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The Economy in Jewish History

The Economy in Jewish History: New Perspectives on the Interrelationship between Ethnicity and Economic Life

Gideon Reuveni
Sarah Wobick-Segev
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 252
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  • Book Info
    The Economy in Jewish History
    Book Description:

    Jewish historiography tends to stress the religious, cultural, and political aspects of the past. By contrast the "economy" has been pushed to the margins of the Jewish discourse and scholarship since the end of the Second World War. This volume takes a fresh look at Jews and the economy, arguing that a broader, cultural approach is needed to understand the central importance of the economy. The very dynamics of economy and its ability to function depend on the ability of individuals to interact, and on the shared values and norms that are fostered within ethnic communities. Thus this volume sheds new light on the interrelationship between religion, ethnicity, culture, and the economy, revealing the potential of an "economic turn" in the study of history.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-986-4
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    Derek Penslar

    Throughout the modern Western world, Jewish economic activity has been an object of awe and wonder. The Jews’ economic influence has been often exaggerated, not only by anti-Semites searching for a culprit for overwhelming social ills, but also by philo-Semites identifying material manifestations of Jewish chosenness. From the mid-nineteenth century until the Second World War, Jewish writers directly engaged this language of Jewish economic exceptionalism with attitudes ranging from testy defensiveness to confident triumphalism to harsh self-criticism; meanwhile, Jewish economic difference remained prominent in Jewish self-consciousness. Then, in the wake of the Holocaust, talk about Jewish economic distinctiveness lost its...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Prolegomena to an “Economic Turn” in Jewish History
    (pp. 1-20)
    Gideon Reuveni

    A few years ago, when colleagues and friends heard I was preparing a collection of essays on the topic of Jewish sports, a common reaction was: “Oh, this will no doubt be a short read.”¹ A similar response to the study of the economic aspects of Jewish life is almost inconceivable—indeed, the general image of the Jews is overloaded with tropes and motifs taken from the sphere of economics. Yet despite the centrality of economics to Jewish life and to the image of Jews and Judaism in modern times, Jewish historiography has generally tended to highlight religious, cultural, and...

  6. I. Rethinking the Economy in Jewish History

    • 1 Can Economic History Date the Inception of Jewish Modernity?
      (pp. 23-42)
      Jonathan Karp

      Two questions arise when we combine the terms Jews, modernity, and economics: first, “When do Jews enter the modern economic age?” and second, “Is there something characteristicallyJewishabout modern economic life?” In juxtaposition, these questions appear to be mutually exclusive. The first assumes the prior existence of economic modernity and the Jews’ eventual incorporation into it, while the second presumes that Jews are the actual agents of this modernity. In the one case the Jews are backward, in the other ahead of their time.

      Though these views are contradictory, each is in its own way also logical. The rationale...

    • 2 Wandering as Circulation: Dostoevsky and Marx on the “Jewish Question”
      (pp. 43-61)
      Kirill Postoutenko

      The proposition of putting side by side a Russian religious writer and a German political economist unacquainted with each other and seemingly uninfluenced by one another appears unviable. Prominent cultural figures as they were, Dostoevsky and Marx were not silent on such nineteenth-century hot topics as monetary economy or the Jewish religion. However, their preferred social milieus, intellectual habits, and discursive modes were quite disparate, and the two contemporaries’ narrative references to Jews and money appear different in all but the most general cultural clichés. Even these clichés, discernible in Dostoevsky’s essay sequelThe Writer’s Diary(1873–1881) and Marx’s...

    • 3 Money Makes the Jew Go Round: West German Jewry and the Search for Flexibility
      (pp. 62-76)
      Anthony D. Kauders

      Jews who decided to remain in West Germany after the Holocaust were confronted with a Jewish public in Israel, the United States, and throughout the world that regarded a Jewish presence in Germany as sacrilegious. Hannah Arendt’s comment to Gertrud Jaspers, the Jewish wife of the famous Heidelberg philosopher, was a rather restrained example of this attitude, but its thrust was nonetheless unmistakable: “How one actually can bear to live there as a Jew, in an environment that doesn’t even deem it necessary to talk about ‘our problem,’ and that today means our dead, is beyond me.”¹ Other voices were...

  7. II. Jews in the Marketplace

    • 4 All Talk or Business as Usual? Brokerage and Schmoozing in a Swiss Urban Society in the Early Nineteenth Century
      (pp. 79-93)
      Susanne Bennewitz

      In nineteenth-century Germany and Switzerland, a small-scale trade agent was often called a “Schmuser.” This term of Yiddish origin was used by everyone in daily conversation, thus qualifying brokerage as a typically Jewish occupation regardless of the actual ethnic background of the businessman. Although the banker, the merchant, and the trading middleman are very well-recognized figures and functions within Jewish history, and are clearly seen as Jewish domains in the economic field, brokerage as a distinct Jewish livelihood has not yet been the focus of Jewish historiography. Studies on Jewish brokerage in the early modern time and pre-emancipation era are...

