Chosen Capital

Chosen Capital: The Jewish Encounter with American Capitalism

Edited by Rebecca Kobrin
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hjf56
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  • Book Info
    Chosen Capital
    Book Description:

    At which moments and in which ways did Jews play a central role in the development of American capitalism? Many popular writers address the intersection of Jews and capitalism, but few scholars, perhaps fearing this question's anti-Semitic overtones, have pondered it openly.Chosen Capitalrepresents the first historical collection devoted to this question in its analysis of the ways in which Jews in North America shaped andwere shapedby America's particular system of capitalism. Jews fundamentally molded aspects of the economy during the century when American capital was being redefined by industrialization, war, migration, and the emergence of the United States as a superpower.Surveying such diverse topics as Jews' participation in the real estate industry, the liquor industry, and the scrap metal industry, as well as Jewish political groups and unions bent on reforming American capital, such as the American Labor Party and the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, contributors to this volume provide a new prism through which to view the Jewish encounter with America. The volume also lays bare how American capitalism reshaped Judaism itself by encouraging the mass manufacturing and distribution of foods like matzah and the transformation of synagogue cantors into recording stars. These essays force us to rethink not only the role Jews played in American economic development but also how capitalism has shaped Jewish life and Judaism over the course of the twentieth century.

    Contributors:

    Marni Davis, Georgia State University

    Phyllis Dillon, independent documentary producer, textile conservator, museum curator

    Andrew Dolkart, Columbia University

    Andrew Godley, Henley Business School, University of Reading

    Jonathan Karp, executive director, American Jewish Historical Society

    Daniel Katz, Empire State College, State University of New York

    Ira Katznelson, Columbia University

    David S. Koffman, New York University

    Eli Lederhendler, Hebrew University, Jerusalem

    Jonathan Z. S. Pollack, University of Wisconsin-Madison

    Jonathan D. Sarma, Brandeis University

    Jeffrey Shandler, Rutgers University

    Daniel Soyer, Fordham University

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5329-0
    Subjects: History, Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Note on Orthography and Transliteration
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. PART I Reframing the Jewish Encounter with American Capitalism
    • INTRODUCTION. The Chosen People in the Chosen Land: THE JEWISH ENCOUNTER WITH AMERICAN CAPITALISM
      (pp. 1-11)
      Rebecca Kobrin

      More than a century ago, German sociologist and economist Werner Sombart (1863–1941) marveled at two remarkable economic “exceptionalisms” in the world.¹ First, he focused on the exceptionality of the United States, a nation that in just a few short decades had emerged as an industrial juggernaut, replete with huge mills, transcontinental railroads, and large cities. Writing in 1906 Sombart pondered why, despite this new nation’s rapid growth and expanding economic inequality, the United States and its capitalist system did not nurture a mass socialist movement among its working class like its counterparts in Europe.² What exceptional forces made workers...

    • CHAPTER 1 Two Exceptionalisms: POINTS OF DEPARTURE FOR STUDIES OF CAPITALISM AND JEWS IN THE UNITED STATES
      (pp. 12-32)
      Ira Katznelson

      Even as academic Jewish studies have moved ahead by leaps and bounds in the past half century, “the relationship of the Jews to capitalism,” as Jerry Muller limpidly puts the point, “has received less attention than its significance merits.”¹ Within American studies, the main exceptions to this rule, Arcadius Kahan’s and Simon Kuznets’s rich scholarship, date from more than three decades ago.² One might speculate about the reasons for this neglect. Certainly, a high degree of caution, even skittishness, is warranted, for the charged subject of Jews and capitalism has been marked not only by scholarly challenges but also by...

  6. PART II Jewish Niches in the American Economy
    • CHAPTER 2 The Evolution of the Jewish Garment Industry, 1840–1940
      (pp. 35-61)
      Phyllis Dillon and Andrew Godley

      The apparel industry in the United States has provided a home for Jewish businesspeople and workers for more than one hundred and fifty years. Indeed, one cannot fully understand this industry or its place in the U.S. economy over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries without addressing the central role played by Jews as American entrepreneurs and apparel capitalists.¹ German Jewish immigrants played a major role in the expansion and growth of the men’s suit industry in the United States between 1840 and 1880. They moved into it in large numbers once it was already established as...

    • CHAPTER 3 From the Rag Trade to Riches: ABRAHAM E. LEFCOURT AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF NEW YORK’S GARMENT DISTRICT
      (pp. 62-92)
      Andrew S. Dolkart

      An article in theNew York Tribunein 1925, extolling the meteoric growth of New York City’s Garment District, noted, “Men who have risen from obscurity are in the foreground as the owners of property in the new garment center. Some came to these shores without a cent, and from the humblest surroundings on the East Side, have risen to the front through hard work and sincere effort. To-day they are the owners of businesses supplying retail merchants all over the country with the clothing necessary to make the American woman ‘the best dressed in the world.’”¹ This “new garment...

    • CHAPTER 4 Success from Scrap and Secondhand Goods: JEWISH BUSINESSMEN IN THE MIDWEST, 1890–1930
      (pp. 93-112)
      Jonathan Z. S. Pollack

      Bernard Horwich lived a life that defines the Yiddish term “macher.” Born in the Suwalkiguberniaon the western edge of the Russian Empire, Horwich came to Chicago around 1880. During his time in Chicago, Horwich founded the Order Brith Abraham, the largest mutual-aid society for Russian Jews; served as the first president of the Order Knights of Zion, a Chicago-based Zionist society that was the first Zionist group in the United States; and helped create the Federated Jewish Charities of Chicago, bringing small, financially unstable organizations together under a more professional umbrella. At the same time that Horwich developed...

