Anti-Semitism continues to be a widespread societal problem rooted deeply in history. Using novel city-level data from Germany for more than 2,000 cities, we study the role of economic incentives in shaping the co-existence of Jews, Catholics and Protestants. The Catholic ban on usury gave Jews living in Catholic regions a specific advantage in the moneylending sector. Following the Protestant Reformation in 1517, German regions split between Catholics and Protestants. Protestant views on usury were less restrictive. We show that after the Reformation, anti-Semitic acts were more common in Protestant than Catholic areas.
This Protestant-Catholic gap is most pronounced in those cities where Jews had already established themselves as moneylenders – a finding consistent with the larger degree of by then well-established Catholic-Jewish occupational complementarities. Data from Prussian counties in the 19th century show a larger presence of Jews in Catholic areas, and a stronger specialization in banking. To better understand changes occurring during the Reformation period, we document and compare anti-Semitic sentiment in Protestant and Catholic cities based on books printed in the decades before and after the Reformation.