The 9 Characteristics of Jewish Genius
Having lived among the world’s two greatest Jewish populations for quite some time, I’ve boiled down "Jewish genius" to nine facets.
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In 1756, Voltaire wrote a sharply antisemitic essay about the Jews. They had, he said, contributed nothing to civilization. Their religion was borrowed, their faith superstitious, their originality nonexistent. They were “an ignorant and barbarous people.”1
Over the course of the next two centuries, Jews (or individuals of Jewish descent) became pioneers in almost every field of endeavor: Einstein, Bohr, Durkheim, Levi-Strauss, Freud, Adler, Klein, Spinoza, Bergson, Wittgenstein, Mahler, Schoenberg, Heine, Bellow, Agnon. The litany has become a cliché: Less than a fifth of a percent of the population of the world, Jews have won more than 20-percent of all Nobel prizes.
So, what led to this efflorescence of genius?
Having lived among the world’s two greatest Jewish populations for quite some time (the U.S. for 24 years and Israel for nearly a decade), I’ve boiled down Jewish genius to nine characteristics: