ghetto gĕt´ō [key], originally, a section of a city in which Jews lived; it has come to mean a section of a city where members of any racial group are segregated. In the early Middle Ages the segregation of Jews in separate streets or localities was voluntary. The first compulsory ghettos were in Spain and Portugal at the end of the 14th cent. The ghetto was typically walled, with gates that were closed at a certain hour each night, and all Jews had to be inside the gate at that hour or suffer penalties. The reason generally given for compulsory ghettos was that the faith of Christians would be weakened by the presence of Jews; the idea of Jewish segregation dates from the Lateran Councils of 1179 and 1215. Within the ghetto the inhabitants usually had autonomy, with their own courts of law, their own culture, and their own charitable, recreational, educational, and religious institutions. Economic activities, however, were restricted, and beyond the ghetto walls Jews were required to wear badges of identification. One of the most infamous ghettos was that of Frankfurt, to which Jews were compelled to move by a city ordinance of 1460. Crowded into a narrow section, the ghetto underwent several disastrous fires. The ghetto in Venice was established in 1516 after long negotiations between the city and the Jews. In 1870 the last ghetto in Western Europe, in Rome, was abolished. In Russia the Jewish Pale continued to exist until 1917. After the 18th cent. ghettos were also to be found in some Muslim countries. During World War II the Nazis set up ghettos in many towns in E Europe from which Jews were transported to concentration camps for liquidation; the Warsaw (Poland) ghetto was a prime example. In the United States, African Americans, Chicanos, and immigrant groups have been forced to live in ghettos through economic and social forces rather than being required to do so by law. See also anti-Semitism.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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