History of the Ghetto The word ghetto means slag, from the Latin word gettare, to pour or to cast. This Italian word was first used by the Venetians, who forced Jews to live behind walls in the most miserable part of the city near an iron foundry. The Ghetto in Venice was of course not the first nor the last European Jewish ghetto. As early as 1179, the third “Lateran Council” of the Catholic church decided that Christians should not live together with Jews (Lateran refers to SEXTUS LATERANUS, a Roman Consul who, long before Christianity, owned the Lateran palace where the council or meeting was held). This led to the segregation of Jews in most European communities. The areas in which Jews were allowed to live were not at first called Ghettos because that Italian name did not enter the European languages until the Venetians introduced it in the 16th century. In Germany, Jews were confined to a few streets called Judengasse or Jew alley. If you visit the town of Rothenburg in southern Germany today you can still see the street sign “Judengasse” there. Rothenburg maintains its medieval appearance for the sake of attracting tourists. Although many European communities already provided for Jewish enclaves, this was not enough for the citizens of Venice, who forced Jews to live on one of the islands which constitute Venice to this day. In 1516 the Jewish area was walled in. Only two gates allowed Jews to leave after sunrise and return before dark. From sunset to morning the doors were locked. Jews were also forced to wear only black clothes such as may still be seen among some of our Torah true brethren. In the Middle Ages, all Europeans were subject to the so-called sumptuary laws (sumptus is Latin for expense), requiring different social classes and occupations to wear clothes which identified them. Hence the nobility wore colorful and attractive clothes and peasants wore uniformly ugly clothes. Jews were the bottom of the hierarchy (holy rule) and therefore had to wear only black.