Jews of All Trades

Jews and Their Professions in Early Modern English Travel Writing

in Volume 14 (2013): Issue 2 (Dec 2013): Shaping Strangers in Early Modern English Travel Writing

This article explores early modern English travelers' representations of and responses to the trades and professions of contemporary Jews. Professions were important social markers for early modern people, and the way Jews and their “professions” were commented on opens a novel perspective on the ways early modern Englishmen encountered Jews both in Europe and outside it. Observing foreign professions and trades was expected of travelers, since it revealed important aspects of foreign societies, their prosperity, civility, and treatment of their subjects. Portrayals of Jewish professionals provided a space to explore the customs and way of life of Jews, to present arguments for and against admitting Jews, or indeed any other strangers, to reside in England and elsewhere. In addition, these texts educated readers about foreign trades and professions and mapped the fluctuations of trade and commerce in foreign countries. This provided English readers of travel literature with conflicting information about the harms and benefits of Jewish presence, accusations of the innate greediness of Jews, but also views about their “natural” business instincts.