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The Medici State and the Ghetto of Florence

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The Medici State and the Ghetto of Florence. The Construction of an Early Modern Jewish Community. By Stefanie B. Siegmund. Stanford Studies in Jewish History and Culture. (Stanford University Press, Stanford: 2006. Pg. xxiv, 624. Figures, Maps, Tables.) ISBN: 0-8047-5078-5.

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - March 14, 2007

The Medici State and the Ghetto of Florence: The Construction of an Early Modern Jewish Community is a ground breaking study on the Florence Ghetto by Stefanie B. Siegmund, Associate Professor of History and Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. While there have been many studies done on the Italian Ghettos in Rome and Venice, this is the first comprehensive study, in English, of the Florence Ghetto and the forced ghettoization of the Tuscany's Jews.

On September 26, 1570 Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Florence and Siena issued an edict expelling all Jews in Tuscany from their homes and villages. If they wanted to stay in Tuscany, they had one choice - move into the Ghetto that was being created in Florence. In this unique study, Siegmund analyzes the two main forces that led to the creation of the Ghetto, namely Medici state craft and the Catholic Reformation. She describes how the Ghetto was constructed, and the process by which the Jews were ghettoized. As well, she discusses how Jewish - Christian relations were changed by the advent of the Ghetto, and its impact on Jewish religious life and Jewish identity. More important, she illustrates the impact that the Ghetto had on women and how it forced changes in gender roles and family structure.

The Medici State and the Ghetto of Florence is a fascinating and academically rigorous history of the ghetto. It not only examines the Jewish life in the ghetto, but also the long term repercussions that it had in terms of Jewish history and in the development of Florence as a cosmopolitan and commercial city, and Tuscany as a Medici state. She also touches upon how the creation of the Ghetto was used as a tool to consolidate the power of Grand Duke Cosimo I, and how the fate of Tuscan Jewry was tied to that of the Medici family. For many readers, the most startling revelation in this book is that the ghettoization of the Tuscan Jews had the unexpected effect of making them legitimate citizens of the state. It is also important to note that by ghettoizing the Jews, rather than expelling them, Grand Duke Cosimo I was placing himself at odds with his fellow rulers who were pressuring him to either expel or convert the area's Jews. It is also significant that Tuscan Jewry was not subject to the inquisition nor forcible conversions while under the protection of the Medici.

Ground-breaking and comprehensive in scope The Medici State and the Ghetto of Florence offers readers an intriguing glimpse into an ofttimes overlooked aspect of Italian and Jewish history. This text includes copious endnotes and an extensive list of works sited, both of which will prove invaluable to those seeking to delve deeper into this subject. The text will enthrall anyone with an interest in 16th century Italian or Jewish history, Urban studies, Jewish-Christian relations, social history, or women's studies. While geared toward an academic audience, general readers will find this book readily accessible.


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