The Tedeschian Community


[1]The Tedeschian Jews are Ashkenazi Jews who originated in Germany, and immigrated to Italy at the end of the fifteenth century. The name "Tedeschi" (Tedescho in singular), which means "Ashkenazi" or "German," was coined by the local Italian Jews who lived in the surroundings of the Tedeschian Jews, in order to distinguish the immigrant community from the local community. The Tedeschian Jews settled in various places in north Italy and lived there until the beginning of the Second World War. Their immigration was not a consequence of intended expulsion, but due to the hostile attitude of the German government towards Jews in south Germany. With the exception of Ancona and Florence, all of the Tedeschian Jews communities were in the Po Valley[2] and its surroundings: Gorizia, Genoa, Venice, Verona, Torino, Trieste, Livorno, Milano, Mantua, Padua, Ferrara, Casale Monferrato, Reggio Emilia, in addition to smaller places in between the mentioned cities. The boundaries of the territory are from Torino in the west to Trieste and Gorizia in the east and from Milano in the north to Florence and Ancona in the south. The settlement of the Tedeschian Jews in the Po Valley was not arbitrary, but due to the geographical similarities to their place of origin.

At the beginning of their life in Italy, the Tedeschian Jews sustained a hope to return to Germany soon. This hope caused them to try and maintain their German culture, in order that when they return, they will not need to acclimatize themselves again. They formed a sort of "little Germany" inside Italy, in which not only the culture itself, but also the urge to preserve it, formed a vital part of their identity. As time passed, the community faced the dilemma between preserving their German culture against adapting to the local culture in Italy. Ultimately, the need to adapt was stronger than the will to preserve the original identity. Since the third generation to the immigration, the Tedeschian began adopting the local costumes and culture. One example is the alteration of their Ashkenazi surnames, which had a German sound and meaning, into Italian: Ettlingen became Otolongi, Marburger or Marburg, became Morfogo, Singer became Sagra, Lausitz became Luzzati or Luzzato, and so on.

Another example is the Tedeschian Jews use of the models of the Hebrew pronunciation practiced in Italy. For example, the Hebrew Guttural letter "Ayin," which do not exist in Italian, is pronounced "ng," and sounds like it is produced from the palate as a nasal sound (the Jews of Amsterdam pronounce "Ayin" in the same way, however it is clear that the Tedeschian Jews obtained this sort of pronunciation from Italy). The same happened with the pronunciation of the letter "Tav," which sounds like "Dalet." The favorite Hebrew nikkud vowel sign of the Italian is "Shva Na." According to the rules of the Hebrew Nikkud, the Shva Na is only considered as a half-vowel. The Italian, and the Tedeschian descendents among them, turned it into a full vowel, and thus created a new unique vowel. When it appears in the end of a word, this new vowel can be compared to "Pattach Genova."[3]

However, despite the motivation of the Tedeschian Jews to adopt the culture of their environment, the will to preserve the culture of the immigrating generation still existed. Like many other communities, the synagogue functioned as the center for this preservation.

One can witness different levels of preservation within the synagogue, and these are apparent in the music: The piyyutim melodies are mostly borrowed from the surrounding culture, and help to bridge between the musical fashion outside the synagogue and the prayer melodies. On the other hand, the melodies for the Ta'amim of the Torah, Haftara and Megilot exhibit the preservation of a unique culture. Within these, the melodies of Ta'amey Hamikra constituted the main field of preservation.

[1] The sense of community which is in use here refers to a sort of community which bears the attributes of any community, such as: religious belief, common origin, interests, culture, economic or political activity etc. However, it does not have a specific geographical spot, and may be scattered across a big territory. The Tedeschian community was scattered at this way as can be read in the text and in the next note.

[2] As a result of that the majority of the Tedeschian Jews were moneylenders; they had to spread across the territory of northern Italy, along the Po River.

[3] For example, Reuben is turned into Reubenne, and Pelet into Pelette.