The Ghetto in Modern Jewish History: 1516-1945

Learning Objectives

In this module, students will learn: how and why the “ghetto” model spread from Venice throughout Italy and beyond; how and why European empires tried to control the Jewish populations within their borders in sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and how this changed during the period of Enlightenment and Emancipation of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; how Jews formed “ghetto” enclaves in American cities in the early twentieth century; and how the Nazis adopted and adapted ghettos during the Holocaust. Based on these readings and sources, students should be able to make critical arguments about: what definitional characteristics were shared by the various models of control that were called “ghettos”; whether ghettos are created voluntarily or through state control; and to what extent ghettos assisted or impeded Jewish assimilation.


Benjamin C.I. Ravid, “From Geographical Realia to Historiographical Symbol: The Odyssey of the Word Ghetto” in David B. Ruderman, ed., Essential Papers on Jewish Culture in Renaissance and Baroque Italy (New York, 1992)

  • In this article, Ravid argues that despite the existence of similar Jewish quarters before 1516, it was in Venice where the term “ghetto” was first used and so the authentic definition of “ghetto” is, like the Jewish area of Venice, a neighborhood that is “compulsory, segregated, [and] enclosed.” The article examines the historical characteristics of the Venice ghetto and then briefly compares it to later ghettos in other Italian and European cities. Ravid concludes that it was much later that the term began to be applied to “any area densely populated by Jews, even in places where they had freedom of residence and could and did live in t academic he same districts and houses as Christians.”
  • This reading is accessible for most undergraduates, with support. The writing is academic in style, and while more advanced undergraduates should be able to parse it fairly easily, instructors of more novice students could consider providing students with a brief overview of the reading beforehand, or scaffolding in-class discussion by beginning with an opportunity for students to ask clarificatory questions.
  • This text could be paired with: Oxford Bibliographies Online entry on “Ghetto” (DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199756384-0081)