Tranquillo Vita Corcos: A Brilliant Mediator and a Whiff of Sabbateanism

The following is a post by Marina Caffiero, Honorary Professor of Early Modern History, Sapienza – University of Rome

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It seems to me that a common thread runs throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It unites Jewish messianism and Christian millenarianism and configures a modern religious conception of conciliation, reunification and simplification of the faiths. If we can investigate the connections between these eschatological expectations and phenomena in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, we might be able to outline a global geography of the messianic and apocalyptic movements and construct a history of religious intersections. Despite the differences within the various messianic movements, these are intercultural phenomena that lasted until the eighteenth century. At their center was the theme of conversion understood as a positive reversal of the negativity of the real.

Western Europe’s Seventeenth Century was characterized by a climate of eschatological effervescence and messianic-millennial expectations in both the Catholic and the Protestant spheres. Consider the case of the English Revolution: expectations of the imminent realization of the events described in the Apocalypse, as well as of the upcoming conversion of the Jews and their reestablishment in the Holy Land (expected in 1656 or 1666) all played an important role. This climate of hope influenced Cromwell’s decision to readmit the Jews into England following the London mission of the famous Amsterdam rabbi Menasseh ben Israel. Ben Israel was an exponent of Jewish messianism in close connection with numerous protagonists of Christian millenarianism.

Our conference has demonstrated the coexistence, among Jews, of different—and even opposed—religious cultures. In several Italian Jewish figures whom we discussed we have seen a rationalist dimension of a very modern type cohabiting with a religious vision deriving form Kabbalah and the philosophical mysticism of the kabalists. Among them stands the figure of the Roman rabbi Tranquillo Vita Corcos (1660-1730) whose adherence to Kabbalah and even to Sabbatianism is demonstrated, I would suggest, in many unpublished sources. The Jews of Prague in 1727 requested that Corcos intercede with the pope to condemn and burn the Talmud there published which related to a sort of “Sabbatean” and “Catholicized” Judaism. In my forthcoming book, Il grande mediatore. Tranquillo Vita Corcors, un rabbino nella Roma dei papi (Roma: Carocci, 2019 – in press), I suggest that Corcos adhered, albeit in disguised form, to a messianic vision of redemption, and adopted messianic symbols of very interesting Sabbatean derivation. Clearly, complex and ambivalent ideas of Sabbatean origin were still diffuse among eighteenth-century Italian Jews.

The Bibliographical Centre “Tullia Zevi” – UCEI

The UCEI, the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, and its Bibliographical Centre “Tullia Zevi” are among the partners of our forthcoming conference, Sabbateanism in Italy and its Mediterranean Context (Rome, January 20-22, 2019).

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The Bibliographical Centre was conceived in the 1980s on Tullia Zevi’s initiative  (at that time President of the UCEI) and started functioning since 1990. Its main purpose is to rescue, gather, preserve and promote books, manuscripts and archival documents related to Italian Judaism and promote Jewish Culture. By establishing a centralised national centre, it aims to avoid the decay and the dispersion of such items.

The Bibliographical Centre hosts a BA in Jewish Studies run by the UCEI, fosters exhibitions, musical and pedagogical seminars, book launches and scholarly conferences on topics related to Judaism in all its multifaceted dimensions. Furthermore, the Bibliographical Centre actively supports researchers in fields such as the millennial Jewish presence in Italy, the Italian Risorgimento and the Italian Racial Laws.

The Bibliographical Centre is composed by four sub-sections. Archives: in addition to several personal archives and other special collections, this sub-section preserves the archives of the Communities of Pitigliano  (XVII-XX centuries) and Senigallia (XVI-XX centuries) together with a collection of ketubboth once of the Communities of Senigallia and Ancona (searchable here: more than 25,000 either old (XVI-XIX centuries) or early modern and modern books (including some manuscripts) originally owned by the Communities of Pitigliano, Pisa, Ferrara, Mantova and Siena (beside the Florence ones after the 1966 flood); over 15,000 items belonged to the Italian Rabbinical College and have been rescued by the Allies after the 1943 Nazi pillage (the modern collection is searchable here). Photographic collection: a unique collection of photographs, especially from the 1930s and 1950s, concerning the inner life of the Italian Jewish communities; an archive of more than 5,000 diapositives of places and objects of Jewish interest. A small Music collection hosts several liturgical recordings (synagogue chants according to the old rite of some of the Italian Jewish communities).

