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David I. Kertzer is Paul Dupee, Jr. University Professor of Social Science, Professor of Anthropology (1992– ), Professor of History (1992–2001), and Professor of Italian Studies at Brown Universitymarker. He became Provost of Brown on July 1, 2006.

He is the author of ten books on various aspects of Italianmarker society, especially 19th- and 20th-century history.Two of his books, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara and The Popes Against the Jews, treat relationships between Catholics and Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Prisoner of the Vatican

One of his books, Prisoner of the Vatican, is about the acrimonious relationship between the Holy See and the newly unified kingdom of Italy during the period from the overthrow of the Papal Statesmarker in 1870 until the two adversaries settled their differences in the Lateran Treaty of 1929, establishing Vatican Citymarker as an independent state.

The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara

In the Papal Statesmarker, which existed until 1870, Jews were required to live only in specified neighborhoods called ghettos. Only Jews were taxed to support state boarding schools for Jewish converts to Christianity. It was illegal to convert from Christianity to Judaism. Sometimes Jews were baptized involuntarily, and, even when such baptisms were illegal, forced to practise the Christian religion. In many such cases the state separated them from their families. See Edgardo Mortara for an account of one of the most widely publicized instances of acrimony between Catholics and Jews in the Papal Statesmarker in the second half of the 19th century.

The Popes against the Jews

In the 19th and (before the end of the second World War) 20th centuries, the Roman Catholic Church adhered to a distinction between "good antisemitism" and "bad antisemitism". The "bad" kind promoted hatred of Jews simply because they were Jews. This was considered un-Christian because the Christian message was that all of humanity could become a Christian. The "good" kind criticized alleged Jewish conspiracies to control newspapers, banks, and other institutions, to care only about accumulation of wealth, etc. Many Catholic bishops wrote articles criticizing Jews on such grounds, and, when accused of promoting hatred of Jews, would remind people that they condemned the "bad" kind of antisemitism.

However, many scholars dispute Kertzer's findings. Jose Sanchez, history professor at St. Louis University criticized Kertzer's work as polemical and exaggerating the papacy's role in anti-Semitism. Scholar of Jewish-Christian relations Rabbi David G. Dalin criticized Kertzer for selectively using evidence. Ronald J. Rychlak, lawyer and author of Hitler, the War, and the Pope, also decried Kertzer's work for omitting strong evidence that the Church was not anti-Semitic. Daniel [sic] Kertzer's The Popes Against the Jews by Ronald J. Rychlak (The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights)

Furthermore, there were prominent opponents of antisemitism within the Catholic Church. Pope Gregory XVI, for example, spoke out against it in 1837. He rubbed out all the debts of the Jewish community and gave them medical aid during a cholera epidemic "when...[he saw] how poverty and high taxes plunged the [Jewish] community into bankruptcy" . Also, Pope Leo XIII defending the Jews in a newspaper interview (Ibid.) and supported French Jewish officer Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who had been accused of treason. Leo XIII "publicly condemned the anti-Semitic campaign against him" (Ibid). As the historian Owen Chadwick himself writes:"Protestants everywhere condemned the papacy for the Dreyfus Affair, though the papacy had nothing to do with the matter. So far as he expressed an opinion publicly, Leo XIII was on the side of Dreyfus. In March 1899 he was said to have compared Dreyfus to Jesus on Calvary" .

Moreover, during the pontificate of Pope Pius X, many condemned antisemitism:

Amalia's Tale

Amalia's Tale, published in 2008, is a study by Kertzer about a poor peasant woman, Amalia Bagnacavalli, in the Italy of the 1890s. She was believed to have contracted syphilis from an infant child of a foundling hospital after serving as a wet-nurse for the baby. The book explores the story of a long court case and her lawyer Augusto Barbieri's untiring pursuit of compensation from that hospital on behalf of his client.


  1. Book review The Popes Against the Jews. The Vatican's Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism By David I. Kertzer
  2. Chadwick, Owen/A History of the Popes 1830-1914/Oxford University Press/2003/p.129
  3. Chadwick, Owen/A History of the Popes 1830-1914/Oxford University Press/2003/p.385

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