Mediterranean Enlightenment: Livornese Jews, Tuscan Culture, and Eighteenth-Century Reform

Mediterranean Enlightenment: Livornese Jews, Tuscan Culture, and Eighteenth-Century Reform

Mediterranean Enlightenment: Livornese Jews, Tuscan Culture, and Eighteenth-Century Reform

Mediterranean Enlightenment: Livornese Jews, Tuscan Culture, and Eighteenth-Century Reform

Synopsis

The Mediterranean port of Livorno was home to one of the most prominent and privileged Jewish enclaves of early modern Europe. Focusing on Livornese Jewry, this book offers an alternative perspective on Jewish acculturation during the eighteenth century, and reassesses common assumptions about the interactions of Jews with outside culture and the impact of state reforms on the corporate Jewish community. Working from a vast array of previously untapped archival and literary sources, Francesca Bregoli combines cultural analysis with a study of institutional developments to investigate Jewish responses to Enlightenment thought and politics, as well as non-Jewish perceptions of Jews, through an exploration of Jewish-Christian cultural exchange, sites of sociability, and reformist policies. Mediterranean Enlightenment shows that Livornese Jewish scholars engaged with Enlightenment ideals and aspired to contribute to society at large without weakening the boundaries of traditional Jewish life. By arguing that the privileged status of Livorno Jewry had conservative rather than liberalizing effects, it also challenges the notion that economic utility facilitates Jewish integration, nuancing received wisdom about processes of emancipation in Europe.

Excerpt

The Enlightenment was a project of sober, pragmatic optimism. Nurtured by critical rationalism, individual thinkers and pioneering rulers embraced the idea that progress was possible, through reason and education, and that humankind could move away from ignorance and injustice and toward a happier, wiser society. For many Jews, the eighteenth century held out a prospect of greater toleration. As the Jewish condition was increasingly debated within and without Jewish circles, reformers considered how to better the lives of Jews. They called for the removal of oppressive restrictions and prescribed greater Jewish engagement with the surrounding culture. But Enlightenment ideals and reforms were not applied or taken up in the same ways for all western European Jews. This is a book about how one privileged Jewish community embraced, resisted, and adapted to the Enlightenment in an optimistic age of reform.

The relationship between Jews and Enlightenment thought and the impact of enlightened absolutism on the corporate Jewish community of ancien régime societies are well-known themes in the study of Jewish history. By focusing on the Jews of Livorno in Tuscany, an Italian state known for its far-reaching reforms inspired by Enlightenment principles, I offer a new view on the engagement of Jews with outside culture and the interplay of the Jewish community with the reforming eighteenthcentury state. I scrutinize dynamics of participation, practices of distinction, and aspirations of inclusion that complicate familiar narratives about processes of transformation affecting European Jewries toward the end of the early modern period.

A profound interest in the strategies of acculturation and differentiation adopted by ethnic minorities led me to Livorno. the city is a com-

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