In 1555 the Roman Catholic papacy announced major innovations in its Jewry policy. Previously, despite the existence in theory of repressive canonical legislation, Jews living under direct papal rule had enjoyed relative freedom of movement and numerous exemptions from legal restrictions. The many papal expressions concerning the hoped-for conversion of the Jews had also remained no more than a pious wish. From 1555, however, and for the next three hundred years, the papacy insisted on the enforcement of all the repressive Jewry laws, and required Jews to live bound in ghettos. More threatening, it launched an active and by no means unsuccessful conversionary program.
The present study examines the underlying causes and ideology of these actions. Based in part on documentation from the papal archives and from various publicistic writers of the period, it concentrates on the De ludaeis et Aliis Infidelibus by Marquardus de Susannis, a core text which clearly illuminates the motives behind the new policy. This legal-polemical tract, dating from 1558, is also the first synthetic exposition of medieval Roman and canon Jewry law. The author has examined this text for its own merits, and an index of the laws and commentaries cited in the tract have been appended here as an introduction to the significant, yet all but neglected, subject of the Jews in medieval law.
Because it reviews in detail a substantially unknown facet of the sixteenth-century papacy, and of canon law in general, Catholic Thought and Papal Jewry Policy merits the attention of both Jewish and Christian scholars.
Kenneth R. Stow — Kenneth Stow was on the faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary from 1972 to 1975. He is a graduate of the Combined Program of the Seminary and Columbia University, and he holds his doctorate from Columbia. He is a professor of Jewish history emeritus at University of Haifa.
July 17, 1555 has traditionally been designated as a major turning point in the history of Judaeo-papal relations. On this date the newly elected pope, Paul IV (G. P. Carafa), issued the bull Cum nimis absurdum. Besides renewing all the restrictions established by previous papal Jewry legislation, this bull also required, for the first time in the Papal States, that all Jews live in an enforced ghetto, that they sell all their real property to Christians , and that they limit their commercial activity with Christians in the sphere of the necessities of life (i.e., food and clothing) to the selling of second-hand clothes (strazzaria).