Jewish city story of Rome

The center of Italy’s cultural and political life, Rome has one of the greatest concentrations of artistic treasures and historic monuments of the world. The Roman Jewish community is the oldest of the Diaspora: its ancient origins, its rich historical and artistic heritage, and monuments that have survived to the present day make the community of Rome a unique example not only in Italy but in the whole Diaspora. 

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Micaela Pavoncello

Ciao! My name is Micaela Pavoncello and I am a proud member of the Jewish Community of Rome. I was born in Rome to a Jewish Roman father (proud to be here since Caesar’s time!) and a Libyan Jewish Sephardic mother. I am married to Angelo and we have three sons, Gabriel, Nathan, and Isaac. I have lived in Rome my entire life, except for one year I lived in Argentina and another year in Israel. I am in love with my city and that’s the reason why I decided to study Art History at Rome’s university. Traveling has given me the opportunity to meet other Jews, share my story with them, and compare my community with their and other communities. Throughout my time as a guide, while meeting people along my journey, I have come to realize how miraculous the existence of the Jewish Community of Rome really is. I founded Jewish Roma Walking Tours in 2003 after completing my studies in Art History and a year of research at the central Archive of Rome where I was looking for documents about my family during the ghetto times. I also had a full time job at MACRO, Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome, where I was responsible for the exhibitions department and I had the opportunity to meet artists, collectors, curators, and visitors from all over the world. Taking people on tours of Rome, meeting travelers, and teaching them about the bimillenary existence of the Jews in this city made me understand that most people see Rome only as a city of Christianity. However… The Jewish Community of Rome’s history of resilience, culinary traditions, different minhag (musical-liturgical traditions), Jewish-Roman dialect, and continuous presence in the same place, make us the most ancient citizens of Rome and unique contributors to the fabric of the Eternal City. We have been witnesses of the grandeur of the Roman Empire, and to its fall, the beginning of Christianity, the Barbarians, the Inquisition, The Popes, the ghettos, and the final Emancipation. We went through World War Two and the Shoah and still we thrive today.

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Brenda Lee Bohen May 2, 2023

A Tour of the Vatican Museum & Saint Peter’s Basilica with a Jewish American Tour Guide, Andrea Stoler, PhD.

A Tour of the Vatican Museum & Saint Peter’s Basilica with a Jewish American Tour Guide, Andrea Stoler, PhD.  American Jews understand the idea of religious identity differently from American Christians visiting the Vatican Museums and Saint Peter’s Basilica. Since World War II, there have been three significant changes in American Judaism; the Holocaust, the birth of the State of Israel and Jewish-Christian  relations following the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), from 1962 to 1965.  [caption id="attachment_47646" align="alignnone" width="498"] Andrea Stoler with the view of the Dome of Michelangelo and the Vatican’s botanical gardens that interestingly have seven species (Duet. 8:8).[/caption] Until now, Jewish tours of the Vatican traditionally have focused on how the Sistine Chapel was designed to be a copy of the holy Jewish Temple in Jerusalem built by King Solomon, or how Michelangelo embedded the Torah and Kabbalah in his famous Sistine ceiling and Last Judgement (See Sistine Secrets, Rabbi Benjamin Blech, and Roy Doliner, 2008). Of course, a quick visit to the Jewish Lapidary (if it’s open) provides the viewing of some of the cast copies of stone funerary epigraphical inscriptions from the Jews of ancient Rome. This is your basic Jewish Vatican tour conducted by both Jewish guides from the community and non-Jewish guides in Rome.  Jewish education is a vital component in ensuring “Jewish survival.” Studies consistently show that the more Jewish education a child receives, the more likely she or he is to practice Judaism, support its goals and institutions, and raise a Jewish family. (Kaplan, 2005). Importantly, Judaism requires all Jews to study throughout their entire lives. This is the fundamental difference between Jewish and secular education. All forms of Jewish education are vitally important, whether from an educational institution, a synagogue or a guided tour in the Vatican Museums and Saint Peter’s Basilica, explains American scientist Andrea Stoler.  