A Preliminary Study of the History of Sephardic Theatre in Italy

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Ilaria Briata Universität Hamburg Hamburg Germany

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This article presents the results of a preliminary inquiry into the theatrical activity of Sephardic Jews in Italy from 1492 to the 18th century. Through archival investigation conducted on catalogues of manuscripts and published books from Italian libraries, as well as on documents produced by Sephardic communities, the study focuses on three case studies: the communities in Venice, Naples, and Tuscany. Concerning the Venetian community, literary witnesses to the dramatic activity in the Ghetto are collected and analyzed, including Ester by Salomon Usque and Leon Modena. Concerning the Neapolitan community, the reasons for the absence of Sephardic cultural traces are clarified. The only extant Judeo-Spanish plays produced in Italy come from Pisa and Livorno, testifying to the prolific activity of Iberian Jews in Tuscany. Finally, a list of Hebrew dramatic works written by Italian authors of Sephardic origin is provided in order to reflect on the very categories of ‘Sephardic’ and ‘Italian.’


The investigation outlined in the present paper is the result of a one-year collaboration with E.S.THE.R. (Enquiry on Sephardic Theatrical Representation) project at the University of Verona, Italy. The E.S.THE.R. project aims at tracing and mapping the traces of dramatic activity – either in form of texts or other historically relevant documentation – undertaken by the Sephardic communities dwelling in Italy since the expulsion of 1492. Dramatic literature produced in Spanish or Judeo-Spanish by authors of Sephardic origin are well documented and thoroughly studied when it comes to Sephardic communities in the Ottoman Empire and the Netherlands. However, no systematic research has been conducted concerning Sephardic theatrical production in Italy, which has been one of the diasporic destinations after the expulsion decree. Consequently, the E.S.THE.R. project attempts to address the following questions: considering the data concerning Sephardic settlements in Continental Europe and the Mediterranean, what should we expect from the Sephardic diaspora’s Italian counterpart? What texts and evidence have been preserved and which fields, on the contrary, are deafeningly silent?

In order to explore deeper these issues, the article will provide a concise account on the state of current and extant studies on Sephardic theatre. Subsequently, the main contribution will describe three case studies – Venice, Naples, and Tuscany – delineating the different geographical situation of Sephardic communities in Italy as suggested by their engagement in theatre as medium of cultural expression. Finally, these preliminary and provisional results of a larger enquiry will be integrated with an excursus on dramatic works written in Hebrew by authors whose origin can be defined as Sephardic, so that it will be possible to reflect on – and possibly question or challenge – the very categories through which our analysis has been conducted.

Regarding the methodological issues, this paper is the result of an archival investigation conducted on catalogues of manuscripts and published books from Italian libraries, as well as on documents produced by or regarding Sephardic communities in Italy, such as inquisitorial and civil procedural files. Relevant information from this examination is characterized by its pertinence to Sephardic culture, such as the use of Spanish or the Judeo-Spanish language and the Sephardic origin of playwrights, actors, or audience.2 The chronological range covers as wide a period as possible, theoretically scoping from the date of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, 1492, to nowadays. However, the most significant data are limited to the 16th to 18th centuries.

Jewish Theatre and the Theatre of Sephardic Jews

The birth of Jewish theatre traditionally dates back to the oeuvre of Judah ben Isaac Somi Mishaʿar Aryeh, better known as Leone de’ Sommi Portaleone (c. 1525–1590), a member of the Mantuan Jewish community who wrote and organized theatrical representations at Gonzaga’s court. Besides compiling one of the fundamental works for the history of modern theatre, Quattro dialoghi in materia di rappresentazioni sceniche (Four Dialogues on Scenic Representations), Leone de’ Sommi authored the first known Hebrew dramatic text, Tzahut bedihuta de-qiddushin, that is, The Comedy of Betrothal (1550).3 From the 16th century onward, Jewish dramatic activity in Italy was flourishing and well documented, ranging from representations for celebrations and festivities, such as marriages or Purim, to religious dramas performed in rabbinic schools.4

At this point, a clarification is necessary. When we speak of Italian Judaism – or, better to say, of Jews in Italy – we do not refer to a uniform and monolithic socio-cultural reality. On the contrary, one should assume a profound interior differentiation. Such distinctness is due not only to the geographical and political fragmentation of the Italian peninsula in the modern age, but also to the demographic factor of migration. The circulation and settlement of Jews from Central Europe, Spain and Portugal, and the Near East in Italian communities produced a particular cultural amalgam.5

Among these elements of cultural diversity, the present inquiry focuses on Jews exiled from Spain and Portugal. In light of the golden age that drama experienced in Spain during the 16th and 17th centuries, what contribution did the Jews who were expelled in 1492 make to theatrical activity during their diaspora? There have been in-depth investigations of Sephardic theatre with reference to the communities based in the Balkans, Greece, Turkey and the Netherlands. A monumental study compiled by Elena Romero entitled El teatro de los sefardíes orientales includes a detailed list of the Ladino theatrical representations staged in the territories of the Ottoman Empire.6 The catalogue enumerates both original pieces and works translated from the major European languages and ranges from operettas to school plays. The first documented play dates back to the middle of the 18th century, while the most recent works were performed at the beginning of the 20th century. The evidence is deduced from published texts as well as from chronicles and critiques appearing in reviews circulating in the communities. As far as the Sephardic community of Amsterdam is concerned, the topic of dramatic activity has been investigated by Harm den Boer.7 In this case, interest in Hispano-phone drama goes back to the beginning of the 17th century, when the Sephardic community became more and more consolidated in the city. The prominent playwrights of this period were Reuel Jesurun and the converso author Miguel de Barrios.8

The situation of theatrical contributions made by Sephardic communities in Italy will be sketched in the following sections through the presentation of three case studies – Venice, Naples, and Tuscany. As it will become clear, extant dramatic texts in Judeo-Spanish are ascribed only to Pisa and Livorno. However, the silence coming from other areas – especially Naples – is nevertheless telling, as it reveals the internal variety of cultural manifestations among Sephardic groups settled in different Italian territories.


