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The Chosen Few by Zvi Eckstein, Maristella Botticini

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CHAPTER 4

The Economics of Hebrew Literacy in a World of Farmers

Rabbi Yose said: Give yourself to studying the Torah, for it does not come to you by inheritance.

—Mishna, Pirkei Avot 2:1

ONE CAN THINK OF RELIGION AS A CONSUMPTION GOOD: PEOPLE DERIVE satisfaction—what economists call “utility”—by following the norms and rituals established by their religion.1 Obeying these norms may entail costs (spending time in a temple instead of doing other activities, contributing to the maintenance of a church or mosque or synagogue, restricting one’s diet). If these costs are lower than the utility derived from observing the religious norms, individuals obey the norms. If the costs exceed the utility, individuals may opt for another religious affiliation ...

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