Monday, October 12, 2009

Secret of Jews' Success in Trade (1906)

From the archives of the New York Daily Tribune and published in the winter of 1906, an interesting article was found that discusses both why many Jews at that time were becoming successes in the business world, as well as some of the illusions that others had about why this was so.

The article begins as such:

"Zangwill once met the query, "Why do the Jews succeed?" with these words: "I welcome the task of answering the question, if only for the opportunity of explaining that they do not." And he proceeded to argue that even if the Jews succeed as individuals, they fail miserably as a people. The belief that Jews have a monopoly of success has been widely credited and has become almost a superstition. "Rich as a Jew" has grown into a proverb, and at one time called up in the imagination golden argosies and subterranean treasures. It was believed that Jews were natural born merchants, that they possessed the commercial instinct in an unusual degree and their success came to be viewed as something uncanny or inevitable.

This singular illusion dates from those dark ages when Jews were shut out from the arts and crafts, and were forced by direct legislation into a few sordid occupations. The dense ghettos, with their poverty-stricken population, were not known to the world at large–only the few great merchants among them loomed big. Many Christians naturally came in contact only with those Jews who could lend them money. Thus, as the only Jews whom the Christians got to know were rich, it is not so wonderful that all Jews should have been supposed to be rich or that "rich as a Jew" should have become a byword.

Jews were forced out of other vocations and confined to trade and commerce. Being an acute and thrifty people, they did what the shrewd Yankees did in Colonial days–adapted themselves to their work and gave to it all their energy and thought.

The "innate commercial gift" of the Jew is a hoax in which even the Jews joined. It was hard work and an easy pliability to conditions that brought results. Adaptability is the secret of the Jewish people, as can be observed in the immigrants daily pouring into this country. This power of easy adaptation to a new environment is possessed by the Jews to such an extent that they can live and thrive in all climates and under any circumstances.

But when one studies the Jew in America–not the Jewish plutocrat, the scion of a cultured, moneyed family in the old country, but the ordinary steerage immigrant, who comes here to earn the bread he cannot make in his native Russia, Rumania or Austria–one almost becomes reconciled to the antiquated superstition that the Jew, at any rate in America, always succeeds. The remarkable rise of the Jew as a figure in the world of business, especially in New York, seems to prove that the Jew is wonderfully apt in adapting himself to American conditions."

To read the rest of the article, go to

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