The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History, 70-1492

Overview

In 70 CE, the Jews were an agrarian and illiterate people living mostly in the Land of Israel and Mesopotamia. By 1492 the Jewish people had become a small group of literate urbanites specializing in crafts, trade, moneylending, and medicine in hundreds of places across the Old World, from Seville to Mangalore. What caused this radical change? The Chosen Few presents a new answer to this question by applying the lens of economic analysis to the key facts of fifteen formative ...

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The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History, 70-1492: How Education Shaped Jewish History, 70-1492

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Overview

In 70 CE, the Jews were an agrarian and illiterate people living mostly in the Land of Israel and Mesopotamia. By 1492 the Jewish people had become a small group of literate urbanites specializing in crafts, trade, moneylending, and medicine in hundreds of places across the Old World, from Seville to Mangalore. What caused this radical change? The Chosen Few presents a new answer to this question by applying the lens of economic analysis to the key facts of fifteen formative centuries of Jewish history.

Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein show that, contrary to previous explanations, this transformation was driven not by anti-Jewish persecution and legal restrictions, but rather by changes within Judaism itself after 70 CE--most importantly, the rise of a new norm that required every Jewish male to read and study the Torah and to send his sons to school. Over the next six centuries, those Jews who found the norms of Judaism too costly to obey converted to other religions, making world Jewry shrink. Later, when urbanization and commercial expansion in the newly established Muslim Caliphates increased the demand for occupations in which literacy was an advantage, the Jews found themselves literate in a world of almost universal illiteracy. From then forward, almost all Jews entered crafts and trade, and many of them began moving in search of business opportunities, creating a worldwide Diaspora in the process.

The Chosen Few offers a powerful new explanation of one of the most significant transformations in Jewish history while also providing fresh insights to the growing debate about the social and economic impact of religion.

Winner of the 2012 National Jewish Book Award for Scholarship

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Editorial Reviews

Forward
[A]mbitious . . . systematically dismantle much of the conventional wisdom about medieval Jewish history.
— Jonathan B. Krasner
Slate
[W]here so many have simply taken as a given universal literacy among Jews, [Botticini and Eckstein] find that a majority of Jews actually weren't willing to invest in Jewish education, with the shocking result that more than two-thirds of the Jewish community disappeared toward the end of the first millennium. . . . The astonishing theory presented here has great implications for both the Jewish community and the broader world today.
— Steven Weiss
Forward - Jonathan B. Krasner
[A]mbitious . . . systematically dismantle much of the conventional wisdom about medieval Jewish history.
Slate - Steven Weiss
[W]here so many have simply taken as a given universal literacy among Jews, [Botticini and Eckstein] find that a majority of Jews actually weren't willing to invest in Jewish education, with the shocking result that more than two-thirds of the Jewish community disappeared toward the end of the first millennium. . . . The astonishing theory presented here has great implications for both the Jewish community and the broader world today.
Economic Principals - David Warsh
[E]ventually, The Chosen Few will have changed the course of history in the Middle East . . . as part of a broad reinterpretation of the history of the peopling of the world, underway for a century and a half, that has begun gathering force since the 1990s. . . . This may be the first you have heard about The Chosen Few, but I pretty much guarantee you that it will not be the last.
Choice
[P]rovocative . . .
EH.net - Carmel U. Chiswick
Botticini and Eckstein's simple yet sophisticated human capital analysis provides new insights into Jewish history for the fourteen centuries covered in this book. . . . [Their] methodology yields a very convincing Cliometric analysis that we can expect to inform all future economic histories of the Jews between 70 and 1492.
From the Publisher
Winner of the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in Scholarship

One of Jewish Ideas Daily.com's 40 Best Jewish Books of 2012

"[A]mbitious . . . systematically dismantle much of the conventional wisdom about medieval Jewish history."—Jonathan B. Krasner, Forward

"[W]here so many have simply taken as a given universal literacy among Jews, [Botticini and Eckstein] find that a majority of Jews actually weren't willing to invest in Jewish education, with the shocking result that more than two-thirds of the Jewish community disappeared toward the end of the first millennium. . . . The astonishing theory presented here has great implications for both the Jewish community and the broader world today."—Steven Weiss, Slate

"[E]ventually, The Chosen Few will have changed the course of history in the Middle East . . . as part of a broad reinterpretation of the history of the peopling of the world, underway for a century and a half, that has begun gathering force since the 1990s. . . . This may be the first you have heard about The Chosen Few, but I pretty much guarantee you that it will not be the last."—David Warsh, Economic Principals

