Monday, November 16, 2015

The Jewish Ghetto in Venice

From Smithsonian:
 The first Jewish ghetto was in Frankfurt, Germany. But the Venetian Ghetto was so unique in its urban shape that it became the model for all subsequent Jewish quarters. The word “ghetto” actually originated in Venice, from the copper foundry that existed here before the arrival of the Jews, which was known as the ghèto.

The Jews had been working in the city for centuries, but it was the first time that they were allowed to have their own quarter. By that time’s standards it was a strong concession and was negotiated by the Jews themselves. After a heated debate, on March 29, the Senate proclaimed this area as the site of the Ghetto. The decision had nothing to do with modern notions of tolerance. Up until then, individual [Jewish] merchants were allowed to operate in the city, but they could not have their permanent residence there. But by ghettoizing them, Venice simultaneously included and excluded the Jews. In order to distinguish them from the Christians, they had to wear certain insignia, typically a yellow hat or a yellow badge, the exception being Jewish doctors, who were in high demand and were allowed to wear black hats. At night the gates to the Ghetto were closed, so it would become a kind of prison. But the Jews felt stable enough that, 12 years into the existence of the place, they started establishing their synagogues and congregations. The area was so small, though, that when the community started growing, the only space was upward. You could call it the world’s first vertical city. (Read more.)

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