Case Study 1:

Jewish Ghettos in Early Modern Europe

Seminar Presentations:

Bernard D. Cooperman:“Early Modern Urbanization and the Ghettoization of Jews”
Friday, September 5, 2014

Benjamin Ravid: “The Original Italian Ghetto: Myth and Reality”
Thursday, September 11, 2014

Kenneth Stow: “The End of Confessionalism: The Roman Ghetto as a Hothouse for Legal Debate”
Friday, October 10, 2014

Samuel Gruber: “The Italian Jewish Ghetto in Context: A Culture of Enclosure and Control”
Friday, October 17, 2014

L - Map of the Jewish ghetto in Rome, R - The Venetian Jewish ghetto today

Scholars searching for the origin of the “ghetto” believe that the word first appeared in the Middle Ages, although they propound various theories concerning its origins and etymology. One theory notes that documents dating from the 11th century referred to the Jewish quarters in Venice and Salerna as “Judaca” or “Judacaria.” These terms, rendered in Italian as “Giudeica”, later evolved into “ghetto.” Another theory suggests that “ghetto” is likely to be an abbreviation of the Italian, “borgetto,” a diminutive version of “borgo” or borough. The most common theory, however, situates the origins of the word in the Italian “gietto” or the foundry in Venice located near the Jewish quarter. Scholars agree that segregated quarters for Jews in Europe date back to the medieval period, but the use of a “ghetto”, or a defined, walled, and gated area in which all Jews were forced to live, dates back to the 16th century. The first ghetto was established in Venice in 1516; it was followed by the establishment of a ghetto in Rome in 1555, and then by the creation of ghettos throughout northern Italy between 1570 and 1620.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the system spread. Ghettoization became synonymous with urbanization as Jewish families, dispersed throughout rural villages, were forced to leave the countryside and move to the cities. The largest ghettos were centered in Venice, Frankfurt, Prague, and Trieste. Forced to live in special walled and gated quarters set aside within the cities, Jews developed their own schools, civic institutions, and rabbinical courts. The ghettos encompassed rich, middling, and poor Jews, who held a wide range of occupations from bankers to artisans to unskilled laborers. The ghetto, to some degree, offered protection against the threat of expulsion and the powerful anti-Semitism of the outside world.

Continue to Case Study 2 »»