The existence of separate Jewish streets or quarters (Lat. Platea Judaeorum; Sp. Judería; Fr. Juiverie; It. Giudecca; Eng. Jewry; Ger. Judengasse, Pol. Ulica Żydowska) originated in the voluntary preference of the Jewish community to live in a way that would enable it to keep to its laws and customs and defend itself from hostile attacks if need be. The nature and character of Jewish life, entailing observance of the precepts, the necessity of maintaining a quorum for prayers, a cemetery, and mikveh, the need for providing mutual assistance as a persecuted and degraded minority as well as insecurity from attack by strangers and enemies – all combined to make Jews concentrate in a particular street or neighborhood in all the countries of Europe. At times, non-Jews also lived in the Jewish district, while Jews also lived outside it. These quarters were generally closed off by a wall and gates. Occasionally, they were even in the center of the city or in its main street. According to Benjamin of *Tudela, the Jews of *Constantinople had their separate quarter at the end of the 12th century. In several Spanish cities, such as *Toledo, *Seville, and *Saragossa, the Jewish quarter constituted a separate townlet, surrounded by a wall and even fortified. The right to live in a separate quarter surrounded by a wall was granted to the Jews of *Speyer in 1084 by the bishop, at the express request of the Jews themselves; similar privileges permitting fortified "Jewish quarters" were granted to Jews in Christian Spain during the Reconquest. This changed as the status of the Jews deteriorated and the image of the Jew was even more viciously blackened.
Establishment of the Ghetto
From the beginning of the 16th century, the name given in Italy to the Jewish quarter, which was separated and closed off by law from the other parts of the town by a wall and gates, was "*ghetto." From then on, the word ghetto has also been used to designate Jewish quarters which were officially set aside in other countries. Figuratively and erroneously, this name has also been regularly applied to quarters, neighborhoods, and areas throughout the Diaspora, which became places of residence for numerous Jews.
The root of the word ghetto has been sought in Hebrew (get – "bill of divorcement"), in Yiddish, Latin, Greek, and Gothic. There is, however, no doubt that the origin is geto nuovo ("the new foundry"), the site of the first separate Jewish quarter in *Venice from 1516. The Jews of Italy occasionally referred to the ghetto in their dialect as get, but the usual appellation was "courtyard." In the towns of southern France under papal rule where ghettos were established after the Italian model, they were named carrière in French and mesillah ("road") in Hebrew.
The idea of the ghetto in its restricted sense resulted from the tendency implanted in Christianity from the fourth to fifth centuries to isolate the Jews and humiliate them. It first appears in the West in the proceedings of the Church *councils of the Middle Ages, especially at the third Lateran council (1179), where Jews and Christians were prohibited from living
In 1555, Pope Paul *IV in his bull Cum nimis absurdum ordered that the anti-Jewish program of the monks should be applied in Rome and the Papal States (see also Bulls, *papal). On July 26, 1555, which fell on the Ninth of Av, the Jews of Rome were compelled to move to the new quarter on the left bank of the Tiber River; the area was immediately surrounded by a wall to isolate it from the city. After a short while, this innovation was also introduced in the other towns of the Papal States, and from 1562 the new institution became known, even officially, by the name of the Jewish quarter of Venice – "ghetto."
Pressure was also exerted on the other rulers of the Italian states to introduce the ghetto (in Tuscany in 1570–71; in Padua in 1601–03; in Verona in 1599; in the duchy of Mantua in 1612; etc.) so that the ghetto institution was finally established throughout Italy, with the exception of *Leghorn.
The ghetto introduced by Christians was accompanied by imposition of the badge, compulsory attendance of Jews at conversionary sermons, restriction of the professions they were authorized to practice, and other humiliations. Generally, the authorities did not allow extension of the ghetto boundaries, even when the population had increased; the ghettos were therefore crowded and unsanitary. For the same reason, additional stories were continually built onto the existing houses and the buildings were in constant danger of collapse; misfortunes occasionally occurred, and when fires broke out, severe damage was caused to the ghettos.
