VENICE, city in N. Italy.
The Medieval Community
Although some individual Jews had passed through Venice in the Middle Ages, legislation enacted in 1382 allowing moneylending in the city for the following five years marked the start
of the authorized Jewish presence in the city, and at its expiration in 1387 a 10-year charter came into effect exclusively for Jewish moneylenders. However, at the end of the ten years, they had to leave, and officially no Jew could stay in Venice for longer than 15 days at a time, with exceptions made only for merchants arriving by sea and for doctors; also henceforth all Jews coming to the city were required to wear on their outer clothing a yellow circle, changed in 1496 to a yellow head-covering to make evasion more difficult.
The authorized continuous residence of Jews in the city of Venice and the emergence of its Jewish community was a 16th-century development not initially planned by the Venetian government. Its restrictive policy toward the residence of Jews in Venice in the 15th century was not extended either to the Venetian overseas possessions or to the Venetian territory on the Italian mainland, and the charter issued in 1503
Many Venetians, especially clerics, objected to the residence of Jews all over the city, so in 1516 the Senate decided, despite the objections of the Jews, as a compromise mediating between the new freedom of residence all over the city and the previous state of exclusion, to segregate them. Accordingly, all Jews residing in the city and all who were to come in the future were required to move to the island known as the Ghetto Nuovo (the New Ghetto), which was walled up and provided with two gates that for most of the time that the ghetto existed were locked all night, from one hour after sunset in the summer and two hours after sunset in the winter, when it got dark earlier, until dawn.
Initially, the site adjacent to the island of the Ghetto Nuovo had served as the location of the Venetian municipal copper foundry, il ghetto from the verb gettare, in the sense of to pour or caste metal, while the Ghetto Nuovo to which the Jews were relegated in 1516 had been used for dumping waste material from the copper foundry. Accordingly it was referred to as "the terrain of the ghetto" (il terreno del ghetto) and then eventually the Ghetto Nuovo, while the area of the actual foundry became known as the Ghetto Vecchio (the Old Ghetto). But since the foundry was unable to process a sufficient quantity of metal, its activity came to be consolidated in the Arsenal, and in 1434 the government auctioned off the foundry and adjacent island, both of which became residential areas.
Although a few compulsory, segregated, and enclosed Jewish quarters had existed in Europe prior to 1516, the best-known and longest lasting of which was that of Frankfurt am Main established in 1462, they were never called ghettos because that word came to be associated with Jewish quarters only after the Venetian development of 1516. Thus, the oftencountered statement that the first ghetto was established in Venice in 1516 is correct in a technical, linguistic sense but misleading in a wider context.
The establishment of the ghetto, however, did not assure the continued residence of the Jews in Venice, for that privilege was based on a charter granted by the Venetian government to the Jews in 1513. Upon its expiration in 1518, very extensive discussions took place in the Senate, as numerous proposals, including the expulsion of the Jews from Venice, were advanced, but eventually a new five-year charter was approved and subsequently renewed for generations.
Overall, the attitude of the Venetian government toward the Jews was highly ambivalent. While the majority of the senators allowed utilitarian socio-economic considerations to be foremost in their decision-making, thereby in retrospect making the residence of the Jews in the city continuous from 1513 on, there was a constant undercurrent of hostility that could find its expression at the time of the charter renewal. An examination of the actual terms of the charters reveals that over the years, clauses were added to further regulate the status of the Jews. Most important was the change in attitude toward moneylending. Increasingly, the Venetian government viewed Jewish moneylenders as a source of cheap credit for the urban poor rather than of revenue for the state treasury, and accordingly, it lowered the interest rates and correspondingly reduced the required annual payments of the Jews. Finally, in 1573, it eliminated the annual payment, but the Jews were required to make loans of up to three ducats each at five percent per annum interest to any borrower with a suitable pledge. Since the native Jews of Venice, whom the government referred to as Tedeschi (i.e., German) Jews because many of them were ultimately of Germanic origin even though their families might have lived on the Italian peninsula for generations, claimed that they could not support the expenses of the pawnshops (sometimes misleadingly referred to as banks) on their own, the Jewish communities of the mainland were required to contribute and that responsibility was also extended to the Jewish merchants, despite their strong objection. Thus the nature of Jewish moneylending completely changed from a voluntary profit-making activity engaged in by a few wealthy individuals to a compulsory responsibility imposed on the Jewish community which passed it on to individual Jews who had the resources to fund the pawnshops, and then subsidized them with a premium over the five percent interest that they could legally charge on their loans.
