It has often been claimed that Jews have a penchant for capitalism and capitalist economic activity. With this book, Adam Teller challenges that assumption. Examining how Jews achieved their extraordinary success within the late feudal economy of the eighteenth-century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, he shows that economic success did not necessarily come through any innate entrepreneurial skills, but through identifying and exploiting economic niches in the pre-modern economy—in particular, the monopoly on the sale of grain alcohol.
Jewish economic activity was a key factor in the development of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and it greatly enhanced the incomes, and thereby the social and political status, of the noble magnates, including the powerful Radziwiłł family. In turn, with the magnate's backing, Jews were able to leverage their own economic success into high status in estate society. Over time, relations within Jewish society began to change, putting less value on learning and pedigree and more on wealth and connections with the estate owners.
This groundbreaking book exemplifies how the study of Jewish economic history can shed light on a crucial mechanism of Jewish social integration. In the Polish-Lithuanian setting, Jews were simultaneously a despised religious minority and key economic players, with a consequent standing that few could afford to ignore.
About the author
Adam Teller is Associate Professor of History and Judaic Studies at Brown University.
"Likely to become the next standard work on early modern Polish Jewish history, Money, Power, and Influence is breathtaking in its coverage and detail, and grounded in a rich array of Polish archival and inner Jewish sources. It is mandatory reading for anyone wishing to understand the noble-Jewish economic symbiosis that underwrote the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Teller shows us how the whole system worked."
—Glenn Dynner, Sarah Lawrence College, and author of Yankel's Tavern: Jews, Liquor, and Life in the Kingdom of Poland
"This exceptionally important book reveals the inner workings of the early modern Lithuanian seigneurial economy in which Jews came to play a vital role. Based on deep archival research and written with great conceptual clarity, Money, Power, and Influence is one of the finest studies ever written about the dynamics involved in Jews' integration into a particular economic system."
—Jonathan Karp, Binghamton University, SUNY, and author of The Politics of Jewish Commerce: Economic Thought and Emancipation in Europe, 1638-1848