In 1516, the world's first institutionalized ghetto was established by decree in Venice. Within the segregated confines of a tiny neighborhood, the Republic of Venice (known as La Serenissima) enabled the Jewish minority to settle permanently in the Venetian Lagoon for the first time in history. The district was named Ghetto – a term which was eventually applied to all enclosed Jewish neighborhoods throughout the Christian world.
"For all of its restrictions, the ghetto paradoxically enabled the flourishing of spiritual, cultural, and artistic richness," says Gioia Perugia-Sztulman, curator of Venetian Splendor: Marking 500 Years of the Venice Ghetto.
"Once established, the Ghetto drew a diverse variety of Jewish ethnic groups – German, Italian, Spanish, and Levantine – each with its own distinct place of worship. Great efforts were devoted to beautifying their synagogues and adorning them with lavish ceremonial objects that embodied a distinctive Venetian taste."
A selection of these ritual objects will be on display in the Israel Museum Synagogue Route. Among them: an ancient Torah ark curtain from 1601 bearing the Priestly Benediction, a Torah crown with vignettes featuring musical instruments and silver utensils: Torah crowns, Torah shields and finials. "Eighteenth century ritual objects were designed in a typical Venetian style: very sculptural, heavily ornate with gold and silver," says Perugia-Sztulman. They show how for all of the restrictions, the Jews of the ghetto maintained a flourishing of spiritual, cultural, and artistic richness, preserving a strong Jewish identity alongside a prolific cultural exchange with the surrounding Christian community."
This special display – marking 500 years since the establishment of the Venice Ghetto – enhances the Italian representation in our Synagogue Route with Venetian ceremonial objects from our Museum's own collections, providing a fitting complement to our synagogue from Vittorio Veneto, a town close to Venice. Together, the display and synagogue reflect the cultural environment of Venetian places of worship, capturing their age-old essence and majesty.
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