The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History, Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein, Princeton University Press,Pp 323 (HB), $39.50
ITS common knowledge that the Jews have had a colourful history. In The Chosen Few by Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein, explore the Jewish history using an economic perspective.
The book uses simplified language to make it accessible to the common reader, with an appendix citing the technical terms. It addresses the development of Jews from 70 – 1492. In this span Botticini and Eckstein attempt to find overlooked patterns and show how the very nature of their faith may have been pivotal in shaping the lives of Jews for generations to come.
The economic model developed by Botticini and Eckstein places human capital supreme, and explains that the Jewish faith insisted in the investment into the education of Jewish males. Thus the Jewish community found itself with a mass of educated workforce, in a time where illiteracy was the norm. So, according to Botticini and Eckstein, it wasn’t persecution or the push effects that the Jews faced, but rather a pull effect, of a better life, that made Jews migrate as much as they did. Over the different epochs the Jewish community faced the choice of either investing in literacy or not. Those who didn’t usually assimilated with majority faith they were surrounded by. Also, wherever they found themselves, Jews ended up forming strong connections with each other, that translated into daily life as business, trade and employment opportunities.
Thus, Botticini and Eckstein show with their economic analysis, a new lens with which to view Jewish history. They also promise a follow up book to continue their journey to the next 500 years of jewish development- 1492 to present.
Maristella Botticini is professor of Economics at Bocconi University in Milan and Zvi Eckstein is the Mario Henrique Simonson Chair in Labor Economics at Tel Aviv University.
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