Italian Jews from Emancipation to the Racial Laws

Cristina M. Bettin, Ben Gurion University of the Negev

Following the “Emancipation” of Italian Jews in the late nineteenth century, numerous youth movements, newspapers, and cultural societies attempted to revitalize Italian Judaism and define the “essence” of Jewish identity, sparking a debate about integration and assimilation that continued until the advent of Mussolini’s racial legislation laws in 1938. While many historians perceive the period as one of complete assimilation, Cristina Bettin, author of Italian Jews from Emancipation to the Racial Laws (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), argues that Jews in Italy integrated rather than assimilated. Through research conducted on autobiographical, bibliographical, and archival material, as well as numerous interviews conducted in Italy and Israel, she explains how it is possible to construct new forms of identity without losing original identities. In her presentation, Bettin stresses the interconnectedness of the history of Italian Jews and the history of Italy. She will be joined by historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat of New York University.