Originally from upstate New York, Stoler received her PhD in Molecular/Cell Biology from Northwestern University in Chicago. She is an accredited tour guide in the Vatican City making her the first and only Conservative Jewish American woman who gives full-day or half-day tours in the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, Saint Peter’s Basilica, including its dome and papal crypts, and Saint Peter’s Square from a historically Jewish perspective.  Stoler, a trained scientist with extensive knowledge in history, devotes her tours to important events in Jewish history relating to the Vatican and its popes. For example, once passing the security check in the Vatican Museums Stoler stops to show a modern statue by Giuliano Vangi (1999), Crossing the Threshold. She points out how this depicts Pope John Paul II pushing a young man into the world encouraging him to become involved. (In The Footsteps of Popes, Bruschini, 2000). She passionately mentions that, in 1986, Pope John Paul II became the first pontiff in history to visit a synagogue. He met with the Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff and famously referred to Jews as “elder brothers”. This meeting profoundly, and irrevocably, changed relations between the two faiths.  Once officially inside the Vatican Museums, the next stop is the long and deep spiral ramp, built in 1932 by the architect Giuseppe Momo (1875-1940), a design which greatly influenced the Guggenheim Museum in 1937. Here is where Stoler quickly explains how the papal mobility up to the Vatican hill and throughout Rome was provided by horses, mules, and donkeys. She further mentions how two spiral staircases are said to have been part of Solomon’s Temple, leading to a sacrificial altar. Here in the Vatican Museums are two spiral staircases. Then she takes visitors to the Carriage Museum to see the collection of carriages and cars used by popes and cardinals.  Stoler next stops to show a painting of a papal procession through the Roman forums explaining how the Jews of Rome were required to meet the newly elected pope and give him a Torah scroll as a gift. Through this presentation, Roman Jews acknowledged each new pope as their temporal ruler in Rome   The tradition of Jews gifting a newly elected pope with a Torah provides us with an understanding of the historical relations between the Vatican and its popes with the Roman Jewish community which continue until today. “This is why I like to stop at each of the Pope’s busts alongside their carriage and highlight their relations with the Jews during their reign,” explains Stoler.  Another significant stop that Stoler believes is vital in recognizing Jewish history on her tour is the first room in the Pinacoteca (Picture Gallery).  The Art Gallery was inaugurated by Pope Pius XI on October 27, 1932. Stopping under his portrait bust, Stoler explains that relations between Pope Pius XI and the Jews during his reign from 1922 to 1939 are generally regarded as positive. She likes to share one of his quotes to Belgian pilgrims whom he received on September 8, 1938: “It is not possible for Christians to take part of antisemitism. Spiritually we are Semites.” (Encyclopedia Judaica, 2008).  Interestingly, Pope Francis spoke similarly when he received a delegation in 2018 from the ancient community of Mountain Jews to discuss Holocaust anniversaries and the problems of antisemitism. The Pope noted that there are still antisemitic attitudes in our society today: “As I have often repeated, a Christian cannot be an anti-Semite; we share the same roots.”  Just across from the bust of Pope Pius XI is a large cast copy of Michelangelo’s Pieta. After a brief explanation of the story about Michelangelo’s Pieta, Stoler adds a comment from the Mishna and concludes by saying how the most famous Christian sculpture of all time is a Jewish mother with her Jewish son.   The Vatican Museums consist of 54 galleries housing about 70,000 art works from Roman sculpture to Medieval and Renaissance paintings, but only about 20,000 are on actual display. It is not possible to see everything; the heat and the crowds of tourists canquickly become overwhelming.  Thus, it is important to hire a private tour guide or participate on a group guided tour, so you are introduced to the highlights of the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and Saint Peter’s Basilica in about three hours. For a tour focusing on the Jewish history of Rome and the Vatican, a Jewish tour guide is ideal and the most well-versed.  Every room is inaugurated by a pope, and there is a Jewish story with each one. Stoler narrates the history of the papacy and its relations to the Jews brilliantly. Moreover, 2023 is of significance because October 16, 2023 will be the 80th anniversary of the darkest Shabbat in history of the Jews of Rome.  