The Life of the Synagogue

Hebrew school lesson sheet, Italy

Lesson sheet
Hebrew school lesson sheet, Livorno, Italy
Published by Moisè ed Israel Palagi e Salomone Belforte, Livrono

This single sheet contains lessons for an Italian Hebrew school, including the Hebrew alphabet, with consonant and vowel combinations, numbers, and basic blessings, guides to Italian numbers, days, months, etc., as well as basic pronunciation. The illustration in the center shows a school scene where good students studying at a table are rewarded with sweets by an angel, while another boy, clearly a reluctant learner, is beaten by a teacher. The sheet was printed in the port city of Livorno, Italy, which boasted a large and prosperous Sephardi Jewish population. Livorno was the one city in Northern Italy where the ghetto system was never imposed. The Jewish Belforte family, which published the lesson plan, established a business in Livorno in 1805 that is operated today by its descendants.

The production of this 19th century bilingual guide might reflect the increase in institutions focused on children in Italian Jewish communities. These, as Silvia Guetta notes, were “not limited to the opening of primary schools for the education of young Jewish Italians,” but included “orphanages, kindergartens, arts and crafts schools, and eventually also some boarding schools.” Jewish communities in Italy “were embedded in the moderate Tuscan milieu in which the Georgofili Academy was disseminating new concepts on the need for a different kind of education,” Guetta explains in her paper, “Jewish institutions for children in Florence during the 19th and 20th centuries.” The lesson sheet, while basic, provides insight into Jewish education during a period of changing thought on pedagogy, as well as an increasing focus on the education and overall welfare of children throughout Jewish communities in Italy.