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Judaica Europeana Jewish collections online
Number 8, 2016
Photo of the main square or campo in the Venetian Ghetto.
Main square of Venetian Ghetto by Didier Descouens (own work), CC BY-SA 3.0

Map of the Ghetto from the Tax Office
Map of the Ghetto 1780 from the archive fond Ufficiali al cattaveri (Tax Officers). Click image to enlarge.

Section diagram of the Scuola di San Rocco building in Ghetto Novo
Section of the Scuola di San Rocco building in Ghetto Novo, from the fond Officers for Taxes. Click image to enlarge.
The collections of the Venice State Archives

The edict of the Venetian Republic of 29 March 1516 proclaimed ‘The Jews must all live together in the Corte de Case, which are in the Ghetto near San Girolamo; and in order to prevent their roaming at night; Let there be built two Gates on the side of the Old Ghetto where there is a little Bridge and likewise on the other side of the Bridge [...], which Gates shall be opened in the morning at the sound of the Marangona [the bell of St Mark’s Cathedral] and shall be closed at midnight by four Christian guards appointed and paid by the Jews at the rate deemed suitable by Our Cabinet.’

The history of the Jews in Venice goes back a thousand years, but their forcible containment in the Ghetto lasted from 1516 to 1797. It is a story of segregation, heavy taxation, overcrowding, but also of unique development of Jewish life and a degree of integration.

Official restrictions on economic activities did not prevent Jews from finding sources of income other than the permitted activity of pawnbroking. Special concessions from the late 16th century onwards allowed a measure of integration in the Venetian community. The documents mention Jewish doctors, bankers, business brokers, greengrocers, butchers, hatters, engravers, printers, musicians (Riccardo Calimani, ‘The Ghetto of Venice’, Milan, 1988).

The materials from the State Archives selected for digitization by the Judaica Europeana project date from the 16th to 18th centuries and cover the history of the Ghetto. The archival documents reveal a detailed picture of the relations between the State and its Jews, and their legal and economic status. The documents come from the following archival fonds:

The archival fonds

Cadastral Records of the Ghetto (Dieci savi sopra le decime in Rialto. Catastici del Ghetto)
These records provide lists of Jewish people living in the three Venetian ghettos, Vecchio, Novo and Novissimo. These names are misleading: in terms of Jewish residence, the Ghetto Novo is actually older than the Ghetto Vecchio.

Rules of the German Jewish Fraternity in Venice (Fraterna della misericordia degli Ebrei tedeschi di Venezia). The regulations concerned the Ashkenazi community which included Jews who had lived in Italy for a very long time as well as recent immigrants.

Cover of the Rules of the German Jewish Franternity in Venice
The Rules of the German Jewish Fraternity in Venice, 1713. Click image to enlarge.

Inquisitors upon the Jewish community (Inquisitori sopra l'università degli ebrei)
These supra-magistrates were introduced in 1722 to deal with the crushing burden of taxation and were given broad powers in an attempt to address the situation arising from this unsustainable debt. At the time, the Jewish communities’ tax debt was over one million ducats.

Superintendents of health. Necrology of the Jews (Provveditori alla sanità. Necrologi di ebrei)
A small group of death records from the 17th century. They give the name, gender, age, place of residence, duration of disease, the causes of sudden or accidental death.

High Criminal Court. The Jews (Quarantia criminal. Presidenti sopra uffici. Ebrei)
Among the extensive powers exercised by this court, were jurisdiction and control over the Jews, and especially of pawnshops in the Ghetto. The documents track the evolution of Venetian policy towards the Jewish community.

Tax Officers. The Jews (Ufficiali al Cattaver. Ebrei) Cattaveri were government officials in charge of public assets and Jewish moneylending, and the control of the conduct of the Jews in Venice. The sub-fond Ufficiali al cattaver. Processi a ebrei contains documents of trials against the Jews. The fonds includes also 65 maps of the Ghetto.

Map showing buildings in the Venice Ghetto, 1775
Map of Venice Ghetto, 1775 from the Tax Officers' fond.

Editor: Lena Stanley-Clamp, Designer: Catriona Sinclair, European Association for Jewish Culture, London
with contributions from the Venice State Archives and the Goldfarb Library at Brandeis University
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