In This Review

Shylock's Children: Economics and Jewish Identity in Modern Europe
Shylock's Children: Economics and Jewish Identity in Modern Europe
By Derek J. Penslar
University of California Press, 2001, 373 pp

This erudite and impressive volume examines how Jewish thinkers responded throughout history to the two paradigms of economic antisemitism in Central Europe. The first classified Jews as "degenerate, unproductive" paupers; the second saw "a financial cabal" intent on economic domination, especially through banking. For their part, Jewish intellectuals celebrated commerce and banking for their capacity to create wealth and broaden minds (both classical Enlightenment ideas), while Jewish philanthropy expanded in the nineteenth century to inspire eventually more ambitious social-welfare policies. What is striking is the similarity between Jewish and non-Jewish thought in this respect. Penslar points to the irony that Israel has "normalized" Jews by replicating traditional Jewish occupations and activities. Such "associational" Judaism has further declined with the "fall of the bourgeois public sphere" and "the privatization of Jewish identity." He concludes that the "Jewish question as it was understood throughout modern European history has ceased to exist." This view may turn out to be controversial.