Fascination with Jews and Jewish history was a mainstay of early New England theology. As the centralizing influence of church orthodoxy waned during the early decades of the eighteenth century, however, the Judaic interests of Bostonians took on an economic rather than a religious cast. In the entrepreneurial and often reckless spirit of the times, in which magnificent opulence and indebtedness appeared to be two sides of the same coin, the activities of Jewish merchants, both within the city's confines and throughout the broader Atlantic, reified Bostonians' multiplying economic misgivings. The activities of Jewish merchants took on a new symbolic importance that matched seventeenth-century New Englanders' fascination with "the rabbins of old." Newspapers carried tidings of Jewish mercantile activity in England, on the Continent, and in the Americas, and these stories often emphasized the enterprising spirit that resulted in Jewish prosperity. Meanwhile, the arrival in Boston, beginning in 1716, of a loosely affiliated group of Sephardic traders represented the formation of that city's first Jewish business community. Though its tenure and overall influence were relatively short-lived, the development of a mercurial Sephardic mercantilism in Massachusetts, coinciding as it did with the chaos and volatility of market conditions in Boston, suggests a new and telling parallel between Jews and New Englanders.


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