The Jewish Ghetto: Venice and the Other


Course Professors: Dr. Mehnaz M. Afridi, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, and Dr.


Course Schedule: December 28th, 2016 – January 13th, 2017-8; Monday – Friday, 4-6 hours a day.


Requirements Satisfied (3 credits): This course counts as Religious Studies Special Topics (RELS 300).

Course Description: This winter intercession course explores the interreligious character of Venice, against the backdrop of the Venetian Jewish Ghetto, the oldest such ghetto in the world, which turned 500 years old in 2016.  Using the Ghetto as a base and the city of Venice as a classroom, students will explore how Venetian Christians, Muslims and Jews from the sixteenth century to today have negotiated their identities in relation to Venetian culture, a bricolage of diverse ethnic and religious traditions. 

Most classes will begin with a lecture in a classroom provided by the Jewish Community and Museum in the Ghetto, followed by visits to world-class museums, galleries, palaces, churches, and public spaces.  In these settings, students will study the experience of Venetian Christians, Muslims and Jews first-hand through the syncretistic application of analytical tools drawn from the disciplines of Religious Studies and History.  Employing religious studies models, students will analyze the ways that the beliefs, scriptures, and aesthetic/ritual practices of the community have shaped a way of life in the Ghetto and beyond.  At the same time, students will explore the ways that the particular lived context of Venice in turn shaped the religious beliefs, practices and self-understandings of the community over the centuries.  In addition to visual and textual studies, we will attempt to bridge the gap between our understanding of pre-modern and modern Christian and Jewish experience through ethnography, particularly by conducting “life-history” interviews with contemporary Venetian Christians and Jews.  

Throughout the course, this interdisciplinary approach will compel students to grapple with the following questions:  What was religious life like in pre-modern Venice and in the Jewish Ghetto in particular?  How did religious beliefs and practices inform the ways in which residents interacted with other religious cultures?  How did the visual culture of the city and the Ghetto, from the decoration of its synagogues and liturgical objects to the design of its residential architecture and street network, reflect the lives and cultural interactions of its residents?  How were Jews represented in relation to Catholics and Muslims in Venetian art and what religious convictions underwrite these representations?  Did the Venetian government include or exclude Jews in state sponsored art and architecture, and what might that say about the status of Jews in Venetian society?  How did various religious communities present themselves visually through dress?  Did they dress differently depending on whether they were in public or private, in the Ghetto versus the Piazza San Marco, why or why not?  What is life like today in the Jewish community of Venice?  What role does interreligious dialogue, and also aesthetics, play in the current effort to restore the Ghetto? 

In addition to class meetings, each student will be asked to give disciplined attention to these and other issues through 2 quizzes, regular journal entries, and ethnographies.

Activities Associated with Course: Two pre-course orientations; cultural activities in Venice, such as group dinners and excursions; and a Shabbat service.  I will also require reading to be completed before the trip.


  1. Daily Journal Entries (2 pages in Journal provided by faculty).
  2. 2 Quizzes
  3. Interview with a Local Venetian (ethnography).
  4. You may not miss a class or a class trip under any circumstances!


Cohen, Mark R., The Autobiography of a Seventeenth-Century Venetian Rabbi: Leon Modena’s    Life of Judah, trans. and ed. Mark R. Cohen (Princeton, 1988). 

Shakespeare, William, The Merchant of Venice, eds. Raffel, Burton and Harold Bloom (New        York and London, 2006) (on Manhattan College Ebrary). 

Curiel, Roberta, and Bernard Dov Cooperman, The Venetian Ghetto (New York, 1990), “The       Ghetto Nuovo,” 30-42, “Life in the Campo del Ghetto,” 71-76. 


Introduction and chapter one, in:

Please purchase the following book on amazon for $6-10:






                                                DAILY SCHEDULE (subject to change)


Thursday, Dec. 28th

  1. Day Schedule

Arrival at Marco Polo Airport; pick-up by Professor Afridi

Settle into apartment (Try to stay up awake until at least 6pm!)

Tour of neighborhood surrounding apartment, grocery store and vaporetto passes.


Friday, Dec. 29th

  1. Readings

Curiel, Roberta, and Bernard Dov Cooperman, The Venetian Ghetto (New York, 1990), “The       Ghetto Nuovo,” 30-42, “Life in the Campo del Ghetto,” 71-76.



  1. Day Schedule

9:30am – Meet outside apartment

10:30am – Classroom in Ghetto: Introduction to Venice – Religious and Cultural History

12pm – Lunch break

1:30pm – Walking tour of the architecture and urbanism of the Ghetto Nuovo, Vecchio and Nuovissimo.

