Italian Jews


Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


The Jews of Italy

The Italian Jewish Community numbers only 30,000 people. Yet, it is the oldest Jewish community in Europe because it has existed since some Jews moved to Rome as early as 70 CE, the year in which the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. At that time, and sooner, some Jews had already moved to Greece and used the Greek, rather than the Hebrew language. It was then that our Beth Hatefilah was renamed “synagogue,” a Greek word meaning assembled together.” Syn or sym, together, is also used in symphony, or to sound together, sympathy, to feel together, or syndicate, etc.

In 135 CE, the rebellion against the Roman occupation of Israel failed and its leader, Bar Kochba, died. Then large numbers of Jews moved into Rome, as the Emperor Hadrian decreed that no Jews were allowed to live in the Holy Land and that its name would  thereafter be changed to the Latin word PALESTINA, meaning the land of the Philistines. The Philistines no longer existed in 135. The Arabs who today call themselves Philistines or Palestinians know that they are not Philistines.

When the Jews first moved to Rome, some had joined a new religion which the Romans viewed as a Jewish sect known as Christianity.  The Jews who lived in the Roman Empire were not persecuted but were in fact appointed as officers in the Roman army. All that changed when, in 303 CE, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire.  Nevertheless, Jews continued to live in Rome for centuries, including 1922, when Benito Mussolini, a newspaper editor, founded the Fascist Party. The word “fascist” means bundle and is depicted as  a bundle of sticks held together by a leather strap. That symbol refers to unity and was used by Mussolini as the icon of the Fascist Party. After Mussolini overthrew the Italian government by marching on Rome, a number of Jews joined the Fascist Party. There was no discrimination in the program of the fascists. Mussolini did nothing detrimental to the Italian Jews until, in 1938, he became associated with Hitler, who demanded that all Italian Jews be exterminated.  Mussolini agreed to this request and therefore sent Italian Jews into the German gas ovens.

Today the small Jewish community in Rome has been visited by the pope on several occasions. Unlike Germany, Italy never persecuted the Jewish community, because religious hate is foreign to Italians. The evidence therefore is that it did not take Hitler to infest the German people with murderous anti-Judaism, but that Hitler’s hate of all Jews was a common attitude of the German people who applauded Hitler as he ordered the killing of all Jews living in any country occupied by German armies during the Second World War. No, Hitler did not induce the Germans to murder Jews. On the contrary, the German people have persecuted Jews for 1,600 years, so that Hitler’s Jew hatred was merely the expression of hate which had seized the Germans for centuries  before Hitler was born.  

Shalom u'vracha.

  Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including The American Jewish Community in the 20th and 21st Century (2021).

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