The stereotype of the money-grubbing Jew goes back a long way.
Zacchaeus was a greedy little tax collector. Fagin was a hideous
creature who forced orphans into his organized network of
pickpockets. And Shylock, perhaps the most infamous Jewish
moneylender of all? Well his avarice ran so deep that he demanded a
"pound of flesh" from an indebted Venetian merchant.
Canonized in the Christian Bible and two classics of English
literature, these characters reinforce prejudices that Jews have
struggled against for centuries. This scapegoating has been
particularly venomous during difficult economic times. And these are
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported Feb. 10 that a survey
of 500 people in each of seven European countries - Austria, France,
Hungary, Poland, Germany, Spain, and Britain - found that 40 percent
felt Jews have too much power in business and nearly a third blamed
Jews for the global financial crisis.
Though the ADL has not surveyed American anti-Semitism since 2007
- when 18 percent shared the sentiment that Jews have "too much
control/influence on Wall Street" - the Jewish defense organization
reported a spike in anti-Semitic chatter online after Wall Street
collapsed last September.
And that was before anti-Semites were gifted their poster boy for
Jewish grifting. In December, Bernard Madoff confirmed every
suspicion about Jewish moneylenders when he reportedly admitted to
running a $50 billion Ponzi scheme.
Crooked. Evil. Innately able to rob you blind while shaking your
hand and smiling.
"Is Bernard Madoff Jewish? Very. Oy," a headline from Los
Angeles's Jewish Journal responded the day after his arrest.
Jews have lived more comfortably and prosperously here than
anywhere else, but even American Jews can't escape the stereotype
that they are, at best, penny-pinching cheapskates or, far worst,
immoral monetary manipulators.
Today, Jews make big money and are bigwigs in, among other
influential professions, the financial industry. But much as "The
Protocols of the Elders of Zion" would like you to believe
otherwise, the connection between Jews and money is more complicated
than a worldwide conspiracy to control the financial markets.
(Shocking, I know.)
The confusion begins with a Hebrew word for money - mammon. In
the New Testament, Jesus uses this word to refer to the god of
greed. But to Jews, mammon, like the manna that sustained the
Israelites in the desert, refers to the lifeblood of survival, a
godly pursuit for the protection of the Chosen People.
Nomadic life led Jews to city centers along trading routes, where
they often were barred from the respectable crafts. Before they
became doctors and lawyers they carved out niches as traders and
financiers. Ironically, their edge as moneylenders was courtesy of
the Roman Catholic Church, which forbade Christians from charging
each other interest; Jews had the run of the market. …