It was on that infamous day, eight decades ago, that Pope Pius XII remained SILENT as over 1000 Roman Jews were deported by the Nazis and taken to a military college (prison) just down the street from his papal palace.  A visit to Saint Peter’s Basilica and the papal crypt where Pope Pius XII is buried is part of Stoler’s in depth Jewish historical tour of the Vatican. Stoler is often asked about the actions of Pope Pius XII towards the Jews of Rome during the German occupation of the city. Even though this action was taken in sight of the Vatican, no papal intervention was taken to stop this action.  One must however bear in mind, that at the time of the deportation, several hundred Roman Jews were hidden in the Vatican, and in various religious institutions throughout Italy. The papacy could have sanctioned the opening of many places of refuge for the Roman Jews. There are historians who are quite critical of the actions of Pope Pius XII regarding the Roman Jewish deportation and the Holocaust in general. Yet, there are also those who defend the pontiff.  As this ongoing debate continues, scholars are learning more about what the Catholic Church did and didn’t do to save the Jews. Stoler’s tour examines both sides of the argument regarding Pius XII from an objective point of view. By doing so, Stoler will eventually be able to create a short but lucid and cogent synopsis of the arguments of each side that she shares with those on her tour. She will also share with participants on her tours the views of the Chief Rabbi of Rome. If she is asked her opinion on the issue, Stoler will give an informed and thoughtful opinion based on the proposed current study. Her opinion will be shared in a tactful manner that eschews any sort of partisan point of view.  Stoler’s passionate, creative, and innovative way of explaining Jewish history of the eternal city concludes in Saint Peter’s square by reciting the unforgettable farcical tale, which took place there, of the Pope’s lunch, a Rabbi‘s lunch and the ultimate fate of the Roman Jews. Andrea Stoler is available for either half-day or full-day excursions upon request. She is enthusiastic, fun, approachable, and an easy-going scientist who has created a uniquely Jewish journey inside Vatican City. 

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Brenda Lee Bohen March 15, 2023

Ancient Jewish Rome with Marco Misano | Julius Caesar and The Jews: A Close and Friendly Relationship

Gaius Julius Caesar (12 July 100 BCE – 15 March BCE) was given military support by Jews at a critical moment in his fight in Egypt against Pompey. Due to this cooperation, Caesar granted religious tolerance and security for Jews. Thus, both gave Jews freedom to practice their religion, without interference granted them security and had a positive view of them. Rome will mark the Ides of March and the assassination of Julius Caesar on March 15, 2023. While many tours in the eternal city will focus on this historical re-enactment of that fateful day in 44 BCE. The licensed tour guides from the Jewish community of Rome, such as Marco Misano, offers educational Jewish heritage walking tours in Rome and throughout Italy from a Jewish perspective.  As the anniversary of the Ides of March soon approaches, I reached out to historian Samuele Rocca in Jerusalem to ask him about the Julius Caesar and the Jews of Rome. When the Egyptians besieged Julius Caesar in Alexandria, planning to murder him just as they had killed Pompey, the Jews living in Judaea, modern Israel sent in over 3,000 soldiers to help.  In gratitude, when Caesar took over Rome, he changed some of the civil laws, such as, to allow the Jews to better observe the Sabbath and revoke the harsh decrees and taxation. How did this impact the Jews of Rome? Historian Samuele Rocca: The Jews living in the Rome of the Late Republic were active in politics. The most important sources on the participation of the Jews living in Rome in the years before the civil war between Pompey and Caesar to the political life of the city are Cicero and Suetonius. Cicero Pro Flacco presents us with much data on the Jews living in Rome.  