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Chosen Capital: The Jewish Encounter with American Capitalism by Rebecca Kobrin

At what moments and in what ways did Jews play a central role in American capitalism? Perhaps fears of this question’s anti-Semitic overtones have discouraged scholars from pondering this query even though many are quick to comment upon the speed with which Jews moved up America’s class ladder. Chosen Capital addresses this question head-on by exploring Jews’ impact on American capitalism as both its architects—through their participation in specific industries—and as its most vocal critics through their support of unionism and radical political movements.


Chosen Capital is far from another celebratory work on great businessmen of the American Jewish past. Rather, by focusing on the era when American capitalism was redefined by industrialization, war, migration, and the emergence of the United States as a superpower, this collection illustrates how Jews living in small towns scattered throughout the South and West along with Jews living in major metropolitan areas shaped and were shaped by the development of America’s particular system of capitalism.


Contributors examine such diverse topics as Jews in real estate, the liquor industry, and the scrap metal industry; the introduction and selling of Jewish ritual objects and such foods as matzah as commodities; and the part Jews played in developing radical labor agendas (e.g., the American Labor Party and the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union). These essays force us to rethink not only the central role Jews played in American economic development but also how capitalism has shaped Jewish life over the course of the twentieth century.



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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780813553078
Publisher: Rutgers University Press
Publication date: 08/20/2012
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)
Age Range: 17 - 18 Years

About the Author

 REBECCA KOBRIN is the Russell and Bettina Knapp Assistant Professor of American Jewish History at Columbia University. She has published widely on issues concerning American Jewish history and East European Jewish migration and is the author of Jewish Bialystok and Its Diaspora, a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Note on Orthography and Transliteration ix

Part I Reframing the Jewish Encounter with American Capitalism

Introduction. The Chosen People in the Chosen Land: The Jewish Encounter with American Capitalism Rebecca Kobrin 1

1 Two Exceptionalisms: Points of Departure for Studies of Capitalism and Jews in the United States Ira Katznelson 12

Part II Jewish Niches in the American Economy

2 The Evolution of the Jewish Garment Industry, 1840-1940 Phyllis Dillon Andrew Godley 35

3 From the Rag Trade to Riches: Abraham E. Lefcourt and the Development of New York's Garment District Andrew S. Dolkart 62

4 Success from Scrap and Secondhand Goods: Jewish Businessmen in the Midwest, 1890-1930 Jonathan Z. S. Pollack 93

5 Despised Merchandise: American Jewish Liquor Entrepreneurs and Their Critics Marni Davis 113

6 Blacks, Jews, and the Business of Race Music, 1945-1955 Jonathan Karp 141

7 Jews, American Indian Curios, and the Westward Expansion of Capitalism David S. Koffman 168

Part III Jews and the Politics of American Capitalism

8 The Multicultural Front: A Yiddish Socialist Response to Sweatshop Capitalism Daniel Katz 189

9 Making Peace with Capitalism? Jewish Socialism Enters the Mainstream, 1933-1944 Daniel Soyer 215

10 A Jewish "Third Way" to American Capitalism: Isaac Rivkind and the Conservative-Communitarian Ideal Eli Leaderhendler 234

Part IV Selling Judaism: Capitalism and Reshaping of Jewish Religious Culture

11 Sanctification of the Brand Name: The Marketing of Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt Jeffrey Shandler 255

12 How Matzah Became Square: Manischewitz and the Development of Machine-Made Matzah in the United States Jonathan D. Sarna 272

Contributors 289

Index 293

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