Jews in the Medieval Economy (Essential Lectures in Jewish History)

Jewish Man in Worms, Germany, 16th c. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Jewish Man in Worms, Germany, 16th c. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

An introductory lecture on the role of Jews in the medieval economy. Part of the Essential Lectures in Jewish History series.

19 thoughts on “Jews in the Medieval Economy (Essential Lectures in Jewish History)

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  1. It is very interesting to note that Jews were an urbanized people even centuries ago. Depictions of the greedy money-hungry Jew that are so common today in American originated back in the medevial times when Jews occupied urban professions. As much as society has evolved since the Middle Ages, the common perception of the Jew remains quite in tact. Today, they are an urbanized people who occupy may high positions in city; they are often resented by gentiles for doing so. Learning the history of the Jews as an urbanized people is enlightening in many ways, especially since it so eerily highlight the perception of Jews in modern day America.

  2. It is interesting to see that In fact the Jews are fundamentally urbanized, in the yesteryear and today! The Jews served as money lenders in the medieval economy, serving as the backbone of the economy. However, the Jews were also active in a wide range of trade. The vast majority of the population had been farmers; they didn’t have the time to develop specialized crafts. Today, one can see the power of the Jewish people. We can consider ourselves the backbone of the economy. If one were to research the most successful business men of recent years, a large percentage would consist of Jewish decent. It is ingrained within us, along with the power to face the ongoing challenges of rising anti-Semitism.

    1. It has been argued that many wealthy Jews acquired land, crops, and equipment based on lending, money to farmers, and speculation on land and crops, and on the market manipulation of the same.Say for example if you were raising wheat, and the price of wheat were driven up due to market manipulation through calculated speculation, those who grew wheat would be interested in taking out loans to acquire more land on which to grow wheat, of course someone would have gotten round to that before them and so they would have to pay more for the land than they would have otherwise, but they gain the land either through lease or purchase even at the inflated price, then they need more seed, more equipment, more labor, they take out the loans to meet their requirements. But then, suddenly, the speculators pull out of the market surprising those who came in behind them, the speculators pocket their gains, the price of wheat nose dives, the farmers do not know how they will pay back the loans, the lenders and speculators divide the spoils at the bankruptcy auction, and add the large farms to a growing concern of farms which gains in size every business cycle, building an economy of scale. Meanwhile, the farmer has hung himself in his barn.

  3. It is very interesting to see how Jews have always managed to find the ways that allowed them to both prosper and maintain their religion at the same time. The Jews have always been an integral part of the economy wherever they settle. It is unfortunate that in past times they were limited to positions that were resented and could lead to violence (after all if someone can get out of paying them back they probably would.) No matter what happens to Jews or where they are forced they usually find a way to build themselves up.

  4. its interesting to see how the occupations and fields that the Jews were involved in in the Medival times, reflect the jobs that even today society sees as Jewish. Such as;entertainment, physicians and commerce. Eventually when Jews were banned from owning land these trades held them in good stead.

  5. Jews were the primary moneylenders, and thus the backbone, of the medical economy (because money facilitates everything) . It is interesting to see how, not only did Jews fill this vital role in the economy, but they were also highly active in a whole range of trades that really shape any culture. Jews were craftsmen (silversmith, needle traders), they were musicians and artist, they were authors of literature and doctors, etc. Jews were (and are) multi-talented and added a lot to the economy and the culture (and this is why, even after Jews were banished, they were often readmitted into different countries).

  6. Thanks for the lecture. Jews in medieval economy clearly are different than I thought of them before. I could never have known this information with this lecture.

  7. Abramson’s rule should say that this is my favorite lecture. It’s not though, I hate money. Also, given the amount of wine named after rishonim, I would think all rishonim were wine merchants. Another thing, great music! You should play that in the background of all your videos.

  8. And it is interesting to note that in my previous comment I didn’t say ‘it is interesting to see.’

  9. I like how you are able to incorporate secular works, and how they affected the Jews at the time. I would not have connected the Merchant of Venice to the way the Jews were treated in the medieval times. Its interesting to note how the trend continues even into the modern day, where Jews still contribute disproportionately to the economies in many countries.

  10. It turns out that although the “Law of Gratian” gave the jews great opportunity to do profitable business, as well as the ability to stay urbanized, this was not a long term solution due to the constant persecution in later centuries caused by the unwillingness of their debtors to pay. This may also have contributed to the common depiction of jews as a money hungry controlling type of people, leading to the rise in anti-Semitism.

  11. I found this video very interesting in the way that it really shows that Jews are the fundamental people, as mentioned here. When mentioned that Jews should live in a urban environment, its so true because the more unified Jews are together the more they prosper.In the medieval period, Jews were urbanized. in the medieval environment people were in certain sections in environment, basically feudalism. it was social sections in society.I liked hearing about where the Jews fit into this feudal society. As mentioned, Jews were servants of the royal chamber.This protected the Jews. The king himself taxed the Jews, this meant the King really took care of the Jews and helped them. This gave the Jews protection and in favor of the king which was extremely beneficial to them. I loved hearing about this. It just shows how Jews were so smart back then just like they are now in society. Jews were smart back then with money,just like now.

  12. I found it interesting how reliant some countries were on Jews living there in order to generate their economy. Furthermore, it’s sad to see how often history repeated itself with antisemitism, and how Jews were constantly blamed.

  13. The Jews were a valuable resource to the economy during the medevil period. It is surprising though that they were treated with such hostility and exiled so many times, only to be brought back a short while later. Interestingly enough, many of the aspects that you mentioned about Jews in the medevil economy are still very prevalent in today’s economy.Thank you for presenting such a clear descriptive overview.

  14. It’s sad to see how much Jews were desired as a stimulant for economy, only to be quickly cast down in blame for the societies own money problems. Eastern Europe basically begged the Jews to come, only to turn on them just like Western Europe did. Im also a little confused about the whole money lending thing. Even to say that it wasn’t all Jews who were money lenders, only most – how many of them could there have been? Wouldn’t the market be flooded? Unless is it just that this was the most notable job, though truly only a minority of Jews partook in it?

  15. I was always wondering how Jews lived in the past, telling myself that back in the day Jews lived everywhere, rural as urban. This lecture was a bummer. I thought one day history would repeat itself and we’ll return to the rural beauty. But the facts remain that the mejority of the Jewish population leaved the urban life and not the rural.

  16. Another way that royalty had to deal with excessive debt was to kill the Jews. This was pointed out to me by one of my medieval history professors. Why not? They were after all the killers of Jesus.

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