20160513 - Jewish Ghetto of Rome - St. Gregory the Divine Mercy

posted 16 May 2016, 22:32 by Lodzer Shabbat-Bulletin

20160513 - Jewish Ghetto of Rome - St. Gregory the Divine Mercy

Pope Leo XII was a dear, charming man. Unlike many of his predecessors, he did not discriminate. Rather, he equally feared and despised Jews, blacks, women, homosexuals, and anyone who was not a pious male Roman Catholic after his own heart. An equal opportunity hater if there ever was one.

Leo's post-Napoleonic rule (from 1823) would have been befitting for the darkest middle ages.


This little church behind my back is located right in front of the main synagogue of Rome, by the entrance to the ghetto. It is called San Gregorio della Divina Pieta, and its claim to fame was holding its main service on Saturday rather than Sunday.

Every week following Shabbat morning service, the Jews were forced by papal decree to come here and listen to a 2-hour long sermon, the goal of which was to convince, bribe, or badger them into baptism. The burly guards at the entrance would scrutinize the passing crowd to make sure no one was using earplugs, and then continue walking back and forth through the church as they carried long heavy sticks to prod and poke anyone falling asleep.

As you can imagine, such measures hardly endeared old Leo and his church to our people, but he didn't seem to mind.

Wish you were here to follow me to the green streets of Trastevere where the Jewish population used to dwell.

Ancient Romans would come here on Shabbat to see the Jewish day of rest. The concept escaped their understanding; either you were a free person. not accustomed to work at all, or you were a slave who worked every day nonstop. The idea of everyone taking the same day off every week was very foreign and confusing to them.

Wish you were here to see those cobbled streets, the very untouristy walls and tiny picturesque houses of the real people who live in this vibrant, very real world.

Cheers from Rome, tomorrow morning I'm meeting my new group, fresh off the flight Tel-Aviv-Naples.

Rabbi Eli