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The Israelites in the Papal States

This article appeared originally in the Israelitish Annals of Dr. Jost.

Under the pontificate of Pope Pius VII, the Israelites were treated in the States of the Church as in all other civilized countries. This pope was full of humanity and did not change any of the ordinances that had been made during the time of the kingdom of Italy. He applied himself to maintain the laws, such as Napoleon had enacted them. Happy and free, the Israelites were almost the equals of their fellow-citizens, under the wise and paternal reign of this pope; when at the end of ten years his death, which happened in 1825, carried desolation among his subjects. They experienced a great change on the accession of Leo XII.; he abolished the existing laws and replaced them by those that had been in force in the states of the Church before the French invasion; he re-established the Inquisition, and restored the old bulls to their former vigour. 

The Israelites particularly felt the weight of this oppression. They were forbidden to have houses of their own, and those that owned them were obliged to sell them to Christians. Particular streets were assigned to them. These streets are generally crooked, dirty, and neglected, and compose, what is called, the Ghetto. This quarter, moreover, is encumbered by a growing population, and the Jews not being able to extend themselves beyond these limits in any manner, are obliged always to content themselves in this narrow space, even to the prejudice of the public health. To deprive the ghetto of al communication with the other streets, it has been furnished with a great many gates, which are shut every evening after sunset. But the principal gate has a small wicket, which is left open until eight o'clock at night. A porter, imposed on the Israelites, and paid by the Israelites, shuts it also at this hour, and they are abandoned to themselves in their civil prison. If during the night an important affair calls one of them to another quarter of the town, he cannot have the door opened but by gaining the favour of the porter.

No Christian servant can pass the night under the roof of an Israelite; and even on Friday evening, at the hour of closing the gates, Christians cannot remain longer in the ghetto; any infraction of this rule is rigorously punished, although the judges know very well that the Israelites are forbidden to touch fire on Saturday.

The serving-man or woman who is found in the ghetto on Friday evening or Saturday, undergoes a long and painful imprisonment, and the Israelite at whose house the guilty one is surprised has to pay a fine of 300 scudi, about 1600 francs, which is extorted from the poor as well as the rich.

An Israelite cannot in accordance with these edicts, travel from one place to the other without being furnished, not only with a lawful passport, but with a printed card which is given him by the Inquisition, without subjecting himself to punishment. The traveller at each place where he stops, must have this sheet examined at once by the inquisitor and to repair immediately to the ghetto of the place. On his return, he must present himself in person before the inquisitor and return him his passport. The violator of this rule is invariably condemned to a fine of 300 scudi, and if he cannot pay this, to six months' imprisonment.

An Israelite cannot work nor carry on any retail trade out of the ghetto. An Israelite cannot be a soldier. Three days before Easter, or rather on Holy Wednesday at ten o'clock in the morning the Inquisition warns the Israelites to retire into their ghetto, all the gates of which are then shut. No one can go out until the following Saturday when the clock strikes twelve, announcing to them the conclusion of an imprisonment of three days. Every Israelite who is surprised during this interval outside of the ghetto is immediately arrested and dragged to prison. The tribunal of the Inquisition alone is judge in such a case, and it is rare that the delinquent knows the cause of his arrest, the sentence of his condemnation only reveals to him his crime. The decree once pronounced, no appeal is admitted, and the condemned who seeks to defend himself only renders his case worse.

At Rome, under the same pontiff, the Inquisition restored to its vigour the ordinance that obliged a certain number of Israelites, about two hundred men and one hundred women, to repair on Saturday to the Bocca della Verita, near the ghetto, to listen to a Dominican priest specially attached to that church. This preacher reviles the religion of the Jewish people, accuses their prophets of falsehoods, and exalts the Christian religion as the only one that can give salvation; he admonishes them to break through the veil of darkness; his voice, he says, is that of God, he is sent to them from heaven to give them light, and to save their souls, &c. Before the Israelites of both sexes repair to the designated church, the images of the saints are covered with crape, and when the sermon is concluded the church is filled with incense to destroy the reputed profanation caused by their presence. For every Israelite that is absent at the fixed hour, the community pays 30 baïoques, or 5 francs 36 centimes, to the Inquisition.

At Rome the Israelites have to bear considerable charges; they pay, for example, 500 scudi yearly to the senate, and 1000 to the catechumens. all the abuses of olden times have been re-established. Among others, the Israelites are obliged every year, the first day of the Carnival, to send to the Holy Father a deputation to ask him formally for permission to remain another year in the country. Thus the decretals of Leo XII have given to the social condition of the Israelites a retrograde movement; and we must not expect, that for some time, they will occupy a better position in the States of the Church, although a less bigoted spirit has been displayed under the following pontiff.

The actual pope, Gregory XVI, received the tiara the 2nd of February, 1831. The same day the installation of the new pontiff gave rise to troubles in the states of the Church. The interference of the Austrian troops soon put down the tumult and restored peace. The Christian population had every where taken away the gates of the existing ghettos, annulled the edicts and rules concerning the Israelites, and proclaimed civil liberty; but all this was too intimately connected with an ephemeral revolt to last a long time. The pope, supported by Austria and afterwards by France, soon had the reins of the state strengthened in hi hands, and he immediately restored to their vigour not only the political statutes, but the old ordinances concerning the Israelites. But let us acknowledge the mildness of the pope in the application of these ordinances. In reality the gates of the ghettos have not been re-established, and the Israelites are subjected to a more humane administration; yet they depend very much on the local inquisitor, for he has full power over those placed under his control, and can make them feel more or less the weight of oppression. As to the rule which obliges travellers to furnish themselves with a second passport, it is executed daily with the greatest rigour. There exists also a yet more deplorable custom, which can be traced back to olden times. If a servant or a Christian nurse declares to have baptized with her own hand an Israelitish child, the Inquisition tears it immediately from its parents, and gives it to the Church, no reclamation being allowed; even an inventory of the fortune of the parents is made to secure to the infant its patrimony. It is easy to see to what heart-burnings and to what cruel vexations families are exposed by such a custom; the natural goodness, and the benevolence generally found among the inhabitants of the Roman states, can alone dissipate the terrors that such an ordinance would necessarily have inspired if even it had been but seldom enforced. The sentiments of humanity that are daily becoming more and more universal, are the only consolations of these unfortunate communities, who have become accustomed to their fate. But they have received some amelioration in their condition in the course of the year 1839.

We will add a few more words on the condition of the principal communities in the States of the Church. The community of Ancona suffered very much from the re-establishment of the ancient decretals. Before the publication of the edict of Leo XII the rich families retired to the territory of Austria or Tuscany. The community was thus impoverished and its revenues fell off considerable every year, while the taxes were continually augmented. The community actually numbers about one thousand individuals, of which eight hundred are at their charge, and one hundred more are obliged to have assistance to support a miserable existence. Some good commercial houses are found there which have an extensive correspondence with foreign countries; some other Israelites carry on retail business, or live from brokerage without being in every case authorized by government; others are bookbinders.

Seven deputies are at the head of the administration, three among them are charges with the chief concerns of the community. Every three years there is a new election. The members of the community pay a tax according to their means, and those engaged in business according to the importance and the revenues of their commerce. The tax in general amounts to a considerable sum, as they are subject to numerous exactions, frequently useless and illegal. Thus, for example, the Israelite that is baptized receives from the government 20 scudi, which the community is obliged to pay. Is it to be believed that there are some miserable beings, who, to extort large sums, threaten to be baptized? As to the administration, it is altogether without control; it never renders any accounts, and disposes at will of the receipts. About once every year, a person sent from Jerusalem goes begging for the poor of the Holy Land, and according to the effect produced by his eloquence or by his person, he receives generally 300 or 400 scudi, which are raised among all the members of the community. They can marry without any obstacle; even if immediately after the wedding the married pair should be in want of assistance. the community have a Reader very badly paid, a Grand Rabbi and two under Rabbis, who receive salaries equally inconsiderable. There are no public schools, nor houses for education. The young Israelites receive at most private lessons, which are generally given by the ladies; thus the moral of youth is completely neglected. The rich only can give their children a more liberal education.

Some masters are found who possess higher talents; and one in particular who is distinguished in commercial branches, who was sometimes called on to give lessons to young Christians. But some time ago the inquisitor was informed of it, he summoned the professor before his tribunal, and forbade him, under a fine of 300 scudi, or an imprisonment that should be equivalent, to give lessons to Christians in future. From this time the master was obliged to renounce his lessons. 

There are no hospitals, but only a committee who assist unfortunate persons in their last moments. The burying-ground is in the neighbouring town, which belongs to it, and has no wall to inclose it. To bury a dead person, permission is obliged to be obtained from the police, who never refuse it.

The community has three different Synagogues, called scuole, or schools. The Synagogues of the German and Italian forms are found in the same house as every where else in Italy; the latter occupies the lower story. That of the Spanish Jews is outside of the ghetto, near a church. Some years ago the clergy complained at the court of Rome of such a neighbourhoods; but the complaint was dismissed, because the Synagogue was of an older date than the church. The Synagogues are much frequented, but the devotion is purely exterior. On Sabbaths and the feast-days the stores are shut, and in general all public affairs are interdicted. The deputies, supported by the inquisitors, exact rigorously the observance of this law. Yet, notwithstanding, a great many dispense with it, less from a spirit of conviction, but because they find it inconvenient. The ghetto of Ancona is one of the worst conducted of all the ghettos in the Roman States.

The state of the community of Sinigaglia, which is composed of about six hundred members, and that of the communities of Pesaro and Ferrera, is much better in every respect.