WTF Moment: The Tennessean on Jews and Money Lending



On the editorial page of today's Tennessean, Frank Daniels III contributed an installment in the "Teachable Moments" series titled "Exiling the money lenders." Here's an excerpt:

On July 18, 1290, England’s King Edward I issued an Edict of Expulsion, forcing all Jews in the kingdom to leave.

Jews had a special position in England until Edward I. They had arrived when William the Conqueror was crowned King of England on Christmas in 1066, and helped the new king in a variety of ways. The Catholic Church considered charging interest on loans a sin, usury, and forbade it. But Judaism does not forbid collecting interest on loans to non-Jews. The feudal system bound most of the people in England to their local lord, who in turn owed allegiance to the king. Jews were outside this system and were considered direct subjects of the king — therefore subject to the whims of the king, not to those of his lords. That distinction, and the freedom for Jews to lend to the lords and merchants, benefited the king. The Jews would profit from their loans and the king would tax his special subjects, enabling him to receive both his duty from the lords and the tax from the Jews.

While this unique position freed the Jewish people to move around the country with relative freedom, it also engendered mistrust and fear. Their freedom to engage in usury, banned for everyone else, manifested deep resentment and hatred. And as direct subjects, the king did not need the approval of Parliament to tax them. ...

The piece goes on in similar Wikipedia-like fashion, with nary a hint of context or — something you might expect on an editorial page — OPINION. Daniels seems intent on tying Jews to usury, while conveniently omitting extremely pertinent information: For instance, throughout most of Europe in this period, Jews were forbidden to own land, couldn't farm etc., which led them to pursue other ways to make a living.

Am I suggesting that Daniels is anti-Semitic? Nope.

Am I suggesting that this is a bizarre column, and exhibited poor judgment? That this "Teachable Moment" spits out historical facts gleaned from the Internet, but teaches absolutely nothing? That it ultimately seems to foster stereotypes linking Jews to money and usury, stereotypes that the author (we would assume) is purportedly critiquing? Yes.

"The Jews had a special position"? Ahhh, yes, so many people dream of having the enviable position Jews held for much of the last millennium in Europe.

"Their freedom to engage in usury, banned for everyone else, manifested deep resentment and hatred"? Usury is a pretty loaded term. Why not "money-lending"?

Of course, it could be worse. He could have chosen other teachable moments from this day in history. For instance, on July 18, 1925, the first volume of Mein Kampf was published. And on July 18, 1927, noted anti-Semite Ty Cobb had his 4,000th career hit.

Maybe we should count our blessings!

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