The Bibliographical Centre is open to visitors from Monday to Thursday.

For info:


The Jewish Museum of Rome

The Jewish Community of Rome and its Museum are among the partners of our forthcoming conference, Sabbateanism in Italy and its Mediterranean Context (Rome, January 20-22, 2019).


The Jewish Museum of Rome is a unique point of reference to discover the traditions, religion, culture and history of the Roman Jews, one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, predating the destruction of the Temple.

The monumental complex of the Great Synagogue houses an extraordinary permanent collection displayed within the Ancient Marble Gallery and seven exhibition rooms. The Museum illustrates the two thousand year long history of the Jews of Rome; the relationship between the Jews and the Eternal City; last but not least the contribution of the Libyan Jews who have settled there since 1967.

The educational path displays unique works of art and precious historical documents: in addition to rare and magnificent illuminated manuscripts, the heart of the collection includes about nine hundred fabrics and four hundred silvers of liturgical use which are what still survives of the ancient decorations for the Sefer Torah used in the old synagogues during the Ghetto time. These complex ceremonial machines are composed by me’ilmappah and wimples worked with variegated fabrics and precious embroideries (as brocades and lampas coming from the most important textile manufactures in Europe). These items were combined with crowns, rimonim and half-crowns, all in richly chiselled silver (sometimes together with the yad, used to read the Torah, and the paroketh to cover the aron with the tikkun for the tevah); they were realized by some of the most prominent Roman and Venetian silversmiths. All these materials constituted the wealthy gifts of the Jewish families to their synagogues in a period of time that spans from the 17th to the 20th century. Moreover, the Museum includes a room dedicated to the persecutions Roman Jews faced during the Shoah.

Finally, visitors may enjoy a documentary on the Jewish Roman history in the 20th century; a video of the virtual reconstruction of the Synagogue of Ancient Ostia and a touchwindow reproducing the old Jewish Ghetto of Rome as it was before its demolition in the late 19th century.

State Building and Minorities: Jews in Italy. Confirmed Speakers

Franco Benigno (Scuola Normale Superiore), Beyond the Courts: Rethinking Statehood and Governance in Early Modern Europe

Francesca Bregoli (The City University of New York, Graduate Center), Beyond Jewish “Autonomy”: State Reforms and Political Negotiations in Habsburg Italy 

Flora Cassen (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Jews in Spanish Milan: Between Local and Imperial State 

Bernard Dov Cooperman (University of Maryland), Papal Policy towards Jews and Papal State Building 1550–1600

Serena Di Nepi (Sapienza – University of Rome), Jews, State and Politics: The Trial against Bernardino Campello in the aftermath of the Cum nimis absurdum (Rome and Spoleto, 1562)

Lois Dubin (Smith College), State Building and the Politics of Intimacy: Marriage and Divorce, Jewish and Civil, in Early Modern Italy

Carlotta Ferrara degli Uberti (University College London), Negotiating Power, Autonomy and Integration in late-XVIII and early-XIX century Leghorn

Andrea Gamberini (University of Milan), The State-Building Process in the Late Medieval Italy: An Overview

Davide Liberatoscioli (Potsdam University), The Idea of universitas Judaeorum as an Instrument for the Construction of Centralizing States: Rome and the Papal State between the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period 

Raffaele Pittella (State Archive of Rome), The Status animarum as an Instrument of Control over Fiscal Matters and Religious Minorities in the Ecclesiastical State 

Asher Salah (Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design), Restrictive Tolerance: A Comparative Analyses of the Different Reception of Jews and Muslims in Livorno (1591-1614) 

Benjamin Ravid (Brandeis University), tbp

Pierre Savy (Ecole française de Rome), Cows, Cogs, Actors? Jews in the Political Processes of the Duchy of Milan (15th century)

