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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works and Resources
  • The Jews in Venice before the Ghetto
  • The Institutions of the Ghetto
  • The “Ghetto”: Etymology of a Word, History of a Concept
  • The Spaces of Venetian Jews
  • Jewish Life and Culture at the Time of the Ghetto
  • Leon Modena
  • Sarra Copia Sullam
  • Simone Luzzatto
  • Women in the Ghetto
  • The Jews in the Venetian Stato da mar
  • The Jews of Venice and the Roman Inquisition
  • The Jews of Venice, the Book Industry, and Church Censorship
  • Jewish Music in the Ghetto
  • The Age of Emancipation
  • Fascism and the Shoah
  • The Postwar Period

Jewish Studies Venice
Shaul Bassi, Piergabriele Mancuso
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0246


The history and historiography of Jewish Venice centers on the era of the Ghetto (1516–1797), the Jewish quarter that saw its name become a global metaphor of segregation. Most of the history of the Jews in Venice before the Ghetto took place in the mainland territories of the Republic of Venice, since they were allowed to conduct their business in the city but not to live there. The Ghetto was established on 29 March 1516 by the Senate of the Most Serene Republic. Initially it consisted of just one island—the Geto Novo (pronounced “Jeto”, literally “New Foundry”)—where until the mid-15th century the main state copper foundry was located. The Ghetto was expanded in 1541 to give additional space to Jewish merchants from the East, leading to the current configuration of the Ghetto Novo defined by the presence of Italian and Ashkenazi synagogues used by Italian and German Jews, and the Ghetto Vecchio with two Sephardic synagogues. A Ghetto novissimo was added in 1633 to include other Sephardic Jews. A strict curfew, high taxation, and a rigid control over authorized profession regulated the life of the Jewish residents. Until the end of the 17th century the population consisted of separate “nationi,” each one observing specific religious rules and social customs, speaking different vernaculars (Yiddish, Judeo-Spanish, Judeo-Italian, and eventually Judeo-Venetian); gradually the community merged into a single one. Nine synagogues and many educational-devotional institutions were present in the Ghetto and the five main synagogues are still extant. In spite of state rules and canon laws prohibiting personal interactions between Jews and Christians (often unobserved), the Ghetto also became a cultural and social hub, attracting foreign travelers, visitors, and scholars, and making of Venice a center of production and international dissemination of Jewish culture. The Ghetto was abolished in 1797 with the fall of the Republic, but unlike those of other major Italian cities was not demolished and its original architectural physiognomy has been preserved. Under French and Austrian rule (1797–1861) and the Italian state, Jews integrated into mainstream society, remaining divided in a lower class gravitating around the Ghetto and more affluent middle and upper classes. The process of integration was abruptly interrupted by Fascism, which issued antisemitic laws in 1938 and collaborated with the Nazis in the deportation of 246 Jews in 1943–1944. After the war the community regrouped, making the Ghetto a vital religious center as well as a popular tourist destination.

General Overviews

This section references books that cover extensive periods of the history of Venetian Jewry, and their various chronological spans also suggests the different ways in which this history has been conceptualized. The two comprehensive accounts are the pioneering work Roth 1930, by a non-Italian scholar publishing a few years before the anti-Semitic laws of 1938 made a tragic impact on the local community, and Calimani 1987 (revised in 2016, the year of the Ghetto quincentennial), which offers a postwar perspective by an author whose family has been in Venice for several centuries. Segre 2021 focuses on the long period before the Ghetto, frequently overshadowed by the global influence of this iconic quarter. The collection Cozzi 1987 starts in the Middle Ages and covers the entire era of the Ghetto, showing continuities and discontinuities between the two eras and emphasizing that the relationship between Venice and the Jews did not start with the Ghetto. Davis and Ravid 2001 under the rubric of the early modern period basically covers the social, cultural, and religious life of the Ghetto era. Calabi 2017, from the perspective of an urban historian, considers the establishment of the Ghetto as a major watershed date and follows its history until the present day. Likewise, the rich catalogue of the quincentennial commemorative exhibition (Calabi 2016) includes many documents and precious short essays on all aspects of Jewish Venice. Goldman and Trotter 2018 selects Venice as the first of four case studies of world ghettos. Luzzatto Voghera 2017 and Ravid 2003 are excellent guides to the methodological issues of periodization and interpretation of Venice Jewish history.

