SCHOLA SPAGNOLA / VENICE
A modern orthodox community but all friends are welcome
The Spanish Synagogue (Schola Spagniola) is open for services from Passover until the end of the High Holiday season. For the rest of the year, services are held at the Levantine Synagogue. Both are in the Ghetto. For service times, please contact the synagogue.
Venice is considered one of the world's most beautiful and romantic cities. For Jews, however, it is where the world's first ghetto was instituted and the quality of Jewish life often shifted with the whims of the ruling power.
Jews from the Levant, who practiced Sephardic traditions, moved into Ghetto Vecchio in 1541. The Spanish and Portuguese Jews also came to Venice in the late 16th century and were the strongest and wealthiest community in the ghetto. Many of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews were Marranos and became Jewish again once moving to Venice. The Spanish/Portuguese and Levantines lived in the Ghetto Vecchio. The German, Italian and Levantine communities were independent, yet lived side by side to one another.
Restrictions were placed on Jews living in the ghetto. They were only allowed to leave during the day and were locked inside at night. Jews were only permitted to work at pawn shops, act as money lenders, work the Hebrew printing press, trade in textiles or practice medicine. Detailed banking laws kept their interest rates low and made life difficult for many of the poor pawnbrokers and moneylenders. Once they left the ghetto they still had to wear distinguishing clothing, such as a yellow circle or scarf.
Despite the poor living conditions, Jewish community life continued to grow inside the ghetto. Life centered around Jewish ritual and customs and the celebration of the Sabbath. The Ashkenazic Jews built two synagogues on the top floors of the ghetto building, the Scola Grande Tedesca in 1528-29 and the Scola Canton in 1531. The Levantine Jews, who had more money, built an extravagant synagogue in 1575 and it was housed in its own building in Ghetto Vecchio. The Spanish Jews built a synagogue in 1584. Jews were also able to build their own free school, the only one in Venice.
The 17th century was the period of the ghetto's golden age; Jewish commerce and scholarship flourished. Jews controlled much of Venices foreign trade by the mid-1600s. The Sephardic groups gained influence and wealth in the Venetian economy. Venice was home to many famous physicians who later served the Queen of France, the royal Court in Spain and figures such as Pope Paul III. It was also the center for Jewish knowledge and learning for many Sephardic Jews. Venetian Sephardic scholars traveled from Venice to start new communities in London and Amsterdam.
Economic conditions for Jews deteriorated at the end of the 17th century. Anti-Jewish feelings were prevalent in the 18th century and limitations were placed on Jewish economic activity. The Jewish population decreased as many prominent families left for Leghorn or other port cities.
Everything changed in 1797 when Napoleon's troops reached Venice and tore open the ghetto gates. Swept up in the fervor, many Jews volunteered for Napoleons army. Venice became part of the Hapsburg empire in 1798 and some of the restrictions were reintroduced, however, the ghetto was not officially reestablished. Many Jews chose to continue to live in the ghetto, but the wealthy Jews left to live in other parts of the city.
Source: Jewish Virtual Library (Read more here)