The Jewish Community in Ferrara

Written by  Gherardo Ortalli

A prestigious book on a great cultural tradition.

We should make special note of publication of the book by Adriano Franceschini on the Presenza ebraica a Ferrara [“Jewish community in Ferrara”] which gathers together an extraordinary set of documentary evidence comprising 1300 accounts between the II century and 1492 when a group of Jewish families came to Ferrara from Spain upon the invitation of Ercole I d’Este following the Gerush, the deportation decreed in March of that year. This is an important book that will definitely serve as a reference point for both scholars of Ferrara history and Judaism, and anyone else interested in the XIII-XV centuries. In addition, since it is a collection of source material it will not date, as can happen with other great historical studies. In order to evaluate both the type of work and the commitment involved, we will just point out that Adriano Franceschini decided to start gathering accounts of the Jewish experience in Ferrara as far back as the nineteen eighties (when preparation for the Ferrara exhibition I Tal Ya’: isola della rugiada divina [I Tal Ya’: the coastline of God’s dew] was underway, devoted to two thousand years of Jewish art and life in Italy).

Among the well-known and anonymous characters populating the 500 pages of the book, the weddings, the purchases and sales, the trials, the donations, the arguments and agreements, you can meet the aristocracy of the town and the lords and ladies of the house of Este as well as individuals who don’t even have a surname. There are illustrious characters in it such as ser Mele da Roma, who donated a great building in Via Sabbioni and a set of ceremonial objects to house a synagogue in 1485, along with a considerable set of assets. This was a significant moment in the history of the Jewish community in Ferrara. There is also reference to the strong connection that Ferrara had with Italian Judaism in all its facets through the members of the community.

The lay-out of the document, that combines full transcriptions with summaries and records, means that it is accessible even to non-experts, or those who just wish to find out more about specific incidents that happened in the Ferrara of the past. On the other hand, scholars and professional researchers will find everything they need in the full edition with the most significant documents, along with the references to facilitate further research.

The best way to close this report on the work of Adriano Franceschini is probably to note another type of initiative, but one which is actually closely related: the opening of the National Museum of Italian Judaism and the Shoah in Ferrara.