The money libel: Confronting a dangerous stereotype

The money libel: Confronting a dangerous stereotype

That other 'Jews and Money' book

Another book called “Jews and Money,” subtitled “The Myths and the Reality,” published back in 1982, concludes that the financial success of Jews in America has created a new kind of anti-Semitism.

“The new anti-Semitism seems rooted less in religion or contempt, and more in envy, jealousy, and fear,” writes Gerald Krefetz, an investment consultant. “Anti-Semites’ perception of Jewish economic success is far greater than the facts warrant…. [But] Jews are now subject to a new kind of racism, anti-Semitism due to affluence…. It is contemporary Jewish wealth and status that is the new target of the anti-Semites and the cause of Jewish insecurity.”

The book abounds in daring generalizations about Jews, generalizations that today’s scholars might characterize as facile and simplistic. And while Krefetz sometimes presents statistics, his numbers may be badly out of date.

Krefetz believes that Jews have excelled in American society partly because when they immigrated here, they were already members of a middle-class culture, willing to work hard and to defer receiving rewards. “The long attachment to urban dwelling and commerce imbued Jews with characteristics that would bloom in a newly industrialized, free-enterprise-oriented, frontier-motivated society. America was ripe for the exercise of talents that had been honed for a millennium.”

Krefetz believes that Jews were particularly adept at financial affairs: “Historically, Jews have shown remarkable talent for manipulating money,” he writes. “Over the years, this proclivity has led them to the world of banking and finance. And nowhere have they so brilliantly exercised their financial talents as in America. Free enterprise and political emancipation allowed them to exercise and sharpen their skills – skills that have been evolving for a thousand years.” (An exception he noted: banking, because of historic discrimination against Jews.) “The financial world, with its lure of wealth, cerebral involvement, and independent decision-making, was always a magnet for Jews, both in the old world and the new.”

Because of their culture, Krefetz believes, Jews have excelled not only in finance but in law, medicine, science, and academia. “The Jewish reverence for learning,” he writes, “lavished prestige upon the rabbi – the teacher, the wise man. In America, this prestige was transferred to secular learning, where schooling was expected, intellectuality praised, and degrees and advanced degrees sought. In a society that correlates education with job status and degrees with earning power, the Jews had it made.”

What accounts for Jewish ambition? Krefetz believes that age-old hostility and contempt prompted Jews to attempt to excel: “It was and is anti-Semitism that accounts for Jewish success.” They excelled “in order to succeed and survive.” And this has made them “a nation of overachievers.”

“Are Jews smarter?” he asks. “Does the Jewish gene pool contain an abundance of ‘smart’ protein molecules?” He doesn’t actually answer the question, but does offer possible explanations:

The smartest Jews reproduced the most. Historically, “The ideal match … was between children of the rabbis or the learned community and children of the richest merchants” – whereas “the demand of ecclesiastical celibacy prevented some of the cleverest Christians from passing on their genetic traits.”

The Jewish young didn’t suffer from malnutrition because traditional “charity most likely reduced the incidence of starvation and subsequent brain damage.”

Jews were accustomed to stimulating their children. “Children were and are forever taught, instructed, talked with, talked to, and occasionally badgered.” In short, “[s]ocial deprivation … a factor in human intelligence, was rarely a problem in Jewish households.”

The book is well-written and highly intelligent, but the reader may wonder whether the author has succeeded in fulfilling the promise of the subtitle in distinguishing between myths and reality.

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