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The Port of Livorno and its "Nazione Ebrea" in the Eighteenth Century: Economic Utility and Political Reforms

Author(s): Francesca Bregoli

Journal: Quest : Issues in Contemporary Jewish History.
ISSN 2037-741X

Issue: 2;
Date: 2011;
Original page

Keywords: Jews | Livorno | port cities | Italy | modernity

The port of Livorno in Tuscany was a successful example of mercantilist policy at work, from which its Jewish community reaped great benefits in the early modern period: Jews were granted special prerogatives on the grounds of their economic usefulness, gaining liberties precluded to most Jewish communities elsewhere. However, these economic privileges had conservative implications as well. In this essay, I argue that, at the onset of “modernity,” the exceptional nature and economic system of Livorno, together with the long-standing conception of Livornese Jews as commercially useful, contributed to the preservation of traditional structures and norms and prevented the full application of enlightened equalizing policies championed by the Tuscan government. Instead of furthering political integration, the deeply engrained “discourse of Jewish utility” encouraged the permanence of a widespread view of the Jews as an autonomous corporate collectivity protected by the continued benevolence of the sovereign. The article includes a comparison of the Tuscan situation with the better-known French and Prussian cases.
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