Document Type

Working Paper


The origin of the word 'ghetto', it is universally agreed, is in the Jewish quarter of Venice in 1516. It was a common practice in medieval times to segregate Jews in a particular area of cities, often outside the city walls or, as in the case of Venice, on the periphery. In London, Jews were excluded from the City and took up residence in the Aldgate area on the outskirts. This remained a strongly Jewish area until the bombing of the Second World War. Similar situations were found throughout Europe. These ghettoes were not necessarily poor or disadvantaged areas. Some, as in Amsterdam, were quite prosperous. In modem times Jews began to disperse more widely, but the persistence of Jewish institutions such as synagogues in the former ghetto areas meant that they retained their Jewish character, often for centuries. Ghetto areas grew rapidly in eastern Europe in the nineteenth century as laws were passed in Tsarist Russia confining Jews to a large area of the empire (the Jewish Pale) and then driving them from their rural settlements (the shtetls) into cities where they were confined within particular areas. Thus when the mass Jewish emigration to America started in the 1880s most migrants already had the experience of living in exclusively Jewish villages or urban areas of Poland and Russia. Other European Jews, while not so confined, had also experienced life in concentrated areas of cities, although this was much less common than in the Russian or Ottoman empires. When east European Jews settled in America they tended to live in concentrations such as the Lower East Side or the Bronx in New York. Despite much dispersal to outer suburbs in America there are still Jewish concentrations in many major cities.