Sunday, January 03, 2010
Italia Judaica: Fresh Opportunities
Over the next three days, Tel Aviv and Bar Ilan Universities will celebrate fifty years of the Italia Judaica Project. The program looks very interesting, and I am looking forward to meeting colleagues who I know only by name. Participating in this conference has special meaning for me, as well. It marks, together with the incredibly wonderful time I had teaching at Revel last Summer, my return to intensive involvement in Italian Jewish History.
When I started my doctorate, there was a fundamental imbalance in Italo-Jewish studies (as in Jewish Studies, generally). Tremendous energies had been invested in political and economic history and in the study of philosophy, mysticism, dance, music, inter-faith-relations, poetry, hunting, art and historiography. Practically no effort was invested in studying the texture of Jewish religious life (except to show that Italian Jews were more open-minded and less religious than Ashkenazim. Of course, we know where that line of thought led.) A fortiori, little (if any) attention was focused on Halakhah (or real rabbinic literature).
At the time, there were signs that this situation would be ameliorated. Reuven Bonfil had just published his path-breaking study, Rabbis and Jewish Communities in Renaissance Italy
(which was preceded and followed by a series of equally important contributions to this aspect of Renaissance Italian Jewish life). For the first time, a first-rate historian had respectfully presented the bulwark of Jewish Life and Survival: Jewish Law and Observance. At the same time, Ya'aqov Boksenboim was busy publishing important collections of rabbinic responsa from manuscripts (here, here, and here). It looked like the aforenoted imbalance might be rectified. It was partly for that reason that I undertook my own work on Mahariq.
Looking over the program for this week's conference, I am sad to see that my optimism was misplaced. Of all the speakers, I am the only one to devote himself to a rabbinic figure (R. Azriel Diena). This is not only a distortion, it's also a tragedy. The Kaufman manuscript collection in Budapest, one of the most important collections of Italian Halakhah, is disintegrating as I write this, and no one thinks it's important to publish and analyze that material (except, evidently, me). עת לעשות לה (as it were). That's the message that I hope to convey on Tuesday.