During the early modern age, the Venetian Università degli Ebrei was one of the most culturally active Jewish communities in Italy.9 The most famous record of theatrical activity inside the Venetian Ghetto, established in 1516, is constituted by an entry from the Diarii of Marin Sanudo. On April 3, 1531, Sanudo writes: ‘This evening, in the Ghetto, the Jews staged a beautiful comedy, where no Christians from the order of “cai di X” were allowed. It started at 8 in the evening.’10 Another reference to this sort of performative activity, possibly hinting at the very ‘establishment (qeviʿut) of a theatre in the holy campo of the Jews,’ is found in a teshuvah, or legal responsum, by the Veronese rabbi Samuel Aboab (1610–1694).11 The original question, posed by Azaryah Figo, a Venetian of Sephardic origin, deals with the lawfulness of hosting batei tartaiot u-vatei qirqasim, ‘theatres and circuses,’ as in the Talmudic hendiadys denoting profane performances, inside the Ghetto. In his harshly negative response, Aboab seems to ironically insinuate that Figo himself could not judge the matter ‘because his noble son-in-law’s hands were tangled with this affair.’12

However, Aboab’s hostile opinion on theatrical activity is neither determinative nor representative of the actual reality: the most distinguished Jewish playwrights were in fact rabbis themselves. This is the case of the prolific Venetian writer and rabbi Judah Aryeh mi-Modena, better known as Leon Modena (1571–1648). Modena authored Ester, the only surviving Italian drama that was performed in the Ghetto.13 Ester is not an original work, but is a rewriting of a play of the same name composed by the Lusitanian Jew Salomon Usque (c. 1530–1596) staged in 1559 and again in 1592. In his prologue to the play, Leon Modena states that, when he was asked to organize another performance of Usque’s Ester, he realized that it was necessary to revisit the text, whose literary style was obsolete and ‘turned out to be very low, without that gravity, flow, and sentences required for heroic materials.’14 In the words of the author, thus, the resulting work is two-thirds Modena’s. Salomon Usque’s Ester is obviously lost.15 According to Modena’s wording in the prologue, it seems likely that Usque wrote Ester in Italian, not in Spanish or Portuguese. The fact that the author was not a native Italian-speaker can explain Modena’s judgement on the linguistic and literary quality of the text. It must be kept in mind that Salomon Usque was a pre-eminent figure in the history of literary circulation in 16th-century Europe, since he had translated Los sonetos, canciones, mandriales y sextinas del gran poeta y orador Francisco Petrarca (Sonnets, Songs, Madrigals and Sextines by the Great Poet and Orator Francesco Petrarca) into Castilian.16 Therefore, it is difficult to understand whether and to what extent Usque’s Ester was a cultural product stemming from and specifically addressing the Sephardic milieu of the Venetian Ghetto. The scant extant evidence seems to imply a cultural context with no clear-cut boundaries among the different strata of the Jewish community.

As far as the Iberian community of Venice is concerned, the available documents do not provide further information on dramatic activity, although a polemic reference to a similar performative form, music, is to be found in Giulio Morosini’s Via della fede. In one passage, the author (alias Samuel ben David Nahmias, 1612–1683), who converted from Judaism to Christianity, recalls a few episodes that occurred in the Scola Spagnola, the Spanish synagogue:

I remember what, in my times, happened in Venice in about 1628 – if I am not wrong – when, because of the war in Mantua, the Jews fled and came to Venice. At that time, in Mantua, every kind of art was flourishing and thus the Jews too studied music and instruments. When they arrived in Venice, they founded a musical academy in the Ghetto, where they used to sing twice a week in the evening. There only the most important and wealthy people used to meet, as they were supporting that academy. I was among them, and my master Rabbi Leon Modena was maestro di cappella. In that year, since two wealthy and notable people were marrying, one of whom took part in the academy, they organized in the Scola Spagnola (beautifully adorned with silverware and precious objects) two choirs of musicians according to our custom. For two evenings, meaning during Shemini ʻatzeret and Simhat Torah, they sang in figured music part of the ʻArbit, several psalms, and the Minhah with solemn music, which lasted for few hours of the night. Many nobles came, gentlemen and ladies, so that it was necessary to place captains and guards at the gates in order to let people pass in peace. Among the instruments, they brought the organ into the synagogue, but it was prohibited by the rabbis, because it was usually played in the churches. And what happened? This was but a flash in the pan: the academy and the music did not last for long and all went back to as it was before...17

Thus, during the 17th century, the Spanish Jewish community of Venice appeared to be à la page when it came to cultural (non-Jewish) innovations, such as the introduction of musical instruments into the place of worship.18

