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Cultural life in the Ghetto

Cultural life in the Ghetto

Apart from the excellent doctors we already mentioned, other great minds in other disciplines emerged such as the grammarian Elia Levita, the Rabbi Leon da Modena, an erudite rabbi with a varied background and author of the famous Historia de’ riti hebraici, Simone Luzzatto (rabbi and writer) an the poetess Sara Copio Sullam, who was famous for the literary salon and for the Manifesto in which she defended herself against the accusation made by Baldassare Bonifacio, Archbishop of Capodistria, that she had denied the immortality of the soul.

In its heyday, before the plague of 1630, the Università degli ebrei (as the community was known at the time) included almost 5,000 people. A memorandum in the records of the Cinque Savi dated 15 March 1625 estimates that the Jews contributed some 100,000 ducats a year to the common weal and private profit of the city. Although confined to the ghetto, the wealthy Jews lived lavishly, as is demonstrated by the community leaders' repeated attempts to prevent the ostentation of wealth and the spread of gambling.

Within the gates of the ghetto there were not only places of worship and study but also a theatre, an academy of music and literary salons. The main calle of the Ghetto Vecchio was lined by all sorts of shops from those selling everyday supplies to the booksellers in Campiello delle Scole. There was also a twentyfour-room hotel at the Scuola Levantina, an inn and a hospital in Corte dei Barucchi. The ghetto was thus a flourishing city within a city until, that is, the calamitous arrival in 1630-31 of the plague that had ravaged Europe.

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