    • CHAPTER 5 Despised Merchandise: AMERICAN JEWISH LIQUOR ENTREPRENEURS AND THEIR CRITICS
      (pp. 113-140)
      Marni Davis

      In 1910 Isaac Wolfe Bernheim published his memoir, recounting his journey from Jewish immigrant rags to Kentucky bourbon riches. He arrived in the United States at the age of eighteen with a few dollars in his pocket, and by forty he was one of the wealthiest men in Louisville—an internationally renowned whiskey distiller, as well as a local civic leader and an important figure in national Jewish organizations. Life in the liquor industry had served Bernheim spectacularly well. Yet he’d come to rue his choice of livelihood. “If I had to choose my occupation over again,” he mused, “I...

    • CHAPTER 6 Blacks, Jews, and the Business of Race Music, 1945–1955
      (pp. 141-167)
      Jonathan Karp

      “Race” music was a term employed by the recording industry in the years 1920 to 1950 to describe commercial music made by blacks for blacks. Between 1945 and 1955 many of the most significant companies specializing in race music (or “rhythm and blues,” as it later came to be known) were owned or co-owned by Jews. These were independent (“indie”) labels that exploited the vacuum left by the “majors,” the established music corporations, in servicing the black record market. They included such influential labels as King in Cincinnati; Savoy in Newark; Apollo, Old Time, and Atlantic in New York; Chess...

    • CHAPTER 7 Jews, American Indian Curios, and the Westward Expansion of Capitalism
      (pp. 168-186)
      David S. Koffman

      Like dozens of young Jewish entrepreneurs who migrated to the burgeoning towns and cities, farms and homesteads, near American Indian reservations and allotments, or to the in-between places in the shifting zone known as the American western frontier in the second half of the nineteenth century, Julius Meyer forged a life and made a living as an American Indian trader, and eventually one as an American Indian curio dealer. He left Bromberg, Prussia, in the early 1860s, and when he arrived in Omaha shortly after the U.S. government created Nebraska Territory, he began trading trinkets from his brother’s jewelry and...

  7. PART III Jews and the Politics of American Capitalism
    • CHAPTER 8 The Multicultural Front: A YIDDISH SOCIALIST RESPONSE TO SWEATSHOP CAPITALISM
      (pp. 189-214)
      Daniel Katz

      In 1934 two competing May Day parades in New York City drew two hundred thousand participants and spectators. The mood was both festive and tense throughout the city. Riots had erupted in France and Ireland in recent days; the Nazis were taking elaborate precautions to prevent any communist demonstrations in Berlin; Newark, New Jersey, banned the socialists from marching; and police in Queens, New York, brutally suppressed an illegal march of communists the night before. Nearly two thousand heavily armed police monitored both marches and both rallies at Union Square and Madison Square.¹ In this highly charged moment, during which...

    • CHAPTER 9 Making Peace with Capitalism? JEWISH SOCIALISM ENTERS THE MAINSTREAM, 1933–1944
      (pp. 215-233)
      Daniel Soyer

      The East European Jewish immigrant inclination toward socialism is well documented. For a short time in the late 1910s, the Socialist Party (SP) even became the dominant electoral force in the Jewish immigrant neighborhoods of New York. After 1920 the socialists lost their electoral power, but they continued to influence the community through their control of important institutions such as theJewish Daily Forward, the Workmen’s Circle, and the garment workers’ unions. By 1936, looking to break out of their electoral isolation, most Yiddish-speaking socialists split from the Socialist Party after several years of bitter factional infighting. In New York...

    • CHAPTER 10 A Jewish “Third Way” to American Capitalism: ISAAC RIVKIND AND THE CONSERVATIVE-COMMUNITARIAN IDEAL
      (pp. 234-252)
      Eli Lederhendler

      Is there a sympathetic relationship between Jews and capitalism, or at least a pattern of such relationships that, arguably, have had their apotheosis in the case of American Jewry? And if so, why are so many Jews in the United States apt to link the idea of social conscience with their Jewish heritage?

      Scholars and laypeople alike have often remarked on American Jews’ successes in the economic realm and have sought explanations. Some contend that success is a function of the Jews’ willing conformity to American capitalist ideals: a moral equivalency between private virtue, the acquisition of skills, and personal...

  8. PART IV Selling Judaism:: Capitalism and Reshaping of Jewish Religious Culture
    • CHAPTER 11 Sanctification of the Brand Name: THE MARKETING OF CANTOR YOSSELE ROSENBLATT
      (pp. 255-271)
      Jeffrey Shandler

      During their period of mass immigration from eastern Europe to America, it quickly became a commonplace sentiment among Jews on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean that the United States was inimical to proper Jewish religiosity and that this new way of life was more suited to worship of the almighty dollar than of the Almighty. However, such assumptions were complicated by the phenomenon of the celebrity cantor, a fixture of American Jewish life from the 1880s through the middle decades of the twentieth century. Exemplifying the American celebrity cantor is one of the most well known Jewish clerics in...

    • CHAPTER 12 How Matzah Became Square: MANISCHEWITZ AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF MACHINE-MADE MATZAH IN THE UNITED STATES
      (pp. 272-288)
      Jonathan D. Sarna

      The History of Matzahcalls to mind the monumental composition by artist Larry Rivers, recounting thousands of years of Jewish history laid out against the background of the Passover matzah. To Rivers, the unleavened bread eaten on Passover seemed like the perfect canvas for hisStory of the Jews. Matzah to him was not an object of Jewish history but rather a metaphor for it.¹

      Rivers might have been surprised to learn that matzah itself possesses a fascinating history, particularly in the modern era when, like the Jewish people, it underwent monumental changes brought about by new inventions, new visions,...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 289-292)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 293-312)