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Original scientific paper

Theologians of Dubrovnik on the Jewish Community in the First Half of the Eighteenth Century

Relja Seferović

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page 139-188

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Under the prompting of archbishop Raymundus Gallani to restrict the circulation of books appearing on the “Index of Forbidden Books”, particularly the works by suspect authors of the French Enlightenment, in the early 1724 the Ragusan authorities ordered a first large-scale confiscation and destruction of the Talmud books, as well as some other Jewish religious writings. By doing so, the civic authorities wanted to indulge the archbishop, but at the same time to avoid the persecution of the advocates of liberal thinking, among whom there may have been patrician heads too. In order to secure the legitimacy of the procedure, the authorities consulted the state theologians. Appointed by the Senate, this institution gathered Church notables of Dubrovnik whose expertise was sought in the state’s dealings with the Church. In this particular case they were asked for expert opinion on whether the proscribed writings were dangerous to the faith and morals of Roman Catholics. Three reports have been preserved, two of which are signed by Ludovicus Moreno and Ignatius Giorgi, whilst the third, most probably by Sebastianus Slade Dolci, remained unsigned. The reports’ contents show a striking resemblance with medieval anti- Semitic controversies, as the writings under deliberation were to be burnt. However, people who read them and from whom they were taken were not punished. This certainly prevented further deterioration in relations with the Jewish community, whose members enjoyed the protection of the state 188 Anali Dubrovnik 44 (2006) theologians, who often stood up against their persecution under false allegations. The fact that both Moreno and Giorgi had already had certain disagreements with the archbishops indicates that they were deliberately chosen by the Government in order to avoid further escalation of the crisis in relations with the Jews. A step further in the understanding of the Jews was made twenty years later by Seraphinus Cerva in his research of the life of the Ragusan Jewish community. Though setting religious topics aside, Cerva did not fail to criticize the rights and freedom the Jews enjoyed. In doing so, not a single case illustrating the good relations between the Christians and Jews was mentioned, to which the archive sources amply testify. Yet, he showed his appreciation for the Jewish past, the Hebrew in particular, a language he deemed as distinguished as Greek and Latin. Cerva’s hostile attitude towards the Jewish position in Dubrovnik might be socially rooted, since his perspective was that of the old patriciate. Determined to protect some adherents of the Enlightenment among the Ragusan nobles from the ecclesiastical criticism in the early eighteenth century, the Government tried to divert the archbishop’s attention by attacking publicly certain Jewish religious texts. The main ideological excuse was provided by the official theologians of the State, in the form of written statements. The latter, however, had no greater impact on the Ragusan Jewish community, particularly because the theologians chose texts and not people as their target.


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