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  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: June 2009

Chapter Four - The Economic Root

Summary

Over the centuries, Jews have been variously characterized as miserly, manipulators of money, ultra-materialist, and possessors of extraordinary wealth. The pervasiveness of the link between Jews and unsavory economic practices can be seen in the not-too-distant past in the usage of such unflattering verbs as “to Jew” (to cheat or to overreach) and “to Jew down” (to drive down the price unfairly by bickering) and in one of the definitions of the word “Jew” (i.e., “applied to a grasping or extortionate usurer”) found in the authoritative Oxford Universal Dictionary, at least until 1955.

The history of the economic root of anti-Semitism, while not quite as long as that of the religious root, dates back to the Christian medieval period in Europe. Warnings against middleman practices are found in the writings of early Christian fathers such as John Chrysostom and Augustine. It wasn't until the twelfth century, however, that the Catholic Church at the Lateran Council of 1139 assigned a negative significance to usury. Usury had originally referred to the cost to be paid for the use of borrowed money. In the decisions reached at the Lateran Council, usury took the meaning of charging excessive or illegal interest on a loan. The Lateran Council asserted that those who practice usury, or those who practiced it but failed to repent, would be refused a Christian burial.

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