A further occurrence regarding the Sephardic community should be noted: the incident of Abram di Iacob Aboaf di Fiandra.19 In 1768, the Ufficiali al Cattaver20 received a lettera d’indolenza – a letter of complaint – from the five leaders of the Università degli Ebrei.21 In the letter, the Jewish establishment reports the inglorious deeds of a peculiar character, Abram Aboaf. Aboaf was accused of being an idle parasite, unable to take a job seriously. He did not observe Jewish laws and rites, to the point that he converted to Christianity and then back to Judaism more than once. But his most ignominious exploit was a theatrical appearance in a comedy staged by Christian amateurs during Carnival in 1758. In this unfortunate performance, he interpreted a Jew in such a blasphemous way that he caused great embarrassment among the public and his fellow actors.22 On the basis of a condotta on vagabonds and criminals (August 7, 1760), the leaders of the Jewish community demanded Aboaf’s expulsion from the territories of the Serenissima Repubblica of Venice. Accordingly, the Cattaver tribunal banned him for three years. The procedural files do not convey the voice of the protagonist of this incident. Nevertheless, through the complaints of the Jewish authorities we can infer how evanescent the boundaries of the Ghetto were in the 18th century. Moreover, the affair of Abram Aboaf epitomizes the function of active dramatic participation as a medium of reflection – albeit a politically incorrect one – on one’s personal identity: in this case, the identity of a Jew whose family was originally Iberian, who was born in Flanders and who lived in the Serenissima. While personal reasons for Aboaf’s theatrical adventures remain, of course, unfathomable, they do indeed leave a hint about openness and fluidity of labels in terms of cultural belonging.


After their expulsion in 1492, Iberian refugees could take shelter in the Kingdom of Naples until 1541, when a decree ordered their expatriation, with a few exceptions. Jews were finally re-admitted into the Kingdom in 1739. The Jewish presence in Campania, as well as in the rest of southern Italy, had been rooted since the Roman age. However, documents on Jewish settlements – where Sephardic Jews would gather for a limited interval – are scant and still constitute a virgin territory for historical scholarship.23 What, then, is the cause of this silence during the most relevant period for Sephardic Jewry, that is, the 15th and 16th centuries? In an exhaustive study on Neapolitan Judaism during the 15th and 16th centuries, Giancarlo Lacerenza underlines how the 1492 expulsion represented a critical divide for the culture of Neapolitan Jews. Before that date, cultural life was vital and prolific for different strata of the population, while after the arrival of exiles from Spain, Sicily, and Sardinia, the Jewish world became more closed,24 active only in the socio-economic realm, as a consequence of pestilence and migration of the survivors.25

The extant evidence on Jewish culture in that period is meagre, since only five manuscripts whose colophon registers ‘Naples’ as the place of production have reached us – a book of Psalms, a commentary on Isaiah by David Qimhi, Miqlal yofi by Judah ben Jehiel (also known as Messer Leon, a prominent figure in Neapolitan Jewish society), a Roman rite mahzor, and an Italian rite siddur. These witnesses cover a limited span of years: in fact, the manuscripts were all copied between 1469 and 1481, during the late Aragonese period.26 The printed works are also circumscribed to the 15th century, including 23 books (plus four works whose localization is not clear), which would constitute – sic stantibus rebus – 10% of the editorial production in Naples during that century. These texts are mostly biblical, exegetical, liturgical (including a Spanish rite siddur), mystical, and medical.27 They are all written in Hebrew, because of an agreement with the political authorities according to which Jewish printers could only deal with Jewish (and thus Hebrew) material.28

The pivotal crisis of 1492 determined the beginning of the decadence instead of a passage to a new cultural crossroads. In fact, the Spanish refugees were received and perceived with a considerable rejection, as they were blamed for bringing plague and syphilis. Sociological factors such as demographic decimation because of the plague on the one hand and the arrival of a large number of destitute fugitives on the other did not create the appropriate economic circumstances for the flourishing of Jewish culture. Except for a few illustrious cases, such as the Abravanel family, typographers and rabbis migrated to other areas.29

However, another voice should be heard – that of the conversos who moved to the Reign of Naples.30 Among them, Miguel de Silveira (1580–1644) is particularly noteworthy. In Naples, Silveira wrote the heroic poems El Macabeo (Egidio Longo, 1638), evidently treating a Jewish theme, and El sol vencido (idem, 1639).31 No other relevant material seems to have been handed down, considering that only two Spanish dramas have been preserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli: a Castilian translation of Pastor fido by Giovan Battista Guarini (1602) and La gran comedia by Calderon de la Barca (1682).32 This scarcity of theatrical texts may be explained by the fact that, in the Kingdom of Naples, Castilian typography functioned as a medium of expression for political power,33 which in turn barely granted communicative space to voices from the converso world, still less so from Jewish society.


