The Economic Function of the Jews: A Nineteenth-Century Story

  • Julie L. Mell
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Cultural and Intellectual History book series (CIH)


This chapter recounts the evolution of the narrative of the “Jewish economic function” from its origins in nineteenth-century liberal German scholarship. I aim to show that the narrative was fashioned out of nineteenth-century discourses on Jews and commerce in response to the issues of Jewish emancipation and German capitalism and shaped in accord with German scholarly methods and theories. This public discourse moved research on Jewish economic history from the backwaters of the Wissenschaft des Judentums (Scientific Study of Judaism) into mainstream German scholarship. The principal figures responsible were leaders or students of the German Historical School of Political Economy (GHS)—Wilhelm Roscher, Werner Sombart, and Max Weber. Through these scholars, the narrative of the “Jewish economic function” was stamped with the organic folk model of the German Historical School, based upon the Historical School’s theory of economic stages, and shaped in relationship to the scholarly study of capitalism. In the mid-twentieth century, in the midst of the Holocaust and World War II, the narrative of the “Jewish economic function” would be both affirmed and challenged by Jewish historians. This twentieth-century story is the subject of the following chapter.

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© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julie L. Mell
    • 1
  1. 1.North Carolina State UniversityDurhamUSA

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