Benjamin Ravid

in Renaissance and Reformation

ISBN: 9780195399301
Published online August 2011 | | DOI:

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy


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From the beginning of their residence in medieval Christian Europe, Jews usually tended to dwell in proximity to each other, as did members of other groups of foreigners. Usually the origins of such Jewish areas are hidden in the twilight zone of undocumented history and were designated differently in different languages. Some designations consisted of the local word for “street,” “quarter,” or “district,” with a modifier indicating that Jews lived there, as, for example, “vicus Judaeorum,” “Judengasse,” “rue des Juifs,” “carrière juif,” “Judenhof,” “Judenviertel,” “Judendorf,” and “Judenstadt.” Other designations derived from the word “Jew,” as “guidecca,” “juiverie,” “juderia,” “judaismo,” and “judaiche.” On the other hand, sometimes Jewish quarters were not referred to by any designation that reflected a Jewish presence: for example, Leopoldstadt. Unfortunately, these various designations are utilized without differentiating between areas in which substantial numbers of Jews voluntarily lived together and those that were compulsory and enclosed by walls with gates that were locked at night to segregate the Jews. The word “ghetto,” however, is never encountered in any contemporary source prior to the 16th century, although modern authors utilize it indiscriminately to refer to Jewish streets or quarters at any time in any place. The compulsory, segregated, and enclosed Jewish quarter established in Venice in 1516 was the first to be called a ghetto, and until the end of the 18th century that word appears to have been used only to refer to such quarters on the Italian peninsula. During the course of the 19th century, it came to be used (often in a negative sense) to refer to areas of dense Jewish settlement in eastern Europe that were neither compulsory, segregated, nor enclosed. Then the word was applied to new immigrant Jewish communities established in the Germanic lands, western Europe, and the Western Hemisphere. It was soon used to designate communities of other immigrants, often with the connotation of an urban slum and eventually those formed by African Americans migrating to northern cities in the United States. Subsequently, the word gained further currency with the establishment of the so-called ghettos of Nazi Germany. Finally, after World War II, “ghetto” came to be widely utilized in connection with the extensive new urban planning and renewal. Of course, these concurrent but different uses of the word have led to considerable confusion as to what exactly is intended in any given context.

Article.  5035 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy

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