In talmudic times, the Jews of Babylonia and the Land of Israel were engaged in farming, crafts, trade, and other pursuits alike. But by the Middle Ages European Jewry had come to occupy specific niches within the economic systems of the lands where they lived. Most famously, they became involved in moneylending, but also in commerce and finance more broadly. Henry Abramson, in a series of three lectures, explains how this came to be—while debunking some common misconceptions—and how Jewish economic specialization affected perceptions of Jews as well as Jews’ perceptions of themselves. The first lecture can be viewed here, and the others at the link below:
The Jewish Role in Medieval Commerce and Finance
How to Save the Universities
To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:
They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.
The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:
Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?