In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Italian Jewish Literature (Ninth to Nineteenth Century)

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Anthologies
  • Hebrew Books and Typography in Italy

Jewish Studies Italian Jewish Literature (Ninth to Nineteenth Century)
Asher Salah
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0225


Prior to the formation of the Italian national state in the nineteenth century, the term “Italian” applied to the compound “Jewish literature” designates a vast and multifarious corpus of texts produced by Jews living in the geographic area of the Italian peninsula rather than a culturally and politically coherent literary tradition. At the crossroads of the Mediterranean, exposed to different civilizations, Italy has been over the centuries the home for Jews of manifold origins, traditions, and languages, Iberian refugees as well as Ottoman subjects, Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazim as well as North African Judeo-Arabs. However, the continuous presence since Late Antiquity of an ancient Jewish community in Rome and other parts of the peninsula has determined the formation of a local Jewish community characterized by its own distinctive ritual and linguistic features. Its influence has been consistent well beyond the Italian peninsula, carried by the migration of Italian Jews to central and eastern Europe at the turn of the first millennium CE or fostered by the mercantile networks of Jews from port cities such as Venice or Leghorn, in the Levant, and in other regions under the sphere of influence of Italian states. Prompted by the rise of nationalism in Europe and in the spirit of the critical investigations of Jewish past of the Wissenschaft des Judentums, since the nineteenth century, the study of Italian Jewish literature has developed into a full-fledged field of scholarship. Scholars have traditionally depicted Italy as a land where Jews and Christians coexisted in a harmonious cultural symbiosis, focusing on those periods, such as the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, when the exchanges between Jewish and Christian scholars were particularly intense and fruitful. This harmonistic vision has been challenged by recent scholarship uncovering the more complex dynamics of interaction with the Christian majority during the age of the ghettos (sixteenth to eighteenth century) and the involvement of Italian Jews in transnational frames of cultural communication within the Jewish diaspora. In the twenty-first century, the knowledge of Italian Jewish literature has enormously benefited from a growing number of studies devoted to leading authors, to different literary genera, and to specific periods. Also, a wide array of texts made available to the public in valuable and accurate critical editions has attested to the increasing interest in Italian Jewish culture. However, the literary output of the Jews in Italy still waits to be fully integrated in the general narrative of the history of Italian literature, and there is a consistent lack of studies dedicated to the legal and homiletic production of the Jews, which has been neglected in favor of scholarship devoted to their poetry and thought.

General Overviews

Due to the importance and the size of the literary output of the Jews in Italy from the early Middle Ages to the present, there is virtually no history of Jewish and Hebrew literature that overlooks its impact on the writing practices of the Jews throughout the centuries. Countless references to the literary genera cultivated by the Jews in Italy can be found in the monumental works Klausner 1930–1950, Zinberg 1972–1978, and Waxman 1960. The intellectual activity of the Jews in Italy is dealt with in histories of Italian Jews (Roth 1946, Milano 1963). The compendium of post-biblical literature in Cassuto 1938 consistently focuses on Italian authors and works. The only two studies exclusively devoted to the literature of the Jews in Italy over the last millennium are Steinschneider 1901 and Pavoncello 1963. Essays on different aspects of the intellectual history of Italian Jews over two thousand years can be found in Vivanti 1996 and Cooperman and Garvin 2000.

  • Cassuto, Umberto. Storia della letteratura ebraica postbiblica. Florence: Casa Editrice Israel, 1938.

    A still-useful handbook providing succinct information about Jewish authors and their works from the Hellenic-era pseudepigrapha to the neo-Hebraic literature with a special attention to Italy.

  • Cooperman, Bernard D., and Barbara Garvin, eds. The Jews of Italy: Memory and Identity. Bethesda: University Press of Maryland, 2000.

    A comprehensive overview of current research in the general field of Jewish studies in Italy. Its twenty-three essays cover two thousand years of Italian Jewish history and culture, from archeology, Kabbalah, anti-Semitism, language, and literature. Particularly significant in the perspective of the literary history of the Jews in Italy are Part 2, devoted to case studies concerning Rome and Venice, Part 3 on Kabbalah, and Part 4 on the language and culture of the Jews in Italy.

