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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.
Defense against the attacks made on the Jewish nation in the book entitled On the influence of the ghetto in the state
Padua: R. I. Monistero di S. Salvatore, 1784
Center for Jewish History, Gift of Sid Lapidus
Benedetto Frizzi, aka Benzion Raphael Kohen, was a prominent Enlightenment scholar and an outspoken champion of Italian Jewry. In his anonymously published Difesa, Frizzi counters the Mantuan economist Count Giambattista Gherardo d’Arco, who in Della Influenza Del Ghetto Nello Stato accused the Jews of despising Christians and impoverishing their home countries. Notably, D’Arco used the term “ghetto” not specifically to denote walled,
segregated Jewish space, but Jews more generally as a collective, corporate body. Frizzi’s defense of Italian Jewry cites centuries of positive relations between Jews and Gentiles and warns on this page that “intolerance is against the spirit of the true good of the state.” Frizzi further explains the beneficial economic effects of the Jews’ role as merchants in Italy and throughout Europe.