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From Yellow to Red: On the Distinguishing Head-Covering of the Jews of Venice

Benjamin Ravid
Jewish History
Vol. 6, No. 1/2, The Frank Talmage Memorial Volume (1992), pp. 179-210
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20101128
Page Count: 32
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From Yellow to Red: On the Distinguishing Head-Covering of the Jews of Venice
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Abstract

In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council stipulated that in order to eliminate forbidden sexual relations between Christians and Jews, Jews were to be made distinguishable by the nature of their clothing. However the Council left it up to the secular authorities to determine the specific means of implementation. Legislation of the Venetian government of 1394 provided that after 1397 all Jews coming to the city had to wear a yellow circle on their outer clothing. Alleged non-compliance with this frequently reiterated requirement eventually led the government in 1497 to replace the yellow circle by a yellow head-covering, which supposedly would be more visible. Then with the emergence and growth of an officially authorized Jewish community in Venice in the early sixteenth century, the issue of enforcing the special Jewish head-covering and controlling exemptions became a significant part of the religious and socially motivated policy of segregating the Jews. While legally the color of the head-covering was supposed to be yellow, both administrative documents emanating from the Venetian government and also travel accounts of foreign visitors indicate that from the early seventeenth century on, only Jews of Levantine origin wore yellow head-covering, while that of all other Jews was red. Unfortunately, no contemporary explanation has yet been found for this change, which presumably originated with the Jews because they did not like the negative connotations associated with yellow, for in Venice attempts were made also to make prostitutes and pimps recognizable by marking them in yellow. Apparently, the Venetian government was willing to accept the change because it was more concerned that Jews were distinguishable than with the specific distinguishing color. Finally in 1738, law caught up with reality as the government legislated that all Jews in the Venetian state were to wear a red head-covering, except for the Levantines, who continued to wear yellow. /// [Abstract in Hebrew].

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