During the 16th and 17th centuries in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the situation differed from the atmosphere of uncertainty in other Italian areas such as the Kingdom of Naples. The reason was a policy aimed at welcoming Jews (see, for instance, the Costituzione Livornina in 1593) in order to repopulate the cities of Pisa and Livorno, where Sephardic communities found somewhere to flourish.34 Interestingly enough, it is from exactly this area – and thus from the cultural milieu developed in the aforementioned favorable socio-economic circumstances – that the only known Judeo-Spanish dramatic texts originate.35

In the fondo magliabecchiano of the National Library of Florence (XXVII–102),36 we find two comedies whose author is noted as ‘Raphael n/Nieto de Montes, hebreo.’ The two works are Loa para representar en la ciudad de Pisa (ff. 1r–9r) and Loa que representaron los hebreos en la ciudad y puerto de Livorne (ff. 11r–16v).37 As the titles make clear, the works were composed ad hoc for the visit of Duke Ferdinando III and his wife Vittoria della Rovere, probably on a date not far from their wedding (1634), given the epithalamic content of the texts.38 Apart from a name, no other information has been found on the author. Nevertheless, a connection with the community of Amsterdam – where there was a vivid interest in Castilian literature and theatre – may be supposed, so that a plausible line of transmission for the text may have included the Netherlands.39

Another interesting case for research into Sephardic theatre is the Entremés de un dotor i lo que iziero[n] sus criados.40 The handwritten booklet that includes the texts has been preserved in the fondo Inquisizione of the Archivio Arcivescovile di Pisa (n. 6, ff. 1188r–1230r) as evidence in a 1616 trial for blasphemy against Christian and Jewish Portuguese youngsters who organized Castilian dramatic representations – including Lope de Vega’s Carlos perseguido – for Carnival. The booklet was delivered to the ecclesiastical authorities by a member of the dramatic company, Jacob son of Isaac Israel, who claimed: ‘I do not know who the author is, but it has been given to us by one of our Jews whose name I cannot now recollect. However, he lives in Pisa and I used to see him at the synagogue.’41 The author of the play thus remains anonymous. Besides providing linguistic information on the Judeo-Portuguese spoken in Tuscany during the 17th century, the Entremés opens an unusual perspective on the peculiar status of the Portuguese – both Christians and Jews – in Pisa, a city with no ghetto walls or distinctive signs to be worn. There, Iberian refugees were living in a condition of ‘incertezza dei confini’ (uncertainty of borders),42 where the religious and cultural boundaries were in fact porous and far from clear-cut. The case of a troupe made up of Jews and new Christians entertaining the community during festivals through theatre in their language of culture, Castilian, is an eminent trace of the shared cultural milieu in which the Iberian communities of Tuscany lived.43 The Sephardim’s peculiar cultural self-representation in Tuscany (as embodied in the Judeo-Spanish literature produced), together with the political and social conditions that enabled this process, embodies a focal element for understanding the development of Sephardic theatrical activity in Italy. Such a strong and deep-rooted identity would last throughout the centuries through the linguistic medium of bagitto,44 the language in which Guido Bedarida, alias Eliezer ben David (1900–1962), was to write a number of dramas at the beginning of the 20th century (Il siclo d’argento [1927], Un intermezzo di canzoni antiche da ascoltarsi quand’è Purim [1928], and Vigilia di sabato: tre atti in gergo ebraico-livornese [1934]).45

Hebrew Dramas by Sephardic Authors

An additional analysis should focus on Hebrew dramatic works composed by Jewish writers of Sephardic origin. One of the most eminent figures in this context is Moses Zacuto (Amsterdam 1625–Mantua 1697), the author of Yesod ʿolam and Tofteh ʿarukh,46 which were thought to be the most ancient examples of Jewish theatre before the discovery of Leone de’ Sommi’s Tzahut bedihuta de-qiddushin. Other dramas dating back to the 17th century are Ha-medabberim be-pihem by Immanuel Frances (Mantua 1618?–post-1703)47 and Mahazeh ʿal yetziʾat Mitzrayim by Hananiah Eliakim Rieti (Bologna 1560–Mantua 1623).48 The 18th century counts the prolific oeuvre of Mattatiah Nissim Terni (Ancona 1745–post-1810), including Mosheh be-Sinay (1775),49 Tifʾeret Sinay (1778),50 and the collection entitled Hullin she-naʿasu ʿal tohorat heqdesh (Noʿam ʿal mattan Toratenu, Hovlim tanhumei knesset Israʾel, Derekh emunah),51 together with Qol milin (1775), a text by Abraham Isaac Castello (Ancona 1726–Livorno 1789).52 Finally, in 1773, a drama by the Flemish-educated intellectual José Penso de la Vega, Asire ha-tiqvah, was published in Livorno.53

This preliminary list should be supplemented with a work that – even though not explicitly theatrical in the sense that it is not technically presented as a classic drama – could nevertheless be turned into a dramatic piece: Massekhet hamor by Gedaliah ibn Yahyah, a rabbinic scholar and kabbalist born in Imola in 1515 (d. 1587). The Massekhet hamor (MS Moscow Ginzburg 278) is a parodic text in the form of a (performable) dialogue between a rabbi and a donkey, written in both Hebrew and northern Italian. The possibility that the text was intended for a mise-en-scène, as a sort of Purimspiel – and some expressions reminiscent of stage directions would promote such a hypothesis – would place the work at quite an early phase of the history of Jewish theatre in Italy.54

This dramatic corpus, drafted through research on the catalogues of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts at the National Library of Israel, is but a starting point in the inquiry into Sephardic theatre in Italy. Each text should be examined in depth in order to eventually devise features that can be characteristically attributed to Sephardic tradition in terms of linguistic and literary heritage, since otherwise, these works would attest a substantial integration and assimilation of the Sephardic intelligentsia into Italian Jewish culture.55 Such a tendency to acculturation seems to suggest in fact a methodological demand for a reassessment of cultural categories such as ‘Sephardic’ and ‘Italian.’ Better to say, it is the heuristic function of these labels that needs to be clarified from time to time, especially in historical cases – such as those proposed – where fluidity of linguistic identities challenges a clear-cut taxonomy of Jewish cultural phenomena.


