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From Farmers to Merchants, Voluntary Conversions and Diaspora: A Human Capital Interpretation of Jewish History

59 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2006  

Zvi Eckstein

The Interdisciplinary Center (IDC); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Maristella Botticini

Bocconi University - Department of Economics

Date Written: December 2006

Abstract

From the end of the second century C.E., Judaism enforced a religious norm requiring Jewish fathers to educate their sons. We present evidence supporting our thesis that this change in the religious and social norm had a major influence on Jewish economic and demographic history. First, the high individual and community cost of educating children in subsistence farming economies (2nd to 7th centuries) prompted voluntary conversions, which account for a large share of the reduction in the size of the Jewish population from 4.5 million to 1.2 million. Second, the Jewish farmers who invested in education, gained the comparative advantage and incentive to enter skilled occupations during the vast urbanization in the newly developed Muslim Empire (8th and 9th centuries) and they actually did select themselves into these occupations. Third, as merchants the Jews invested even more in education --- a pre-condition for the extensive mailing network and common court system that endowed them with trading skills demanded all over the world. Fourth, the Jews generated a voluntary diaspora by migrating within the Muslim Empire, and later to western Europe where they were invited to settle as high skill intermediaries by local rulers. By 1200, the Jews were living in hundreds of towns from England and Spain in the West to China and India in the East. Fifth, the majority of world Jewry (about one million) lived in the Near East when the Mongol invasions in the 1250s brought this region back to a subsistence farming and pastoral economy in which many Jews found it difficult to enforce the religious norm regarding education, and hence, voluntarily converted, exactly as it had happened centuries earlier.

Keywords: Human capital, Jewish economic and demographic history, migration, occupational choice, religion, social norms

JEL Classification: J1, J2, N3, O1, Z12, Z13

Suggested Citation

Eckstein, Zvi and Botticini, Maristella, From Farmers to Merchants, Voluntary Conversions and Diaspora: A Human Capital Interpretation of Jewish History (December 2006). CEPR Discussion Paper No. 6006. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=912476

Zvi Eckstein (Contact Author)

The Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) ( email )

P. O. Box 167
Herzliya, 69978, PA Pennsylvania 46150
United States
+972 9 9602706 (Phone)
+972 9 9602758 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www1.idc.ac.il/Faculty/Eckstein/index.html

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Maristella Botticini

Bocconi University - Department of Economics ( email )

Via Gobbi 5
Milan, 20136
Italy

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