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The Chosen FewHow Education Shaped Jewish History, 70-1492$
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Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780691144870

Published to University Press Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691144870.001.0001

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date: 13 December 2017

Were the Jews a Persecuted Minority?

Were the Jews a Persecuted Minority?

Chapter:
(p.52) Chapter 2 Were the Jews a Persecuted Minority?
Source:
The Chosen Few
Author(s):

Maristella Botticini

Zvi Eckstein

Publisher:
Princeton University Press
DOI:10.23943/princeton/9780691144870.003.0003

This chapter examines the arguments set forth to explain why the Jews became a population of skilled craftsmen, traders, bankers, and physicians and why they created a worldwide urban diaspora. These arguments are grouped into two main categories: ones that highlight exogenous factors (discrimination, restrictions, persecutions, massacres) and ones that emphasize endogenous choices (voluntary self-segregation in order to maintain religious rites, voluntary migration to cities to preserve group identity). The chapter then presents the thesis that in a world populated by illiterate people, the ability to read and write contracts, business letters, and account books using a common alphabet gave the Jews a comparative advantage over other people. The Jews also developed a uniform code of law (the Talmud) and a set of institutions (rabbinic courts, the responsa) that fostered contract enforcement, networking, and arbitrage across distant locations. Thus, high levels of literacy and the existence of contract-enforcement institutions became the levers of the Jewish people.

Keywords:   Jewish people, discrimination, persecutions, voluntary self-segregation, voluntary migration, Talmud, rabbinic courts, response, contract enforcement, literacy

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