‘Jews, Money, Myth’
“The exhibition “Jews, Money, Myth” at the Jewish Museum in London,” writes Sara Lipton, “examines its theme through a wide range of documents, artworks, portraits, posters, and souvenirs. The very first item on view is a copy of The Oxford English Dictionary from 1933, whose entry for “Jew” includes the definition: “1. Jew: trans. and offensive. As a name of opprobrium: spec. applied to a grasping or extortionate person.” Object after object testifies to the persistence and the toxicity of the association of Jews and money, from a 1790s print entitled “I’ve got de Monish,” which mocks the pretensions, profile, and accent of a gentleman Jewish banker, to the Mafia II video game, whose characters are harassed by a Jewish loan shark. By the end of this short but shattering survey, it becomes painfully clear that economic assumptions and personal and societal animosity are inextricably intertwined. “Jews, Money, Myth” seeks both to document and to refute the stereotype of the moneyed Jew.
“Sections on stock characters of anti-Jewish propaganda and political satire from across the centuries, such as Judas and the figure of the Jewish moneylender, expose the malignity and menace of the myth. In the thirteenth century, Christian artists modified existing symbols of sin to develop a visual convention for embodying Jews’ supposed bestial and devilish greed that far outlived its original inspiration. The same hooked nose, thick lips, and dark scowl appear in a doodle of a Jewish businessman on an English court document from 1277, in an 1825 English print suggesting that Jews caused and profited from a financial crash, on a 1944 Italian poster that blames the bloodshed of World War II on Jewish bankers, and on a 2012 mural painted on the wall of a London building criticizing “class and privilege.” (This mural, which has since been painted over, became a cause célèbre in 2018 when it was found that the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, had posted his sympathy for the artist on Facebook after protests demanding its removal; Corbyn subsequently apologized for failing to notice its anti-Semitic tenor.)
“As the curators’ selection of objects makes clear, the fleshy features in nineteenth-century English caricatures and the intimations of moral turpitude they convey were not reserved for the wealthy. They are shared by a destitute Jewish beggar in an 1824 cartoon lampooning the charitable activities of Nathan Meyer Rothschild and by a shabbily dressed dealer in secondhand clothes mocked on the cover of The London Saturday Journal in 1841. Contradiction was inherent in the stereotype: Jews were despised for being both rich and poor, capitalist and communist, and they have been portrayed as gross-featured and blatantly different, yet distrusted for supposedly being adept at assimilation and disguise.”
For more information, visit jewishmuseum.org.uk.
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