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"There is a widespread belief that Italian Jews in the modern period 'assimilated,' meaning that they merged with the gentile society to such an extent that they abandoned their Jewish identity. This belief is based on the fact that modern Italian Jews became less observant. From the nineteenth century onwards, Italian Jews attended synagogue less frequently, observed kashrut less stringently, and married Christians in growing numbers. Most scholars have concluded from these trends that Italian Jewish identity disintegrated. This article argues to the contrary. Using a wide array of sources, including Italian Jewish community archives, newspapers, memoirs, and oral histories, it shows that the Jews of modern Italy maintained their distinctiveness from non-Jews and invented entirely new forms of Jewish culture. From the late nineteenth century until World War II, the Italian Jewish communal system consolidated and centralized. Jewish leaders harnessed state laws to strengthen their communities, and established national organizations where none had stood before. A growing Jewish newspaper industry fostered the sense of belonging to a Jewish collective. Women and girls participated in Jewish public life more than in the pre-modern period. Religious practice developed in dynamic ways as Italian Jews, like their German and French brethren, introduced reforms. Jewishness found expression in daily life through domestic religious practices, life-cycle events, and culinary customs. In all these ways, Italian Jews forged a modern Jewish identity."


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Modern Judaism - A Journal of Jewish Ideas and Experience following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version

Klein, Shira. “Challenging the Myth of Italian Jewish Assimilation.” Modern Judaism - A Journal of Jewish Ideas and Experience 37, no.1 (2017): 76–107. doi:10.1093/mj/kjw022.

is available online at DOI: 10.1093/mj/kjw022

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