Reviewer – Professor Stan Fischer

Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein have written a remarkably interesting book with a new hypothesis about the occupational structure of the Jews. The authors adduce serious evidence for their hypothesis, which lays stress on the requirement introduced nearly 2,000 years ago for universal male literacy among the Jews. This is a fascinating and persuasive combination of history and economics, worth reading by all, even the unhappy few who like neither history nor economics.

The chosen few

In 70 CE, the Jews were an agrarian and illiterate people living mostly in the Land of Israel and Mesopotamia. By 1492 the Jewish people had become a small group of literate urbanites specializing in crafts, trade, moneylending, and medicine in hundreds of places across the Old World, from Seville to Mangalore. What caused this radical change? The Chosen Few presents a new answer to this question by applying the lens of economic analysis to the key facts of fifteen formative centuries of Jewish history.

Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein show that, contrary to previous explanations, this transformation was driven not by anti-Jewish persecution and legal restrictions, but rather by changes within Judaism itself after 70 CE-most importantly, the rise of a new norm that required every Jewish male to read and study the Torah and to send his sons to school. Over the next six centuries, those Jews who found the norms of Judaism too costly to obey converted to other religions, making world Jewry shrink. Later, when urbanization and commercial expansion in the newly established Muslim Caliphates increased the demand for occupations in which literacy was an advantage, the Jews found themselves literate in a world of almost universal illiteracy. From then forward, almost all Jews entered crafts and trade, and many of them began moving in search of business opportunities, creating a worldwide Diaspora in the process.

The Chosen Few offers a powerful new explanation of one of the most significant transformations in Jewish history while also providing fresh insights to the growing debate about the social and economic impact of religion.


Italian: Università Bocconi Editore, 2012

Hebrew: The Haim Rubin Tel Aviv University Press, 2013

Polish: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, 2014

Spanish: Antoni Bosch, 2014

French: Albin Michel, 2016

Vietnamese: 2016

Chinese: 2021

Reviews and Interviews

Reviews and Interviews – English

Lecture at the Dead Sea Research Institute, November 2018 (Hebrew, English subtitles)

Lecture at POLIN Museum, December 2016 (Introduction in Polish, lecture in English)

Interview at Lecturama, March 2016

Interview by Gilad Halpern at TLV1 Radio, March 2015

Interview by Shlomo Maital at The Jerusalem Report, September 2013

Book Review by Paul Solman at PBS NewsHour, April 2013

Book Review by David Warsh at Economic Principals, January 2013

Book Review by Peter Temin at Journal of Economic Literature, 2013

Book Review by Carmel U. Chiswick at EH.Net, January 2013

Book Review by Steven Weiss at Slate Magazine, November 2012

Interview by Steven Weiss at TJC’s Jewish News Week, October 2012

Comments by Professor Yehezkel Dror, July 2018s


Reviews and Interviews – Italian

Book Review by Fiona Diwan at Bollettino della Comunità Ebraica di Milano, March 2013

Interview by Susanna Nirenstein at Repubblica, December 2012

Book Review by Stefano Jesorum at Corriere della Sera, December 2012


Reviews and Interviews – Hebrew

Interview at IDC Radio, January 2020

Lecture at the Dead Sea Research Institute, November 2018

Book Review at Hagada Hasmalit, May 2016

Book Review by Abraham Tennenbaum at Judges’ Newsletter, November 2013

Interview at Globes G Magazine, May 2013

Interview by Avital Lahav at Ynet, February 2013


Reviews and Interviews – Spanish

Book Review at El Boomeran(g)


Reviews and Interviews – French

Book Review at Le Messager, September 2016

Book Review by Eric Keslassy at Actualité Juive, June 2016

Book Review by Daniel Cohen at Information Juive, May 2016

Book Review at Agoravox, April 2016

Interview at Lecturama, March 2016 (English with French subtitles)

Interview by Steve Nadjar at Actualité Juive, March 2016

Book Review at Mediapart, March 2016

Book Review at Actualité Juive, March 2016

Press Release, March 2016



Email: zeckstein@runi.ac.il
Phone: 972-9-960-2706
Address: P.O. Box 167, Herzliya 4610101, ISRAEL