Jews, Money, Myth, a major new exhibition at Jewish Museum London, explores the role of money in Jewish life and its often vexed place in relations between Jews and non-Jews, from the time of Jesus to the 21st century.
Reflecting on over 2,000 years of history, Jews, Money, Myth tells the story of an abiding antisemitic trope through manuscripts, prints, art, film, literature and cultural ephemera, from board games and cartoons to costumes and figurines. These exhibition items, drawn together from the museum’s collection and complemented by loans from Europe, North America and Israel, describe the various strands which have gone into the creation of a pervasive stereotype: the theological roots of the association of Jews with money; the myths and reality of the medieval Jewish moneylender; and the place of Jews – real and imagined – in commerce, capitalism and finance up to the present day.
The exhibition shows how Jewish wealth and poverty have been created by circumstances rather than ‘Jewishness’ itself. Pushed into unpopular economic roles such as usury, some Jews lent money for interest in the Medieval period; Jewish merchants and bankers were drawn to London in the mid-late Seventeenth Century; and tens of thousands came as poor economic migrants in the Eighteenth Century. They improvised a livelihood, begging and peddling cheap goods in town and country. These contrasting roles gave rise to stereotypes that took hold of the public imagination and have shown remarkable longevity: two are easily recognisable in well-known literary characters such as Shakespeare’s money lender Shylock, and Dickens’ Fagin who traded in stolen goods.
Jews, Money, Myth explores how stereotypes linking Jews with money and power evolved in different political contexts and have been exploited for different ends. The caricature of the powerful, rich Jew continues to inform conspiracy theories and to recur in political propaganda, cartoons, artworks and on social media. With populism on the rise, the exhibition comes at a critical point in history.
Rembrandt’s Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver (1629), on loan from a private collection, is one highlight of the exhibition. The biblical story of Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus for 30 pieces of silver has a significant place in the history of anti-Jewish stereotypes until the present day. Other rare and early artworks spanning almost 500 years reveal a variety of malign interpretations of the story and shed light on relations between Christians and Jews.
Specially commissioned work by contemporary artists are a further feature of a fascinating and provocative exhibition.
The exhibition will run from 19 March until 7 July 2019
Opening Times: Daily 10am – 5pm (Friday: 10am – 2pm)
The exhibition has been developed in collaboration with the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck, University of London and is generously supported by the Art Fund.
Image: Nutcracker in shape of Fagin, Birmingham, 20th century.
The low socio-economic position of most Jews in England and their low-status jobs led to Jews being associated with criminality. Dicken’s creation of the notorious pickpocket Fagin reflected and reinforced negative stereotypes of Jewish greed and dishonesty that existed in Georgian England.
© Jewish Museum London