This is a Vatican publication from 1758 which includes a list of Jewish books banned by Pope Benedict XIV. On the cover page of the list of forbidden books is an illustration of people standing by a bonfire of burning books. The people’s facial expressions are calm and matter of fact. Based on their clothing and posture, they appear to be dignified members of the upper class. Kneeling near the fire is a man with a frown on his face holding a book. Above the illustration is a curtain with two angels holding the crown of the pope and the Vatican. Below the illustration is a quote in Latin from the New Testament, Acts 19:19 : “A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly.” The list details books banned by the Catholic Church in order to protect the moral values and beliefs of their followers. The list of books was updated over the years and new books later added. Following the publication of the lists, many books were burned – a practice that was copied by the Nazis in the twentieth century.
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Pope Benedict XIV – Pope Benedict XIV served as the pope of the Catholic Church from August 17, 1740 to his death in 1758. He promoted scientific learning and the baroque arts, reduced taxation in the Papal States, and encouraged agriculture and free trade. Many of his decrees, however, were damaging to the Jewish community. He strongly believed in the importance of converting Jews to Christianity, and in 1747 he published a ruling stating that children over the age of seven could be converted without their parents’ consent. He also reinstated the law that Jews could not sleep, for even one night, outside of the ghetto and passed severe laws against Jewish books, banning a list of books in 1748 and ordering their confiscation. Yet, at the same time, Pope Benedict defended the Jews during persecutions in Poland and directed the church leadership to protect the Jews in their communities.
The Jews of Italy - The Italian Jewish community has ancient roots that can be traced back to the Roman era in the second century BCE. In ancient Rome the community was highly organized with several synagogues. With the introduction of Christianity to Italy the situation of Italian Jews generally declined, and anti-Jewish laws were passed. Similar to other European countries, the Middle Ages brought persecution and expulsions. However, this was also a flourishing period for Bible commentary, Talmud, Hebrew grammar, and halacha (Jewish law). Jews were also known as skilled medical practitioners, some serving as physicians to the kings, nobles, and clergy. The fifteenth century was a time of migration: many Spanish Jews arrived in Italy following the Spanish expulsion of 1492, and a few years later, more arrived from France. In the sixteenth century, when many Italian areas fell under Spanish rule, Jews fled the inquisition and moved to southern Italy and other European countries. This was also the period when the first Jewish ghetto was established in Venice and other prohibitions were issued against the Jews including a yellow badge, ghettos in additional cities, forced labour, and expulsions. This continued into the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Influenced by liberal thought, French rule in Italy, and the decline of the Papal influence, the Jews slowly gained emancipation during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By 1910, a Jew was prime minister of Italy, one of the first in the world. Another Jew served as mayor of Rome from 1907 to 1913, and Jews also served as senators. Italian Jews fought in World War I, half of them as officers. The 1930s brought Mussolini, fascism, and, ultimately, anti-Semitism to Italy, influenced by Nazism and the racial ideologies of the time. Despite the fascist regime’s alliance with Germany, the Italians did not initially cooperate with the deportation of Jews to the camps. The deportation of Italian Jews only began in September 1943, when the Allies captured southern Italy. While many Jews were saved by local Italians and the Church, approximately 7,500 Jews were murdered. The Jewish community has declined since World War II due to immigration to Israel and other countries, assimilation, and low birth rates. It is estimated that 45,000 Jews live in Italy today.