Saturday, July 20, 2013

From Italy to Germany and Back Again to the Ghetto: Destiny of Ashkenazi and Sepharidic Jewry

Nadene Goldfoot                                          

                                                          Jewish Ghetto in Venice, Italy
70 CE and the unthinkable happened.  The Romans took over Jerusalem and burned the Temple, the 2nd Temple that Jews had rebuilt when they returned from Babylonia.

What was to happen to them!  Some were able to sail across the Mediterranean to Rome, either as slaves or freemen where they found refuge.  Eventually, when things were so bad there, they moved northward into Germany, which was across the border.

Things were not going well.  In 640, 721, and 873 Jews in the Byzantine Empire were forcibly converted to Christianity.  This caused the remainder to look towards Germany in the north as a place of refuge.

In 1096 the German Crusade massacred the Jews in European towns that they found.  Back in Jerusalem there were Jews who had remained.  By 1099 they were massacred by the Crusaders.

Somehow, Jews had been able to sail to far away England to regain their lives, but in 1290 they were expelled from there.

The town of Wurttembeg, Germany was in the district of the Neckar River.  There was an important Jewish community there by 1298, when Rindfleisch and his hordes slew nearly 200 Jews on October 19, 1298.
In 1306 Jews that had been living in France that had crossed over from Germany were also expelled.  In 1316, Jews were turned over to the city by Ludwig the Bavarian for a period of 6 years of servitude or after the debts due to them had been cancelled in recognition of the city's loyalty.  On July 8, 1322, the Duke Frederick of Austria and the  city's non-Jewish citizens were released from their liabilities to the Jews.  Then in 1349 in Heilbronn, the Jews were attacked in their street on the Hasenmarkt.  Their goods were plundered and burned and their synagogue was set on fire.  The Jews in 1357 built themselves another synagogue. 1355 was the start of the terrible Spanish Inquisition in that 12,000 Jews were massacred by a mob in Toledo, Spain.   All Jews of France were expelled by 1400.

In France by 1420 the Jewish community in Toulouse was annihilated.  The next year Jews in Austria were expelled. All the while from 1146 to 1391 the Jews of Spain were being forcibly converted to Christianity so that by 1492  the Spanish Inquisition commenced which forcibly converted 50,000 so that they could remain in Spain while 180,000 others were expelled. In 1495 Jews were expelled from Lithuania who had gone there escaping the perils in Germany.  Following suit, in 1497 Jews from Sicily and Sardinia were expelled along with Jews from Portugal.  November 6, 1498  was when Jews of Nuremberg, Germany had to leave the city, and again  on Sunday 1499.  An armed escort went with them because of the danger on the roads.  Most settled in Neustadt, a piece of land owned by the widow Margravine Anna of Brandenberg.  Others went to Franfurt on the main and a few went to Prague.  Naples, Italy was a kingdom and they expelled Jews in 1541.

  The Jews of Heilbronn suffered severely under the arbitrary decrees of King Weneslaus during the war between the Suabian town.  They had a shameful policy for the Jews.  Kings Rupert and Sigismund had a war which broke out  because of them with grievances between the city and Heinrich Mosbach of Ems. About 1490, the Jews were ordered to leave the city despite the repeated intercessions of Emperor Frederick III.  Not many Jews remained in the city by 1523 and those who were were expelled by the city council but some  remained and were again expelled in 1529.

The reason Jews found they were expelled from towns was because of Christian anti-Jewish sentiment prevailing in Germany.  We know now that this never was dispelled up to present times.  It came out by the opposition of Christian burghers to Jewish business competition in money lending, craft making and trading.  This is the reason why all the Jews of England and France had already been expelled.

Germany, unlike England and France, was not united under one ruler.  For this reason in the Middle Ages there was no central expulsion of Jews from Germany.

Ultimately, Germany was a hard country to live in so by the 16th century, Poland and Lithuania offered what they called "Privileges" to live in their country to the Jews.  Besides that, a better Jewish education could be had in Poland and Lithuania than in Germany.  There, the education had become weak due to centuries of severe misfortune.  In reality they were laws set out in documents.  All wasn't a bed of roses in these eastern European countries, either.  The laws were enforced until by the end of the 18th century when Russia had taken over most of the territory of Poland and Lithuania.

Some German Jews, such as those in Heilbronn, moved back to Italy's Padua and Venice which were only 22 miles apart from each other.  Padua was 22 miles west of Venice.  It had happened that by the middle of the 14th century, many Jews of Rome, Pisa, Bologna and the marches of Ancona moved to Padua as moneylenders.  Even those German Jews and Jews from other Alpine countries  that had been persecuted moved back to Padua after 1440.  The word was out that this was a good place.  Padua flourished till the middle of the 15th century as a Jewish center.  By this time, Christian preachers were inciting anti-Semitism who influenced the government to have anti-Jewish legislation.  A ghetto was established in 1602 and there the Jews of Padua lived until 1797.

Venice is the home of the first ghetto for Jews.  Actually, Jews didn't first settle in Venice itself, but on the neighboring island of Spinalunga, which was called Gludeca in a document of 1252.  In the 13th century, many Jews went to Venice from Germany.  Some were seeking refuge from persecution.  Others were attracted by the commercial advantages of this important seaport.  They also engaged in commerce.  The Jews had started bank loans.  This was why they were allowed into Venice in the first place.  Jews were not regulated by law and their rights always remained precarious.  Their rights were determined like another foreign colony and were granted a stay in terms of years with a lease renewed of which was also sometimes refused.  They wound up being expelled twice and were compelled to retire to Mestre.

