Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Kenneth Stow's "Anna and Tranquillo"

Kenneth Stow is the author of Theater of Acculturation and Alienated Minority and founding editor of the journal Jewish History. He is currently a research associate in the Department of History, Smith College, and emeritus professor, University of Haifa, Israel.

Stow applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Anna and Tranquillo: Catholic Anxiety and Jewish Protest in the Age of Revolutions, and reported the following:
The story of Anna del Monte, kidnapped and held in the Roman House of Converts for thirteen days in 1749—to no avail, for she refused to convert and returned to the Roman Ghetto a Jew—is one link in the long chain of attempts to erase Jewish existence. The essence of that chain is the topic of page 99, the first mass attempt at conversion through violence that took place during the first Crusade of 1096. However, that violence, largely unorganized and orchestrated from (near) the bottom up, was also unapproved. The Church wanted order, which is what Anna’s story illustrates. There had to be rules and regulations, perverse by current standards, but still rules and regulations punctiliously observed. Anna knew these rules, somehow. Her brother Tranquillo, who perfected Anna’s original memories that she set down in writing, knew them even better, and one sees in Anna’s so-called diary, the core of my book, as a kind of manual. How does one avoid falling into the conversionist trap? But the diary is also a protest. Jews in Rome were, in civil terms, full citizens; every lawyer and jurist, non-Jewish ones, that is, said so. But Jews were also restrained by the ghetto, for reasons of religion. The absurdity of this contradiction, citizenship, yet discrimination founded on religion, is also the diary’s implicit message. Anna’s story, in the context of the reality of Jewish life in the Roman Ghetto, illustrates the pitfalls of the confessional state, one with a formal religion that also privileges religion in law. That kind of state would go out of existence only when the American Constitution intentionally ignored religion as a criterion for citizenship; George Washington told the Jews of Newport, R.I., that a good citizen is one who obeys the law; hence, obedience to law creates the citizen. Till then, the criterion was “rebirth,” “regeneration,” through baptism. The French Revolution followed suit. It was, however, only with Napoleon’s Code Civil of 1804 that modern secular state in Europe was fully born. Only then could Jewish Emancipation, the diametrical opposite of Roman Ghetto life, become a true reality. In Anna’s Rome, that event occurred only in 1870, with the fall of the Papal State and the founding of the Italian Monarchy.
Learn more about Anna and Tranquillo at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue