The discussion of periodization in analysis of gender and economy was particularly important. Derek Penslar notes that the change from early to late modernity brought shifts in emphasis from distribution (Jews in commerce) to production and consumption. Each of these transformations has had a significant impact on the gender and family dynamics in the economy. If women's economic functions were not differentiated from men's when men produced commodities and objects, women nevertheless engaged in labor, if uncompensated. Penslar's image of Venn diagrams, as the most helpful to visualize the relationship of gender and capitalism is, therefore, useful.
Similarly, Eli Lederhendler notes that differentiating Jews from non-Jews historically becomes more conceptually challenging in the late modern period in contrast to feudal, medieval, and early modern societies. In earlier eras there were paper trails in charters and privileges, or Jews held distinct functions such as "middleman minorities," or "port Jews," among others. How Jewish men and women's economic relationships can be studied grows increasingly challenging, as their access to a fuller range of occupations is possible. He notes the greater challenge for scholars of American Jewry.
In examining both gendered economies and Jewish economic activities, periodization sharpens and focuses the nature of the issues. In my discussion of the centrality of the family to a fuller accounting of economic behavior I found studies by Corneilia Aust, Carsten L. Wilkes, and Glenn Dynner among others, especially productive, in their scholarship about the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. The obvious differences in forms of economy from the modern period were certainly crucial to their discussion. Nevertheless, the role of the family does not sufficiently appear in current scholarship about Jews and economy. Periodization, and comparison remain key to effective analysis.
Both Francesca Trivellato and Eli Lederhendler raise important questions about how to understand the Jewish and gender dimensions of Jews' participation in economies. They raise these questions rather differently from one another, but both focus on questions of "cause," or "sectorialization," as a response to the article.
Trivellato invites us to consider "thematic, temporal, and geographical" dimensions that will make Jewish economic history and Jewish studies more comparative and far-reaching. She seeks "the dual goals of ascertaining what is specifically Jewish about the experience of Jewish women in the marketplace and of demonstrating to so-called general economic historians the relevance of taking Jewish particularism into consideration when writing the grand narratives about the rise of Western capitalism and modernity" (521). She calls for, for example, a comparative study of wages, which, in addition to Claudia Goldin's work that she cites, can be found in a good deal of work about immigrant Jewish women that has proven useful to understanding immigrant factory labor.
Inspired by the work of Jan de Vries, among others, she encourages the study of, for example, whether women's desire for consumer items in the eighteenth-century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth or the nineteenth-century United States affected the output of labor. Or, she queries whether Jewish interests in propriety, or perhaps class anxiety, further limited women to the domestic sphere in other eras and places. How did the kinship structure of Jewish families or broader economic conditions shape these outcomes? These rich examples and questions for research shape important avenues for Trivellato's vision for a broadly comparative economic history which examines family and gender in Jews' economic lives.
Like Trivellato, Eli Lederhendler calls for an understanding of whether "the material sphere reveals anything about Jews in general vis-a-vis the rest of society" (515). He argues that the most significant questions are those that ask in any economy how Jews constitute a "social sector in their relations with non-Jews in the marketplace" (516), a question that is complicated for the late-modern era by Jewish integration into economies. Do they, Lederhendler asks, "constitute a (sub)set possessing some substantial and statistical influence, with defined resources, inputs and outcomes" (516)? Further, he asks, what divides Jewish men from women and Jews from non-Jews in an arena that he describes as "strictly socio-economic" (517)?
Michael R. Cohen is also interested in comparison as an important key to economic analysis, like other scholars here, though he does not specifically mention gender in that regard. Rather, he points toward discussions of "middle man-minorities" and "new institutional economic theories" (540) as ways to integrate Jews into the study of other ethnic and religious minorities.
These are key questions reflecting both past work of scholars and provoking new ones as well. My intention was more closely related to a version of the path that Eileen Boris takes. Like Derek Penslar, she notes that women have always worked, and she draws examples of many types of labor Jewish women have undertaken. She raises a larger point, however. Boris aims to reveal through a focus on "reproduction" how the "invisible become(s) visible, the naturalized (is) unmasked, (the) scaffolding built through the sexual division of labor (is) exposed" (538). She adds to an integrated study of production and consumption, the biological and social act of reproduction. Indeed reproduction "makes people," just as consumption "remakes" people. This foundational argument provides an important scaffolding for all research. There is no reason to assume that these processes will take the same forms across different economies or different historical periods. They do not diminish the empirical questions raised by Francesca Trivellato or Eli Lederhendler as they question how Jews differed--or did not--from other segments of a population. But they do point toward a rethinking of historical writing on Jewish economic relationships.
