That not all is well with religious equality under the present arrangement resulting from the conclusion of the Concordat between the Vatican and the State, is evident when the situation of Italian Jewry in regard to the school question is considered.
Notwithstanding the assurances given by Benito Mussolini in his interview with Jacob Landau, managing director of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Italian Jews are uneasy and see danger to Judaism in Italy.
The Italian State schools are Catholic schools. Previously the State schools were secular schools, so that Jewish children were able to attend them without the religious question being involved. But in 1923, the then Fascist Minister of Education, Professor Gentile, carried through an Education Reform Law, which has transformed the schools into Catholic institutions. Article 3 of the Gentile Law states that “the teaching of Christian doctrine, according to the accepted form received by Catholic tradition, is the basis and the aim of elementary education in all its stages.” Consequently, Jewish parents who send their children to State schools subject them to conversionist influence. Mere exemption from attendance during the hours specially devoted to religious teaching, does not meet the problem. Under the Gentile law, the hours devoted to singing lessors are given up to religious music. The teaching of Italian is utilized for the purpose of extolling the heroes and martyrs of the Catholic faith. The teaching of history lends itself to holding up for admiration the outstanding personages and events of Catholic civilization. In most other sub- (Continued on Page 3)
Italian Jews have repeatedly endeavoured to obtain some measure from the Government which would remedy this situation, but without success. Wherever possible they have opened special schools for Jewish children, retaining the ordinary educational program of the Government, but substituting Jewish religious ideas for the Catholic. They have asked the Government to grant financial subsidies to these schools, which are doing work properly belonging to the State, but so far these requests have been refused, although in 1925 Professor Gentile, as Minister of Education, promised the late Jewish Senator Polacco, (who died in 1926) that this would be done.
The situation was graphically described at that time by Senator Polacco in his speech in the Senate. You are making the schools centres of religious proselytism, he cried, or else you are causing the mind of the child to wander confusedly between the two opposing elements of his home teaching and his school teaching, with the probability that he will finish up by falling into that religious indifference which the Government is so anxious to combat.
This elementary education, he proceeded, is compulsory for all citizens. The consequence is that in Rome and in all Italy hundreds of Jewish children are compelled to attend schools which are designed to cripple their religious conscience and to alienate them from their families. If this thing is done, it will lay Italy open to the reproach that she does not practice what she preaches. In the special Treaties with the new States of Central and Eastern Europe, clauses have been inserted which provide for the safeguarding of the language and the religion of the minorities. It would have seemed an insult to the dignity of the Great Powers; and above all of Italy to enforce on them similar clauses. But if we do not conform to the spirit of these clauses, to safeguard the language and the religion of our minorities, we shall be denying them the most elementary principle of modern public law. We Italian Jews, who have always regarded our fatherland and our ancient faith as one, see now in our old age that the equality and religious tolerance which has existed hitherto in the institutions of our country, are being suppressed. Such suppression would amount for us to a moral pogrom, no less terrible than the physical pogroms indulged in by the brutal and fanatical mobs of backward countries.
The Jewish community in Italy is the oldest in Europe. The relations between the Jewish and non-Jewish population have been most friendly and in- (Continued on Page 4)
timate. The Jews constitute so small a percentage of the population, that Italy has been one of the few countries which has had no Jewish question. Ten years ago a proposal that the Jews should establish special Jewish schools would have been considered absurd. Today the establishment of Jewish schools appears to be the only way to save Italian Jewry from disruption. At the same time, owing to the small number of the Jews in Italy, the idea of establishing Jewish schools encounters the difficult problem of raising sufficient funds among them. In Rome, which has the largest Jewish Community in Italy, the Jewish school is able to accommodate only 250 children, and more than a thousand Jewish children are obliged to attend the general schools.
The Italian Jewish leaders do not know what to do. If the Jewish community really enjoyed an equal status, as Signor Mussolini claims, the Jewish community should obtain financial assistance from the State for the maintenance of Jewish schools in the larger communities. The Government may fear that granting this request to the Jewish schools, might lead to a similar request being made by the Germans in the Tyrol for German schools. This would not, however, be the same thing, because the Jewish schools would be Italian schools, differing from the general schools only in the matter or religious instruction. The Jews feel that they ought not to be compelled to send their children to Christianizing schools. The Catholic schools, and even the Catholic clergy, are maintained by taxation, to which the Jews contribute. They claim therefore that they are also entitled to be given support for their schools. There is a strong feeling abroad here that this is a matter involving the whole future of Judaism in Italy, and one therefore which should not be of indifference to world Jewry as a whole; which would not, if they knew the facts, stand by and permit the disappearance of Italian Judaism.
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.