In 1541, some visiting Ottoman Jewish merchants, known as Levantine Jews, complained to the Venetian government that they did not have sufficient space in the ghetto. Legislation of that year designed to make trading in Venice more attractive to foreign merchants, primarily by lowering customs duties on certain imports, pointed out that these Jewish merchants were importing the greater part of the merchandise coming from the Ottoman Balkans and ordered that their complaint be investigated. Upon confirmation of its validity, they were assigned the area of the Ghetto Vecchio, which was ordered walled up with only one gate at each end, one of which opened up to a bridge to the Ghetto Nuovo.
Meanwhile, the establishment of the Inquisition in Portugal in 1536 increasingly induced many *New Christians to leave, either because they were secretly judaizing or were afraid that they might falsely be accused of doing so. The existence of a Jewish community in Venice and the growing presence of Levantine Jewish merchants in the city after 1541 made it more attractive for judaizing Iberian New Christians to come to Venice, where many reverted to Judaism and either stayed or went on elsewhere, primarily to the Ottoman Empire.
Although the Venetian government was always doctrinally Catholic and concerned with the religious faith of its inhabitants, it usually did not concern itself with the origin and background of those New Christians who upon arriving in Venice went directly to the ghetto and there assumed Judaism and henceforth lived unambiguously as Jews. On the other hand, officially it did not tolerate New Christians who lived outside the ghetto and passed themselves off ostensibly as Christians while nevertheless still secretly judaizing, both because their conduct was an affront to Christianity and also because it was feared that they might lead more simple Christians astray. Only once in the 16th century, in 1550, apparently under the pressure of Emperor Charles V, did the Venetian government take action against judaizing New Christians as a group as it forbade *Crypto-Jews from settling in Venice and the Venetian state.
Yet despite the legislation of 1550, the pressure of the papal nuncio, and the presence of the Venetian Inquisition – revived in 1547 in order to deal with the growth of Protestant heresy rather than with Crypto-Jews as had been the case with the Inquisition on the Iberian peninsula (although once established it concerned itself with all manifestations of heresy, including cases of Crypto-Judaism) – Venice continued to serve judaizing New Christians as both a place of settlement as well a major point of transit.
The cause of the judaizing New Christian merchants in Venice was taken up by Daniel Rodriga, a Jew of Portuguese New Christian origin, in 1573. He submitted to the Venetian government numerous proposals and projects intended primarily to restore the declining maritime commerce of Venice and augment its diminishing customs revenue while simultaneously benefiting Jewish merchants and, above all, obtaining for them privileges in Venice. Keenly aware of the far-flung merchant kinship networks of the Jewish-New Christian Iberian Diaspora in the ports of the Mediterranean, Rodriga claimed that if given suitable guarantees of security, these merchants would bring their merchandise to Venice, increasing its customs revenue and enabling it to maintain its entrepôt function. Finally, in 1589, Rodriga's persistence was rewarded, as the Venetian government, recognizing the need to take some action in view of the serious decline in Venetian maritime commerce, concluded that inviting Jewish merchants to the city constituted the least serious possible modification of its long-standing commercial protectionist policy and accordingly the least objectionable way of attempting to alleviate the situation. Consequently, it issued a charter allowing both New Christian merchants from the Iberian Peninsula (who were called Ponentine – i.e., Western – Jews in order to avoid referring to them as New Christians or Marranos) and also Levantine Jewish merchants from the Ottoman Empire to reside in Venice as Venetian subjects with the coveted privilege of engaging in maritime trade between Venice and the Levant on condition that they resided in the ghetto and wore the special yellow Jewish head-covering.
These Jewish merchants were so successful that their charter was subsequently renewed for successive 10-year periods, and when in 1633 they assured the Venetian government that additional merchants would come to Venice if granted adequate living space, it assigned the newcomers an area containing 20 dwellings across the canal from the Ghetto Nuovo, in a direction almost opposite to the Ghetto Vecchio, that almost immediately became known as the Ghetto Nuovissimo, i.e., the newest ghetto. In light of the spread of the use of the term "ghetto" to refer to compulsory and segregated Jewish quarters on the Italian peninsula in the wake of the harsh papal bull of 1555 known as Cum Nimis Absurdum, it is understandable that this third compulsory Jewish quarter in Venice was referred to as a ghetto. However, the Ghetto Nuovissimo differed from the Ghetto Nuovo and the Ghetto Vecchio in one important respect. While the last two designations had been in use prior to the residence of the Jews in those locations and owed their origin to the former presence of a foundry in that area, the Ghetto Nuovissimo had never been associated with a foundry. Rather, it was called the Ghetto Nuovissimo because it was the site of the newest compulsory, segregated, and enclosed Jewish quarter. Thus, the term ghetto had come full circle in the city of its origin: from an original specific usage as a foundry in Venice to a generic usage in other cities designating a compulsory, segregated, and enclosed Jewish quarter with no relation to a foundry, and then to that generic usage also in Venice.
