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Thursday, February 10, 2011

18th century anti-semitism in Palestine - and Italy

Giovanni Mariti wrote "Travels through Cyprus, Syria, and Palestine; with a general history of the Levant" in the late 18th century, and it was translated into English in 1792.

In the book he describes some everyday anti-semitism in Palestine. for example:
The Jews have also a small synagogue here [in Acre], which they are not permitted to enlarge; as the governor requires that they should be contented with the small portion of ground which he has given them.
But this section, about his entering Jerusalem, was more interesting for its footnote:
One of the interpreters in the service of the convent appeared very much surprised to see me arrive without notice being sent to these good monks by the governor. Having told him in what manner I had entered, he informed me that I must return without the city; because Europeans who came from Jaffa are forbid to pass through any other gate than that of Damascus. The infraction of this law would have exposed the monastery, and perhaps myself, to some disagreeable exaction. This unlucky accident was very distressing to a fatigued traveller; and I silently murmured against the fanaticism of the Mahometans, which delights to torment, by ridiculous customs, those of a different religion from their own. There was, however, no remedy; and I said, why blame the superstitious Mussulmans? They only behave to Catholics in the same manner as the Catholics behave to the Jews. What plausible reason can the Italians have for compelling these children of the Hebrews to wear yellow caps on their heads, which exposes them to the derision of the populace*? We, nevertheless, boast of being enlightened by philosophy.
The footnote:
* They are banished into the filthiest corners of our cities where the avarice of government is continually studying how to plunder them. But it is above all in the dominions of the Pope that they are exposed to the greatest oppression.

They have purchased at a very dear rate, and particularly at Avignon, the right of having synagogues. The nuncios do not blush to make them renew their payments four or five times in a year. When they want money, they cause the synagogues to be opened an hour later: this is sufficient to inform the Jews of their intention. These unhappy proscribed people must then hasten to make a contribution. It may be readily guessed that the nuncio is not visible when they carry it to him: they deposit the offering on one of the tables of his apartment; and if it is judged sufficient, the doors of the synagogue are forthwith, opened.