Some of it can help us in reconstructing the legal and social position of the Jews living in Rome in 59 B.C.E. Thus Cicero writes that the Jews “stick together”, that “every year it was customary to send gold to Jerusalem on the order of the Jews from Italy and from all our provinces” (Cicero, Pro Flacco 28, 66-69). It seems then the Jews living in Rome in 59 B.C.E., had a certain type of communal life, as the reader was accustomed to think that the Jews “stick together” and that they sent each year from Rome as well as from Italy the Half – Shekel too the Jerusalem Temple. This could have been possible only if the Jews of Rome would have been organized together in some way, as to collect money from various sources, to deposit it and to send it all together, thus organizing the effort through land or sea to Judaea and Jerusalem could have been possible through a communitarian effort. Thus, it seems that the Jewish community of Rome in the Late Republic was organized following informal lines, although the Jews had the right as individuals or as a group to send the Half – Shekel to the Jerusalem Temple. However, Cicero’s text is important because it shows the political activities of the Jews. Cicero thus accuses Laelius, who directed the defense that brought the Jews, knowing “what a big crowd (turba)” it is, and “how influential they are in informal assemblies (contiones)”. Cicero hints that the Jews could be brought together to form a crowd, and that they could be active in informal assemblies (contiones), as opposed to comitia, or the legally recognized organization of the Roman People to elect magistrates and to vote a law. This makes clear that most of the Jews involved were just foreigners or liberti, who had not the right to take part in comitia. On the other hand, from this group are excluded the Jews who were slaves, and the few Jews who were Roman citizens. The first as slaves could not have taken part in these assemblies, and the latter were too few to influence a contio, and anyway they could participate in the various comitia. The Jews acted like that because they had a certain clientelar obligation, towards Pompey and Gabinius, supporting them informally in contiones and formally during comitia. Pompey, after he defeated Aristobulus II, the Hasmonean prince who dared to defy Rome, had Hyrcanus II, his brother appointed as High Priest of Judaea. As the ruler of Judaea, at least till Pharsalus, Hyrcanus II was Pompey’s cliens or liege. According to Appian, Hyrcanus II’s soldiers could be found in Pompey army fighting at Pharsalus. This implies only that Hyrcanus, as cliens of Pompey, had to take his side during the civil war against Caesar. Obviously Pompey death absolved Hyrcanus II from any further obligation towards Pompey or his party (Appian, Civil Wars II, 71). It seems that, as Josephus hints, Hyrcanus II collaborated with Gabinius as well, during the later tenure in 58 B.C.E. in his campaign against Ptolemaic Egypt. According to Josephus, Gabinius was assisted by Antipater and Hyrcanus in his campaign against Egypt. He was supplied with grain, arms and money by Antipater. Moreover the Jews of Pelusium were won over and acted as guards of entrances of Egypt (Josephus, AJ XIV, 98-99).  The Jews living in Rome, therefore, would have been clientes of Pompey, as their far away ruler, the High Priest Hyrcanus II, to whom they sent each year the Half-Shekel was his cliens. Moreover Pompey was probably the only politician who could have pushed for a legalization of the right of the Jews to send money from Rome to the Temple. However, some of the Jews living in Rome were clientes of Gabinius. Although Gabinius was in the East as consul in 58 B.C.E., he was before together with Pompey as one of his legati. It is worthwhile to remember that in this period, when Cicero wrote the Pro Flacco, nor Pompey or Gabinius were exactly in good terms with Cicero. Thus when in 58 B.C.E. Cicero was exiled, under the consulship of Gabinius and Piso, Pompey did not help Cicero in any way. [caption id="attachment_46414" align="alignnone" width="324"] Courtesy of Marco Misano | Marco Misano standing in front of the bronze statue of Julius Caesar located at the Roman Forum[/caption] Yet, once Civil War came, the Jews stood by Julius Caesar, Pompey’s legitimate rival. In fact the Jews living in Rome just followed the steps of their leader in Judaea, the High Priest Hyrcanus II, who switched his allegiance from Pompey to Julius Caesar after the latter defeat at Pharsalus and death in Egypt, which absolved them from any allegiance to Pompey’s party. It seems that Julius Caesar tried to gather the support of the Jews living in Rome already at the beginning of the Civil War. Therefore Julius Caesar showed his support for the Hasmonean pretender Aristobulus II, then living in Rome as exile. Aristobulus II was sent by Julius Caesar with two legions in Syria, but he was poisoned by the Pompeians. His son Alexander met a similar fate, as he was soon afterwards beheaded by Scipio at Antioch (Josephus, AJ XIV, 123-125). Julius Caesar could not have done otherwise, as Hyrcanus II, the legitimate Hasmonean ruler, stood firm by Pompey. Besides, Julius Caesar wanted to support Aristobulus II, because he was aware that the Jews living in Judaea preferred him to his brother, perceived as a weak figure. It was probably through the auspices of Gabinius that Julius Caesar got in touch with Aristobulus II. When he was governor of Syria, Aristobulus and his son Alexander tried to uphold the flag of rebellion against Rome twice, but they were easily defeated. Gabinius showed pity and refrained from harsh actions, sending the two Hasmonean pretenders back to their Roman golden exile.  