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Chosen Capital

The Jewish Encounter with American Capitalism

Edited and with an introduction by Rebecca Kobrin

Publication Year: 2012

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

The idea of a conference to explore the ways in which Jews shaped and were shaped by American capitalism was born on a long subway ride I shared with Tony Michels. The subway—whose rumblings shape New York City in countless ways—served as an apt midwife to such an important and, at times, explosive topic. ...

Note on Orthography and Transliteration

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pp. ix-x

Part I. Reframing the Jewish Encounter with American Capitalism

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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction. The Chosen People in the Chosen Land: The Jewish Encounter with American Capitalism

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pp. 1-11

More than a century ago, German sociologist and economist Werner Sombart (1863–1941) marveled at two remarkable economic “exceptionalisms” in the world.1 First, he focused on the exceptionality of the United States, a nation that in just a few short decades had emerged as an industrial juggernaut, replete with huge mills, ...

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Chapter 1. Two Exceptionalisms: Points of Departure for Studies of Capitalism and Jews in the Unites States

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pp. 12-32

Even as academic Jewish studies have moved ahead by leaps and bounds in the past half century, “the relationship of the Jews to capitalism,” as Jerry Muller limpidly puts the point, “has received less attention than its significance merits.”1 Within American studies, the main exceptions to this rule, Arcadius Kahan’s and Simon Kuznets’s rich scholarship, ...

Part II. Jewish Niches in the American Economy

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pp. 33-34

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Chapter 2. The Evolution of the Jewish Garment Industry, 1840-1940

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pp. 35-61

The apparel industry in the United States has provided a home for Jewish businesspeople and workers for more than one hundred and fifty years. Indeed, one cannot fully understand this industry or its place in the U.S. economy over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries without addressing the central role played by Jews ...

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Chapter 3. From the Rag Trade to Riches: Abraham E. Lefcourt and the Development of New York's Garment District

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pp. 62-92

An article in the New York Tribune in 1925, extolling the meteoric growth of New York City’s Garment District, noted, “Men who have risen from obscurity are in the foreground as the owners of property in the new garment center. Some came to these shores without a cent, and from the humblest surroundings on the East Side, ...

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Chapter 4. Success from Scrap and Secondhand Goods: Jewish Businessmen in the Midwest, 1890-1930

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pp. 93-112

Bernard Horwich lived a life that defines the Yiddish term “macher.” Born in the Suwalki gubernia on the western edge of the Russian Empire, Horwich came to Chicago around 1880. During his time in Chicago, Horwich founded the Order Brith Abraham, the largest mutual-aid society for Russian Jews; ...

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Chapter 5. Despised Merchandise: American Jewish Liquor Entrepreneurs and Their Critics

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pp. 113-140

In 1910 Isaac Wolfe Bernheim published his memoir, recounting his journey from Jewish immigrant rags to Kentucky bourbon riches. He arrived in the United States at the age of eighteen with a few dollars in his pocket, and by forty he was one of the wealthiest men in Louisville—an internationally renowned whiskey distiller, ...

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Chapter 6. Blacks, Jews, and the Business of Race Music 1945-1955

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pp. 141-167

“Race” music was a term employed by the recording industry in the years 1920 to 1950 to describe commercial music made by blacks for blacks. Between 1945 and 1955 many of the most significant companies specializing in race music (or “rhythm and blues,” as it later came to be known) were owned or co-owned by Jews. ....

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Chapter 7. Jews American Indian Curios, and the Westward Expansion of Capitalism

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pp. 168-186

Like dozens of young Jewish entrepreneurs who migrated to the burgeoning towns and cities, farms and homesteads, near American Indian reservations and allotments, or to the in-between places in the shifting zone known as the American western frontier in the second half of the nineteenth century, ...

Part III. Jews and the Politics of American Capitalism

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pp. 187-188

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Chapter 8. The Multicultural Front: A Yiddish Socialist Response to Sweatshop Capitalism

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pp. 189-214

In 1934 two competing May Day parades in New York City drew two hundred thousand participants and spectators. The mood was both festive and tense throughout the city. Riots had erupted in France and Ireland in recent days; the Nazis were taking elaborate precautions to prevent any communist demonstrations in Berlin; ...

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Chapter 9. Making Peace with Capitalism?: Jewish Socialism Enters the Mainstream, 1933-1944

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pp. 215-233

The East European Jewish immigrant inclination toward socialism is well documented. For a short time in the late 1910s, the Socialist Party (SP) even became the dominant electoral force in the Jewish immigrant neighborhoods of New York. After 1920 the socialists lost their electoral power, but they continued to influence the community ...

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Chapter 10. A Jewish "Third Way" to American Capitalism: Isaac Rivkind and the Conservative-Communitarian Ideal

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pp. 234-252

Is there a sympathetic relationship between Jews and capitalism, or at least a pattern of such relationships that, arguably, have had their apotheosis in the case of American Jewry? And if so, why are so many Jews in the United States apt to link the idea of social conscience with their Jewish heritage? ...

Part IV. Selling Judaism: Capitalism and Reshaping of Jewish Religious Culture

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pp. 253-254

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Chapter 11. Sanctification of the Brand Name: The Marketing of Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt

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pp. 255-271

During their period of mass immigration from eastern Europe to America, it quickly became a commonplace sentiment among Jews on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean that the United States was inimical to proper Jewish religiosity and that this new way of life was more suited to worship of the almighty dollar than of the Almighty. ...

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Chapter 12. How Matzah Became Square: Manischewitz and the Development of Machine-Made Matzah in the United States

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pp. 272-288

The History of Matzah calls to mind the monumental composition by artist Larry Rivers, recounting thousands of years of Jewish history laid out against the background of the Passover matzah. To Rivers, the unleavened bread eaten on Passover seemed like the perfect canvas for his Story of the Jews. ...

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pp. 289-292

Marni Davis, an assistant professor at Georgia State University, studies and teaches American history and modern Jewish history. Her book on Jews and the alcohol industry is entitled Jews and Booze (2012). She has been the recipient of scholarly awards from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, the American Jewish Archives, ....


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pp. 293-312

E-ISBN-13: 9780813553290
E-ISBN-10: 0813553296
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813553078
Print-ISBN-10: 0813553075

Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Jews -- United States -- Economic conditions -- Congresses.
  • Capitalism -- United States -- History -- Congresses.
  • Capitalism -- Religious aspects -- Congresses.
  • Free enterprise -- Religious aspects -- Judaism -- Congresses.
  • Economics -- Religious aspects -- Judaism -- Congresses.
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