The Rule of Diamonds in Jewish Faith and Culture

16/09/2018

Even if you've never bought a loose diamond nor any type of diamond jewelry you are still most probably aware that there is widespread involvement of Jews in international diamond trade as well as in diamond processing (cutting and polishing), diamond jewelry manufacturing and marketing.
For centuries, prominent Hasidic Jewish families have played major roles in the Antwerp diamond exchange, one of the largest in the world handling over 16 billion dollars worth of trade annually. The Tel-Aviv diamond exchange is responsible of almost 20% of Israel's GNP (gross national product). Many leading diamond institutes, where rough diamonds are processed and ready diamonds appraised and certified, are owned by Jews, some such institutes are located in Israel.
Obviously, such deep involvement indicates a long standing relationship between Jewish culture and diamonds. In fact, diamonds are inherent to Jewish religion itself, the very first known listing of the word "diamond" is found in the first testament (Exodus chapter XXVII "and the second row shall be an emerald, a sapphire and a diamond").
If you're curious about how and why Jews have become such diamond experts, the following paragraphs will provide you with some answers.

Diamonds and Jews In Ancient History
As mentioned above, there are references to diamonds in the Bible. It seems that in ancient times these most precious of stones served two purposes, adornment and as tools utilizing their unequalled hardness (diamonds posses the highest level of hardness of any material known to man). Interestingly enough, thousands of years later, diamonds are still either set in jewelry or used in tools for sawing, cutting, drilling and polishing.

The bible tells us that for centuries Jews were slaves in Egypt, this period in ancient history ended around 2,000 BCE with the famous exodus led by Moses. As slaves it is unlikely that Jews came into contact with diamonds. Even so once gaining freedom the Jewish priestly breastplate (worn by the Jewish high priest) contained most known precious stones including diamonds.
Israel is situated at a crossroads between Europe, Asia and Africa. As trade between east and west developed Israelites undoubtedly came into increasing contact with diamonds carried by merchants from the far east (mainly India) and later also from central Africa, to Europe's royalty.

Medieval Times
In medieval times Jews became scattered all over the world. Since they were considered aliens they suffered persecution, their property often pillaged. Keeping diamonds was an effective way to secretly hold on to potential wealth, Jews therefore began trading in diamonds (both among themselves and later also with non-Jews) and setting them in jewelry. Some Jewish families specialized in jewelry related crafts thus becoming expert goldsmiths and diamond cutters.

Middle Ages
During the middle ages diamond trade bloomed. Trust was essential since it was hard to ensure stones safely reached their destination. In this respect Jews enjoyed an advantage, the existence of well established Jewish communities in many large cities allowed Jews to easily move around both rough as well as ready diamonds.

The Modern Era
The Holocaust's effect on Jewish culture further tightened the bond between Jews and precious stones, primarily diamonds. But even before world war II Hasidic Jewish families dominated diamond trade at the Antwerp diamond exchange. These families maintained close contact with colleagues (both Jewish and non-Jewish) in countries where diamonds were mined, including Russia, India and European colonies in Africa.

Once the state of Israel was founded (in 1948) Jews involved in diamond trade, jewelers and diamond processing craftsmen moved to Israel establishing, in the 1950's, the Tel-Aviv diamond exchange which quickly grew into a major worldwide diamond market center.
Although Israel's economy has expanded dramatically over recent decades the various aspects of diamond trading still account for some 16% of Israel's gross national product (GNP). This includes dealing in rough stones, cutting, polishing, ready stone appraisal, setting in Jewelry, buying and selling loose stones, diamond jewelry etc.
In recent years Indian diamond traders have gained a firm grasp over a large volume of trade at the Antwerp diamond exchange. Nevertheless, to this day in many countries, Belgium included, the number of Jews belonging to the diamond trading community far exceeds the percentage of Jews in the general population.
 

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