Eliazar Litman Feigin and the Birth of Jewish Capitalism under Tsar Nicholas

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This article surveys the life and business exploits of a little-known Jewish merchant from Chernihiv, Eliazar Litman Feigin. I argue that Feigin became a wealthy, self-made, dynamic entrepreneur who exercised aggressive, high-risk economic tactics in tax farming and military supplies. He attempted to enter the new economic spheres of banking and railroad construction, but he faced the system of the old regime, which was not ready for unrestricted economic activity in the country and feared social change. This juxtaposition of modern capitalist activity alongside the old regime’s institutions was unique in Europe. Feigin’s business activity was instrumental in promoting Finance Minister Egor Kankrin’s economic policies. It was also dependent on the minister’s protection and eventually led to a clash with competitors and the highest nobility.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-210
Number of pages32
JournalJewish Social Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant no. 444/19). I wish to thank Dr. Svetlana Natkovich for encouragement and suggestions. I also would like to thank Benyamin Lukin and Anastasia Glazanova from the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem; Benyamin for his help in searching and accessing archival sources, and Anastasia for her help in translating some of the documents from the French.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2023 The Trustees of Indiana University.


  • capitalism
  • contractors
  • Jewish economic elites
  • Jewish intercession (shtadlanut)
  • merchants
  • tax farming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Religious studies


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