To my eternal shame I know nothing about Rome's Jewish history. Correction: for most of my half century on the planet I knew nothing of the life of the Chosen People in Italy and most especially in Rome. Now thanks to Mrs Goldman's desire to explore all things Jewish with her very goy husband I can tell you al you ever wanted to know about the Hebrew population's history under the Popes.
You might be surprised to know that generally the popes weren't the least bit sympathetic to the unfortunate unbelievers who lived in their midst and had lived since well before Christ was a glimmer in one of his father's eyes. They created a ghetto in the 16th century to keep the Italian rite Sephardim which is a separate and unique Jewish rite I have discovered today, from the standard Sephardim who were kicked out of Spain and took refuge in Rome.
When the pope was finally dethroned and confined to the Vatican in 1870 the 5,000 Jews confined to an area you can circumnavigate on foot in ten minutes, were free once and for all. This single street housed up to five thousands Jews in the 17th century.
Even though the Ghetto was expanded in the early 19th century to accomodate the increasing size of the place. But not by much.
Today there are 30,000 Jews in Italy and half of them in Rome where they have 17 synagogues to choose among. Their ancestors closeted on the back of the malarial river left behind a huge amount of history and a massive "new" Great Synagogue completed in 1905 and which now marks the site of the old ghetto on the east bank of the Tiber.
The story of the ghetto is the usual one of crowding, poor sanitation, poverty and petty aggravating rules limiting travel and simple human dignity. This doorway was blocked off when the ghetto was expanded to prevent jews and goyim from mixing and jews were not allowed to have christians in their homes. The doorway has remained as a window:
The idea was to show Christians how crappy life was for non believers and how good life was if any Jews chose to convert. I'd have converted had I been around and most likely so would more Jews had the idea of eternal damnation not been used for crowd control.
The ghetto survived the German occupation of 1943-44 with the inevitable deportations and cruelty. Signs on the walls attest to land ownership restrictions and the second class citizenship of the residents through the centuries of oppression. The signs are all still there though mostly forgotten except by the visitors on their guided tours:
It looks to me today as though the modern Jewish Quarter is a relic kept alive for the pleasure of North American visitors.
English is the expected language on the street. Nevertheless I'm glad I went, as my wife helped me fill a serious deficiency in my education. And I'm glad the ghetto is still there.
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