"[P]rovocative . . ."Choice

"Botticini and Eckstein's simple yet sophisticated human capital analysis provides new insights into Jewish history for the fourteen centuries covered in this book. . . . [Their] methodology yields a very convincing Cliometric analysis that we can expect to inform all future economic histories of the Jews between 70 and 1492."—Carmel U. Chiswick, EH.net

"I found The Chosen Few, a book on Jewish economic history by Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein, enormously enlightening and relevant to the draft-the-Haredim debate."—Shlomo Maital, Jerusalem Report

"If you've ever wondered how the Chosen People survived the vagaries of history, reading The Chosen Few will give you answers you cannot find anywhere else."Huffington Post

"This is a trailblazing, original, illuminating and horizon-broadening book."—Manuel Trajtenberg, Haaretz

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Maristella Botticini is professor of economics, as well as director and fellow of the Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research (IGIER), at Bocconi University in Milan. Zvi Eckstein is the Mario Henrique Simonson Chair in Labor Economics at Tel Aviv University and professor and dean of the School of Economics at IDC Herzliya in Herzliya, Israel.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi
List of Tables xiii
Preface xv

Introduction 1

Chapter 1
70 CE–1492: How Many Jews Were There, and Where and How Did They Live? 11
From Jesus to Muhammad (1 CE–622): A World of Farmers 15
From Muhammad to Hulagu Khan (622–1258): Farmers to Merchants 31
From Hulagu Khan to Tomás de Torquemada (1258–1492):
The End of the Golden Age
44
Jewish History, 70 CE–1492: Puzzles 51

Chapter 2
Were the Jews a Persecuted Minority? 52
Restrictions on Jewish Economic Activities 52
Taxation Discrimination 58
Physical versus Portable Human Capital 59
Self-Segregated
Religious Minority 61
The Economics of Small Minorities 62
Summary 65

Chapter 3
The People of the Book, 200 BCE–200 CE 66
The Two Pillars of Judaism from Ezra to Hillel (500–50 BCE): The Temple and the Torah 66
The Lever of Judaism: Education as a Religious Norm 69
The Destruction of the Second Temple: From Ritual Sacrifices to Torah Reading and Study 73
The Legacy of Rabbinic Judaism: The Mishna and Universal Primary Education,
10 CE–200
74
Judaism and Education: The Unique Link in the World of the Mishna 78

Chapter 4
The Economics of Hebrew Literacy in a World of Farmers 80
Heterogeneity and the Choices Facing Jewish Farmers circa 200 82
The Economic Theory: Basic Setup 84
The Economic Theory: Predictions 87
Life in a Village in the Galilee circa 200 through the Lens of the Theory 88
Annex 4.A: Formal Model of Education and Conversion of Farmers 89

Chapter 5
Jews in the Talmud Era, 200–650:
The Chosen Few 95
An Increasingly Literate Farming Society 96
Conversions of Jewish Farmers 111
Summary 122

Chapter 6
From Farmers to Merchants, 750–1150 124
The Economics of Hebrew Literacy in a World of Merchants 125
The Golden Age of Literate Jews in the Muslim Caliphates 130
Summary 150
Annex 6.A: Formal Model of Education and Conversion of Merchants 150

Chapter 7
Educated Wandering Jews, 800–1250 153
Wandering Jews before Marco Polo 154
Jewish Migration within the Muslim Caliphates 163
Migration of Byzantine Jewry 172
Jewish Migration to and within Christian Europe 173
Migration of the Jewish Religious Center 195
Summary 200

Chapter 8
Segregation or Choice? From Merchants to Moneylenders, 1000–1500 201
The Economics of Money and Credit in Medieval Europe 202
Jewish Prominence in Moneylending: Hypotheses 209
The Dynamics of Jewish Moneylending in Medieval Europe 212
Jewish Moneylending in Medieval Italy: A Detailed Analysis 219
Attitudes toward Moneylending 232
Facts and Competing Hypotheses 237
From Merchants to Moneylenders: Comparative Advantage in Complex
Intermediation
241
Annex 8.A: The Charter to the Jews of Vienna 244

Chapter 9
The Mongol Shock: Can Judaism Survive When Trade and Urban Economies Collapse? 248
The Mongol Conquest of the Muslim Middle East 249
Socioeconomic Conditions in the Middle East under the Mongols 252
Jewish Demography under Mongol and Mamluk Rule: An Experiment 254
Why Judaism Cannot Survive When Trade and Urban Economies Collapse 258
Summary 259

Chapter 10
1492 to Today: Open Questions 261
Portrait of World Jewry circa 1492 261
Jewish History, 70 CE–1492: Epilogue 264
Trajectory of the Jewish People over the Past 500 Years 266
Persistence of Jewish Occupational Structure 268

Appendix 274
Bibliography 287
Index 317

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