From Farmers to Merchants, Voluntary Conversions and Diaspora: A Human Capital Interpretation of Jewish History
by Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein. Reading for Tuesday, 26 June.
Published: Friday, June 22, 2007
From the end of the second century C.E., Judaism enforced a religious norm requiring Jewish fathers to educate their sons. We present evidence supporting our thesis that this change in the religious and social norm had a major influence on Jewish economic and demographic history. First, the high individual and community cost of educating children in subsistence farming economies (2nd to 7th centuries) prompted voluntary conversions, which account for a large share of the reduction in the size of the Jewish population from 4.5 million to 1.2 million. Second, the Jewish farmers who invested in education, gained the comparative advantage and incentive to enter skilled occupations during the vast urbanization in the newly developed Muslim Empire (8th and 9th centuries) and they actually did select themselves into these occupations. Third, as merchants the Jews invested even more in education–a pre-condition for the extensive mailing network and common court system that endowed them with trading skills demanded all over the world. Fourth, the Jews generated a voluntary diaspora by migrating within the Muslim Empire, and later to
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