In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Jews and Christians in Venice

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Collections of Studies
  • Guides to Collections
  • Primary Sources
  • Maritime Empire

Renaissance and Reformation Jews and Christians in Venice
Uwe Israel
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 June 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0198


Apart from mentions of single Jews in the High Middle Ages, the history of Jewish communities in Venice and in many places of the Veneto began not before the Renaissance with a flow of Ashkenazic refugees escaping pogroms and expulsions in German lands during and after the Plague. Except for the short period of fifteen years (1383–1397) after the War of Chioggia, when moneylenders were necessary, Jews were not legitimized officially in the lagoon city before the beginning of the Cinquecento. Then, during the war against the League of Cambrai (1508–1510), in a comparable situation the city allowed the influx of Jews from the mainland, now included many “Italian” Jews and Sephardic refugees coming originally from Portugal and Spain. In the town the idea soon came up to separate the Jews, who had first been located in different quarters, in one marginal zone, in order to control them more effectively. Therefore, in 1516 the Ghetto Nuovo came into existence, serving as a model and name giver for the ghettos to come—but in contrast to some later examples, the Venetian ghetto quickly fostered a cultural heyday, with several synagogues that lasted until the 18th century and after. The history of the Jews in the maritime empire of Venice is different from the lagoon city: the communities here are often older, larger, with more rights and a different ethnic and social composition. The research about the Jews in Venice has become more intense during the last three decades, recently concerning especially the mainland and the relations to the Christian environment.

General Overviews

Roth 1930 was a breakthrough for the history of the Jews in Venice, albeit concentrated on the Lagoon city itself. Since then there has been no scientific attempt to write a complete survey, neither about the city nor about the terraferma or the maritime empire. But some good Collections of Studies and single- or dual-authored works illuminate the situation in the main interesting areas. Because there has been no general overview over the history of the Jews of Venice since Roth 1930, scholars need to consult a lot of single studies about the different aspects of Jewish life in Venice and its dominions: Ashtor 1983, Pullan 1971, and Ravid 2003 about the status of the Jews, Calabi 1997 about the ghetto, Ioly Zorattini 1980 and Toaff 1996 about Venice and its terraferma empire, Steinbach 1992 about the intellectual and artistic culture. Currently it is getting more and more obvious that the relations between Jews and Christians were very tight in many aspects.

  • Ashtor, Eliyahu. “Gli inizi della Comunità ebraica a Venezia.” In The Jews and the Mediterranean Economy, 10th–15th Centuries. Edited by Eliyahu Ashtor, 685–702. London: Variorum Reprints, 1983.

    Shows that in Venice there was no community before the Renaissance, but despite the expulsion of 1397, “un nucleo non trascurabile di abitanti ebrei” in the Quattrocento. First published in Rassegna mensile di Israel 44 (1978): 683–703.

  • Calabi, Donatella. “Gli Ebrei e la città.” In Storia di Venezia: Dalle origini alla caduta. Vol. 7, La Venezia barocca. Edited by Gino Benzoni and Gaetano Cozzi, 273–300. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1997.

    Deals with the development of the situation in the ghetto, especially after the written act of permanent residence (1589). Migration waves first led to the institution of the Ghetto Nuovo (1516), then to the expansions of the Ghetto Vecchio (1541) and the Ghetto Nuovissimo (1611).

  • Ioly Zorattini, Pier Cesare. “Gli ebrei a Venezia, Padova e Verona.” In Storia della cultura veneta. Vol. 3.1, Dal primo Quattrocento al concilio di Trento. Edited by Girolamo Arnaldi and Gianfranco Folena, 537–576. Vicenza, Italy: Neri Pozza, 1980.

    A good overview of the history of important Jewish communities in the Veneto around 1500. However, it reflects the state of research in the late 1970s.

  • Pullan, Brian S. Rich and Poor in Renaissance Venice: The Social Institutions of a Catholic State, to 1620. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971.

    A good study of social history, notably about the lower class of Venice. Note the virtually independent third part of the book about the economic situation of the Jews in the city without and in the terraferma with “Monti di Pietà” in the century after the League of Cambrai (1508).

  • Ravid, Benjamin. Studies on the Jews of Venice, 1382–1797. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Variorum, 2003.

    A collection of earlier published studies (1983–2002) about the ghetto (curfew time, Christian travellers), stigmatization, economy (charters of Jewish Merchants, moneylending in the Seicento), conversion (reversion of New Christians, forced baptism of Jewish minors), and Simone Luzzatto and the myth of Venice.

  • Roth, Cecil. History of the Jews in Venice. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1930.

    Classic study of the Jews in Venice. Still assumes that there was a Jewish presence already in the 12th century, an opinion that was deconstructed by Ashtor 1983, Jacoby 1979 (cited under Maritime Empire) and Ravid 1987 (cited under Status and Economic Activity). Reprinted in 1975 (New York: Schocken).

  • Steinbach, Marion. Juden in Venedig, 1516–1797: Zwischen Isolation und Integration. Frankfurt: Lang, 1992.

    This PhD thesis (University of Hannover) of a student in Romance studies looks at the intellectual and artistic culture of the Venetian Jews and their cultural exchange with the Christian environment in the time of the ghetto.

  • Toaff, Ariel. “Gli insediamenti askenaziti nell’Italia settentrionale.” In Gli ebrei in Italia. Vol. 1, Dall’alto Medioevo all’età dei ghetti. Edited by Corrado Vivanti, 153–171. Turin, Italy: Einaudi, 1996.

    This part of the “Storia d’Italia” of Einaudi (Annali 11) tries to correct the often idealized image of the Italian “asylum” at the end of the Middle Ages in three chapters: 1. “First Flows of Jewish Migrants”; 2. “The Contracts for the Ashkenazim”; 3. “Treviso: Centre of Ashkenazic Judaism.”

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