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Italian Jewish ghettos originally offered Jews the opportunity to live inside a city such as Venice, where they could conduct commerce without traveling there from outside. The Venetian ghetto, then, initially presented commercial benefits for Jews. 

But the Counter-Reformation’s effort to re-Catholicize Europe in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries forced Jews into ghettos across Italy, including in cities like Florence where they had previously enjoyed residential freedom. Ghettoization forced Jews to sell property they owned that was now outside the ghetto. The ghetto became a symbol for the Jews’ degraded status. 

All in all, Jews in Italy gained emancipation five times, beginning in the 1790s, and lost it four times—exemplifying the fragility of their freedom, across centuries. 

Giambattista Gherardo d’Arco 
Della Influenza Del Ghetto Nello Stato
(On the influence of the ghetto in the state)

Venice: Gaspare Storti, printer, 1782

Center for Jewish History, Gift of Sid Lapidus 

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