In  1516, the doges or ruling council of Venice debated whether Jews should be allowed to remain in the city of Venice.  They let them remain but decided they would be confined in a Ghetto.  Nuova, which was a small and dirty island, became the world's first ghetto.  "Ghetto" comes from the Italian getto which means "casting" or comes from the Venetian geto which means "foundry."  Italian and German Jews had to move into this ghetto.   The Germans went into Venice because of persecution in their German communities.  The Italian Jews had come from Rome and from the South where there was so much anti-Semitism.

Sephardic Jews from the Levant moved into ghetto Vecchio as well in 1541.  Spanish and Portuguese Jews also came to Venice in the late 16th century and were the strongest and wealthiest community in the ghetto.  Many of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews were Hidden Jews and became Jewish again by moving to Venice.  They all lived in the Ghetto Vecchio.

The German, Italian and Levantine communities were independent of each other yet lived side by side.  This could have been due to language and to the hierarchy that existed among them.  At the top of the ladder were the Sephardic (Spanish and Portuguese) and Levantine Jews.  German Jews were in the middle and the Italian Jews were on the lowest rung.

More restrictions were placed on them all.  They were only allowed to leave during the day and were locked inside at night.  Jews were only permitted to work in pawn shops, money lending, the Hebrew printing press, textile trading or practice medicine.  Detailed banking laws kept their interest rates low and made life difficult for many of the poor pawnbrokers and moneylenders.

When they left the ghetto they still had to wear clothing that marked them as being Jewish.  This meant they had to wear a yellow circle or scarf.  Jews were faced with high taxes.  The Talmud was burned in 1553 due to arguments between 2 Venetian printing companies.  Hebrew books were not allowed to be printed for the next 13 years, but the Jewish printing preses and publishing companies continued to thrive until the early 19th century after that lull.
An extremely bad era for the Venetian Jews was during the 1570's after the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.  The Jews were blamed for the war.  What else is new?  That goes on today as well.  Jews are always the ones blamed.  Expulsion threats were made.  The German and Italian Jews survived the war by making financial concessions.  They had to decrease their interest rate to 5% per annum which was the price they had to pay for living in the ghetto.  This was a major setback, but they recovered.

Imagine living for years as locked up prisoners.  It reminds me of Stalag 17, a show on TV in the 60's.  One adjusts.  Despite the poor living conditions, their community life continued to grow inside the ghetto.   Life centered around Jewish ritual and customs and the celebration of the Sabbath.  These Ashkenazic Jews built 2 synagogues on the top floors of the ghetto building, the Scola Grande Tedesca in 1528-29 and the Scola Canton in 1531.  The Levantine Jews, who had more money, built an extravagant synagogue in 1575 and it was housed in its own building in Ghetto Vecchio.  The Spanish Jews built a synagogue in 1584.  They were also able to build their own free school, the only one in Venice.  Christians came to the ghetto to visit Jewish banks, doctors and to shop for spices, jewelry and fabrics.

Their golden age was in the 17th century when Jewish commerce and scholarship flourished.  By the 1600's  they controlled much of Venice's foreign trade.  The Sephardic groups gained influence and wealth in the Venetian economy.  The residents of the Ghetto Nuovo also began to have greater economic stability and began participating in maritime trade, which had before only been allowed for those in Ghetto Vecchio.

Life deteriorated at the end of the 17th century economically.  By the 18th century there were lots of anti-Jewish feeling and limitations were placed on Jewish economic activity.  The population decreased from 4,800 in 1655 to 1,700 in 1766 because many prominent families left for Leghorn or other port cities.  Taxes for Jews were terribly high and Jewish ship owners and merchants lost their shops between 1714-1718. Finally in 1737, the Jewish community had to declare bankruptcy.  Napoleons' troops reached Venice in 1797 and tore open the ghetto gates.  That caused many Jews to volunteer to be in Napoleon's army.  Venice became part of the Hapsburg empire in 1798 and some restrictions were reintroduced.  The ghetto, however, was not officially re-established.  Many chose to continue to live in there, but wealthy Jews left to live in other parts of the city.

In 1848-49, when pioneers were crossing North America for the  Oregon Territory, the Venetian Republic was created but short lived by a Daniele Manin, who had Jewish ancestors.  Italy was unified in 1866 and Venetian Jewry were given an equal status as others.  A famous Venetian Jew, Luigi Luzzati began his career of politics organizing an aid society for gondoliers.  He served in the Italian Parliament for 50 years and was elected Italy's first Jewish Prime Minister in 1910.

WWI caused rising tensions for Jews and many left the city.  They didn't live under restrictions in the early years of Mussolini, but everything changed in the 1930's because of Italy's relationship with Germany.  About 1,200 Jews were living in Venice when German troops occupied the city in 1943.  205 people were deported to extermination camps from 1943 to 1944 which included the Chief Rabbi Adolfo Ottolenghi.  At the end of WWII, 1,500 Jews lived in Venice but that decreased from then on.  By 1965, 844 Jews lived in Venice.

This is what happened to Jews who took the high road and headed out of the Middle East.  They were just different family groups, perhaps following one of the high priests of Jerusalem who may have been more inclined to know some geography or had heard from traders of safer lands.  They came to be known as the Ashkenazi Jews, a term picked up in Germany.

Genealogy Booklet 2nd Draft of the Heilprin Family by Andi Alpert Ziegelman, 2009, history section
Facts About Israel, Division of Information Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Jerusalem

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