Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Jewish Traders of the Diaspora

Jewish Dispersion, a Bane and a Boon
The dispersions of the Jews from their homelands proved to be both a bane and a boon. Again and again Jews were ripped from their roots. Again and again Jews were obliged to make a new life in strange surroundings. Nonetheless, some factors worked in their favor. Most importantly, the Jews were a literate people who shared a common language with their relatives and compatriots in other lands. The Jews have not only been the "People of the Book" but the people who, in the main, could read a book. Literacy leads not only to learning but to the transfer of information from persons unknown, even from persons long dead. Importantly, it leads to the ability to communicate over time and space.
The Jews enjoyed a commercial advantage by virtue of familial ties and ability to communicate. Having a common interest, they established commercial liaisons of mutual benefit, and were, often uniquely, able to issue letters of credit that were certain to be honored months later from distant lands.
Throughout the ages the participation of the Jews in the evolution of commerce was far out of proportion to their numbers. Jewish communities were rarely deployed into primitive hinterlands, but in ports that gave them access to their peers abroad, or along trade routes, or in centers at the forefront of the technological revolution. Subsequent displacements widened the web of their commercial contacts. Jews became integral to the international trade of the countries into which they settled or were hurled. Inter-national intercourse became part and parcel of Jewish life.
Erudite Jewish traveler-traders maintained an interchange of Judaic law and cultural precepts between the dispersed communities. Jewish identity was preserved through the links provided by world-girdling sages.

Samuel Kurinsky (HHF) - Click on the link to read the whole article

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