion that is often overlooked by historians: the construction of a modern world where the place of religion and tradition was debated. In pursuing their practical goals they acted as though they belonged to real and imagined communities, to recall Benedict Anderson’s famous notion.

Our six authors offer historians a possible way to look at the history of modern Italian Jewry, combining individual agency with general issues of national and transnational history. A more complex and nuanced historical portrait emerges, as biographical trajectories convey more than a reproduction of social structure or a unique possible historical experience. They offer historians new questions and challenges in interpreting the past, and in this case they invite reflection on how the history of minorities contributes to a different understanding of historical phenomena.




David Levi. A Child of the Nineteenth Century
by Alessandro Grazi

Giacobbe and Tullo Massarani
by Maurizio Bertolotti

From Odessa to Florence: Elena Comparetti Raffalovich. A Jewish Russian Woman in Nineteenth-Century Italy
by Asher Salah

Bernardo Dessau
by Marco Bencich

Practices of Cultural Nationalism. Alfonso Pacifici and the Jewish Renaissance in Italy (1910-1916)
by Sara Airoldi

The Italian-Jewish Writer Laura Orvieto (1876-1955) between Intellectual Independence and Social Exclusion
by Ruth Natterman


Derek J. Penslar: Jews and the Military. A History
Contribution by:
Marco Mondini
Contribution by:
Marcella Simoni


Jan Županič: The Jewish Nobility of the Danubian Monarchy. Between the Star of David and the Cross
by Václav Horčička

David Banker, Dan Michman and Yael Nidam-Orvieto eds.: Pius XII and the Holocaust. Current State of Research
by Liliana Picciotto

Michael A. Livingston: The Fascists and the Jews of Italy. Mussolini’s Race Laws, 1938–1943
by Michele Sarfatti

Guy Porat: Between State and Synagogue The Secularization of Contemporary Israel
by Marcella Simoni

Francesca Bregoli: Mediterranean Enlightenment. Livornese Jews, Tuscan Culture, and Eighteenth-Century Reform
by Ulrich Wyrwa

Laurence Duchaine-Guillon: La vie juive à Berlin après 1945
by Henri Zukier

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