Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Menorah exhibition and the history of Roman Jewry

VATICAN MENORAH EXHIBITION:St. Peter’s Menorah. How the Vatican warmed to Jews over the last century (Fredric Brandfon, Tablet Magazine). This article uses the current Menorah exhibition in Rome as a launching point for surveying the history of Jews in Rome since the end of the Great Revolt in CE 70. Excerpt:
Those papal processions were in turn modeled after the ancient Roman triumphs, such as the one memorialized in the Arch of Titus. In fact, upon the election of each new pope, the pontiff would march triumphantly through Rome, reiterating the Roman tradition of a triumphal procession that is depicted in the Arch. Homage was paid to the pope by a Jewish delegation carrying a Torah scroll. They would present the scroll to the pontiff, probably at the Arch. The new pope would ceremonially accept the Torah, but, at the same time, volubly reject the Jewish interpretation of it. He would then either throw the Torah to the ground or pass it unceremoniously to an underling.

The Arch would serve doubly to remind Roman Jews of their subservient status; first, as a people humbled by the Romans, and second, as a subordinated community under papal hegemony. When, in the 16th century, Jews were no longer required to present the new pope with the Torah, they instead had to lavishly decorate the pope’s processional route, including bedecking the Arch of Titus with tapestries and banners. Not surprisingly, these humiliations gave rise to a well-known Roman Jewish custom: Jews prohibited themselves from walking beneath the Arch of Titus.

That custom remained in place until Dec. 2, 1947, three days after the United Nations decision to partition Palestine and allow a Jewish state. On that day, Roman Jews and Jews from across Europe awaiting transport to Palestine gathered at the Arch. Led by Rome’s chief rabbi, David Prato, they again placed a banner on the Arch. But this time it was a blue-and-white Jewish banner with two dates: the date of the Roman destruction of the Second Temple and the date of the UN decision to partition Palestine. After the singing of Hatikvah, the assembled crowd deliberately broke with tradition and marched through the Arch from west to east toward Jerusalem, in the opposite direction of the Jews who had come to Rome as slaves of Titus in 70 CE.
For past PaleoJudaica posts on the Vatican Menorah exhibition, start here and follow the links. For past posts on ancient menorahs and representations of menorahs, start here and follow the links.

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