Shavei Israel has published its first comprehensive guide in Italian to the prayers, songs and customs of the Shabbat table for use primarily by the Bnei Anousim in Sicily and southern Italy. The birkon (the title is from the Hebrew for “blessing”) was created by Shavei Israel’s emissary to the Bnei Anousim in southern Italy, Rabbi Pinchas Punturello, along with the head of Shavei Israel’s Bnei Anousim department in Israel, Tzivia Kusminsky.
The guide is centered around the full birkat hamazon (Grace after Meals), which is included in Hebrew, Italian and an Italian transliteration. The Sabbath Kiddush and Havdalah prayers appear as well.
In addition, there are traditional zemirot (songs) for the Sabbath (with commentaries on each song’s meaning and its country of origin); popular modern Israeli religious songs used on Shabbat; and songs in Italian and the Spanish-Hebrew language of Ladino. There are stories about Jewish communities from all round the world – Bnei Anousim in Italy, Spain, Portugal and South America, of course; but also the history of Jews in more far-flung places like China and India.
The new birkon is intended first for the Bnei Anousim with whom Rabbi Punturello works but, he says, “You don’t have to be a southern Italian Jew to pray with our birkon. It will also be available for any Italian Jew who is getting closer to our tradition!”
An initial run of 250 copies of the birkon have been printed. Rabbi Punturello will be bringing them to Calabria, Puglia and Sicily on his next visit to Italy. “And I will personally offer it to some important Italian rabbis as a gift from Shavei Israel,” he adds.
Why is Shavei Israel publishing an Italian birkon now? “We have other simple birkonim in Italian, but this is the first that serves as a full guide for Shabbat, with a complete collection of songs, explanations and history in addition to the prayers. Before this, when we would hold our Shabbotonim [weekend seminars] for Bnei Anousim in Italy, we would use the birkon that Shavei Israel produced previously…in Spanish!”
In addition to Spanish, Shavei Israel has published a similar guide to Shabbat in Polish. We wrote about that here.