According to papal decree, when a ghetto was established it was to have one gate only. In fact, however, it usually had two or three gates. These were guarded by Christian gatekeepers, whose salaries the Jews were compelled to pay; they were closed at night and on all important Christian festivals, including the Easter period, from the Thursday until the Sunday of Holy Week. At night and during Christian festivals, no Jew was permitted to leave the ghetto. In several smaller localities, all the houses in the ghetto were connected to each other by passages and doors to facilitate movement in times of emergency. Non-Jewish landlords were not permitted to raise the rents, and the rights of Jewish tenants were protected by ḥazakah ("established claim"), an ancient institution recognized by Italian law (under the name jus gazaga). Although Jews were not allowed to acquire the houses in which they lived, the right of ḥazakah could be sold, purchased, or bequeathed, as though it were an actual property right. The ghetto, as all Jewish quarters in all periods, was an almost autonomous town and the institutions of the Jewish community operated within its boundaries; at times, the communal life of the ghetto was better organized than that of the Christian town in which it was situated. There were even Jews who did not ignore the positive aspects of the ghetto. In Verona and Mantua it was customary to commemorate the anniversary of its establishment by a special prayer in the synagogue.
Toward the close of the 18th century, the severity of the ghetto regime was somewhat alleviated in several of the Italian states. In 1796 the armies of the French Republic tore down the ghetto walls of all the Italian towns. However, the ghettos were reestablished after the fall of Napoleon in 1815, but not with the same measure of stringency. The ghetto walls were only rebuilt in Rome, Modena, and a few other towns. With the consolidation of the liberal regime in Italy during the 19th century, the ghetto was again abolished, although there were still some occasional periods of reaction here and there. The gates of the Rome ghetto were destroyed in 1848; the right of residence of the Jews was, however, officially restricted to a special quarter until the fall of the papal regime in 1870. Outside Italy, the ghetto – in the original sense of the Italian term – was only enforced in the provinces under papal rule in southern France, in several German towns, and in a few places in eastern Europe. In detail, there were always considerable differences between them.
For Holocaust period, see *Ghetto.
In Muslim Countries
Well before the advent of *Islam the preference of religious and ethnic groups to live together in their own streets was commonly known in the Orient. These streets finally became distinct quarters. The quarters in which the majority of the population was Jewish were usually given the name of ḥāratal-yahūd, which literally translated from the Arabic means "Jewish Quarter," or simply al-ḥāra, as in *Tunisia, *Algeria, and *Tripolitania. In *Persia they were known as maḥallat al-Yahūd, in the Balkans as maḥalla, while in *Yemen they were named qāʿat al-Yahūd; the term masbata (namely, the place where those who observe the Sabbath live) was also employed. The Jews themselves sometimes called their quarters shekhunat ha-Yehudim, the Hebrew equivalent of the various above-mentioned names. Barring a few exceptions, the Jewish quarters of Muslim countries had nothing in common with the ghettos of Christian countries. These quarters were not surrounded by a wall and did not have a gate which was closed at night, on the Sabbath, or on the Festivals. When such a wall existed, it was often because the whole town was divided
In Muslim countries, the Covenant of *Omar did not stipulate the physical separation of the Jews from the "faithful" (the Muslims), neither in towns nor in villages. On the contrary, in order to propagate their religion, the early Muslim theologians recommended that the "unbelievers" (Jews and Christians) be encouraged to live in all the quarters of the large towns. They said that they would thus become acquainted with the religion of the Prophet Muhammad by observing the lives of its believers at every moment. There were only a few Muslim jurists of the later periods who advised that non-Muslims be confined to separate quarters. Until the beginning of the 15th century, however, the orthodox Muslim rulers or their representatives had never officially prescribed the establishment of special quarters for the members of other religions. It was only in *Egypt, and then only for a short while at the beginning of the 11th century, that the Fatimid caliph al-Ḥākim, who had suddenly become insane, confined all the Jews of *Cairo to the Bāb-Zuwayla quarter. In the eastern part of the Muslim world, in the countries dominated by the Shiʿites (non-orthodox Muslims), the Jew were compelled to live in special quarters which resembled the European ghettos. In Persia, as in *Afghanistan and the surrounding regions, the Jewish quarter was not only isolated behind a high wall but its inhabitants were also not authorized to own any shops beyond it. The Jews of Persia remained in their ghettos until recently, even though there was no law which forced them to do so.
