Jews and Slavery Throughout History

anonymous: 4 Nov 2011

It would not be an unfair assumption to say that the majority of Americans think of slavery as an institution peculiar to the ante-bellum south; and, if not thought of as exclusive to the South, at least practiced there in a manner uniquely unjust in world history.  This underlying theme of slavery as a peculiarly white European habit has been implied by Hollywood and the American media in general.  And the media as has been noted elsewhere, is majority Jewish owned and controlled.

But that assumption is not historically accurate.  Slavery has never been exclusively an European institution. It has never been historically and it wasn’t even in colonial America.

Writes historian Peter Wiernik:

As almost all the early Jewish settlers in America belonged to the wealthy classes, it was natural for them to accept the institution of slavery as they found it, and to derive as much benefit from it as other wealthy men.

And furthermore, according to Priscilla Fishman, ed., Jews of the United States ( New York: Quadrangle, 1973):

Jewish entrepreneurs were engaged in the slave trade on the North American mainland, participating in the famous triangular trade. . .

And Dr. Marcus in his study, United States Jewry, 1776-1985, tells us the following:

All through the eighteenth century, into the early nineteenth, Jews, in the North were to own black servants; in the South, the few plantation owned by Jews were tilled with slave labor. In 1820, over 75 percent of all Jewish household in Charleston, Richmond, and Savannah owned slaves, employed as domestic servants; almost 40 per cent of all Jewish households in the United States owned one slave or more.  There were no protests against slavery as such by Jews in the South, where they were always outnumbered at least a 100 to 1. . . But very few Jews anywhere in the United States protested against chattel slavery on moral grounds. 

The reason for the silence was most likely the heavy Jewish involvement in the slave trade.

Jews were engaged in money-lending, brokering and banking from the earliest colonial age.  Lee Friedman, in his book, Pilgrims in a New Land (Philadelphia: Jewish

Publication Society of America, 1948) informs his readers that:

The history of Israel in the United States is no ghetto history, walled off from the history of the land.

And slave trading was financed through the New York banking firms.  And another Jewish writer, Max J. Kohler, in “Phases of Jewish Life  in New York before 1800”, Publication of the American Jewish Historical Society, vol. 50 (1960)  tells his readers that:

It is of considerable interest in this connection to note that Jews were among the founders of the New York Stock Exchange in 1792.

Stanley Feldstein, again a Jewish writer, states in The Land that I Show You: Three Centuries of Jewish Life in America.  New.  Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1978 that:

American Jewish merchants, using their religio-commercial connections, enjoyed a competitive advantage over many non-Jews engaged in the same lucrative inter colonial trade.  Since the West Indian trade was a necessity to America’s economy and since this trade was, in varying degrees, controlled by Jewish mercantile houses, America Jewry was influential in the commercial destiny of Britain’s overseas empire.  

The very fact that Jews had also played a central role in bringing slavery to the West Indies and established numerous trading posts there helped them to establish the trade in North America. These locations included Curacao, Surinam, Saint Thomas, Barbados, Madeira, and Jamaica. Again I quote:

“. . .and hence Jewish traders in New York had a marked advantage over others in this West India trade. Historian Peter Wienik flatly stated that this trade “was principally in the hands of the Jews.”

The predictable Jewish response to these revelations is that that only a few Jews engaged in slave trading, or that their participation was minimal but according to the following such is not the case.

“They came with ships carrying African blacks to be sold as slaves. The traffic in slaves was a royal monopoly, and the Jews were often appointed as agents for the Crown in their sale …”

[Liebman, in SEC. LIFE, p. 55]  or

... [The Jews] were the largest ship chandlers in the entire Caribbean region, where the shipping business was mainly a Jewish enterprise … The           ships were not only owned by Jews, but were manned by Jewish crews and sailed under the command of Jewish captains.”

[Seymour Liebman, New World Jewry, 1493-1825 , in MARTIN, p. 113]

The vital connection between sugar and slave was the underpinning of the rapidly growing fortunes of the New World.  The famous triangle trade consisted of slaves brought from Africa, exchanged for sugar from the Caribbean Islands and taken to North American ports to be turned into rum to be used for buying African slaves from African slaveholders and dealers.  And the Jews played a vital part in this lucrative trade.

Brazil absorbed more slaves than any other location in the New World while the North American continent only took in under half a million out of a delivery of ten million

or more slaves.

“The West India Company, which monopolized imports of slaves from Africa, sold slaves at public auctions against cash payments. It happens that cash was mostly in the hands of Jews. The buyers who appeared at the auctions were almost always Jews, and because of this lack of competitors, they could buy slaves at low prices. On the other hand, there was also no competition in the selling of the slaves to the plantation owners and other buyers … Profits up to 300 per cent of the purchase value were often realized with high interest rates … If it happened that the date of such an auction fell on a Jewish holiday the auction had to be postponed.” [Arnold Wiznitzer, Jews in Colonial Brazil, in SEC. LIFE, p. 29]

And Judith Laikin Elkin writes:

Those who succeeded in establishing themselves under Dutch jurisdiction prospered as traders, middlemen, interpreters and brokers of slaves. The           Dutch West India Company monopolized the import of slaves, but the private entrepreneurs ran the slave auctions.  Among these were numerous {Jews} who also provided the credit that {plantation masters} needed until the sugar crop was brought in. Considering that the mill owners found it cheaper to replace a slave every seven years than to feed him properly, business was brisk.

Dr. Winitzer, quoted above, also maintained that Jews ‘dominated the slave trade.”

The following statistics are telling.

In Port Royal, Jamaica, in 1680, about 16% of Jewish households had no slaves; in the non-Jewish community, this figure was over 47%. Likewise 73.7 % of Jewish households had between one and four slaves; in the non- Jewish community the figure was 41.8 %.)[Schorsch, J., 2000]

Indeed it seems from the following quote that the Jews had established themselves as the preeminent slave holding class in Brazil early in the colonial era.

“In the first half of the seventeenth century,” notes Abram Leon, “all the great sugar plantations in Brazil were in the hands of Jews.” [Leon, p. 176], Curacao, Jamaica, and Surinam (Dutch Guinea).

Booming, bustling Newport, Rhode Island was one of the primary centers of the triangle trade.  It was not only a center for the slave trade but served also a major producer of rum. According to one author (who is not Jewish) Walter White, writing in 1968, claimed that all of the 22 distilleries in Newport were owned by Jews, who controlled the manufacture and sale of the infamous “firewater” in their trade with the Indians.  They were prohibited in engaging in local commerce by Governor Stuyvesant, and circumvented the restriction in this manner.   Newport, after New York, held the highest concentration of Jews, in North American cities of the 17th century.

Despite the fact that New World trade was particularly advantageous for Jews, who were freed from religious and civil restrictions imposed upon them in Europe and for whom the New World was indeed, the Promised Land, as it was for so many aggressive, risk-taking entrepreneurs, they were still, at that point in history, no strangers to slaving or the trade in chattel.

“In the period from the fifth to eight centuries [Jews] gradually took the place previously occupied by the Syrians as ‘international’ traders; and they continued, and perhaps developed, the trade in slaves.” [Parkes, p. 17]

“While the Jews were… never… the only traders, it is possible that the slave trade through north-eastern Europe to the Slav countries and the land trades to the East were for practical purposes Jewish monopolies. “ [Parkes, p. 25]

The previous citations come from James Parkes, a respected scholar who is considered philo-semitic, rather than hostile to the Jews.  No less a Jewish source than the Encyclopedia Judaica states that:

The first Jews that Poles encountered must certainly have been traders, probably slave traders, of the type called in the 12th-century Jewish sources holekhei rusyah (travelers to Russia). [Encyclopedia Judaica, v. 13, p. 710]

In the tenth century,” notes Israel Abrahams, “the Spanish Jews often owed their wealth to their trade in slaves.” [Abrahams, p. 98]

The many quotes are not meant to drown the reader in a sea of quotes, but rather to show him that throughout human history, Jews were not only slaveholders, but often slave traders and even more, often dominated the trade.

During the early Middle Ages, (approximately 500-1000 AD), Jewish merchants dominated the trade between the Christian and Islamic worlds.  Using trade routes established by the Roman Empire, they traveled the world of the time covering territory from the Frankish Kingdom of the west through a network including North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia to India and China.  The routes in the East almost track that of the Silk Road of later history, and probably helped to lay the foundation for that famous road.

