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06 December 2010

The Jews of Venice

Venice is one of the worlds most beautiful cities, well documented throughout the centuries for its canals, art and culture. However to the Jews of the area, it has not always been a beautiful place.

The first Jews settled in Venice in the late 1200's, although there were Jews who worked there as early as the middle of the 10th century. Most of those early Jews were moneylenders and merchants. In the year 1252, the Jews who were not allowed to settle in Venice, settled instead on the island of Spinaulunga, which later became known as Giudecca. Even though they couldn't live in Venice, by 1290, Jewish merchants and moneylenders were allowed to work in the city, along as they paid a 5% tax on all of their transactions. Finally in 1385, the moneylenders were granted permission to settle in the city, and a year later were given land to be used as a cemetery.

In 1394, acting on fears that the Jews were starting to conduct business in areas that affected non -Jews, the Senate expelled the moneylenders from Venice. Non -moneylenders were allowed to remain in Venice, however it was with the condition that they lived with restrictions. Some of those restrictions included:

  • They were forced to wear certain clothing items, such as a yellow badge or a red hat.

  • They were not allowed to own land.

  • The Jews were not permitted to build a synagogue.

  • Jews were also forced to attend Christan services or be baptised.

This time of restrictions was also a time of great growth in the Jewish community. Following the expulsion of 1492, a large amount of Jews immigrated from Spain and Portugal.

In 1516, the ruling council debated if the Jews should be allowed to remain in the city. They decided to let them stay, however they would now live in Ghetto Nuova, the world's first ghetto. The first groups in the ghetto were the Jews from Germany and Rome, both having come to avoid persecution. Over time many groups came to the ghetto, and again they had restrictions placed upon them, such as not being allowed outside at night.

Despite the fact that the living conditions were very poor, the Jewish community continued to grow. Synagogues began to be built, the Ashkenazic Jews built two synagogues, one in 1528, and the other in 1531. The Levantine Jews built one in 1575 and the Spanish Jews added theirs in 1584. The Synagogue, pictured at right is one of the Ashkenazic synagogues.

Today, this ghetto, still stands, home to most of the Jewish buildings. Venice, today has five synagogues, and a Jewish population of about 500. During the Holocaust, the Jews of Venice were transported to Auschwitz. The community today remembers them. The memorials below remember those Jews who were transported, including one with boards with names and ages of every person taken.

The Knowles Collection- Jews of Europe has some records of the Jews of Venice.

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