    • 5 Socialists, Bankers, and Sephardic Jews: The Pereire Brothers and the Crédit Mobilier
      (pp. 94-114)
      Helen M. Davies

      Within the multifaceted and contested historiography on the Jews in nineteenth-century France, the bankers and financiers Emile Pereire (1800–1875) and his brother Isaac (1806–1880) are significant figures in the discourse. They were first-generation post-emancipation Jews, Jewish Saint-Simonians, early “socialists,” leading personalities among the Second Empiregrande bourgeoisie, prime examples of assimilation, and targets of anti-Semitism.¹ This chapter looks at the Pereires as children of Bordeaux, an eighteenth-century port city and mercantile powerhouse, and of the community of Sephardic Jews, regarded by some as the first such community to “encounter the requirements of an emerging nation-state” and to be...

    • 6 Buying, Selling, Being, Drinking: Jewish Coffeehouse Consumption in the Long Nineteenth Century
      (pp. 115-134)
      Sarah Wobick-Segev

      By the early twentieth century, when Theodor Herzl penned the novelAltneuland, the coffeehouse had become a well-established institution in the social, economic, and cultural fabric of German-Jewish life. Thus engrained in the landscape of the time, it could even serve Herzl as a literary device: an old, stale, aging venue—symbol of Europe—that Dr. Löwenberg had to leave in order to begin his adventure. Yet the café was nevertheless also an integral part of Herzl’s daily and imaginary life, such that it was almost natural that he elsewhere envisioned a Jewish homeland in Palestine complete with Viennesestyle cafés.²...

    • 7 Consuming Powers: The “Jewish Department Store” in German Politics and Culture
      (pp. 135-154)
      Paul Lerner

      The 1908 bookBerliner Warenhäuser(Berlin Department Stores), by Leo Colze, is liberally quoted in many accounts of the history of department stores in Germany for its vivid descriptions of the early twentieth-century stores’ size and splendor, their technological and business innovations, and their novelty and modernity.¹ The book focuses above all on the Kaufhaus des Westens or KaDeWe, according to Colze the most spectacular, most elegant, and most American of the city’s “modern store palaces,” whose opening in 1907 was accompanied by much fanfare and excitement. Colze evokes this sense of excitement and wonderment in passages like the following:...

  8. III. Jewish Economies in National and Transnational Contexts

    • 8 Going Native: Moritz Jellinek and the Modernization of the Hungarian Economy
      (pp. 157-173)
      Michael L. Miller

      In 1883, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the establishment of the First Hungarian Insurance Company, the celebrated Hungarian artist Gyula Benczúr (1844–1920) painted a group portrait of the founders of this institution. The portrait depicts twenty-eight mustachioed, middle-aged men who were present at the founding meeting on 15 July 1857, including Henrik Lévay, the first president of the company; Ferenc Deák, the liberal Hungarian politician; and Baron József Eötvös, the Hungarian reformer and statesman. At the far left of the portrait stands an earnest-looking, red-headed man in his early thirties, a recent arrival to the City of Pest, who...

    • 9 Jews, Plumes, and Global Commerce in the Modern Period
      (pp. 174-186)
      Sarah Abrevaya Stein

      In August of 1911, a secret expedition sponsored by the government of the Union of South Africa set sail from Cape Town. Led by Russell Thornton, government agriculturalist of the late Cape Government, the party traveled to London, where participants were outfitted by Fortnam and Mason of Picadilly. From Britain, the group traveled by Elder Dempster steamer to and along the west coast of Africa, docking at Forcados, at the mouth of the Niger River. In Forcados, Thornton’s crew shifted to paddleboat and navigated up river to Baro, where they employed ninety-four Hausa porters to help them cross overland—by...

    • 10 Trading in Torah: Bootleg Bibles and Secondhand Scripture in the Age of European Imperialism
      (pp. 187-201)
      Adam Mendelsohn

      Historians have long been interested in the position of Jews in commodity chains—slaves, spices, grain, cattle, diamonds, coral—in the early modern period. For the most part these networks were closed to those without capital and consanguinity. By contrast we still know surprisingly little about Jewish participation in international trade in the modern period. The limited literature on Jews and commerce in the age of European imperial expansion and colonization in the nineteenth century focuses almost exclusively on the Jewish position as links in an extractive commodity chain that shipped raw materials from colonial sources to metropolitan markets.


    • 11 Cut to Zionism: The Emergence of the Diamond Industry in British-Ruled Palestine
      (pp. 202-221)
      David De Vries

      For quite some time it has been a well-known fact that Palestine was transformed between the late 1930s and the late 1940s. The rise of Fascism in Europe and the Second World War changed the character of the country’s economy, and the Holocaust transformed its demographic and cultural horizons. The retreat of the British Empire had an impact on Palestine politically, and by the end of the 1940s a bloody civil war had resulted in the birth of the state of Israel and the statelessness of thousands of Palestinians. Historians have fittingly dedicated considerable effort to unraveling these vicissitudes. However,...

  9. Contributors to the Volume
    (pp. 222-224)
  10. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 225-231)
  11. Index
    (pp. 232-239)