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 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
"Teller eschews hasty generalization, focusing his attention tightly on Lithuania in the first two-thirds of the eighteenth century, and even more specifically on one large estate....Steeped in the extensive Radziwiłł archive and supplemented by the few surviving local Jewish community records form the period, as well as some memoirs and rabbinic literature, this meticulous case study offers a rich insight into the forces that shaped cross-cultural relations in the demographic heartland of European Jewry."
—Adam Sutcliffe, Times Literary Supplement
"Teller's Money, Power, and Influence is an important addition to existing studies on Jews in early modern Poland. It sheds a new light on the political and economic transformations of the state and raises further compelling questions not just about the "Jewish" part of the story but also about the larger contexts."
—Magda Teter, Jewish History
"Adam Teller's analysis of the economic and political power of Jews on the Radzwiłł estates is a major contribution to the English-language historiography of pre-partition Poland. Accessible and yet sophisticated, it belongs on the 'must read' list of anyone interested in Polish or Jewish history."
—Theodore R. Weeks, Canadian Slavonic Papers
"Beyond the concrete and tremendously important case study of the Radziwiłł estates, the book makes an important contribution to questions concerning the character of Jewish economic activity and of how "a kind of ethnic economy" actually formed and grew....Altogether, this very well-written book shows us how important it is to understand the economic basis of society and its influence on social and cultural developments. It should not only be an essential read for students and scholars of Polish-Jewish and Jewish economic history, but also of Polish and economic history in general, as it provides one fo the best analyses of the workings of the eighteenth-century estate system in the Lithuanian part of the commonwealth, though many conclusions are valid for magnates in the Polish part of the country as well. Additionally, it shows an exemplary case of how an ethnic minority entered and flourished in an economic niche."
—Cornelia Aust, Association for Jewish Studies Review
"This is a meticulously researched and analyzed study of Jews, money, and power that shows how economic agency can accrue forms of social power for a marginalized ethnoconfessional minority."
—Ellie R. Schainker, American Historical Review
"The innovative, indeed pioneering achievement of this study is its review of the case of one latifundium, the estates of the Radziwiłł family, as reflected in the family's archive, by far the largest accessible archive of its kind....While emphasizing the supreme power of the aristocratic landlord, the author offers fascinating examples of the often considerable room to maneuver enjoyed by Jewish entrepreneurs. The volume, of great benefit for the expert reader, will also complement academic reading lists in European economic history as well as European Jewish social and economic history."
—François Guesnet, Slavic Review
"Teller's study is an addition to the economic history of Polish Jews. However, it is also an exceptional analysis of 'an estate'—a type of enterprise which constituted the agrarian economy of the late Commonwealth....The story of the Radziwiłł Jews is also the story of the rise of the 'ethnic-controlled economy', particularly in towns. Living in dispersed small towns, Jews replaced the non-existent urban start of Polish society and became important agents of gradual modernization. Thus, Teller's book shows that Jews happened to be successful not only in the capitalist world, but also in feudal, rural society, and this is what makes his study of particular importance."
—Piotr Koryś, Economic History Review
"Money, Power, and Influence in Eighteenth-Century Lithuania: The Jews on the Radziwiłł Estates definitely enriches the social and economic history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and broadens our view on Jewish involvement in the day-to-day economy, and should be a strong stimulus for future research on the issues raised."
—Darius Sakalauskas, Lithuanian Historical Studies
"Rather than viewing Jews as a distinct group that lived on its own and maintained a limited relationship with the society around it, Teller shows that Jews were an integral part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and wielded significant economic power that could be leveraged into a very strong political position in society....Well written and meticulously researched, this book is required reading for those interested in Jewish history and the history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth."
—Lynn Lubamersky, Journal of Modern History