  • Calabi, Donatella. Venice and Its Jews: 500 Years Since the Founding of the Ghetto. Milan: Officina Libraria, 2017.

    An academically updated and comprehensive view on the Ghetto and its first five hundred years, a work that sprung from the extensive work and academic research that led to the Ducal Palace exhibition in 2016, rooted in urban history but branching out to social, economic, religious, and cultural aspects.

  • Calabi, Donatella, ed. Venice, the Jews, and Europe: 1516–2016. Venice: Marsilio, 2016.

    Catalogue for the major exhibition held at the Ducal Palace on the five-hundredth anniversary of the Ghetto, a scholarly sound but accessible work providing the reader with a comprehensive look on the Ghetto, from its inception at the beginning of the 16th century, to the present day.

  • Calimani, Riccardo. The Ghetto of Venice. Translated by Katherine Silberblatt Wolfthal. New York: M. Evans, 1987.

    Relying mostly on secondary sources, this book blends together readability and historical informativeness, with self-contained relatively short chronological chapters. An ideal tool for beginners and for anyone wishing to obtain a general view on the Ghetto of Venice. The Italian edition has been updated in the year of the quincentennial of the Ghetto in 2016. Originally published as Storia del Ghetto di Venezia (Milan: Rusconi, 1985); new revised edition 2016.

  • Cozzi, Gaetano, ed. Gli ebrei a Venezia nei secoli 14–18. Milan: Edizioni di comunità, 1987.

    These are the proceedings of the major international conference, “Gli ebrei a Venezia,” on the Jews during the last four centuries of the Most Serene Republic that took place at San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice in 1984. While some of its papers are scientifically outdated, the volume is a fundamental tool for the study of Jewish-Venetian relationships, thematically ranging from social history to religion and music.

  • Davis, Robert C., and Benjamin Ravid, eds. The Jews of Early Modern Venice. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

    The most comprehensive academic overview of the Ghetto era, with a collection of essays by leading Italian, American, and Israeli scholars on some fundamental aspects of Jewish life in early modern Venice, from moneylending, through spirituality and religious conflict, to music and inter-cultural Judeo-Christian interactions.

  • Goldman Wendy Z., and Joe William Trotter Jr., eds. The Ghetto in Global History 1500 to the Present. New York: Routledge, 2018.

    The first of these four case studies on the transnational use of the concept of Ghetto in history focuses on the early modern Jewish ghettoes. Three essays deal with Venice: Benjamin Ravid explores the etymology, definition, and diffusion of the word “ghetto”; Bernard Cooperman explores the ghetto as an urban phenomenon defined by the same topographic and functional considerations that shape the city in general; Samuel D. Gruber examines the culture of enclosure and control characteristic of early-16th-century Venice.

  • Luzzatto Voghera, Gadi. “A proposito della storiografia sugli ebrei di Venezia nel cinquecentenario della fondazione del Ghetto.” Quellen und Forschungen aus italienischen Archiven und Bibliotheken 96.1 (2017): 488–498.

    This historiographical essay offers an interesting analysis of the ways in which the history of the Jews of Venice has been conceptualized and periodized, providing useful methodological keys to the general literature.

  • Ravid, Benjamin. Studies on the Jews of Venice, 1382–1797. London: Routledge, 2003.

    Collection of essays by the scholar who has conducted the most extensive and exhaustive examination of the archival documents and resources relating to Jewish Venice. Topics include the legal status of the Jews, the dynamics of conversion, the intellectual life of the Ghetto, Christian travelers in the Ghetto, and methodological examinations of the myth of Venice and the lachrymose conception of Jewish history.

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

    This short book published by Roth in 1930 is a milestone in the study of Venetian Jewry, the first attempt to systematize a coherent narrative on the Jews of Venice and to bring out the Ghetto, whose primogeniture in the field of anti-Jewish segregation was for a long time overshadowed by the notorious ghetto of Rome, the “ghetto of the Popes.” Reprint. New York: Schocken Books, 1975.

  • Segre, Renata. Preludio al Ghetto di Venezia. Gli ebrei sotto i dogi (1250–1516). Venice: Edizioni Ca’ Foscari, 2021.

    DOI: 10.30687/978-88-6969-552-0

    Based on thorough archival research, this milestone study is the most comprehensive and detailed study ever written on the Jewish presence in the city Venice and in the territories belonging to the Venetian state before the establishment of the Ghetto.

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