A Credit to Their Community: Jewish Loan Societies in the United States, 1880-1945
By supplying small entrepreneurs with necessary capital to start and expand their
businesses, Jewish loan societies facilitated the rise up the economic ladder of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Jews. These collective institutions were an important feature of a cohesive ethnic economy in which Jewish factory owners hired Jewish workers, Jewish retailers bought goods from Jewish wholesalers, and Jewish shopkeepers relied on Jewish loan associations for funding.
A Credit to Their Community is a sociohistorical study of Jewish credit organizations from the 1880s until the end of World War II. Upon their arrival in the United States during this critical period in American Jewish life, Eastern European Jewish immigrants established hundreds of loan societies in communities as diverse as Nashville, Tennessee; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Rock Island, Illinois; and Portland, Oregon. While there is ample discussion and documentation of the over-representation of Jewish immigrants in business, until now the question of how these
immigrant entrepreneurs raised the necessary
funds to start their enterprises has not been addressed.
Based on primary historical documents, this book analyzes the emergence, growth, and subsequent decline of three types of Jewish loan associations in America: Hebrew free loan societies; remedial loan associations—philanthropic loan societies that charged relatively low interest fees; and credit cooperatives. The author addresses a number of issues related to the functioning
of the Jewish credit organizations, including the activities of women's loan associations, debates about whether or not to open doors to non-Jewish borrowers, discussions about the merits and faults of implementing interest charges, the effects of the Great Depression on loan organizations, and the relations
between free loan Societies and other Jewish organizations. While the primary focus is on Jews, the text also offers comparisons between Jewish loan societies and those of other enterprising groups such as the Japanese and Chinese.
This study raises an important theoretical question in the field of ethnicity; namely, to what extent are ethnic institutions influenced by culture—cultural traits brought from countries of origin—and to what extent do they emerge as responses to the new context to which immigrants have arrived? In answering this question, Dr. Tenenbaum highlights the importance of both cultural and contextual factors for the emergence of Jewish loan associations.