In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Italian Jewish Enlightenment

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • General Overviews
  • Renaissance as “Italian Haskalah”
  • Italian Jewish Scholars and 18th-Century Thought
  • The Jewish Question in the Italian States
  • Jews and Enlightened Absolutism
  • Port Jews, Enlightenment, and Emancipation
  • The “First Emancipation”
  • Enlightenment and Jewish Women

Jewish Studies Italian Jewish Enlightenment
Francesca Bregoli
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0241


Evolving definitions of the “Italian Jewish Enlightenment” are key to surveying scholarly output on this theme and will be reflected in the bibliographic overview presented here, which primarily focuses on Italian lands in the eighteenth century. Some early works identified an “Italian Haskalah” (Jewish Enlightenment) in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, equating this phenomenon with broad processes of Jewish “acculturation” and “modernization.” The Hebrew term “Haskalah,” however, is first and foremost associated with 18th- and 19th-century articulations of the Jewish Enlightenment in Ashkenazi lands; the application of the term to a much earlier Italian reality homogenized it to a Germano-centric model. Shifting away from the Germano-centrism of earlier research, more recent studies have moved beyond such an understanding, turning instead to investigating the ways in which Italian Jews engaged with and were affected by 18th-century Enlightenment thought and practices. These studies have redirected attention specifically to trends occurring at the same time as the European Enlightenment movements were developing, often steering away from the use of the term “Haskalah” to depict the Italian Jewish Enlightenment. Instead, they have drawn points of comparison and difference between particular Italian Jewish models and understandings of Enlightenment and other European maskilic experiences, thereby striving to differentiate rather than homogenize Jewish Enlightenment developments. Starting in the 1980s, authors have focused on the patchy reception and circulation of the Prussian Haskalah in Italian lands, a research direction that has further evolved to include the impact of enlightened absolutist reforms on Italian Jewish communities. As a result, it is also common in studies devoted to Italian Jews and the Enlightenment to discuss the topic of legal and political emancipation, from the process of civil inclusion taking place in Habsburg lands to the application of French principles of liberty and equality after the arrival of Napoleon’s troops in 1796. A significant number of studies has been devoted to three northern-Italian figures conventionally recognized as protagonists of the Italian Jewish Enlightenment, Benedetto Frizzi, Elia Morpurgo, and the younger Isacco Samuele Reggio. But more recent research has additionally investigated instances of reception of French Enlightenment culture among Italian Jews and manifestations of enlightened thought by Jewish scholars unconnected to the master example of the Berlin Haskalah, thereby reclaiming a native Italian Jewish understanding of the ethos and demands of the Age of Enlightenment. Most studies remain local or regional in scope, reflecting the divided nature of the Italian lands during the Ancien Régime.

Reference Works

While it is not limited to authors and themes of the Italian Jewish Enlightenment, the extensive Salah 2007 is a unique and useful encyclopedic reference on 18th-century Italian Jewish culture.

  • Salah, Asher. La République des Lettres: Rabbins, écrivains et médecins juifs en Italie au XVIIIe siècle. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004156425.i-822

    A substantial biographic and bibliographic dictionary of 18th-century Italian Jewish authors, some of whom embraced Enlightenment aspirations.

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