The story of the Italian Jews is an integral part of the articulated history of Italy, and it is indicative of today's reality: the coexistence of different cultures and the relationship between a majority and the minorities.
Judaism is one of the most ancient cultures living in Italy, where its documented presence has been uninterrupted since Christianity first appeared. And indeed, in some respects, it constitutes the preface. The history of the Jewish community is, in fact, rooted in the second century BCE (BC), as evidenced by archaeological finds of gravestones and dedicatory inscriptions. The first Jews to arrive in Rome were drawn by the intense trade in the Mediterranean basin and as early as the first century CE (AD) there was a flourishing, stable Jewish community in Rome that could redeem Jews enslaved during the siege of Jerusalem in the year 70, when Titus, general and future emperor, destroyed the Temple by order of Vespasian. From Rome, the Jews soon spread throughout the peninsula; to the south, where they accounted for as much as ten percent of the population, and to the north, especially along the coast.
Italian Jews are Jews who live in Italy or have Italian ancestry or, in a narrower sense, those pertaining to the ancient community of the Italian rite (minhag italkì), as opposed to those communities that date back to the Middle Ages or to modern times, pertaining to the Sephardic rite (practiced by Jews hailing from Spain and the Mediterranean basin) or the Askenazi rite (Jews from Germany and Northern Europe).
After 1492, Italian Judaism welcomed and integrated the Jews expelled from Spain, Portugal and the Spanish territories, as well as many fleeing from central Europe. However, continuous limitations were placed on their flourishing. In Venice, in 1516, the first ghetto in history was founded, a form of segregation that was later established also in Rome and in almost all Italian cities.
Only after Napoleon did the Italian Jews begin to see emancipation, participating in great numbers in both the Risorgimento process – that led to the unification of Italy – and the First World War to defend the country.
In 1938, the racial laws promulgated by Mussolini led to renewed segregation and discrimination of the Jews, in the end resulting in persecution, deportation and death (around 9,000 Jews were arrested in Italian territory and killed during the period of Fascism and Nazi occupation).
Only with the birth of the Republic and the signing of the Constitution were the Jews recognized the right to be considered Italian, identifying themselves with a country they had helped to found.