In conclusion, the collected data lead to two cardinal questions: Firstly, what is the reason for the discrepancy in the evidence from different communities, and secondly, what did it actually mean to be a Sephardic Jew in Italy during the modern period? As far as the first issue is concerned, the question can be rephrased as follows: Is the preservation of the extant texts merely accidental, or are there actual differences between communities? Even if we take into account the lack of documentation for other areas of Italy, Sephardic communities in Livorno and Pisa seem to stand out for a stronger and more defined post-Iberian identity, essentially by virtue of the absence of ghettoization in these cities, which allowed the retention of this identity and prevented a deeper assimilation into Italian Judaism. However, we should keep in mind that, for instance, the various Scole in Venice – including the Scola Levantina and the Scola Ponentina – also maintained their administrative and cultural distinctiveness until the 19th century.

These considerations interweave with the possible answers to the second question: the definition of ‘Italian Sephardic Jewry.’ The material presented here seems to suggest that in modern Italy, ‘Sephardic’ represented a flexible label. Such a fluid status is due on the one hand to the process of acculturation into so-called Italian Judaism and, on the other, to the dense network of interactions with other Iberian strata of the population, either Christians or conversos, in a way that such a fluidity functions both culturally and religiously intra and extra moenia of – either Sephardic or Italian – Judaism.

As anticipated in the introduction, the exposed conclusions are only partial and provisional. In order to envision a more detailed and macroscopic framework, the present investigation needs to be extended to other geographical areas, such as Ferrara, Mantua, Rome, Ancona, and Sicily. The reconstruction of a less fragmentary and scattered image of Sephardic communities in Italy would promote a productive and meaningful comparison with the other parties in the Sephardic diaspora, so that a new and less-known tile would join the vast and polychromatic mosaic of the general history of – Jewish, Spanish, and Judeo-Spanish – theatre.


The present paper is part of the E.S.THE.R. (Enquiry on Sephardic Theatrical Representation) project led by the ESTHER research group at the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures of the University of Verona, Italy (SIR 2014, RBSI14IDE8). The project is founded by the Ministry of Education, University and Investigation (MIUR Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca) within the framework of the SIR (Scientific Independence of young Researchers) program.


For a comprehensive account on the formation of Sephardic identity as the Hispano-Jewish self-representation resulting from the forced post-1492 diaspora, see J. Ray, After Expulsion: 1492 and the Making of Sephardic Jewry (New York 2016). In particular, on the role of language as a mark for identity see 81, 92, 135–141. Ray highlights how strong the inner cultural variety was among different Sephardic communities in the Mediterranean diaspora: ‘The intellectual, mercantile, and social networks that developed among the sixteenth-century Sephardim helped to bind them one to another and fostered a general sense of shared identity. Yet, as is always the case in Jewish history, the identity fashioned by the Sephardim was fundamentally shaped by the different contexts and societies in which they settled [141–142]. (…) This ethnic amalgamation was soon followed by the emergence of clear regional subsets within the Sephardic Diaspora, as the cultural character of Maghrebic, Ottoman, Italian (primarily Livornese), and northern European (primarily Dutch) Sephardim was increasingly influenced by each group’s distinct regional situation. But the sense of belonging to a translocal Sephardic society was never fully lost [159].”


D. Beecher, ‘Leone De’ Sommi’s “The Three Sisters”: Toward a Definition of Mannerist Theatre,’ Rivista di Studi Italiani 9 (1991) 1–10; idem, ‘Leone de’ Sommi and Jewish Theatre in Renaissance Mantua,’ Renaissance and Reformation 17 (1993) 5–19; C. Dal Molin, ‘Recovery of Some Unedited Manuscripts by Leone de’ Sommi at the National Library of Turin,’ in A. Belkin, ed., Leone de’ Sommi and the Performing Arts (Tel Aviv 1997) 101–117; A.S. Golding, ‘A Comedy of Betrothal: Some Suggestions for a Reconstruction of its Premiere Performance,’ in Belkin, ed., Leone de’ Sommi, 133–144; T. Mazzuccato, ‘La teoría escénica de Leone de’ Sommi (la comunidad hebrea de Mantua en la corte de los Gonzaga),’ in J.G. Maestro, ed., Teatro y cultura hebrea (Vilagarcía de Arousa 2005) 61–83; J. Kaufmann, ‘Leone de’ Sommi, hombre de teatro cabal,’ Raíces 87 (2011) 69–74.


H. Schirmann, ‘Theater and Music in Italian Jewish Quarters, XVI–XVIII Centuries,’ in idem, Le-toledot ha-shirah ve-ha-dramah ha-ʿivrit [History of Jewish Music and Drama] (Jerusalem 1964) vol. 2, 44–94 [Hebrew]. For a general introduction to Jewish theatre, see E. Nahshon, ed., Jewish Theatre: A Global View (Leiden 2009); R. Esposito, La nascita del teatro ebraico. Persone, testi e spettacoli dai primi esperimenti al 1948 (Turin 2017); U. Fortis, Il ghetto in scena: teatro giudeo-italiano del Novecento. Storia e testi (Rome 1989); M.L. Mayer Modena, ‘Purim e gli albori del teatro ebraico in Italia,’ Altre Modernità (2011) 15–21.


