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Love, Work and DeathJewish Life in Medieval Umbria$
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Ariel Toaff

Print publication date: 1996

Print ISBN-13: 9781874774198

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: February 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781874774198.001.0001

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Converts and Apostates

Converts and Apostates

(p.143) 7 Converts and Apostates
Love, Work and Death

Ariel Toaff

Liverpool University Press

This chapter studies the phenomenon of conversion and baptism in the Italian cities of the late Middle Ages, assessing its impact on the Jewish community. The Jews of late medieval Italy were dispersed throughout hundreds of small and isolated communities, immersed in a Christian society whose power of attraction could make itself felt well in excess of an already crushing numerical superiority; this inevitably left their numbers exposed to depletion by conversion and baptism. Scholars are virtually unanimous in agreeing that the number of baptisms within Italian Jewry rose sharply during the Counter-Reformation, as a result of the Church's increasingly intense policy of conversion and the antisemitic measures taken by the popes from the middle of the sixteenth century onwards. One constant policy among the Umbrian communes towards converted Jews was to water the new plants with more or less abundant alms and other benefits, such as exemption from taxes and the right of citizenship. However, whatever the reasons for their conversion, neophytes often became objects of hostility in Jewish circles, while at the same time finding themselves exposed to the distrust and suspicion of Christian society.

Keywords:   religious conversion, baptism, late medieval Italy, Christian society, Italian Jewry, Counter-Reformation, Umbria, converted Jews, alms

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