The Chosen Few

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

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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 offer a powerful new explanation of one of the most significant transformations in Jewish history while also providing fresh insights into the growing debate about the social and economic impact of religion.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 344 pages
  • 152 x 235 x 22.86mm | 454g
  • New Jersey, United States
  • English
  • 4 line illus. 29 tables. 11 maps.
  • 0691163510
  • 9780691163512
  • 316,301

Back cover copy

"Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein have written a remarkably interesting book with a new hypothesis about the occupational structure of the Jews. The authors adduce serious evidence for their hypothesis, which lays stress on the requirement introduced nearly 2,000 years ago for universal male literacy among the Jews. This is a fascinating and persuasive combination of history and economics, worth reading by all, even the unhappy few who like neither history nor economics."--Stanley Fischer, governor of the Bank of Israel

"The Chosen Few is a masterpiece: an ambitious, informed, and inspirational reinterpretation of Jewish social and economic history."--Avner Greif, Stanford University

"In this bracing work of economic history, Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein demonstrate how literacy and contract law combined to give Jews a competitive advantage in urbanizing societies. Sure to generate controversy, The Chosen Few takes on one of the truly big questions in Jewish history and sheds intriguing new light on it."--David Biale, University of California, Davis

"Botticini and Eckstein are changing the way economic historians think about Jewish history, and this seminal book will also change the way historians, Jewish studies scholars, and general readers think about the subject. Indeed, the importance of this book can scarcely be exaggerated. An excellent example of economic history that is accessible to general readers, The Chosen Few makes a compelling case for an exciting new perspective that will inspire much further research and be the focus of attention for years to come."--Carmel Chiswick, George Washington University

"This is a mature, original, and significant new attempt to answer one of the most vexing problems in Jewish and economic history. For the general reader it provides an incisive view of the salient facts of Jewish economic history. For the economic historian it opens up a challenging new thesis. And for historians of Judaism and religion it provides a new interpretation of the social and economic impact of religion."--Michael Toch, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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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 Tomas 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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Review quote

Winner of the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in Scholarship One of Jewish Ideas'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, "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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About Maristella Botticini

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 dean of the Arison School of Business and of the School of Economics at IDC Herzliya in Herzliya, Israel; Judith C. and William G. Bollinger visiting professor in the Finance Department at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania; and emeritus professor in the Eitan Berglas School of Economics at Tel Aviv University.
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82 ratings
3.95 out of 5 stars
5 32% (26)
4 39% (32)
3 24% (20)
2 2% (2)
1 2% (2)
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