The Jewish merchants were known as the Radhanites.  The Director of Posts and Police (spymaster and Post Office General of his age),  for the Provence  of Jibal in the Abbasid Caliphate in the late 9th century described them as being sophisticated and multi-lingual.  The same description was given for the Jewish merchants of the early colonial era in the New World.  You might call them the gifts of the Diaspora.

With Jews living in every land who would be fully conversant in the language of the nation in which they settled and, with many of their number traveling all the time, they acquired command of many of the languages of the lands through which they passed.  And with fellow Jews in many ports and towns, they naturally knew about trade opportunities before their rivals.  Also during this time in history the kingdoms of Europe and North Africa banned one another’s merchants from entering their ports, leaving the trade to the Jews.  Corsairs raided each other’s ports, and the neutral Jews acted as go-betweens, a position that eventually evolved into that of middle man.

The trade was in oils, incense, steel weapons, furs and slaves.  Under the

Carolingian rulers, the Jewish traders were particularly favored.  No doubt this may have been due to the fact that it was the Radhanites who established the first trade

network that stretched from Western Europe to the Orient.  Using letters of credit, to transfer large quantities of money between their communities, they protected their caravans from theft.  And this may also have been the precursor for the banking systems of the Jews of the later Middle Ages and beyond.

Slaves have been traded by nearly every civilization in history.  There were slaves in the East, in the ancient Middle East, in every empire of antiquity including that of the Greeks and Romans.  Christians, Muslims and Jews owned slaves.  Given the universality of slavery, the depiction of it as somehow unique to the “evil-minded Southerner” of colonial America is preposterous.

To quote Charshee McIntyre, Ph. D in The Continuity of the International Slave Trade and Slave System (1990) :

The Jewish slave trains moved across Europe from Germany to Verdun and finally to Muslim Spain with enslaved humans that originated in “Bohemia, Moravia and remoter Slavic lands.  They carried “slaves, furs and swords to the Jewish-Khazar kingdom on the Volga” when they traveled eastward to China. . . . 

The profit gained from this international trade laid the basis for Jewish wealth and money-lending activities, the author tells us later.

At that time in history blacks from Africa, whites from the Balkans, Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, and Mongols were traded as slaves by Christian, Jewish and Islamic traders.

Certainly there was no religious proscription of slavery among Jews. The following quote from the Talmud.

“Resh Lakish said: He who is observant of fringes will be privileged to be served by two thousand eight hundred slaves, for it is said, Thus saith the Lord of hosts: In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold, out of all the languages of the nations, shall even take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you, etc.”–I. Epstein, Shabbath 32b, The Babylonian Talmud, Volume 7, The Soncino Press, London, (1938), p. 149.

Total figures for the slave population and the general population of the United States fill in another part of the story of slavery in the United States.   Movie lore in the modern U.S. being what it is, many assume that everyone in the South was a slaveholder.

In fact, only 4.8 per cent of the population of the South were slave holders at the time of the Civil War and 1.4 per cent of the U.S. population as a whole were slaveholders. The white US population at the time was 27 million and of these 385,000 were slave owners.  The black population stood at 4.5 million blacks, approximately 13 per cent of the total population.  Of those 261, 988 were free blacks, of which 3,000 were slave owners themselves.  The figures are from the 1860 U.S. census.

The percentage of blacks of the total U.S. Population was down since 1790 when the first U.S. Census was taken.  The population at the time was 3, 893,635 of whom 694,280 were slaves, or 18%.

It is also interesting to note that only one individual in the country owned 1000 slaves.

Only a handful owned 500, according to the same census.

Given these statistics, it does seem strange for those who support a program of unceasing reparations for slavery to be holding the entire population of the United States responsible for what only a minute fraction practiced, even at the time that slavery was extant. The statistics indicate that even the descendants of slaveholders are an infinitesimally small percentage of the current population of the country.

So the idea that there is any justification to sue the present day population of the United States, of whom the vast majority are descendants of people who arrived after the Civil War, for the practice of slavery is illegal as well as guaranteed to worsen already deteriorating relations between the races. The concept of racial guilt is one heavily promoted by Jewish interests and as such bypasses an elemental aspect of Western law, that only an individual is responsible for his behavior, not his relatives and certainly not his descendants.

But given that African-Americans and Jews seem to accept this principle it would seem that the NAACP might be interested in suing the ADL to collect for the disproportionate participation of Jews in the Slave trade. But something tells me no.