Il Ghetto (the Jewish Ghetto) in Venice is the area in which all Jews were forced to live from the 16th to the 18th century. Made famous by Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, the Venice Ghetto is now a pleasant neighborhood where Venice's small Jewish community still lives. It is also the home of a Jewish museum, the Museo Communità Ebraica.

7pm – Welcome dinner – location TBA


Saturday, Dec. 30th

  1. Readings

Please look at the Accademia website:

  1. Day Schedule

10am – Meet outside apartment

10:30am – Walk to Gallerie dell’Accademia

12pm – Lunch in Santa Margherita

1:30pm – Continue walking tour to Rialto, San Marco

Sunday, Dec 31st

Day trip to Murano! Cultural trip and lunch included.

Meet at 11am

Monday January 1st NO CLASS

 Tuesday, January 2nd 

  1. Readings

Robert c. Davis & Benjamin Ravid, Jews of Early Modern Venice, (New York, 2001) “The           Three Nations,” “The Heyday of the Community,” “The Settlement of Jews.”

Watch lecture by Dr. Shaul Bassi.  Watch:


  1. Day Schedule

10am – Meet outside apartment

10:30am – Visit to the Jewish Museum, Synagogues (dress appropriately).

12pm – Lunch

1:30pm – Classroom Discussion


Wednesday, Jan. 3rd

  1. Readings




Adelman, Howard Tzvi, “A Rabbi Reads the Qur’an in the Venetian Ghetto,” Jewish History (2012), 125–37.

Ortega, Stephen, “Across Religious and Ethnic Boundaries: Ottoman Networks and Spaces in      Early Modern Venice,” Mediterranean Studies, vol. 18 (2009), 66-89.

  1. Day Schedule

10am – Meet outside apartment

10:30am – Classroom in Ghetto: Islam, Venice, and Controversy

12pm – Lunch

1:30pm – Walking tour of Fondaco dei Turchi, the Moors, Biennale Mosque / Controversial Art Project


Thursday, Jan. 4rd

  1. Readings:


  1. Day Schedule

10am – Meet outside apartment; walk to San Marco for Vaporetto

12:00pm – Group lunch

1:30pm – Visit Jewish Cemetery

In 1386 the Venetian Republic granted its Jewish community land for a cemetery at San Nicolò on the Lido, the thin strip of land separating the Venetian lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. The cemetery was gradually enlarged and eventually enclosed, for both aesthetic and protective reasons, by a tall hedge. The community within the Ghetto Nuovo consisted of immigrants and refugees from a wide geographic area. After 1492 and the expulsion of the Jewish community from Spain, many Jewish families from the Iberian Peninsula arrived in Venice. As a result, there are a variety of tombstone engravings, with inscriptions in Hebrew, Spanish and Portuguese, often denoting country of origin; stone-carved coats of arms or family emblems, like the jug and basin or blessing hands (the symbol of the Levis and Coens, respectively) also indicate genealogical provenance. Similarly, stylistic differences in the gravestones’ architecture reflect their dates of construction, earlier markers tending to be less elaborate and later ones, like the sarcophagi favored in the 18th century, being more ornately decorated.

3pm – Walk to Lido Beaches (optional)


Friday, January 5th  

11am -12:00pm Quiz # 1:  The Ghetto, Accademia and Art, Palazzo Ducale and Jewish Cemetery.


Saturday & Sunday:

January 6th-7th NO CLASS


Monday, January 8th

  1. Readings


11am Guest: Luisella Romeo tour of Dorsoduro

Have a big breakfast we will be walking most of the day and stop for lunch late.


Tuesday, January 9th

  1. Readings –Merchant of Venice and the Jews


  1. Class schedule

10am – Meet outside apartment

10:30am – Classroom in Ghetto: Guest lecture by Shirley Kagan

12pm – Lunch

1:30pm – Interviews with local Venetians


Wednesday, January 10th

  1. Readings



  1. Day Schedule

10am – Meet outside apartment

11am –Guest Luisella Romeo and tour of the Island Giudecca

12pm – Lunch

1:30pm – Guest lecture by Lenore Rosenberg, Orthodox Community in the Ghetto TBA


Thursday, January 11th

  1. Day Schedule

10:30am – Quiz #2  Classroom at Ghetto

1:30-3:30pm Shirley Kagan Guest lecturer on “Merchant of Venice”

Friday, January 12th

  1. Day Schedule

Deadline for all assignments

Shabbat Service, Ghetto

Packing and Adieus

7pm – Farewell dinner


Saturday, January 13th

Fly home