It seems that Hyrcanus II stood by Julius Caesar through the offices of Antipater his main councilor, who had a special relationship with Mark Antony, Master of the Horse, second in command to the dictator Julius Caesar. Mark Antony, as a young man served in Judaea in the wake of Gabinius and there he became friend with Antipater, the father of the future King Herod the Great. Josephus, taking as primary source the historical writing of Strabo of Amaseia, narrates that ”after Pompey was dead, and after that victory Caesar had gained over him, Antipater, who managed the Jewish affairs, became very useful to Caesar when he made war against Egypt, and that by the order of Hyrcanus; for when Mithridates of Pergainus was bringing his auxiliaries, and was not able to continue his march through Pelusium, but obliged to stay at Askelon, Antipater came to him, conducting three thousand of the Jews, armed men….So Mithridates marched out of Syria, and came to Pelusium…(which) was taken. But it happened that the Egyptian Jews, who dwelt in the country called Onias, would not let Antipater and Mithridates, with their soldiers, pass to Caesar; but Antipater persuaded them to come over with their party, because he was of the same people with them, and that chiefly by showing them the epistles of Hyrcanus II the high priest, wherein he exhorted them to cultivate friendship with Caesar, and to supply his army with money, and all sorts of provisions which they wanted; and accordingly, when they saw Antipater and the high priest of the same sentiments, they did as they were desired. And when the Jews about Memphis heard that these Jews were come over to Caesar, they also invited Mithridates to come to them; so he came and received them also into his army. And when Mithridates had gone over all Delta, as the place is called, he came to a pitched battle with the enemy, near the place called the Jewish Camp. Now Mithridates had the right wing, and Antipater the left; and when it came to a fight, that wing where Mithridates was gave way, and was likely to suffer extremely, unless Antipater had come running to him with his own soldiers along the shore, when he had already beaten the enemy that opposed him; so he delivered Mithridates, and put those Egyptians who had been too hard for him to flight. He also took their camp, and continued in the pursuit of them. He also recalled Mithridates, who had been worsted, and was retired a great way off; of whose soldiers eight hundred fell, but of Antipater's fifty. So Mithridates sent an account of this battle to Caesar, and openly declared that Antipater was the author of this victory, and of his own preservation, insomuch that Caesar commended Antipater then, and made use of him all the rest of that war in the most hazardous undertakings; he happened also to be wounded in one of those engagements…When Caesar, after some time, had finished that war … he honored Antipater greatly, and confirmed Hyrcanus in the high priesthood; and bestowed on Antipater the privilege of a citizen of Rome, and a freedom from taxes (Josephus, AJ XIV, 127-136). [caption id="attachment_46415" align="alignnone" width="498"] Photograph by Brenda Lee Bohen | Marco Misano is showing the original inscription inside the Colosseum that reads the original Latin inscription that reads: “The emperor Titus Caesar Vespasian Augustus had the new amphitheater build from the profits of the war” Clearly, the inscription refers to the huge loot taken by Titus, after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem!" (Louis H. Feldman, “Financing the Colosseum,” Biblical Archaeology Review 27.4, 2001).[/caption] Julius Caesar recognized with a series of decrees approved during two senatus consulta held respectively in October 47 BC and in 44 BC, during his dictatorship. various privileges to Hyrcanus II, evidently as a result of the help of Antipater. The Roman dictator confirmed Hyrcanus II as high priest, and furthermore appointed him ethnarch, or ruler of all the Jews living in the territories ruled by Rome. The territories under Hasmonean rule, Judea, Idumea, Galilee, and part of Samaria and Perea, were partially exempted from paying tribute to Rome, for example during the Sabbatic year. Furthermore, the treaty of alliance and friendship with Rome, which existed before Pompey treacherously put an end to the independence of Judaea was renewed and Judea was given