The Idea of Usury, from Tribal Brotherhood to Universal Otherhood

The Idea of Usury, from Tribal Brotherhood to Universal Otherhood

The Idea of Usury, from Tribal Brotherhood to Universal Otherhood

The Idea of Usury, from Tribal Brotherhood to Universal Otherhood

Excerpt

The Deuteronomic commandment on usury, xxiii:20- 21 (19-20) has had a fateful career. Its checkered fortunes over a twenty-five-hundred-year span in Orient and Occident disclose an unexplored episode in the tangled history of "transvaluations of values" which culminated in the spirit of capitalism. To follow its meanderings from the Jerusalem of the Prophets and Priests to mid-nineteenth century Europe is to survey the major phases of the ethical evolution of the West: first, the kinship morality of the tribal society; then the universal brotherhood of medieval Christianity; and finally the utilitarian liberalism of modern times.

The story falls readily into five parts. In the following pages, however, the venerable text, which will be discovered to have served as prime protagonist of the piece, at once its hero and its villain, is introduced only by way of prologue. The proper theme of the four chapters of this essay will be a chronicle of the vicissitudes of the wandering Hebrew commandment in the Western Christian world.

Prologue -- Deuteronomy formed a cornerstone of the blood brotherhood morality of the Hebrew tribesmen. It assumed the solidarity of the mishpaha (clan) and the exclusion of the nokri (the foreigner, as contrasted with the ger, the protected sojourner, or the toshab, the resident stranger) from the privileges and obligations of the fraternity. It for-

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