Jewish Daily Life in Germany, 1618-1945

By Marion A. Kaplan | Go to book overview
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Economic Life

Within the relatively underdeveloped preindustrial economy of Germany in the eighteenth century, the Jewish population pursued a very limited range of often marginal occupations. Subject to many legal restrictions, they rarely had a fixed place of business and often lived on the edge of subsistence. Although there were always some wealthy Jews, the vast majority were in difficult economic straits. Political emancipation and the Industrial Revolution, which followed, helped large numbers of Jews find new economic opportunities and improve their positions substantially. Although not all Jews benefited from the rapid changes, many were able to enter the German middle class.

Government Restrictions on Jewish Business

Before the mid-nineteenth century, most German Jews suffered from severe governmental interference in their economic life, part of a generally interventionist approach to business. Bureaucrats and theorists saw the state as the protector of existing economic interests against the dangers of competition, supporting the guilds against outsiders, "encouraging" manufacturing through subsidies and monopolies, and discouraging imports by restrictions and tariffs. They believed in the state's duty to intervene in the economy and protect the public from the greed of individual businesspeople. Some governments required permits before new enterprises could be opened, fearing that the economy could not sustain too many businesses.

Government attitudes toward Jewish business were even more restrictive, since most governments wished to protect the "native" (Christian) population from "outside" (Jewish) competition. Governments limited the occupations in


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