the title of socius and amicus Populi Romani, that is, an ally of the Roman people. The walls of Jerusalem, demolished by Pompey, were rebuilt. Besides, Antipater and his family were given Roman citizenship, a very precious gift (Josephus, AJ XIV, 192-212). Moreover, Julius Caesar gave ample privileges to the Jews living in Rome. In fact, the legal and successful framework for a communitarian organization was created during Julius Caesar’s dictatorship. Thus, although Julius Caesar in fact restricted the number and the activities of the collegia in Rome, the corporate bodies, which were in the Roman Republic the framework for any type of communal organization, the Roman leader viewed the Jewish communities as licit and legal communities. Hence, during the years 49 – 44 B.C.E., Julius Caesar renewed with the Lex Iulia De Collegis the earlier prohibitions passed by the Senate against the various corporate organizations and guilds or collegia, dissolving most of the collegia, with the exception of the oldest (Suetonius, Divus Julius I, 42). It seems, however, that the Roman dictator legalized in Rome the Jewish communities as collegia licita. The only document, quoted by Josephus, which refers to the privileges given by Julius Caesar specifically to the Jewish communities of Roman Italy is a decree sent by Publius Servilius Isauricus to the city of Parium in 44 B.C.E. slightly after Julius Caesar’ murder (Josephus, AJ XIV, 210-212). This document is part of a collection of various decrees collected by Josephus, which concern the Jewish communities of the Province of Asia, dated to the years of the dictatorship of Julius Caesar. The decree states clearly that although Julius Caesar in the Lex Iulia forbade all religious societies, or collegia, which Josephus calls thiasoi, however an exception was made for the Jews living in Roman Italy. According to Josephus, "for even Caius Caesar, our imperator and consul, in that decree wherein he forbade the Bacchanal rioters to meet in the city, did yet permit these Jews, and these only, both to bring in their contributions, and to make their common suppers". The decree, which concerns the Jews living in Parium, mentions only indirectly the legal privileges enjoyed by the Jewish communities of Roman Italy. [caption id="attachment_46416" align="alignnone" width="538"] Photograph by Brenda Lee Bohen | Marco Misano giving an introduction about the history of the Jews of Rome in room 2, Jewish Museum of Rome[/caption] However, the decree mentions only indirectly the legal privileges enjoyed by the Jewish communities in Roman Italy. Yet, a careful reading of the various decrees collected by Josephus, already mentioned, which concern the Jewish communities of the Province of Asia, allow to reconstruct these privileges. From then onwards, Jews living in Roman Italy would be permitted to create collegia licita, or communities, as they were permitted to assemble, to collect contribution of money for the Temple of Jerusalem, and to hold common meals. However, once the passage of Suetonius and this passage of Josephus are compared, there is a problem, namely that Josephus quotes a decree and not a law, the Lex Julia De Collegis. Possibly, Julius Caesar on one hand enacted the law that allowed a few collegia legittima, while forbidding many others. There is no motivation to think that this law also legitimated Jewish community, recognizing them as collegiate institutions as it was formulated in general terms. Possibly, when the Jews of Rome wanted to secure a specific legal recognition for their communities, Julius Caesar ruled through a decree that the legal status of the Jewish communities in Rome would correspond to that of the collegia legittima.  And this is the decree mentioned by Josephus, and it can explain why the passage of Josephus refers to a decree and not to a law. No wonder that Suetonius (Suetonius, Divus Julius I, 84: 5) reports the sincere mourning of the Jews at the funeral pyre of Julius Caesar, writing that“At the height of the public grief a throng of foreigners went about lamenting each other after the fashion of this country, above all the Jews, who even flocked to the funeral pyre for several successive nights.” As the prominent American Jewish scholar Harry J. Leon once said “The Jewish community of Rome has had a longer continuous existence than any other community of Europe—since the Jews have lived in that city for more than two thousand years—yet no complete study of its ancient period has yet been extensively made.” For this very reason, I have been interviewing world renowned experts of the Jews during antiquity to consider and specifically evaluate the little-known history of the Jews of Rome and their contribution to the foundation of the eternal city.

