Chosen Capital: The Jewish Encounter with American Capitalism

Rutgers University Press  2012


In this collection of twelve case studies, each by a distinguished scholar, Rebecca Kobrin introduces the reader to exceptional Jewish entrepreneurs and traces their trajectory from mostly modest beginnings to leaders in their respective fields.

In her Introduction, Kobrin stresses that these essays “do not constitute a history of the encounter of Jews with American capitalism, rather they highlight niches in which Jews were highly visible.” The book asks three questions: (1) In which niches and at which specific moment did Jews play a role in the evolution of American capitalism? (2) How did they achieve such great mobility? (3) How and in what way did capitalism affect the practice and experience of Judaism?

To answer these questions, Kobrin has divided this fascinating volume into four sections. The first explores and analyzes the specific niches and the various locations in which Jews have been prominent. Among these are the garment industry, real estate development, scrap metal, liquor distribution, and the music industry. Subsequent sections discuss multiculturalism and how Jews “entered the mainstream of American liberalism” and, finally, how Jews “molded and were molded by…America’s particular economic system.”

The authors of the essays in this book come from a variety of disciplines and include Ira Katznelson of Columbia University, Eric Lederhendler of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University. While each of the essays is scholarly and carefully researched, they are also most engrossing, make for enjoyable reading, and shed new light on the Jewish experience in America. Index, photographs.

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