R. Bonfil, Gli ebrei in Italia nell’epoca del Rinascimento (Rome 1991); idem, Rabbini e comunità ebraiche nell’Italia del Rinascimento (Naples 2012).


E. Romero, El teatro de los sefardies orientales (Madrid 1979).


H. den Boer, La literatura sefardí de Amsterdam (Alcalá de Henares 1996) 307–345. See also H.V. Besso, Dramatic Literature of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews of Amsterdam in the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries (New York 1947).


M.R. Alvarez Sellers, ‘Dramaturgos barrocos de origen judeo-portugués: Antonio Enríquez Gómez, Miguel de Barrios y Manuel de Pina,’ in F.B. Pedraza Jiménez, R. González Cañal, and E.E. Marcello, eds., Judaísmo y criptojudaísmo en la comedia española (Cuenca 2014) 145–163; I.G. Gavilán, ‘La producción dramática de Daniel Leví de Barrios: nuevos enfoques,’ in Pedraza Jiménez, González Cañal, and Marcello, eds., Judaísmo y criptojudaísmo, 257–267.


On the history of the Iberian community in Venice, see F. Ruspio, La nazione portoghese: ebrei ponentini e nuovi cristiani a Venezia (Turin 2007). For an introduction to drama in early modern Serenissima, see R. Guarino, Teatro e mutamenti. Rinascimento e spettacolo a Venezia (Bologna 1995); A.M. Testaverde, I canovacci della Commedia dell’Arte (Turin 2007). Concerning typographical documentation, cf. G. Tamani, ‘L’attività tipografica a Venezia fra il 1516 e il 1627,’ Henoch 2 (1980) 63–76; A. Pallotta, ‘Venetian Printers and Spanish Literature in Sixteenth-Century Italy,’ Comparative Literature 43, no. 1 (1991) 20–42.


‘In questa sera in Geto fu fato tra Zudei una bellissima Comedia, né vi poté intrar alcun christian d’ordine di cai di X e la compiteno a hore 8 di notte,’ M. Sanudo, I diarii (Venice 1899) vol. 53, 326. See C. Roth, ‘L’accademia musicale a Venezia,’ La Rassegna Mensile di Israel 3, no. 4 (1928) 152–162.


Samuel Aboab, Divre Shemuʾel (Venice 1702) 2r (responsum 4).


Samuel Aboab, Divre Shemuʾel, 2a.


L’Ester. Tragedia tratta dalla Sacra Scrittura per Leone Hebreo di Venezia riformata, published in Venice by Giacomo Sarzina in 1619. See A.A. Piattelli, ‘“Ester”: l’unico dramma di Leon da Modena giunto fino a noi,’ La Rassegna Mensile di Israel 34, no. 3 (1968) 163–172; R.D. Arnold, ‘“L’Ester” von Leon Modena (1619). Ein jüdisches Theaterstück in italienischer Sprache,’ in M. Keuchen, S. Müller, and A. Thiem, eds., Inszenierungen der Heiligen Schrift: Jüdische und christliche Bibeltransformationen vom Mittelalter bis in die Moderne (Munich 2009) 93–112.


‘[R]isultava essere molto basso, e senza quella gravità, legatura e sentenze ch’alle tragedie e cose heroiche si chiede,’ Modena, L’Ester, 9.


G. Zavan, Gli ebrei, i marrani e la figura di Salomon Usque (Treviso 2004) 120–123. See also A. Zinato, ‘Poesía y cultura literaria en el Ghetto de Venecia (s. XVII): Jacob Uziel, Sara Copio Sullam, Ansaldo Cebà, Gabriele Zinani,’ in M. Rosso, F. Gambin, and C. Calabrese, eds., Trayectorias literarias hispánicas: redes, irradiaciones y confluencias (Rome 2018) 289–309.


Venice 1567. See J. Canals Piñas, ‘Salomón Usque, traductor de Petrarca,’ in P. Díaz-Mas and H. den Boer, eds., Fronteras e interculturalidad entre los sefardíes occidentales (Amsterdam 2006) 35–43; L. Minervini, ‘L’attività di traduzione degli ebrei spagnoli in Italia nel XVI e XVII sec.,’ in Scrittura e riscrittura. Traduzioni, refundiciones, parodie e plagi, Associazione ispanisti italiani, Atti del convegno di Roma, 12–13 novembre 1993 (Rome 1993) 229–239.