The number of Jews residing in Venice apparently reached around 2,000 (roughly 1.5% of the total population of the city) in the last years of the 16th century, rising to a peak of almost 3,000 (roughly 2% of the population) toward the middle of the 17th century, and then dropped to a low of slightly over 1,500 in the last years of the Republic, although according to some very questionable sources at times it was substantially higher. Especially in the 16th and 17th centuries, the number of dwellings available in the ghetto was very often insufficient, so they were constantly subdivided into smaller units while stories were added to the existing buildings, thereby starting a virtually constant process of alteration and modification.
The Venetian government enforced the regulations regarding residence in the ghetto and the requirement to remain there after the hour established for the closing of its gates. Only Jewish doctors treating Christian patients and Jewish merchants who had to attend to their business enjoyed routine permission to be outside the ghetto after hours, while additionally on occasion individual Jews, including representatives
Reflecting the heterogeneous ethnic backgrounds of the Jews of Venice, several synagogues were established in the ghetto. Five were generally considered to be major synagogues. Three were located in the Ghetto Nuovo: the Scuola Grande Tedesca and the Scuola Canton, both of the Ashkenazi rite, and the Scuola Italiana. Situated in the Ghetto Vecchio were the Scuola Levantina and the Scuola Ponentina or Spagnola, officially Kahal Kadosh Talmud Torah. Additionally, at least three smaller synagogues existed in the Ghetto Nuovo: the Scuola Coanim or Sacerdote, the Scuola Luzzatto, and the Scuola Meshullam. Only the cemetery, initially established in 1386, of necessity was located outside the ghetto on the Lido. The Scuola Ponentina acquired an additional significance as its by-laws served as a model for the Sephardi community of Amsterdam, whose procedures in turn were utilized by the Sephardi Jewish communities of London and of the English colonies of New York, Philadelphia, and Montreal in the New World.
The rabbis of Venice constituted overall a distinguished cadre that provided leadership for their day and a few outstanding figures of more than local significance. The best known was the prolific Leon *Modena (1571–1648), whose numerous works include a remarkably frank Hebrew autobiography which sheds much light on his own life as well as providing unique and fascinating insight into the everyday life, practices, and values of the Jews in early-modern Venice, including their extensive relationships with their Christian neighbors on all levels, from intellectual exchanges to joint participation in alchemy experiments and gambling. Also of special prominence was Modena's contemporary, Rabbi Simone *Luzzatto (ca. 1583–1663). Today he is remembered primarily for his Discorso sopra il stato degl'Ebrei et in particolar demoranti nel'inclita città di Venetia ("Discourse on the Status of the Jews and in Particular Those Living in the Illustrious City of Venice," 1638), written in Italian for the Venetian nobility in order to avert a possible expulsion of the Jews as a result of a major scandal involving the bribery of Venetian judges through Jewish intermediaries. In the course of his presentation, Luzzatto displayed considerable insight into the economic and commercial situation, combined with a thorough acquaintance with classical Graeco-Roman literature and an awareness of contemporary intellectual trends, especially in philosophical and political thought, as well as new scientific discoveries in mathematics and astronomy, as he argued that the presence of Jewish merchants and moneylenders was very useful indeed for the Venetian economy and therefore the Jews should not be expelled. Additionally, Venice served as a significant center for the development, transformation, and popularization of the Lurianic Kabbalah from Safed as Rabbi Menachem Azariah mi Fano began to publicly expound it, and eventually it was transmitted from Venice to Eastern Europe.
Additionally significant in Venice was the presence of Jewish doctors, many of whom had been attracted by the educational experience offered by the nearby medical school of Padua. The attendance of Jewish students there was especially significant since it was generally regarded as the best medical school in Europe, with the humanities integrated into the scientific curriculum, and provided one of the richest opportunities for Jews to familiarize themselves with the best of European intellectual and cultural achievements. Jewish students from all over Italy as well as central and eastern Europe came to Padua, and many returned to serve in their communities and elsewhere. Especially noteworthy was the Jewish doctor David dei Pomis (1525–c. 1593) who left Rome as a result of Cum Nimis Absurdum, eventually settling in Venice, where he resided for the rest of his life and published, among other works, his De Medico Hebraeo Enaratio Apologica (1588), which refuted charges often brought against Jews and Jewish doctors in his own days in the bull of Gregory XIII.
