When Venice conquered Crete in the early thirteenth century, a significant population of Jews lived in the capital and main port city of Candia. This community grew, diversified, and flourished both culturally and economically throughout the period of Venetian rule, and although it adhered to traditional Jewish ways of life, the community also readily engaged with the broader population and the island's Venetian colonial government.
In Colonial Justice and the Jews of Venetian Crete, Rena N. Lauer tells the story of this unusual and little-known community through the lens of its flexible use of the legal systems at its disposal. Grounding the book in richly detailed studies of individuals and judicial cases—concerning matters as prosaic as taxation and as dramatic as bigamy and murder—Lauer brings the Jews of Candia vibrantly to life. Despite general rabbinic disapproval of such behavior elsewhere in medieval Europe, Crete's Jews regularly turned not only to their own religious courts but also to the secular Venetian judicial system. There they aired disputes between family members, business partners, spouses, and even the leaders of their community. And with their use of secular justice as both symptom and cause, Lauer contends, Crete's Jews grew more open and flexible, confident in their identity and experiencing little of the anti-Judaism increasingly suffered by their coreligionists in Western Europe.