- Mediterranean Enlightenment: Livornese Jews, Tuscan Culture, and Eighteenth-Century Reform by Francesca Bregoli
In Mediterranean Enlightenment, Francesca Bregoli examines the impact of state policy and Enlightenment thought on the Jews of Livorno and their communal administration in the eighteenth century. Studying the Enlightenment both as an intellectual project of a Republic of Letters and a political program of state administrators can be vexing: each belongs to a different set of historical actors whose unity sometimes comes only from their contemporaneity. This problem is attenuated further when treating both what others say about Jews and how Jews themselves behaved. Bregoli addresses this challenge by following the lead of Franco Venturi, the mid-twentieth-century scholar who characterized the Italian Enlightenment as marked by “a will to reform.” Bregoli extends the concept of reform to the domains of both intellectual and political life, thereby treating disparate elements of Jewish political, intellectual, and cultural life. Such an approach enables a multifaceted view of Livornese Jewry; each chapter in the book treats a different sector of Livornese Jewish society and examines the way individuals and institutions engaged with, accommodated themselves to, and even rejected the Tuscan spirit of reform.
The book moves from intellectual ideals to political realities, beginning with Jewish students of Enlightenment thought in non-Jewish contexts, then exploring the behavior of those students in a Jewish milieu, and finally, turning to the institutions that governed Jewish social life in the everyday. Bregoli shows that Jews participated in Italian intellectual life, albeit in a way markedly different from their Jewish counterparts in either the German public sphere or the earlier Italian Renaissance. Men like Joseph Attias and his peers Angelo de Soria, Joseph Vita Castelli, and Graziadio Bondi did not clamor for an integrated curriculum for Jews consisting of Jewish and secular studies like the men of the German Haskalah. Rather, late-eighteenth century Jewish intellectuals eschewed the harmonizing tendencies of the “Italian Jewish rabbi-doctor” of the Renaissance, and adopted a stance of careful “compartmentalization,” in which they downplayed their Judaism when operating in the wider (non-Jewish) Republic of Letters. In Bregoli’s reading, the Jewish doctors of the Livornese Enlightenment partitioned off their Jewishness when engaging in “gentile” branches of knowledge. This manifested both in terms of the methods of study, including studying “Hebraic culture from a critical [End Page 193] perspective that echoed the studies of contemporary Christian orientalists,” (69–70) as well as their cultivation of scholarly personas according to models that highlighted their participation in the reformist energies of the Tuscan state (101–103).
Bregoli then explores varying configurations of state involvement in Jewish activity through studies of Jewish confraternities, coffee houses, the publishing industry, and ultimately the “Jewish question” in electoral politics. She argues that the compartmental approach of Jews to reform can also been discerned in the relative stasis of the structures of Jewish communal life. This posture was nurtured by Tuscan “communitarian cosmopolitanism” that relied upon separation between corporate groups in the city, rather than the dissolution of corporatism in the face of an equalizing absolutist state. Thus coffee houses and other spaces of leisure had a “national” inflection and purpose, rather than the all-embracing model proffered by the Habermasian vision of a public sphere. In Livorno, confraternities that tended to the poor and infirm maintained their structures without registering the impact of Tuscan reformism. On the other hand, as the century proceeded, the state began to turn its energies toward the dismantling of economic protectionism, which made itself strongly felt in the business of Jewish book-printing—an industry of economic significance, and therefore worthy of the involved attention of the state. Jewish entrepreneurs invited the intervention of the state in the face of Jewish communal oversight and regulation—a tension that reveals the competition between communal ideals and individual realities. This tension between individuals and the leadership of the community further challenges a neat notion of separatism, and adds complexity to the narrative.
Given such a broad range in its treatment of...