The Venetian Ghetto (ghèto) was an area of Venice where Jews were permitted to live under the Venetian Republic.
The Ghetto is located in Cannareggio, not far from the train station.
English (and Italian) word “ghetto” is derived from the Venetian language, ghèto. Beginning in 1516, Jews were restricted to living in the Venetian Ghetto.
The name “ghetto” is an Italian loanword that originates from the Venetian word “ghèto,” which means “slag,” and was first used in this context to refer to a foundry where slag was kept on the same island as the Jewish encampment. An alternate derivation is borghetto, a diminutive of borgo, which means borough in Italian.
Despite the fact that it housed a considerable number of Jews, the Venetian Ghetto’s people never assimilated to establish a unique “Venetian Jewish” race. Separate synagogues existed for the German (Scuola Grande Tedesca), Italian (Scuola Italiana), Spanish and Portuguese (Scuola Spagnola), and Levantine Sephardi populations in four of the five synagogues (The Scola Levantina). The Scuola Canton, the fifth, was a private synagogue for the four families that contributed to its construction. The Fano family was one of them. In today’s Venice, there are also Ashkenazic Jews, primarily Lubavitchers who own one of two kosher food stores, a yeshiva, and the aforementioned Chabad synagogue.
Venetian, Italian, Judeo-Spanish, Judeo-Arabic, French, and German were traditionally spoken inside the Ghetto’s bounds.
Furthermore, Hebrew was (and still is) used on signs, inscriptions, and formal documents such as wedding contracts (as well as, of course, in religious services).
The Ghetto is still a hub of Jewish activity in the city today. The Venice Jewish Community, which numbers 500 individuals, is still quite active culturally.
Plaque in the Jewish ghetto of Venice with a statute (September 20, 1704) prohibiting any Jewish conversion to Christianity from entering the Jewish ghetto or meeting any Jews, threatening severe consequences. August 1st, 2008. Photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto. [Wikimedia]
William Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice features Shylock, a Venetian Jew, and his family.
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