Understandably 16th-century Venice, with available capital, technical proficiency, good paper, a skilled labor force, and constituting a convenient location for exporting emerged as a major center of printing not only in Italian, Latin, and Greek but also Hebrew, Judeo-Italian, Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), and Yiddish (Judeo-German). Indeed, the Venetian printing press made a very extensive and lasting contribution to Jewish learning and culture through its assuming a major role in the early history of Hebrew printing and publishing. One of the outstanding publishers of Hebrew books in Renaissance Italy, and indeed of all times, was Daniel Bomberg, a Christian from Antwerp who, with the help of numerous editors, typesetters, and proofreaders, mostly either Jews or converts from Judaism to Christianity, printed around 200 Hebrew books. Of prime significance for Jewish religious life and culture is his complete edition of the Babylonian Talmud (1520–23) with the commentary of Rashi and the Tosafot, whose format and pagination has been followed in virtually all subsequent editions up to the present, and also his edition of the rabbinic Bible (Mikra'ot Gedolot) (1517–18; 1524–252), with the Aramaic translation and traditional rabbinic commentaries, which also became the standard model for most subsequent editions, as well as other major works, including the Palestinian Talmud.
After Bomberg, the more important subsequent printers of Hebrew books included the Christians Marco Antonio
The Modern Community
By the 18th century, Venice as a whole had declined economically, certainly in a relative if not absolute sense, and with it also the financial condition of the Jewish community as a corporate entity, even though an impoverished community did not mean that all of its individual members were impoverished. The Venetian government was very concerned, above all because it required that the Jewish community be solvent in order to operate the pawn shops, especially since it was unwilling to establish in Venice a charitable pawnshop known as a *monte di pietà in order to eliminate Jewish moneylending and the presence of the Jews or at least to minimize their role as had been done in many places on the Italian peninsula, although that possibility was raised on several occasions during the course of the 18th century. Consequently, in 1722 it took the major step of creating the magistracy of the Inquisitorato sopra l'Università degli Ebrei for the purpose of restoring and maintaining the financial solvency of the community. For the rest of the century, the Inquisitorato, together with the Senate and other relevant magistracies, constantly worked out detailed regulations in attempts to promote the smooth functioning of the pawnshops, to arrange for the repayment of the substantial debts of the Jewish community owed both to Venetian Christians and to the Jewish communities of Amsterdam, The Hague, and London, and generally to restore its solvency, eventually closely supervising all aspects of its everyday financial affairs.
In 1738 the separate charters of the Tedeschi Jews and of the Levantine and Ponentine Jews ended as one unified 10-year charter was issued for all Jews residing in the Venetian state. In a sense, such a charter was long overdue, since the charters of the Tedeschi Jews, which antedated those of the Levantine and Ponentine Jewish merchants, contained general provisions which were also applied to the merchants. Yet, the once distinct economic activities and responsibilities of the two groups of Jews had merged over the years, as for well over a century the merchants had been subjected to payments to the pawnshops of the Tedeschi Jews, while since 1634 the Tedeschi Jews had been eligible to engage in maritime trade with the Levant. The charter of 1788 was slightly over a year away from its expiration when in May 1797 the Venetian government dissolved itself in favor of a municipal council as the army of *Napoleon Bonaparte stood poised across the lagoons. The ghetto gates were spontaneously torn down and the special restricted status of the Jews of Venice came to an end.
After Napoleon ceded Venice to Austria by the Treaty of Campo Formio later in 1797, some restrictions were reinstituted but not the requirement to reside within the ghetto. After Napoleon defeated Austria in 1805, Venice became a part of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy and the rights of the Jews were again restored, only to be partially revoked when after the fall of Napoleon, Venice was reassigned to Austria by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. They were briefly restored during the revived Republic that emerged during the revolution of 1848–49, led by Daniel Manin, of Jewish descent, and with two Jewish ministers. Only after Venice became a part of the emerging Kingdom of Italy in 1866 were the Jews granted complete emancipation. In the following decades, the Jewish community decreased in numbers as a result of emigration and intermarriage, numbering around 2,000 in 1938.
[Benjamin Ravid (2nd ed.)]
