Venetian Ghetto

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Coordinates: 45°26′43″N 12°19′35″E / 45.44528°N 12.32639°E / 45.44528; 12.32639

The main square of the Venetian Ghetto.

The Venetian Ghetto was the area of Venice in which Jews were compelled to live under the Venetian Republic. It is from its name in Italian ("ghetto"), that the English word "ghetto" is derived: in the Venetian language it was named "ghèto". The Venetian Ghetto (incidentally, the first Ghetto) was instituted in 1516, though political restrictions on Jewish rights and residences existed before that date.[1]


Location of Cannaregio in Venice.

The English term "ghetto" is an Italian loanword, which actually comes from the Venetian word "ghèto", slag, and was used in this sense in a reference to a foundry where slag was stored located on the same island as the area of Jewish confinement.[2] An alternative etymology is from Italian borghetto, diminutive of borgo ‘borough’.[3]

Location and geography[edit]

Ponte de Gheto Novo

The Ghetto is an area of the Cannaregio sestiere of Venice, divided into the Ghetto Nuovo ("New Ghetto"), and the adjacent Ghetto Vecchio ("Old Ghetto"). These names of the ghetto sections are misleading, as they refer to an older and newer site at the time of their use by the foundries: in terms of Jewish residence, the Ghetto Nuovo is actually older than the Ghetto Vecchio.


The Levantine Synagogue

Though it was home to a large number of Jews, the population living in the Venetian Ghetto never assimilated to form a distinct, "Venetian Jewish" ethnicity. Four of the five synagogues were clearly divided according to ethnic identity: separate synagogues existed for the German (the Scuola Grande Tedesca), Italian (the Scuola Italiana), Spanish and Portuguese (the Scuola Spagnola), and Levantine Sephardi communities (The Scola Levantina). The fifth, the Scuola Canton, was a private synagogue for the 4 families who funded its construction. One was the Fano family. Today, there are also populations of Ashkenazic Jews in Venice, mainly Lubavitchers who operate one of two kosher foodstores, a yeshiva, and the aforementioned Chabad synagogue.

Languages historically spoken in the confines of the Ghetto include Venetian, Italian, Judeo-Spanish, Judeo-Arabic, French, and German[citation needed]. In addition, Hebrew was traditionally (and still is) used on signage, inscriptions, and for official purposes such as wedding contracts (as well as, of course, in religious services). Today, English is widely used in the shops and the Museum because of the large number of English-speaking tourists[citation needed].

The Ghetto today[edit]

The Info Point of the Jewish Community of Venice in the Old Ghetto
A Lubavitch Yeshivah in the former Ghetto of Venice.

Today, the Ghetto is still a center of Jewish life in the city. The Jewish Community of Venice,[4] that counts 500 people, is still culturally very active.[citation needed]

Every year, there is an international conference on Hebrew Studies, with particular reference to the history and culture of the Veneto. Other conferences, exhibitions and seminars are held throughout the course of the year.

The temples not only serve as places of worship but also provide lessons on the sacred texts and the Talmud for both children and adults, along with courses in Modern Hebrew, while other social facilities include a kindergarten, an old people's home, A guest house, The Kosher House Giardino dei Melograni, a Kosher Restaurant "Hostaria del Ghetto" and a bakery. Along with its architectural and artistic monuments, the community also boasts a Museum of Jewish Art, the Renato Maestro Library and Archive and the new Info Point inside the Midrash Leon da Modena.

In the Ghetto area there is also a yeshiva, several Judaica shops, and a Chabad synagogue run by Chabad of Venice.[5] Although only around 300 of Venice's roughly 1,000 Jews still live in the Ghetto[citation needed], many return there during the day for religious services in the two synagogues which are still used (the other three are only used for guided tours, offered by the Jewish Community Museum).

Notable residents[edit]

Notable residents of the Ghetto include Leon of Modena, whose family originated in France, as well as his disciple Sarah Coppio Sullam. She was an accomplished writer, debater (through letters), and even hosted her own salon. Meir Magino, the famous glassmaker also came from the ghetto.

In fiction[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Weiner, Rebecca. "The Virtual Jewish History Tour" link:
  2. ^ Definition on
  3. ^ The New Oxford American Dictionary, Second Edition, Erina McKean, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-517077-6
  4. ^ Jewish Community of Venice
  5. ^ Chabad of Venice
  6. ^ Wesker, Arnold. The Merchant with Commentary and notes. London: Metheun, 1983.


External links[edit]