I’m reading a history book about Jews in Europe before the beginning of modern commerce. Jonathan Israel’s European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism 1550-1750.
What is astounding to me is that before 1580 Jews were expelled from nearly every European country. We are all familiar with Spain in 1492 and Portugal a few years later. What we are not familiar with is that Jews were expelled from France, Italy and every other European country in the next 75 years. Jews were forced to settle in Poland, Ukraine and Eastern Europe and the Western realms of Russia.
The cause of this great forced Jewish exile was the Protestant Reformation. Everywhere in Europe, Calvinists, Lutherans, Huguenots and every other imaginable Protestant rebel group was at war with the Roman Catholic Church. Jews were the victims as religion inflamed intolerance. And popes and bishops directed the flames of hatred toward local Jews.
What I didn’t know about was that starting in 1580 the princely class saw that Jews brought commerce to their kingdoms and invited Jews back to most parts of Germany, Venice and surrounds, the Netherlands and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Jews became the backbone of European commerce, including commerce with the Balkans and the Turkish empire.
What was it about Jews that created this success in commerce?
I call it the horses, the harness and the carriage.
- Like the horses, which have unique talents much better than mules or donkeys for speed, Jews had more than a thousand year history of being literate. Jews could read, write and deal with numbers. They were surrounded by populations where few people could do any of those things. That gave Jews a natural advantage in commerce.
- Like the harness, Jews were connected to each other by strong ties to their historic state of Israel. Jews had unique common foods, rituals, Hebrew, a common history, literature and a ceremonial calendar. This was a much stronger bond than families, villages or tribes.
- Like the carriage, Jews were not tied to the land. They had never been allowed to own land, be farmers or landlords since their expulsion from Israel 1,500 years earlier. So they were living nearly everywhere.
Jews were in touch with each other over great distances, over language differences and yet they had mutual trust and common experiences and skills.
The overseas Chinese in the modern world have many of these same qualities and they do well in commerce.
Israelis have all these qualities and are rapidly becoming the backbone of modern commerce, globally.
Does any of this have to do with the widespread Jew hate found among Lefties, Europeans and Muslims? No. Jew hate existed before Israel. It can be found in Egyptian documents soon after the Exodus. Jew hate is found in the Persian Empire after Jews were first driven out of Israel. That is the story of Esther and the ceremony of Purim.