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Brenda Lee Bohen February 28, 2023

A Torah Tour of the Sistine Chapel with Sara Terracina

A TORAH TOUR OF THE SISTINE CHAPEL WITH SARA TERRACINA Millions of tourists have entered the Sistine Chapel for more than five hundred years. Tour guides usher their massive size tour groups, while other guides try to squeeze in their private clients through in ten to twenty minutes leaving them to gaze in awe by the powerful story of the Torah. According to Jewish tradition, Jews have called the writings of the Hebrew Bible the Tanakh. It is an abbreviation of the words Torah (the five books of Moses; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, also called Pentateuch, Nevi’im (the historical prophetic books), and Ketuvim (the remainder of the inspired writings or wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible). The Torah derives from the homonymic Hebrew root “y-r-h”. This root meant “to teach”. The term Old Testament is the Christian name for the Hebrew Bible. A Torah Tour of the Sistine Chapel is specifically curated for Jewish visitors who want to visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel with a Jewish tour guide. During this tour, participants will see the highlights of the Vatican Museum, ancient artefacts, the art masterpieces with links to the Jewish history of Rome. [caption id="attachment_45984" align="alignnone" width="640"] Sistine Chapel Museum Ceiling Panel Board[/caption] Your guide is Sara Terracina, a member from of the Jewish community of Rome. She provides specialized tours for tourists visiting Rome and Italy who are interested in Jewish history and culture. Her mission is to show visitors how the eternal city is an amazing place where ancient Romans, the Popes and the Jewish community struggled, but succeeded to coexist over the centuries. The Torah Tour of the Sistine Chapel is a three-hour walking tour inside the vast complex of the Vatican Museums. The Sistine Chapel plays an important role in the Roman Catholic Church. It is the place where the Sacred College of Cardinals, gather to elect popes. The Sistine Chapel did not start during the Renaissance, it was originally built during the Middle Ages. The first written documentation relating to its existence dates to 1368. It was called the capella papalis, or Papal Chapel. Pope Sixtus IV (Francesco della Rovere 1471-1484) decided to rebuild the chapel as part of his preservation plan to beautify Rome and of course, immortalize his papacy. The chapel was named the Sistine Chapel in his honor. Construction on the chapel began in 1477 by a the Florentine architect Baccio Pontelli. Pontelli was a military architect and was commissioned to build a chapel with both military and spiritual features. Pope Sixtus, also known as the warrior pope, often engaged in military battles with other city-states throughout Italy. The original structure was never destroyed, and the lower third part was kept as a base for the new chapel. Pontelli designed the chapel to conform to the full- sized copy of the inner-sanctum, or the Holy of Holies, of King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem----right smack in the middle of Renaissance Rome. It was 134.28 feet long by 43.99 feet wide by 67.91 feet high—exactly those of the heichal, the long rectangular back section of the First Holy Temple completed by King Solomon and his architect King Hiram of Tyre (Lebanon) in 930 BCE (Sistine Secrets, HarperCollins, 2008). This Torah Tour of the Sistine Chapel is a hands-on, interactive experience that will keep all family members engaged while learning how Michelangelo frescoed seven Hebrew Prophets and nine scenes of Genesis. Here are some of the highlights discussed on the Torah Tour: PAR’SHAT B’RESHEET Viewing the first panel on the ceiling Michelangelo shows that he understood the Hebrew text: “When G-d began to create heaven and earth—the earth being uniformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water— “God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from darkness. He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, a first day. (Tanakh, Genesis 1: 1-6) The second panel is the Separation of Day and Night, when God creates “the Sun for the day and the Moon for the night.” “God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water, that it may separate water from water.” God made the expanse, and it separated the water which was below the expanse from the water which was above the expanse. And it was so. God called the expanse Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.” (Tanakh, Genesis 1: 6-8). The theme of the third panel is the Separation of Water from the Dry. God said, “Let the water below the sky be gathered into one area, that the dry land may appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering of the waters He called Seas. And God saw this was good. And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation: seed-bearing plants, fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: seed-bearing plants of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that this was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day. (Tanakh, Genesis 1: 9-13) In the next scene God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate day from night; they shall serve as signs for the set times—the days and the years; and they shall serve as lights in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights, the greater light to dominate the day and the lesser light to dominate the nigh, and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the earth, to dominate the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that this was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day. (Tanakh, Genesis 1: 14-19). The following scene is where God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and birds that fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” God created the great sea monsters, and all