Some of the doubts which arose in the minds of many concerning the legal status of Italian Jews and other non Catholic cults in Italy following the conclusion of the concordat with the Vatican were cleared up by Benito Mussolini in an interview he granted today to Jacob Landau Managing Director of the Jewish Agency.
The concordat, if anything, has improved the status of the Jewish community in Italy. The Jewish, as well as the Protestant churches are officially recognized by the state, and in the exercise of their functions they enjoy an equal status with the Catholic church, the Prime Minister declared.
The rabbi has the same right to perform marriages as was granted in the concordat to the Catholic priest Similarly, there is no obstacle for a civil marriage between a Jew and a Christian. “This is why I say,” Mussolini declared, “that the concordat, is far from harming the Jewish community in Italy. On the contrary, it has improved and strengthened its status. It has regulated the relations between the Jewish community and the State on the same principles and on the same standards as have regulated the relations between the Catholic Church and the State. It was for this reason that the representatives of the Protestant and Jewish churches have expressed their satisfaction with their new status, which was the inevitable result of the conclusion of the concordat. Priest or rabbi may perform marriage ceremonies, but every citizen has a right to give preference to the civil ceremony. Generally, the concordat and its meaning were widely misunderstood. The fact of the matter is that the State and the Church remain as separated as they are in the United States of America. The right reserved for every Italian to choose a religious or a civil marriage ceremony is an indication of the fact that the concordat has not changed the situation.
“The concordat regulates the relations between the State and the Church without conceding the Church any influence or power in the affairs of the state. Only in two matters do the Church and State meet, having a common sphere of influence, namely: religious education in the schools and in the performance of marriage rites. However, in both matter, all churches, as I have emphasized before, enjoy the same rights. What is still more important is the fact that religious ceremonies are in no way obligatory. Any citizen has the privilege of accepting or declining the services the Church wishes to render him.
“Take for instance the case of Jewish parents in the school question,” the Prime Minister continued. “The Jewish parents have the right to withdraw their children from attending the religious part of the school program. On the whole, the Jewish population in Italy is a small one. There are altogether 60,000 Jews in the country, of whom 15,000 live in Rome, about 10,000 in Milan, 5,000 in Trieste, and 1,000 in Naples. In the Jewish school of Rome about 100 pupils are enrolled. It is therefore hardly probable that the Jews will establish their own schools, particularly in the smaller towns.
“The Jews of Rome have so far not presented any demands to the government in regard to the school question. In one part of Rome, one section of the four Fascist schools, Balila, is Jewish, and on Saturday, about 600 Jewish pupils, led by their officers and principals, visited the synagogue,” Mussolint stated.
Asked whether he was in favor of the Zionist movement and its aims in Palestine, the Prime Minister replied: “In Italy the Jew is free. He is an equal citizen. He is an Italian. The Jewish community in Italy is 2,000 years old; in fact it is the oldest Jewish community in Europe. The Jew wept on Caesar’s grave and has throughout a period of more than 20 centuries participated in the history of the country during all of its trials and tribulations.”
When the correspondent further
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asked the Prime Minister as to whether there was any truth in the reports appearing from time to time in the press to the effect that Italy has intentions of its own, with regard to Palestine, Mussolini replied: “The League of Nations has granted the mandate over Palestine to Great Britain. Italy has no desire to interfere. So far as Italy is concerned, Great Britain may keep the mandate.”
The Prime Minister yesterday received a delegation representing the Jewish community of Turin. The delegation, consisting of Drs. Ovazza, Lattes and Servi, presented Mussolini with an album containing the names of Italian Jews who fell during the World War, and with a contribution of 50,000 lire for the Fascist welfare institutions. The delegation expressed its gratitude for the Non-Catholic Cults Law, just promulgated, guaranteeing religious liberty in the country.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.