Cho­sen Cap­i­tal: The Jew­ish Encounter with Amer­i­can Capitalism

Rebec­ca Kobrin, ed.
  • Review
By – January 31, 2013

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.

Peter L. Roth­holz head­ed his own Man­hat­tan-based pub­lic rela­tions agency and taught at the Busi­ness and Lib­er­al Arts (BALA) pro­gram at Queens Col­lege. He lives in East Hamp­ton, NY and San­ta Mon­i­ca, CA and is a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to Jew­ish publications.

Discussion Questions