Post-Doctoral Fellowships 2008–2009

This fellowship year challenges scholars to reconsider the economic dimensions of the Jewish past and to integrate that knowledge within the emerging narratives of Jewish experience. Although the field has moved far beyond the need for apologetics, there is an abiding reluctance to engage the Jews’ historic economic functions, which have long nourished anti-Semitic fantasies. Yet these functions formed the basis of Jewish global civilization: mercantile, transnational, and reliant upon money as a source of power. We will explore such topics as Jewish livelihoods, social structures, trade networks, and fiscal mechanisms, thus investigating anew the relationship between the material and cultural components of Jewish civilization. By bringing together scholars from across the humanities and social sciences, we seek to devise a fresh research agenda for exposing the shifting linkages between commerce and culture in Jewish life from medieval to modern times.

The following general questions guided many of the fellows' research projects:

  • Is Jewish economic history in the past millennium a coherent whole or is it best understood in the framework of the specific economies of individual “host” societies?
  • How did Jewish economic activity help to shape pre-modern Jewish communal institutions, class relations, values, and folkways and eventually influence Jewish paths of emancipation and ideological self-redefinition?
  • Does the Weber-Sombart debate from a century ago have any ongoing scholarly relevance? How might newer economic models be applied to understand topics in Jewish history?
  • How have Jewish economic and entrepreneurial niches (or industries) transformed Jewish life or given rise to specific business subcultures that redefine Jewish identity?

This program was organized with the cooperation of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

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