Slavery and the Jews 1, Faber Eli

Excerpts from:

Slavery and the Jews
A Historical Inquiry

By Eli Faber

“Eli Faber is professor of History at John Jay College of Criminal
Justice of The City University of New York. …This Sonia Kroland
Coster Memorial Lecture was delivered at Hunter College on May 11,

“The Portugese dominated the slave trade throughout the 1500s,
remaining in control of it until at least 1625.” (Faber, 1)

“The Portugese were responsible for transporting two-fifths, or
approximately 4,190,000, of all slaves exported from Africa to the
Americas.” (Ibid, 2)

“As part of their ascent during the 1600s to economic primacy in
Europe, going to war first against Portugul and then against England,
the Dutch also sought to establish as much control as possible over
the slave trade. From 1640 until 1700, they may have ranked second in
the slave trade behind Portugul, and they remained active during the
1700s after the English had surpassed them.” (Ibid.)

“During the succeeding century, England surged ahead and became
Europe’s largest slave-transporting nation. Between 1730 and 1807,
Britain shipped almost 2,463,000 slaves to the western hemisphere,
41.7 percent of all slaves conveyed to the New World during the
eighteenth century. This enormous enterprise was the work or merchants
who resided primarily in three ports: London, Bristol, and Liverpool.

“The majority of England’s slave exports to her own colonies were
carried to Barbados, Jamaica, and her other islands in the Caribbean.
The thirteen American colonies received only 21.6 percent. Indeed, the
American colonies and their successor, the United States of America,
accounted for six to seven percent of the entire slave trade, or
715,000 of the more than 11 million people shipped from Africa to the
western hemisphere between 1510 and 1840, when the transatlantic
traffic in human beings finally ended.

“During the course of the period between 1510 and 1840, Jewish
merchants participated in the transport and sale of slaves, and Jewish
inhabitants of the western hemisphere owned slaves.” (Ibid, 3)

“Not only have Jewish historians long known about such activities, but
they have written about them, well before the current flurry of
interest in Jewish participation in Slavery. A few examples should

“Historian Herbert Bloom, in his 1937 study of economic activity among
the Jews of Amsterdam during the 1600s and 1700s, wrote of Jews who
owned slaves in South Africa, Brazil, and Surinam. He also noted the
attempts made by some Jews to transport slaves to Spain’s colonies in
defiance of the Durtch West India Company’s right to monopolize the
slave trade. ” (Ibid., 3-4)

[Other examples include Jacob Rader Marcus, Rabbi Bertram Korn, Isaac
Emmanuel and Johathan Israel.]

“Because of these publications – which by no means exhaust the
possible examples – one could never claim that Jewish historians have
either neglected or denied the presence of Jewish merchants in the
slave trade, or consigned to oblivion the fact that some Jews owned
slaves.” (Ibid. 4-5)

“Non-Europeans, too, were involved. Long before the Portugese enmeshed
themselves in the enslavement of Africans, Arab traders penetrated
deeply into the African continent, procuring men, women, and children
whom they transported to North Africa and the Middle East. The Arab
trade began as long ago as the ninth century and lasted into the
nineteenth, continuing after the transatlantic trade to the New World

“Africans also played a role, because European slave traders were not
permitted to penetrate into the African continent but were required,
instead, to purchase slaves from Africans who brought them in caravans
to the coasts.” (Ibid. 5)

“If there is any surprise involved in slavery, it is most likely to
arise upon learning that many eighteenth-century Quakers owned slaves
and actively engaged in slave trading…. What ought to be emphasized,
however, is that some Quakers participated in slavery, while others
struggled to end it.” (Ibid.)

“Scholars reject any tendency to characterize all the members of any
one group as the primary culprits in the international commerce system
that evolved after the European discovery of the New World. Thus, just
as some Quakers, some Arabs, some Africans, some Portugese, and some
Frenchmen were involved in the institution of slavery, so too were
some Jews.” (Ibid. 6)


Work Cited

Faber, Eli. Slavery and the Jews: A Historical Inquiry. The Hunter
College Jewish Social Studies Program; Occasional Papers in Jewish
History and Thought, #2. Hunter College of the City University of New
York. ISSN 1082-0175