Membership, Community, Diversity

What is a Jewish ghetto?

Some say that the word ghetto comes from the Italian word for “foundry” and that it came to mean a closed or restricted neighborhood because a Jewish community near a foundry in Venice was declared the only area open to Jews in 1516. The actual practice of restricting Jewish residences to a certain quarter of town is very ancient, even gaining official religious sanction, for example, from the Christian Third Lateran Council in 1179 in Rome. Jews have been forced to live in ghettos in many times and places. Most recently, Adolf Hitler used the practice fairly early in his career as a way of controlling Jewish residents. Nazis in effect turned these ghettos into urban concentration camps. The Yiddish term shtetl was the common European Jewish term for the local community, but it did not carry the often gruesome connotations now borne by the word ghetto.


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