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Article Dans Une Revue Œconomia - History/Methodology/Philosophy Année : 2022

“Floating Jews”: The luftmentsh as an Economic Character

La figure du luftmentsh, « Juif flottant » : étude de cas d’un personnage économique


The Yiddish word "luftmentsh", literally "air-person", refers to petty traders, peddlers, beggars and paupers. The word appeared for the first time in Yiddish literature in the 1860s and began to be used by economists and statisticians in the 1880s-1890s. The case of the luftmentsh is particularly interesting because of the interplay of religion, gender, antisemitism, and economics. This article focuses on the term luftmentsh in economic and statistical discourse in the first part of the twentieth century as a case study of the fundamental intertwining of economics and literature. We characterize the luftmentsh as an "economic character", i.e. as an economic-statistical category associated with a complex imaginary borrowed from Yiddish literature. We show that this economic character popularized an influential yet ambivalent image of Jewish masculinity at work, as well as offering a way to reconsider antisemitism in the history of economic thought.

Dates et versions

hal-04011010 , version 1 (02-03-2023)



Nicolas Vallois, Sarah Imhoff. “Floating Jews”: The luftmentsh as an Economic Character. Œconomia - History/Methodology/Philosophy, 2022, 12-2, pp.275-314. ⟨10.4000/oeconomia.12934⟩. ⟨hal-04011010⟩


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