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Expose the cliché for what it is

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Recently at a carnival in Brussels, there was a float showing Jews perched on bags of money. This shocking display was like a blast from the past, when such displays were widespread.
by Martin Zagnoev, Johannesburg | Mar 22, 2019

What is the origin of this stereotype?

First of all, the psychology of a miser is a fear of losing everything, and wanting to horde in order to survive. There have been times in our history when we faced expulsions, persecutions, grinding poverty, and exclusions from adequate means of earning a living. This influenced many of our people to feel the need to carefully safeguard their money. There were times when Christians were banned from acting as moneylenders, whereas it was one of the few professions open to Jews, who were forced into it in order to survive. Even though they often charged lower interest rates than their non-Jewish counterparts and provided a much-needed service, they were resented. They were among the first bankers. They were also forced to act as tax collectors, which was another unpopular field. Although we have been forced into these unpopular positions, we have then been demonised for being in them. Often, those who point fingers at Jews are themselves the biggest misers. Psychologists call this projection: when we see in others what we hate about ourselves.

Originally, the Hebrew nation lived in Israel and was not interested in finance. Lives revolved around farming and spiritual service at the great temple in Jerusalem. It was only during the long exile in Europe that some became rich. Yet the vast majority lived in grinding poverty much of the time. Those who were rich were richer that the wealthy gentiles, and those who were poor were poorer than them. In spite of this, there is a stereotype that we are all wealthy, although many are dependent on charity and not interested in business.

Jews tend to be a charitable people and are always in the forefront of fighting for the underdog, even if some are embittered by the past. If we are embittered, it is our challenge to rise above that burden and act as a light unto others. Jews were at the forefront of the anti-apartheid struggle and the American civil rights movement.

Many of the leading rabbis have been extremely generous. The Satmar Rebbe once gave all his money to a poor man. Upon hearing that he had been ripped off, he immediately said: “Baruch Hashem! He is not so poor.” 

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