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HOME > Classical Novels > On the Eve of Redemption > ARE THE JEWS A COMMERCIAL PEOPLE?
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 The reputation of the Jews for being a business people has done them more harm than good, and has, in fact, their in many countries. But nowhere has this reputation done them so much harm as in Russia. Even the Russian liberals, who are not anti-Semitic, seem to believe that the Jews, if , would ruin the Russian peasantry and completely Russian commerce. They are therefore not eager to take up the cause of the Jews, though they may be liberal in every other respect.  
The Russian and Roumanian anti-Semites, however, base their theories of the need for oppressing the Jews on the belief that the Jews are too shrewd in business and that they will exploit the Russians and Roumanians if they are given freedom to move about and to all their commercial energy and intelligence. This view is not restricted to those countries alone. We find traces of it even in America.
Has this belief any foundation in fact or is it only a myth? The question is interesting enough to be discussed. There are two methods of considering this question, the historic and the pragmatic. Have the Jews always been a business people? Are they today a business people? Instead of answering these questions in the affirmative or in the negative, we think it wiser to lay the facts before the public and to let it answer the two questions.
In ancient times—as confirmed by the Bible—the Jews were not much of a business people. The bulk of the people were to agriculture. There are thirteen terms for rain in Hebrew while there is only one for commerce. The number of agricultural laws in the exceeds by far the number of laws and regulations relating to commerce. The attitude of ancient Jews to commerce was similar to the attitude of the ancient Greeks to . Indeed the ancient Jews, in contradistinction to the Greeks, respected labor and despised business and commerce. Josephus Flavius in his book against Apion, says clearly: "We Jews do not find much pleasure in commerce." The Talmudic warned the people against commerce again and again, and represented the business man as an ignoramus and a sinner. Rabbi Meir ruled: Trade less and study more. Rabbi Johanan exclaimed: There is no Torah among tradesmen and business people.
Taking all these facts into consideration, we fail to see how any intelligent person can say of the Jews that they were always a business people. Indeed, it is interesting to observe that the word used in Hebrew for commerce is not of Hebrew but of Greek origin.
But what about Diaspora Jewry? The Diaspora Jew was not allowed to become an agriculturist. He was forced to live in the city and as he was excluded from all artisan he was obliged to become a tradesman or a money lender. How did the sturdy agricultural Jew become a business man, when business was never his ideal? To answer this question we must learn the attitude of the early mediaeval Church to commercialism. The slogan of the Church was "Nullus Christianus debet esse mercator" (No Christian dare be a merchant), for commerce turned the Christian from the Church. This hostile attitude of the Church toward commerce had its origin in the influence of Greek culture on Christianity. The Greeks, as is well known, despised the merchant and considered him a necessary evil. The social status of the merchant in ancient Greece was very low and the representatives of Greek thought, Plato and Aristotle, contributed largely to lowering it still further. According to Plato the merchant class is to the intellectual class what the stomach is to the brain and the raison d'être of the merchant class is only to be found in its feeding the class. Plato describes the merchant as belonging to the third and lowest class of society. The early Church had taken over these views of commerce and made them its own. Even Thomas Aquinas, who lived in the 13th century, when commercial life still flourished, adhered still to the early Chri............
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