Between the issuing of the racial laws in September 1938 and the summer of 1943, the Jewish community of Venice experienced a difficult period of exclusion and racial discrimination, first under the leadership of Aldo Finzi, who had been appointed by the government, and then, after June 16, 1940, under the presidency of Professor Giuseppe Jona.
The German occupation of Mestre and Venice on September 9 and 10, 1943, however, signaled the beginning of the actual Shoah in the region. On September 17, Professor Jona committed suicide rather than deliver the membership list of the Jewish community to the Germans. The political manifesto of the Italian Social Republic (the so-called Republic of Salò) on November 14, 1943, and subsequent decrees at the end of that month declared that all Jews in Italy were enemy aliens and ordered their arrest and the confiscation of their property. Some Jews were able to escape to Switzerland or to the Allied-occupied south of Italy. Some young people joined the armed resistance, especially the Garibaldi Brigade Nannini. Most of the others were rounded up by Italian police and Fascist militia and held in special assembly points such as the prison of Santa Maria Maggiore, the women's prison on the island of Giudecca, and the Liceo M. Foscarini. From there, they were sent to Fossoli until July 1944, and after that to a camp at Bolzano or to the prison of Risiera di San Sabba in Trieste. Nearly all were deported from those camps to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Most arrests and deportations of Jews in Venice occurred between the major roundup on December 5, 1943, and
The Nazi-Fascist persecution of Jews in Venice lasted 18 months, during which time, despite the dangers, Jewish life in the former ghetto and religious services at the synagogue continued. There was also some help from non-Jews and from the Church. Some 246 Venetian Jews were captured and deported during this period. A commemorative plaque at the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo records their names forever. Near the plaque is a monument to the Shoah by the sculptor Arbit Blatas.
[Umberto Fortis (2nd ed.)]
At the time of the liberation in 1945 there were 1,050 Jews in the community. In the early 21st century Venice had an active Jewish community of around 500 members, with services still conducted in its beautiful synagogues and a Jewish museum established in the ghetto.
B. Pullan, Rich and Poor in Renaissance Venice (1971); idem, The Jews of Europe and the Inquisition of Venice (1983); B. Ravid, Economics and Toleration in Seventeenth Century Venice: The Background and Context of the Discorso of Simone Luzzatto (1976); idem, Studies on the Jews of Venice, 1382 – 1797 (2003); P.C.I. Zorattini, Processi del S. Uffizio di Venezia contro ebrei e giudaizzanti, 14 vols. (1980–99); G. Carletto, Il Ghetto veneziano nel settecento attraverso i catastici (1981); L. Modena, The Autobiography of a Seventeenth-Century Venetian Rabbi: Leon Modena's Life of Judah, ed. M.R. Cohen, with introductory essays by T.K. Rabb and M.R. Cohen, H.E. Adelman and N.Z. Davis, and historical notes by H.E. Adelman and B. Ravid (1988); D. Malkiel, A Separate Republic: The Mechanics and Dynamics of Jewish Self-Government, 1607 – 1624 (1991); E. Concina, U. Camerino, and D. Calabi, La città degli Ebrei: Il ghetto di Venezia: Architettura e urbanistica (1991); G. Cozzi, Giustizia Contaminata (1996); U. Fortis, The Ghetto on the Lagoon (rev. ed. 2000); A. Luzzatto, La comunità ebraica di Venezia e il suo antico cimitero (2000); R.C. Davis and B. Ravid (eds.), The Jews of Early Modern Venice (2001); S. Levis Sullam, Una comunità immaginata: gli ebrei a Venezia 1900 – 1938 (2001); D. Carpi, Minutes Book of the Council of the Italian Jewish Community of Venice, 1644 – 1711 (Heb., 2003); R. Segre (ed.), Gli Ebrei a Venezia 1938 – 1945. Una comunitá tra persecuzione e rinascita (1995); P. Sereni, Gli anni della persecuzione razziale a Venezia: appunti per una storia, in Venezia ebraica, ed. by U. Fortis (1982), 129–51; idem, Della comunitá ebraica a Venezia durante il fascismo, in La Resistenza nel Veneziano, ed. by G. Paladini and M. Reberschak (1984); G. Luzzato and E. Perillo (eds.), Pensare e insegnare Auschwitz. Memorie storie apprendimenti (2004); M. Sarfatti, Gli ebrei nell'Italia fascista (2002); idem, Le leggi antiebraiche spiegate agli italiani di oggi (2004).
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.