Both Boris and Trivellato underline the importance of integrating structure and culture in an economic analysis. This argument is crucial to the work of Gideon Reuveni and his co-authors. It is therefore puzzling that Lederhendler terms the work of historians who have focused on family and gender as "ethnographic," in contrast to the "strictly socio-economic." The dynamics of production or reproduction, or Sarah Abrevaya Stein's work on the links between supply chains and consumption, may focus on culture, but that does not, to underline my central point, diminish it as a feature of economy. Lederhendler has written about women's economic, social, health, and cultural participation in the family for many decades, and has revealed the significance of their contributions. However, we might treat as an empirical question whether Jewish men and women did share "a venture forth" into the market economy as he suggests, and look to questions raised by others to test those waters. Their differences are not only a matter of wages or the creation of a family economy. They reveal how a gendered economy shapes Jews' experiences for men and women.
I would also reiterate that my interest in consumption was not an end in itself. I do not assume that consumption is apolitical and disinterested in power, or that boycotts as a consumer mode is not relevant, although I appreciate these comments for making that explicit. I am happy to support Sarah Wobick-Segev's call for a wider spectrum of sources in economic analysis, but my goal was not to bring women into the study of economy by focusing on consumption alone, but to examine as broad an understanding of economic relationships as possible and to undermine, or at least problematize, the bifurcation of structure and culture. I am particularly appreciative for Tracey Deutsch's call for a far more complex understanding of consumption.
Penslar's response, like his pioneering book Shylock's Children, does distinguish between what he terms a "sensibility" and "behavior." He does not gloss the former as culture, but rather as "discourses," albeit a product of culture. Those discourses were over-whelmingly in the hands of men because of their access to education, to publications, and to leadership. There are, of course, some exceptions. Sensibility is historically specific, and its control does shift over time. As others note in their responses, sensibility in the hands of non-Jew, which are shaped into stereotypes with real consequences, are also key to understanding how Jews participate in larger economies. As Trivellato effectively argues, "A long-standing anti-lachrymose approach has appropriately questioned the emphasis on discrimination in Jewish history, but we cannot deny that legal and social discrimination is always the result of how targeted groups are imagined by those enacting discriminatory measures" (52.4). Jewish and non-Jewish "sensibilities" are mutually re-enforcing.
It is, finally, worth asking if the issue of women's agency in Jewish historical writing is settled. It has certainly evolved substantially. However, Eli Lederhendler wonders if a "lateral move" may be at work in the new scholarship on Jews and economy, rather than one that "turn[s] back the scholarly clock" (516). Rather, he suggests Jewish men and women may, as a subaltern, have more in common than their differences, and that shared economies within families may be most significant. On the one hand, this question may be treated empirically, as Lederhendler and others propose. On the other, attention to conceptual issues cannot be overlooked. How do we integrate production, consumption, and reproduction in order to provide a robust analysis of economy? I would argue that as we look over the important research of the past decades, the absence of gender speaks to limits in our ways of understanding economy, as other scholars have noted. I am urging as full an accounting of economy as possible, mindful of the complexity of that call. How do we link structure and culture, and understand that no discussion of economy can reduce either if our goal is, as many scholars aspire, to richly engage Jewish life, comparatively, and to reveal what Jewishness can illuminate about economic relationships? I would further add that Tracey Deutsch offers crucial insights into an analysis of intersectionality that a focus on capitalism has offered, even if gender was de-emphasized. For example, both Adam Mendelsohn and Michael R. Cohen raise issues of race in their studies of the rag trade and cotton and bring Jewishness in relationship to questions of whiteness, slavery, and antebellum economic relationships. Even beyond issues of intersectionality, Deutsch opens a conversation about economy in ways that are useful to readers of the journal.
I am happy to give Francesca Trivellato the final word because she effectively dismisses the zero-sum view that the call to include the diversity of social realities constitutes an unfair attack on a field. "In the end, the need for greater inclusion of women and gender in Jewish economic history must be part of a broader effort to expand the sources, perspectives, and methodologies that inform this growing field" (524).
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|Title Annotation:||The Economic Turn in American Jewish History: When Women (Mostly) Disappeared|
|Publication:||American Jewish History|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2019|
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