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Economic Pursuits Of The Jews In The Middle Ages

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Economic Pursuits of the Jews in the Middle Ages

The Jews in the middle ages progressed economically through various occupations. Their economic status was very volatile for many reasons. No area of Jewish life in Western Europe offers such a perpetual change as the economy does. The Jews most specifically participated in international trade, crafts, slave trade, local trade, and most popularly in money lending.

The Jewish people participated in commerce in the countries of western Mediterranean . However, Jewish roles in commerce were rather limited because Syrian merchants in Gaul who supplied the population with luxury articles imported from the East monopolized the whole commerce scene . There would be a consistent war between Muslim and Christian fleets at sea, which left the Jewish merchants at a neutral status. As a result, Jewish merchants who were kidnapped at sea by pirates had a better chance of getting their ransom paid by their co-religionists . Jewish merchants had become very competitive which supposedly put some fear on others. Consequently, in 945, the Venetian government ordered its ship owners not to carry Jewish passengers .

Jewish merchants traded in amber, textiles, hides, arms, spices, precious stones, and other luxury articles . Their clientele consisted mainly of royal and ducal courts and the aristocracy, both secular and clerical . There were other groups engaged in international trade, and Jewish merchants were not the dominant role in the commerce scene . In the cities re-conquered from the Muslims in Spain, Jews played a decisive role in the revival of commerce and industry, and especially in the production and merchandising of clothing . As well, England's Jewry had a role in commerce, too .

After the year 1100, The Jewish role in international trade began to decline . The Hansa cities began to replace the Jewish traders. Their ships were heavily armed, and were no match for the Jews .

Some believe that Jews controlled the slave trade . Jews were also accused of kidnapping Christian children and selling them to Muslims in southern Spain. The proportion of Jews among the slave traders was smaller than their proportion in international trade . Jewish participation in trading Christian slaves was limited because a Christian ruler sometimes protected it . The Jewish merchants faced many unfair obstacles because of blunt discrimination. The Christian merchants were not faced with these same obstacles such as not being able to trade other Christian slaves. The slave trade scene came to an end when the Slavic people converted to Christianity .

Jews also participated in local trade, however were not nearly as productive as they are in international trade . They dealt in clothing, salt, agricultural products and wine . The Jewish local trade evoked more resentment among Christian competitors than did Jewish participation in international trade . Bishop Agobard changed the market day from Saturday to a weekday in order to accommodate the religious needs of the Jewish merchants . However, Christian merchant guilds were often so strong that they succeeded in almost monopolizing for their members the exclusive right to deal in certain wares . The rise of Jewish taxes had a negative effect on Jewish merchants, which had forced them to turn towards money lending for a living .

Jews were involved in commerce in every Catholic country. However, this was not the case with the crafts. Rabenu Tam stated that Jews did not engage in manual labour . When King Edward I attempted to re-structure English Jewry economically, he encouraged Jews to participate in crafts . Jewish craftsmanship was a major field of Jewish economy in Italy . Here,



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