This introductory chapter provides an overview of the emergence of Jewish communities in the regions of central and northern Italy. The growth of these new communities, which archival documentation shows to have been surprisingly rapid and widespread, had its origin in the northward migration from Rome of Jewish merchants engaged in the money trade. This book explores the everyday life of the Jews of Umbria, which can act as a template for the reconstruction of the world-view of much of Italian Jewry in the late Middle Ages. Though many aspects of Christian society encroached on the Jewish way of life at this period, they rarely amounted to a brutal intrusion and were more usually felt as a constant and insidious influence, born of the unequal power-struggle between the opposing societies. The attempt to fit in brought with it not only a dawning awareness of the gulf that separated the Jews from their Christian counterparts but also a heightened sense of the divisions within the Jewish community itself. A true picture of Jewish community life in medieval Italy must therefore take account of the many pressures and contradictions acting from within and without.
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