‘Io mi ricordo bene di quello, che a’ tempi miei successe in Venetia nel 1628, in circa, se non erro, quando da Mantova per causa della guerra fuggiti gli ebrei, se ne vennero in Venetia. E coll’occasione che fioriva la Città di Mantova in ogni sorta di studii, anche gli Ebrei havevano applicato alla musica, e agli istromenti. Arrivati questi in Venetia si formò nel Gheto, che ivi stà, un’Accademia di Musica, nella quale per ordinario si cantava due volte per settimana di sera, e vi si congregavano solamente alcuno principali, e richi di quel Gheto che la sostentavano, tra i quali io pure mi trovavo: il mio maestro Rabbi Leon da Modena era maestro di Cappella. In quell’anno essendo stati per sposi già descritti in questa festa due persone ricche e splendidi, delli quali uno era della medesima Accademia, fecero nella Scuola Spagnuola (ricchissimamente apparata, e adornata di gran argenterie e gioie) fare due cori ad usanza nostra per li musici, e le due sere cioè nell’ottava della festa Scemini Nghatzeret e Allegrezza della Legge, si cantò in musica figurata in lingua ebraica parte della Ngharbith, e diversi Salmi; e la Minchà, cioè il Vespero dell’ultimo giorno con musica solenne, che durò alcune hore della notte, dove vi concorse molta nobiltà di Signori, e di Dame con grand’applauso, si che vi convenne tenere alle porte molti Capitani e Birri, acciò si passasse con quiete. Tra gl’istromenti fù portato in Sinagoga anche l’Organo, il qual però non fu permesso da i Rabbini, che si sonasse per essere instromento che per ordinario si suona nelle nostre chiese. Ma che? Tutto questo fu un fuoco di paglia, durò poco l’Accademia, e la Musica, si ritornò al pristino...,’ G. Morosini, Via della fede (Rome 1683) 793.


See Roth, L’Accademia musicale, 157–159.


See C. Boccato, ‘Processi ad ebrei nell’archivio degli ufficiali al Cattaver a Venezia,’ La Rassegna Mensile di Israel 41, no. 3 (1975) 164–180, esp. 179. The analysis of other sources of documentation on the Jewish community – such as the records of the Inquisition, see P.C. Ioly Zorattini, Processi del Sant’Uffizio di Venezia contro ebrei e giudaizzanti (Florence 1980–1999) – has produced no relevant results.


The Ufficiali al Cattaver were a financial branch of the Venetian government established on June 26, 1280 with the function of investigating economical income and public expenses. They were in charge of financial control, the suppression of contraband, tender of duties, and the resolution of financial controversies.


Archivio di Stato di Venezia, Ufficiali al Cattaver, busta 133, 1768, fascicolo 217.


‘[S]enz’alcuna religione, beffandosi del nome inefabile di Dio e sino a comparire fra dilettanti cristiani in una commedia a rappresentar figura d’ebreo, con scandalo sino dei compagni et uditorio, a dilegiar la propria Natione in cui nacque et visse sino in presente’ (With no religion, mocking the ineffable name of God, he even participated in a comedy, organized by Christian amateurs, where he played the character of a Jew, causing scandal among his fellows and the public, for ridiculing the nation where he was born and lived up to now), Archivio di Stato di Venezia, Ufficiali al Cattaver, busta 133, 1768, fascicolo 217, fol. 1r.


V. Bonazzoli, Gli ebrei del regno di Napoli all’epoca della loro espulsione. 1. parte: Il periodo aragonese (1456–1499) (Florence 1979); idem, Gli ebrei del regno di Napoli all’epoca della loro espulsione. 2. parte: Il periodo spagnolo (1501–1541) (Florence 1981); V. Giura, ‘Note sulle caratteristiche demografiche della comunità ebraica di Napoli nel ’700,’ Genus 35, nos. 1/2 (1979) 259–264; idem, Storie di minoranze: ebrei, greci, albanesi nel Regno di Napoli (Naples 1984); C. Colafemmina, ‘Documenti per la storia degli ebrei a Napoli e in Campania nei secoli XV–XVI, Sefer Yuhasin 12 (1996) 7–39; D. Abulafia, ‘The Aragonese Kings of Naples and the Jews,’ in B.D. Cooperman and B. Garvin, eds., The Jews of Italy (Bethesda 2000) 82–106; P. Mazur, The New Christians of Spanish Naples, 1528–1671. A Fragile Elite (Basingstoke 2013).


G. Lacerenza, ‘Lo spazio dell’ebreo. Insediamenti e cultura ebraica a Napoli (secoli XV–XVI),’ in P. Barletta, ed., Integrazione ed emarginazione. Circuiti e modelli: Italia e Spagna nei secoli XV–XVIII (Naples 2002) 357–427, esp. 361.


Lacerenza, ‘Lo spazio dell’ebreo,’ 409–410.


Lacerenza, ‘Lo spazio dell’ebreo,’ 376–384.


Lacerenza, ‘Lo spazio dell’ebreo,’ 394–406.


Lacerenza, ‘Lo spazio dell’ebreo,’ 397.


Lacerenza, ‘Lo spazio dell’ebreo,’ 413–427.


See for instance P. Huerga Criado, ‘Cristianos nuevos de origen ibérico en el Reino de Nápoles en el siglo XVII, Sefarad 72, no. 2 (2012) 351–387.


F. Díaz Esteban, ‘Italia en tres judaizantes: Miguel de Silveira, Miguel de Barrios y Joseph de la Vega,’ in M. Bosse and A. Stoll, eds., Napoli Viceregno spagnolo: una capitale della cultura alle origini dell’Europa moderna (sec. XVI–XVII) (Naples 2001) 355–376; B. Di Bitonto, ‘Miguel de Silveira, letterato e “cristiano nuevo” nel Viceregno di Napoli,’ in G. Lacerenza, ed., Hebraica Hereditas: studi in onore di Cesare Colafemmina (Naples 2005) 33–58.


M. Brindicci, Libri in scena. Editoria a Napoli nel secolo XVII (Naples 2007).


E. Sanchez Gracía, Imprenta y cultura en la Nápoles virreinal: los signos de la presencia española (Florence 2007) 63–76.


