chapter
The early modern ghetto
A study in urban real estate 1
ByBernard Dov Cooperman
Pages 17

The ghetto described by modern Jewish writers, whether historians or novelists, was a hated institution and a deteriorated reality on the one hand, and the imagined site of a lost Jewish culture on the other. None of these factors contributed to an understanding of the ghetto reality. Effectively, ghetto legislation might simply shift, or redirect, the pattern of Jewish residence and trade. From the point of view of early modern European cities, Jews were not only—and perhaps not even primarily—a religious group. Rather, they were a group of foreign merchants and trades people who competed for custom and markets with local non-Jews. In some Italian cities at least, Jews were actually able to obtain guild licenses to market cheaper types of cloth such as linen. Physical establishment of the ghetto made the rhetoric behind it ever more prominent in Church doctrine, a spatial expression of the Church's search for social discipline.