Vincenzo Selleri (The City University of New York, Graduate Center), Iudeca: Jewish Communities and Jewish Space in Fifteenth Century Apulia 

Stefanie B. Siegmund (Jewish Theological Seminary), Forced in, Pushed out: The Medici State, the Ghetto Community, and the Control of Walls and Boundaries

Giacomo Todeschini (University of Trieste), Christian Financial Government and Jewish Political Culture in Italy (15th-17th Centuries): A Dialectic of Modernity

Mafalda Toniazzi (University of Pisa), At the Beginning of the Modern Era: The Jews and the Magistrates Dedicated to them in the Cities of Central and Northern Italy. The Case of Florence (15th century)

Justine Walden (Yale University), The Global and the Local: Sephardic Diaspora, Ottoman Entanglements, and The Medici State

Nadia Zeldes (Ben Gurion University of the Negev), Jews, Conversos, and Inquisition in the Italian Spanish Dominions (1503-1541)

The conference’s program will be posted in the following weeks

Scientific Committee: Marina Caffiero (Sapienza – University of Rome); Bernard Dov Cooperman (University of Maryland); Serena Di Nepi (Sapienza – University of Rome); Pawel Maciejko (Johns Hopkins University); Germano Maifreda (University of Milan); Yaakov Mascetti (Bar-Ilan University); Stefano Villani (University of Maryland)

The Humanities and Social Sciences Fund Conference on Imagining the Renaissance / Defining the Jews (Jerusalem, January 12-15, 2020)

“Ours is a global frame,” as Natalie Zemon Davis has written. Nowadays, “more continents, peoples, ideas, and religions count than perhaps ever before.” Within this global frame, historians are trying to deal with difference in narratives of boundaries that remain fuzzy and porous. Our conference seeks to contribute to this discussion on the “forms of cultural mixture, metissage, and exchange” as it was expressed within the context of Renaissance Italy.

In four intense days of scholarly presentations, our speakers will address the blurred borders between the discourses of hegemonic groups and those of minorities, and where the narratives of sharp opposition between Jews, Christians and Muslims are challenged and shown to be “fuzzy and porous” rather than simply enforced, legislated and consolidated by social limitations. This conference wishes to show how traditionally accepted concepts such as Jewishness, ghettoes, conversions, and religious identity, were never as solid and unchanging as claimed by modern historians of the Renaissance, who looked to canonize oppositional definitions by writing “about belief systems that claim one or another kind of group superiority.” Our objective will thus be to foreground the increasing complexity in the definition of the “I” and the “other” in the period. As the named “other” responded and reacted to the majority in entangled moments and loci of cultural self-realization, there was also a process of mutual (self-)fashioning. It is the goal of our conference to explore that process within an interdisciplinary discussion focused on Renaissance Italian Jewry and against the background of Mediterranean cultural mobility and of broader global dynamics and interactions.

State Building and Minorities: Jews in Italy (College Park and Baltimore, May 5–7, 2019)

The Conference will focus particularly on the social history of Italian Jews and their interaction with the Christian society.  We want to investigate the reasons that lead Italian princes and republics to refuse the Spanish policy on Jews (expulsion), in favour of an ‘Italian way’ (concentration in ghettos) of structuring Christian-Jewish relations. Our aim is principally to insert the study of Jewish institutions, norms and behaviours into the broader context of Italian and Mediterranean history.


Sabbateanism in Italy and its Mediterranean Context (Rome, January 20-22, 2019)

Participants will investigate the Sabbatean excitement and the movement’s activities in Italy. Others will address the aftermath of this messianic movement in later generations on the Peninsula. We hope to broaden the conversation in several ways, first through consideration of other millenarian preaching and excitement among Jews during the 16th, 17th, and early 18th centuries. Also participants have been encouraged to compare Sabbateanism with millenarian and heretical movements among Christians and Muslims in Italy, in the Mediterranean, and in Europe more widely. The conference will go beyond the enthusiasts themselves to describe the various types of reaction they elicited—whether celebration or suppression, passive disregard or active discipline.

Preliminary program:

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