C. Galasso, Alle origini di una comunità: ebree ed ebrei a Livorno nel Seicento (Florence 2002). See also S.B. Siegmund, The Medici State and the Ghetto of Florence: The Construction of an Early Modern Jewish Community (Stanford 2006).


N. Michelassi and S. Vuelta Garcia, ‘Il teatro spagnolo nella scena fiorentina del ’600,’ Studi secenteschi 45 (2004), 67–137.


See M.T. Cacho, Manuscritos hispánicos en las bibliotecas de Florencia (Florence 2001).


Praise to Be Performed in the City of Pisa and Praise that the Jews Performed in the City and Harbor of Livorno. Edited by J.F. Hernando Álvarez, ‘Teatro hispanojudío en Toscana durante el siglo XVII,’ in F. Díaz Esteban, ed., Los judaizantes en Europa y la literatura castellana del siglo de oro (Madrid 1994) 193–214.


Hernando Álvarez, ‘Teatro hispanojudío,’ 193–194.


Hernando Álvarez, ‘Teatro hispanojudío,’ 195.


Interlude on a Doctor and What His Servants Did, see V. Nider, ‘La censura del “Disparate”: l’“Entremés de la Infanta Palancona” (Pisa 1616) e la commedia burlesca “Durandante y Belerma,”’ in M.G. Profeti and D. Pini, eds., Leyendas negras e leggende auree (Florence 2011) 153–184; idem, ‘El “Entremés de un dotor i lo que iziero[n] sus criados,” inédito, en los papeles de la inquisición de Pisa. ¿Un scenario?,’ in A. Gallo and K. Vaiopoulos, eds., Por tal variedad tiene belleza. Omaggio a Maria Grazia Profeti (Florence 2012) 323–336.


‘Io non so chi l’abbia composto ma ce lo diede un nostro ebreo del quale al presente non ricordo il nome, ma sta qui in Pisa e lo vedo alla Sinagoga, ’f. 1227r, see Nider, ‘El “Entremés,”’ 331.


According to A. Prosperi, ‘Ebrei a Pisa dalle carte dell’Inquisizione Romana,’ in M. Luzzati, ed., Gli ebrei di Pisa (secoli IX–XX) (Pisa 1998) 117–157, esp. 119; see Nider, ‘La censura del “Disparate,”’ 155.


On the peculiar economic and social history of Jews in Livorno, see F. Trivellato, The Familiarity of Strangers. The Sephardic Diaspora, Livorno, and Cross-Cultural Trade in the Early Modern Period (New Haven 2009), esp. 43–69 and 84–92; F. Bregoli, Mediterranean Enlightenment: Livornes Jews, Tuscan Culture, and Eighteenth-Century Reform (Stanford 2014)


On Judeo-Livornese or bagitto see F. Franceschini, ‘Le plurilinguisme à Livourne. Reflets dans la littérature dialectale à la fin du dix-huitième et dans la premieère moitié du dix-neuvième siècle,’ in G. Nonnoi, ed., Circolazione d’idee, parole, uomini, libri e culture. Sardegna, Corsica, Toscana (Cagliari 2009) 147–166; idem, ‘Il bagitto nelle tende di Shem: Della Torre, Benzimra, Toaff,’ La Rassegna Mensile di Israel 84,3 (2019) 59–84.


Edited as an appendix in Fortis, Il Ghetto in scena. See also P. Fornaciari, Fate onore al bel Purim. Il bagitto, vernacolo degli ebrei livornesi (Livorno 2005).


Published in Berlin in 1874 and Venice in 1715 respectively. See S. Levy, ‘Hellish Hebrew Theatre: The Spiritual Quest of Tofteh Aruch,’ Maske und Kothurn 35, no. 1 [1989] (1991) 45–58; M. Andreatta, L’inferno allestito. Poema di un rabbino del Seicento sull’oltretomba dei malvagi (Milan 2016).


Moscow, Russian State Library, MS. Guenzburg 1052.


Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Mich. 15.


Moscow, Russian State Library, MS. Guenzburg 1244.


Moscow, Russian State Library, MS. Guenzburg 1389.


Moscow, Russian State Library, MS. Guenzburg 161.


Jerusalem, Isaac Wallach Collection, MS. 85; Jerusalem, Library of Mossad ha-Rav Kook, MS. 834; Jerusalem, Library of Mossad ha-Rav Kook, MS. 660.


E. Gutwirth, ‘Penso’s Roots: The Politics and Poetics of Cultural Fusion,’ Studia Rosenthaliana 35, no. 2 (2001) 269–284.


M.L. Mayer Modena, ‘La “Masseket Hamor” di Gedalya ibn Yahia,’ in Italia: studi e ricerche sulla storia, la cultura e la letteratura degli Ebrei d’Italia 13–15 (2001) 303–342. The article includes an edition of the manuscript.


Other works belonging to the Sephardic performative tradition, although they are not expressly theatrical, have been studied and edited by L. Minervini, ‘Cantiga di Purim alla moresca,’ La Rassegna Mensile di Israel 77, no. 3 (2010) 115–129; L.M. Mayer Modena, ‘Una megillat Ester in lingua franca mediterranea,’ in P.C. Ioly Zorattini, M. Luzzati, and M. Sarfatti, eds., Studi sul mondo sefardita. In memoria di Aron Leoni (Florence 2012) 221–233.

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