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Jews, Commerce and Culture

09Feb6:00 pm6:00 pmJews, Commerce and Culture6:00 pm - 6:00 pm(GMT+00:00) Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16 Street, New York, NY 10011Italian Jewish Studies SeminarItalian Jewish Studies Seminar

Event Details

Monday, February 9, 2009 at 6 pm

The Economics of Jewish Life in Modern Europe, Derek PenslarUniversity of Toronto

Professor Penslar discusses modern economic Jewish history and contextualizes its cultural, ideological, and material aspects. Tracing the shaping of the notion of a distinct “Jewish economic man,” an image that grew ever more complex and nuanced between the eighteenth and twen- tieth centuries, Penslar also provides sources and methodological per- spectives to reconsider the rhetoric on money and Jewish power, which is increasingly reappearing today in old and new forms.

“In the early modern and modern periods, the occupational profile of Jews in the West diverged dramatically from that of their neighbors and fellow cit- izens. Commerce, rather than agriculture or artisanal or industrial manu- facturing, provided the arena in which Jews labored to make a living. From an economic perspective, this was not a problem. It did not place Jews at a competitive disadvantage. Indeed, the opposite was true. In the context of industrialization, urbanization, and mass consumption, buying and sell- ing was more profitable than tolling in a field, workshop, or factory. Having been forced into a narrow range of occupations earlier in their history, Jews in the West now found themselves in an advantageous position econom- ically. However, for Gentiles, who rarely viewed Jews in a disinterested light, the Jewish distinctive occupational profile was problematic and often viewed as symptomatic of a more profound pathology. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with Jews becoming citizens of the states in which they lived and moving rapidly into the middle class, their economic dis- tinctiveness became a central feature of the debate about their fate and fu- ture, what was known at the time as the ‘Jewish Question.’”

Derek J. Penslar is the Samuel Zacks Professor of Jewish History and the director of the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Toronto. His publications focus on modern European Jewry, the history of the Zionist movement, and the state of Israel. His books include Zionism and Tech- nocracy: The Engineering of Jewish Settlement in Palestine (1870-1918) (1991, Hebrew version 2001); In Search of Jewish Community: Jewish Identities in Germany and Austria, 1918-1933 (1998, coedited with Michael Brenner); Shylock’s Children: Economics and Jewish Identity in Modern Europe (2001); Israeli Historical Revisionism: From Left to Right (2002, co-edited with Anita Shapira); Orientalism and the Jews (2005, co-edited with Ivan Kalmar), Contemporary Antisemitism: Canada and the World (2005, co-edited with Michael Marrus and Janice Gross Stein), and Israel in History: The Jewish State in Comparative Perspective (2006). Penslar’s current projects include a documentary history of Zionism and a book on Jews’ involvement in the military and warfare in modern Europe.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 6 pm 

The Familiarity of Strangers: The Sephardic Diaspora, Livorno, and Cross-Cultural Trade in the Early Modern Period. Francesca Trivellato, Yale University

Visiting Livorno in 1719, a French traveler called it “a paradise for Jews.” Expelled from Spain and Portugal, many Sephardic merchants and their families settled in this Tuscan port-city under the protection of the Medici Grand Dukes. From Livorno, they traded with regions near and far, mak- ing a decisive contribution to the city economy. But what did toleration mean in the age of the Counter Reformation? And how did Jewish mer- chants forge bonds of business trust with non-Jews for the lucrative ex- change of luxury items coming from as far as the Indian Ocean? The talk will explore the mixture of toleration and exclusion that characterized the pre-modern world of international commerce.

“Trivellato’s stunningly well-researched and theoretically sophisticated study of Sephardic merchants in the free-port of Livorno reveals how they made deals not just with other Jews but all varieties of Christians across Europe and even Hindus in India. How was it possible to bridge these for- midable religious and ethnic barriers? She offers ‘communitarian cos- mopolitanism’ as a new and promising model for understanding cross-cultural economic ties. This book will be a benchmark for future work in the social history of early modern business.”-


Francesca Trivellato is Professor of History at Yale University. She spe- cializes in the social and economic history of Italy, continental Europe and the Mediterranean in the early modern period. She is the author of The Fa- miliarity of Strangers: The Sephardic Diaspora, Livorno, and Cross-Cul- tural Trade in the Early Modern Period (Yale University Press, 2009) and of a book on Venetian glass manufacturing (Fondamenta dei Vetrai: La- voro, tecnologia e mercato a Venezia tra Sei e Settecento, Rome: Donzelli, 2000). She has also published several essays on craft guilds, women’s work, and merchant networks.

Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 6 pm

The Woman’s Economic World in Early Modern Poland-Lithuania. Adam TellerUniversity of Haifa

This last session of the lecture series that stems from a year-long seminar in Philadelphia, brings us from Livorno to Poland. Adam Teller, prominent scholar in the history of Polish Jewry, will discuss a fascinating angle of economic history. His research at the center moves from an in-depth analysis of the Hebrew chronicle, “Yavein Metsulah”. Written in the aftermath of the Chmielnicki uprising of 1648 in the Ukraine, the book quickly be- came a classic of Jewish historical writing, read by generations of Jews. The author’s insights into both Jewish and non-Jewish society, as well as his skill in the literary portrayal of events, has also led to the book becoming a staple of historical research for Jews and non-Jews alike

Dr. Teller teaches at the University of Haifa and received his doc- torate in Jewish history from the Hebrew University. He specializes in the history of the Jews in Poland, with paticular ref- erence to the social, economic, and cultural history of the Jews in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (16th-18th centuries). Other fields of interest include the history of the Jews in early modern Eu- rope, Jewish economic history and the history of the Jewish family. Dr. Teller has written several books on the economic and social his- tory of Eastern European Jews during the early modern period and he is a member of the academic team designing the new Museum of Polish Jewish History to be opened in Warsaw in 2011. Dr. Teller currently holds the Ruth Meltzer Fellowship at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at Penn, where he studies the reconstruction of Polish Jewish life in the aftermath of the pogroms of 1648-49.

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