In 70 CE, the Jews were an agrarian and illiterate people living mostly in the Land of Israel and Mesopotamia. By 1492 the Jewish people had become a small group of literate urbanites specializing in crafts, trade, moneylending, and medicine in hundreds of places across the Old World, from Seville to Mangalore. What caused this radical change? The Chosen Few presents a new answer to this question by applying the lens of economic analysis to the key facts of fifteen formative centuries of Jewish history.
Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein show that, contrary to previous explanations, this transformation was driven not by anti-Jewish persecution and legal restrictions, but rather by changes within Judaism itself after 70 CE--most importantly, the rise of a new norm that required every Jewish male to read and study the Torah and to send his sons to school. Over the next six centuries, those Jews who found the norms of Judaism too costly to obey converted to other religions, making world Jewry shrink. Later, when urbanization and commercial expansion in the newly established Muslim Caliphates increased the demand for occupations in which literacy was an advantage, the Jews found themselves literate in a world of almost universal illiteracy. From then forward, almost all Jews entered crafts and trade, and many of them began moving in search of business opportunities, creating a worldwide Diaspora in the process.
The Chosen Few offers a powerful new explanation of one of the most significant transformations in Jewish history while also providing fresh insights to the growing debate about the social and economic impact of religion.
Maristella Botticini is professor of economics, as well as director and fellow of the Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research (IGIER), at Bocconi University in Milan. Zvi Eckstein is the Mario Henrique Simonson Chair in Labor Economics at Tel Aviv University and professor and dean of the School of Economics at IDC Herzliya in Herzliya, Israel.
"[A]mbitious . . . systematically dismantle much of the conventional wisdom about medieval Jewish history."--Jonathan B. Krasner, Forward
"[W]here so many have simply taken as a given universal literacy among Jews, [Botticini and Eckstein] find that a majority of Jews actually weren't willing to invest in Jewish education, with the shocking result that more than two-thirds of the Jewish community disappeared toward the end of the first millennium. . . . The astonishing theory presented here has great implications for both the Jewish community and the broader world today."--Steven Weiss, Slate
"[E]ventually, The Chosen Few will have changed the course of history in the Middle East . . . as part of a broad reinterpretation of the history of the peopling of the world, underway for a century and a half, that has begun gathering force since the 1990s. . . . This may be the first you have heard about The Chosen Few, but I pretty much guarantee you that it will not be the last."--David Warsh, Economic Principals
"[P]rovocative . . ."--Choice
"Botticini and Eckstein's simple yet sophisticated human capital analysis provides new insights into Jewish history for the fourteen centuries covered in this book. . . . [Their] methodology yields a very convincing Cliometric analysis that we can expect to inform all future economic histories of the Jews between 70 and 1492."--Carmel U. Chiswick, EH.net
"Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein have written a remarkably interesting book with a new hypothesis about the occupational structure of the Jews. The authors adduce serious evidence for their hypothesis, which lays stress on the requirement introduced nearly 2,000 years ago for universal male literacy among the Jews. This is a fascinating and persuasive combination of history and economics, worth reading by all, even the unhappy few who like neither history nor economics."--Stanley Fischer, governor of the Bank of Israel
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