  • Klausner, Josef. Historia Shel Ha-Sifrut Ha-Ivrit He-Hadashah (A History of Modern Hebrew Literature). 6 vols. Jerusalem: Hevrah Le-Hotzaat Sefarim Al Yedei Ha-Universita Ha-Ivrit, 1930–1950.

    It consists of Klausner’s courses at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on modern Hebrew literature. Several chapters of the first (1781–1820) and second (1820–1860) volumes deal with Italian authors. It is an extended version of his concise A History of Modern Hebrew Literature (1785–1930) (London: M. L. Cailingold, 1932). The original text has been revised and to some extent amplified by the author for the purpose of the English version by Herbert Danby from the original Hebrew Toldot Ha-Sifrut Ha-Ivrit He-Hadasha (Jerusalem: n.p., 1920).

  • Milano, Attilio. Storia degli ebrei in Italia. Turin, Italy: Einaudi, 1963.

    A broad history of the Jews in Italy since Roman times. The second part, titled “La vita e gli studi,” traces a profile of the social and cultural history of the Jews, focusing on their languages, their educational institutions, and their literature. Reprinted 1992.

  • Pavoncello, Nello. La letteratura ebraica in Italia. Rome: Tipografia Sabbadini, 1963.

    Divided in twelve chapters devoted to different literary genera, this manual expands upon Cassuto 1938, adding more detailed bio-bibliographic information on Jewish authors writing in Hebrew who lived in Italy from the tenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century.

  • Roth, Cecil. The History of the Jews in Italy. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1946.

    An epitome and a unified narrative of the main historical events in the life of the Jews in Italy from the Roman Empire to the Fascist regime. Written in an engaging style, its erudition is today mainly outdated and biased by the tendency of overstressing the contribution of outstanding Jews to Western civilization and its apologetic stances toward the Italian model of coexistence between Jews and Christians. Reprinted 1969 (Farnborough, UK: Gregg International).

  • Steinschneider, Moritz. Die italienische Literatur der Juden. Frankfurt: Kauffmann Verlag, 1901.

    An extensive reelaboration of a series of articles published in installments as “Die Italienische Literatur der Juden,” in Monatschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums, 44 (1899); 45 (1900). It constitutes the most mature result of the prominent German bibliographer’s efforts underscoring the contribution of the Jews to universal culture and their literary proficiency in non-Jewish languages such as Italian and Judeo-Italian.

  • Vivanti, Corrado, ed. Storia d’Italia: Annali 11; Gli ebrei in Italia. 2 vols. Turin, Italy: Einaudi, 1996.

    The first volume deals with the history of the Jews in Italy from the early Middle Ages to the age of the ghettos, while the second focuses on the Emancipation to nowadays with many essays on the philosophical trends, the linguistic habits, the cultural interactions between Jews and Christians, the daily life, the political and juridical institutions, and the economic situation of the Jews in Italy.

  • Waxman, Meyer. A History of Jewish Literature. 5 vols. New York: T. Yoseloff, 1960.

    First edition published in 1930 under the title A History of Jewish Literature from the Close of the Bible to Our Own Days. It includes a rich bibliography and indexes. Volume 2 devotes much space to the contribution of Italian Jews to grammar and lexicography, bible exegesis, poetry, rabbinics, philosophy, science, Kabbalah, polemics, and travel literature, while Volume 3 examines some Italian writers engaged in the Haskalah and neo-Hebraic literature since the late eighteenth century.

  • Zinberg, Israel. A History of Jewish Literature. 12 vols. Cleveland, OH: Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1972–1978.

    References to the literature of the Jews in Italy are scattered throughout all the twelve volumes. Of particular interest for the scholar of Italian Jewish literature, the second (1972)—with several chapters devoted to medieval Italian scholars and poets—the fourth (1974), focusing on Italian Jewish authors during the Renaissance, and the tenth (1977) with a chapter on Samuel David Luzzatto and his generation. Translated [from the Yiddish] and edited by Bernard Martin.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.