The ritual murder of Christian babies for blood to make Passover matzoh and the killing of Christ are two of the most enduring accusations against the Jewish people. Both are easy to debunk if one is interested in historical truth instead of accepting unfounded antisemitic tropes. Not far behind, and still benefitting from immense popularity around the globe, is the false accusation that Jews are very greedy, and as a result, they control most of the financial institutions of the world.
Painting the Jewish people as greedy lovers of money continues to be a pervasive accusation. Most of the time this is accepted at face value without any desire to check the facts. Statements describing Jewish people, such as “It’s all about the Benjamins!” or “The idea that Jewish people are not into money is ridiculous.” are very damaging.
Another damaging way to paint the Jewish people as greedy is in jokes that people tell, linking Jewish people with greed, extreme wealth and bank control. These jokes represent the perfect illustration for what I describe in my new book as “desensitization“–one of the ten criteria defining the normalization of antisemitism. I have heard these jokes for over fifty years in multiple countries and social settings. People truly believe that they are funny when they are indeed very damaging. Just as retelling a racist “joke” promotes more racism, so retelling these “jokes” promotes more antisemitism.
Are there Jewish people who are greedy and love to control money? Of course, there are; but it is not because they are Jewish, but rather, because they are flawed people with selfish, self-serving agendas. Greed can also be found in non-Jews, but nobody is going around telling the world that Gentiles want to control the financial world and have a lot of money in their pockets, and yet, Gentiles constitute 99.08% of the world population. Is it possible that there is more than meets the eye when Jews are accused of greed and bank control?
In all honesty, there are a lot of Jewish people in the financial world and many of them are or have been extremely successful and as a result, have amassed large fortunes. This is based on what is known as shrewdness. Jewish people are shrewd. They are good at business transactions which helps them make good profits, and again, this is not exclusive to Jewish people. There are plenty of successful Gentiles in the world, but shrewdness might be more prevalent among Jewish people, for which they really shouldn’t have to apologize. Additionally, Jewish philanthropy is one of the highest in the world. Jewish people can actually be very generous with their money. This is based on two traditions: tzedakah (charitable giving) and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world).The question remains, “how did we get to where most people believe Jews love money?” For an answer, we must travel back to the Middle Ages, when it became increasingly difficult for Jews to be part of a guild, own their own business and even own slaves making agriculture almost impossible. Not necessarily by choice, the Jewish community became deeply involved in money lending. The process took a while, but the results are at the core of this very old diatribe.
Christians were not allowed to borrow money from other Christians, but ONLY from Jews, who in turn would collect the money back with interest. This was pretty much the only way that the Jewish people could earn a living when all other fields of labor were forbidden to them or made very difficult to enter. Kings of Europe started taxing the Jewish moneylenders on their profit. Taxes kept increasing, so the Jewish moneylenders had to keep pace and increase their interest rates. The process went on for a while and gave birth to the myth of the “greedy Jew.” Some Jewish moneylenders did raise their rates too high, trying to take advantage of needy Christians, but they were not in the majority and ended up with a poor reputation in both the Christian and Jewish communities. Again, these happened to be greedy first and Jewish second.
As moneylending increased, antisemitism amongst the masses became more of a reality. Poor peasants, always in need of money and often borrowing from Jewish moneylenders, ended up building resentment as they were borrowing from “unbelievers”. It almost always led to physical abuse and killings of Jewish people. Princes and nobles would protect the Jewish moneylenders as long as they could benefit from them, but if the borrowers and/or mobs attacked the Jewish community, the princes and nobles would easily abandon “their Jews”. By the end of the thirteenth century, Jews had been expelled from France, England and most of Germany, mostly because of issues in money lending.
We need to refrain from telling jokes about Jewish people liking money. If and when we hear such a joke, we ought not to laugh but immediately correct the person, privately if at all possible and in love. This is not based on facts but on a myth borne out of financial hardship and tension during the Middle Ages. Some might argue that all ethnic jokes are told in poor taste, and I tend to agree with that statement. Unfortunately, as poor taste as it is to paint the Irish as lucky or the French as obnoxious, these false accusations have never led to the killing of Irish or French people. In the case of the Jewish people, it is a different story. Human nature mixed with unfounded jealousy and misinformation has always led to antisemitism, and antisemitism, too often, has also led to the murders of innocent Jewish people.