The study of Jewish economic history in modem times involves a number of unique problems which the economic historian does not usually have to tackle. Although in the eighteenth century Jews were still subject to various disabilities, even in tolerant countries like England and Holland, they did not constitute a clear-cut juridicial entity, as they had done in the Middle Ages. There is therefore very little documentation referring specifically to the economic activities of Jews, and the facts have to be gathered laboriously from a very great number of documents belonging to a variety of archival series and collections of papers of a general character, which can be assumed, a priori, to contain, among much else, information relating to Jewish economic activities.
This, however, is not the main problem confronting the student of Jewish economic history. A meticulous and systematic search is liable to uncover a large amount of relevant information; but even at this stage we still have to face the question: what does it all amount to? Does it really enable us to reconstruct a coherent and reliable picture and to draw reasonably safe conclusions? After all, a mere collection of anecdotes is hardly worth the trouble involved in collecting them. In view of the inevitable paucity of statistical data, this is a very dangerous pitfall which students of Jewish economic history have not always been able to avoid.
In the present book an attempt is made to tackle the problem in a somewhat unconventional manner by getting to grips with the subject at three different levels, represented by the three sections into which the book is divided.
The first part is a general survey, based to a large degree on information gathered from a considerable number of Chancery and, to a lesser extent, Exchequer cases, relating to disputes involving commercial activities of English Jews. A great amount of information can be gleaned, not only from the arguments advanced by the litigants; often the attached appendices, including copies of correspondence, contracts and balance-sheets, are