In 1638 two books written by two Venitian rabbis were published in Venice. They were both destined successfully to reach wide circulation over the following decades. This article aims at exploring the intimate connection between Venice, a city which deeply influenced the imagination of European culture during the early modern period, and its Jewish ghetto, the first of its kind to be founded within Catholic lands.
The author suggests that it was here in Venice, within the liminal space of the ghetto, that the theory of Jews as merchants, marked by undertones of utilitarianism was finally drafted. It also suggests that, in conjunction with this well-known theory, other theories based on religious tolerance were elaborated.
The paper also invites the reader to view the ghetto as a space capable of enacting special religious encounters, mainly driven by an interest in religion and rituals. Therefore, the very specific local and tangible conditions of the urban environment – the city and the ghetto – performed a very important undertaking, for example, debates over the place and role of Jews in Christian society.