In *Morocco the term mellah, which designates the Jewish quarter, was originally the name of the site to the south of Fez-Jaīd on which the first special quarter for Jews in Morocco was actually established (probably in 1438). This mellah was and has since remained a special quarter surrounded by a wall and distinctly separated from the surrounding quarters. The segregation of all the Jews of Fez into its area was ordered. It was thus a ghetto, the first and, for a long time, the only one in Morocco. It was not until 1557 that a second ghetto was established in the country, in *Marrakesh. Approximately 125 years later a third mellah was created in *Meknès, and in 1808 four new ghettos were simultaneously erected in the principal ports of Morocco, in *Tetuán, *Salé, *Rabat, and *Mogador. The sharif granted the Jews of these towns one year in which they could sell their houses in the different quarters and build new ones in the mellah. The only exception made was for some 20 eminent families of Mogador, who continued to occupy their luxurious houses in the same residential quarter as that of the Muslim and Christian notables. In 1808 the Jews of Tetuán were compelled to move into a mellah because the sultan wished to erect a mosque in a street which was inhabited by them. At the same time, the sultan exploited the proximity of the Jewish houses to the mosque of Salé as a pretext to order the Jews of this town to live in a special quarter. The Jews of Morocco considered the creation of each mellah as a catastrophe; they therefore hastily abandoned it as soon as they had the means or the possibility. From the beginning of the 20th century, only the poor Jews continued to live in the mellahs. The name mellah was at first given, after Fez, to the few ghettos mentioned above and then to a few other quarters in other towns which were inhabited by the Jewish masses. The mellah of *Casablanca, for example, did not have the characteristics of a ghetto. The decline of Muslim power generally resulted in the impoverishment of the Jewish communities, whose quarters reflected this situation. These quarters were often overpopulated. These ghettos, however, always contained a few well-kept streets with very large and beautiful houses, the properties of wealthy citizens, as was the case in Fez and Marrakesh.
In 1728 and 1731 the Ottoman authorities ordered the Jews of *Istanbul (Constantinople) to leave the quarters where they lived, under the pretext that their presence in these quarters profaned the sanctity of the neighboring mosques; but the Jews were not enclosed in a ghetto, they merely went to live in other quarters. In 1679 the Jews of Yemen were expelled from the towns in which they had lived until then, and they were only authorized to establish themselves outside these cities, in special quarters. In the Islamic countries the two holy cities Mecca and *Medina, as also the whole of the *Hejaz, are
D. Philipson, Old European Jewries (1894), L. Wirth, The Ghetto (1928; repr. 1956); A. Pinthus, Die Judensiedlungen der deutschen Staedte (1931); I. Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages (19322), index, S.V. Ghetto; R. Giacomelli, in: Archivum romanicum, 16 (1932), 556–63; 17 (1933), 415–44; Roth, Italy, index; idem, in: Romania, 60 (1934), 67–74; J.R. Marcus, Jews in the Medieval World (1938), index, S.V. Ghetto; R. Anchel, in: JSOS, 2 (1940), 45–60; Baron, Community, index, S.V. Quarters, Jewish; Baron, Social2, index, S.V. Ghetto; 9 (1965), 32–36; 11 (1967), 87–96; I. Cohen, Travels in Jewry (1952), index, S.V. Ghetto. JEWISH QUARTERS IN MUSLIM COUNTRIES: H.Z. Hirschberg, in: Eretz-Israel, 4 (1956), 226–30; idem, in: A.J. Arberry (ed.), Religion in the Middle East, 1 (1969), 130, 154–5; R. Brunschvig, Berbérie orientale sous les Ḥafṣides, 1 (1940), 415–6; M. Gaudefroy-Demombynes, in: JA, 2 (1914), 651–8; S.D. Goitein, Jewsand Arabs (1964), 74–75 and passim.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.