Up until now – without considering the specific sources, which are almost all unedited and which are now being published on this portal – it has been possible to make the following considerations of a general nature regarding the acquisition of (some of the) Hebrew books by the Library.

Marca tipografica Marco Antonio Giustinian II

Marco Antonio Giustinian II Letterpress

A large part of the collection was acquired naturally, at different times and in different ways, from the Jewish communities living in the Duchy of Savoy, and this helps to provide a reliable terminus post quem of after the mid fourteenth century. There is no historical or legal reference to the books possessed by the Jews of Piedmont before the condotta of 1576 emanated by Emanuale Filiberto: the condotta, which was to serve as a model for those subsequently emanated by Carlo Emanuele I, refers explicitly to the possession and the use of Hebrew books by the Jews. Not long after, under Carlo Emanuele, the tensions created by a particularly anti-semitic provincial synod and by pressure from the Inquisition, together with the economic demands of the war that led to the annexation of the March of Saluzzo (the Treaty of Lyons of 1601), inaugurated a particularly difficult period for the Jews of Piedmont: besides the exorbitant taxes they had to pay and the persecutions they were subject to, at the end of the 16th century all books in Hebrew were prohibited, with the exception of the Bible (cfr. R. Segre, The Jews in Piedmont, 3 vols I: 1297-1582 II: 1582-1723 III: 1724-1798 and Index, Jerusalem, Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and Tel Aviv University, 1986-1990: vol. I, p. LXVIII and vol. II, pp. 758-759, document n. 1545). This prohibition indeed serves in part to corroborate the theory put forward by Stelio Bassi, who dated the transfer of a good number of Hebrew manuscripts to the Biblioteca Ducale to the period around 1600 (I fondi orientali della Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria di Torino, premessa a S. Noja, Catalogo dei manoscritti orientali della Biblioteca Nazionale di Torino, Torino, Istituto Poligrafico dello Stato, 1974: pp. XIII-XIV; in part. p. XIV n. 3).

As for the way in which the material was acquired, besides the forced alienations and confiscations of the late 16th century, some manuscripts may have been given to the library as part of the payment of the hefty taxes that had been gradually imposed on the Jewish community of Turin and the other communities of the Duchy to allow them to practice certain professions (in the mid-16th century, for example, for the monopoly of money lending), to guarantee the right to bear arms outside Turin and even the simple right to stay in the city, and to finance the wars. Nevertheless, we know that Carlo Emanuele I opposed Cardinal Borromeo’s request to expel the Jews from the Duchy and, subsequently, to create a ghetto in Turin: it may be possible, therefore, that the Jewish communities or individuals spontaneously gave the duke some manuscripts as a sign of gratitude. Indeed, if we accept the testimony of Salvatore Foa, the duke had friendly personal relations with some of the Jews who resided in Turin (Banchi e banchieri ebrei nel Piemonte dei secoli scorsi, in «La rassegna mensile di Israel», XXI maggio 1955, pp. 190-201). The spontaneous alienation of manuscripts may also have taken place because of the arrival of the more manageable, modern, and cheaper printed book, a theory which is supported by the important phenomenon of the recycling of Hebrew parchment in Italian archives.


Four manuscripts, made specifically to be preserved in the duke’s library, constitute an exception to the above considerations: these are two copies of a work entitled Divina Corona Sabauda, written by Deodato Segre in 1622 in Hebrew and Italian and explicitly dedicated to the duke (of the two only ms A.II.22 survives), an anonymous cabbalistic work, written by a converted Jew (A.III.6), and a copy of a Biblical commentary by Francesco Estella – another convert – which dates to 1612, but which unfortunately disappeared in the fire (A.IV.8).

Whatever the period and the mode of acquisition, we can rightly maintain that by the first half of the 17th century at the latest, the Biblioteca Ducale of Turin possessed a true collection of Hebrew manuscripts: in this period, in fact, the need was felt to compile an inventory of the Hebrew books (ms. A.VII.56), an inventory which was unfortunately completely lost in the fire of 1904.