the living creatures of every kind that creep, which the waters brought forth in swarms, and all the winged birds of every kind. And God saw that this was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fertile and increase, fill the waters and the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day. (Tanakh, Genesis 1: 20-23). Continuing, God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature: cattle, creeping things, and wild beasts of every kind.” And it was so. God made wild beasts of every kind and cattle of every kind, and all kinds of creeping things of the earth. And God saw that this was good. And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.” And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all living things that creep on earth.” God said, “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food. And to all the animals on land, to all the birds in the sky, and to everything that creeps on earth, in which there is the breath of life, (I give) all the green plants for food.” And it was so. And God saw all that He had made and found it very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Tanakh, Genesis 1: 24-31). And finally, on the seventh day, the heaven and the earth were finished. On the seventh day God finished the work that He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work that He had done. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of the creation that He had done. Such is the story of heaven and earth whey they were created. (Tanakh, Genesis 2: 1-4). To imitate this divine formula, the Jewish People, later in the Torah, be commanded to separate and differentiate as well: between the Sabbath and the workdays, between kosher and non-kosher foods, between pure and impure sacrifices (during antiquity), between moral and Immoral actions/behavior, and on and on (Blech and Doliner, 2008). THE SEVEN HEBREW PROPHETS Prophets, especially Hebrew prophets, have always been popular in Christian art. Prophets give evidence that Christianity developed from Judaism. More importantly, the seven male prophets whom Michelangelo frescoed on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel demonstrate his deep respect and knowledge of Jewish tradition. The prophets were charged with proclaiming to the Israelites  Who (God) was giving the orders, Why God was doing it, the How, When, Where and Why God was telling them to achieve these goals, even if the populace didn’t understand. The prophets were the mouthpiece of God as life continued on. The ancient Israelites as well as many other ancient people believed that God spoke through the prophets. It is through the writing of the prophets that we continue to hear Gods voice. Although the prophets were greatly respected, They were not fortune tellers and the Israelites did not always listen to their words or obey them. Keep in mind that the prophets were not fortune tellers. Nor were they foretellers of the future. The prophets were wise women and men who knew the inevitable results of the nation’s wrongdoings, unwise alliances, and, most importantly, the dire consequenes of religious and moral wrongs. The prophets considered themselves to be protectors and guardians of Israel’s spiritual purity and piety, and by extension its national well-being. The prophet’s job was to warn the Israelites of danger,  while also foretelling God’s Majestic and loving plan of the Messianic era. Here are some other highlights about the Prophets discussed about Michelangelo’s Seven Hebrew Prophets he frescoed in his ceiling: The writings in the Tanach, containing Zechariah’s prophecies, exhorting the Jews to serve God, and foretelling the future redemption. The writings in the Tanach, containing Joel’s prophecies, describing a terrible plague of locusts, calling for repentance, and foretelling the future redemption. The Prophet Isaiah brought to king and people the message of the holiness of God, the Lord of hosts, at a time when idolatry seemed to be taking hold in the land of Judah. It was Ezekiel's stern mission to denounce his brethren, both in Babylon and in Judah, who persisted in their sinfulness, and to warn them of the due consequences if they did not repent. Daniel was a celebrated Jewish scholar and master interpreter of dreams who was exiled to Babylon after the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The great prophet Jeremiah lived during the most crucial period of Judah's existence as a kingdom. He saw the destruction of Jerusalem and the holy Temple, after he had relentlessly warned his people to mend their ways before it was too late. The prophet Jonah was instructed by God to travel to the non-Jewish metropolis of Nineveh. There he was to warn the people that, if they did not return from their sinful ways, the city would be destroyed. In Judaism, it is only the Jews who tell “the story over and over from the beginning to end every year, every moment on earth.” This is obviously one of the major reasons  Jews have survived throughout the many persecutions they have faced. In the Jewish religion, it is only the Jews who tell “the story over and over from the beginning to end every year, every moment on earth.” This is obviously one of the major reasons that Jews have survived throughout the many persecutions they have faced. So how do the prophetesses and prophets figure into this? The Haftorah portion connected with each weekly Parsha (Torah) reading is the manner in which the Jewish system connects the five books to the rest of the Apocrypha readings that are included in as the Hebrew Bible. These Haftorah portions continue the story of the Israelites getting to the promise land and most of them are told through the Hebrew prophets. Sources JPS Hebrew-English TANAKH (2001) Rabbi Benjamin Blech and Roy Doliner “The Sistine Secrets”(Harper Collins 2008) https://www.chabad.org/search/keyword_cdo/kid/19238/jewish/Prophets-Section-of-the-Tanach.htm

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