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The chosen among us
By Alexander Eterman
Posted October 17, 2007
me begin by pointing out that this essay came primarily as a reaction (and not
a response by any means) to an article by Prof. Steven Pinker (henceforth SP),
published in the Internet version of The
New Republic magazine 
in June of 2006. This article, which generally stands on its own, presents a
review of a sensational study conducted by a group of scientists from the
University of Utah , analyzing a
theory according to which there are, let's say, biological causes behind the
remarkable intellectual achievements of Ashkenazi Jews.
Let us start with several preliminary thoughts.
Having reflected at some length, I had to admit the
veracity of what is probably the most popular text in the world: in the
beginning there indeed was the word, or rather the name. Putting it simply,
before embarking on an analysis of a phenomenon, it would be wise to name it in
a fitting manner. Sometimes, as in the case of SP, this is far from simple, for
a name must not only label the necessary, but also conceal the superfluous.
Thus CH&H, perhaps somewhat rashly but for understandable scientific
reasons, attributed a "genetic advantage in intelligence" (but not
"superiority") to Ashkenazi Jews. This is a fairly reasonable choice of a label
on the part of the authors of this biological study. On the whole, SP adheres
to this term; yet in his article it takes on a different connotation. Since his
own thoughts are not specifically biological in nature, his use of the word
"advantage" has social, cultural, and partly even political and therefore
Most importantly, both SP and CH&H consider the
Jewish genetic (and thus a priori) advantage not as an object of study, but as
an object of investigation. Its existence is taken for granted; all that is
left is to examine the mechanism. What is it, self-delusion or a psychological
strategy? If this concerned some harmless and, most importantly, unassuming
Bushmen, Finns, or Mayans, one could tentatively, albeit cautiously, tolerate
both the term and the approach, giving them the benefit of the doubt. However,
both SP and CH&H are dealing with the Jews, who for centuries have openly
proclaimed their superiority over all the other mortals, a superiority that
translates as chosenness. It is difficult to believe that the choice of the
object of study was accidental. It is even more difficult to shake off the
suspicion that both the work of CH&H and the article by SP constitute
attempts (whether conscious or not quite) to validate the age-old Jewish myth
of being a chosen people, to cloak it in science-like guise, and to bring it
into the mainstream of modern social thought.
At the very least, this is a justifiable suspicion --
and for several reasons simultaneously. First, one could just as well
(employing the same methods) undertake a study of the natural causes behind the
exceptional traits of many other nations. Why, for example, should we not study
the roots of the remarkable musical achievements made by the Germans? These
achievements may be not quite as exciting as those made by the Jews in physics
(although the Germans are quite proficient in physics as well), but who said
that scientists should concern themselves exclusively with exciting issues?
Second, quite a few ethnic groups have a social and
historical past that is very similar to that of the Jews. Why not sift through
their genes for a change -- at least for comparison's sake?
Third, this and other similar studies cause such
gleeful and narcissistic reverberations in the Jewish world, including Israel,
that one cannot help wondering whether they were intended to meet a social
demand -- at the very least, they are sure to please a supportive audience.
Fourth, in recent years there has been a spate of
genetic studies of Jewish society; what is more, for some reason all of them
attempt to verify ancient Jewish notions rather than new and original
assertions formulated in the language of science. Moreover, to the best of my
knowledge the opposite is also true: the vast majority of genetic social
studies focus on Jewish subjects, poking about various aspects of Jewish
antiquity or genetic purity. It is definitely studies of this sort which cause
the biggest stir. Since the Jews are the only ones in all of today's Western
society who are allowed to discuss their chosenness seriously and with
impunity, what we have is an indisputable and rather unsavory coincidence .
way or another, the theory of Jewish inborn intellectual advantage inevitably
suggests the deplorable idea of chosenness. Whether we like it or not, it is
this idea that has galvanized SP, along with the majority of the followers of
CH&H. However, the idea of chosenness should be handled with extreme care,
even outside the Jewish context, at the very least because the idea of
chosenness makes frequent appearances in world culture, even in the modern era,
invariably in dubious settings. It was no accident that Thomas Mann, by giving
his post-war mythological novel on Pope Gregory the appropriate title of Der erwahlte (lit. The Chosen),
associated him with incest and other iniquities. No wonder: over the last two
centuries, we have encountered scores of chosen peoples -- a dismal experience
that does not bode well for the future.
is yet another, albeit not critical, factor involved. A Jew, or rather a person
who clearly identifies himself as such and who moreover participates in some
form of Jewish tradition (inseparably intertwined with being convinced of one's
chosen status, which by definition presupposed natural superiority), should
think twice before writing on this topic, let alone in an uncritical tone of
restrained elation without casting the slightest doubt on the very fact of
superiority. SP, a shrewd professor of psychology, is well aware of this tiny
problem and takes measures intended to disarm the unbiased reader. That is
precisely why SP opens the article by making a dramatic, anecdotal declaration
of his Jewishness as well as of his adherence to Jewish tradition. Let the
reader lap it all up in one gulp, and know from the start that SP has nothing
to hide! However, he makes a blunder by counting both on the automatic
solidarity of the Jewish reader and the guaranteed incompetence of the
non-Jewish one. If (as we may safely assume) this blunder reflects the natural
laxity of a run-of-the-mill nationalist, SP deserves nothing but pity.
is the gist of his story.
ancestors were Ashkenazi Jews -- the same group whose genetic intellectual
advantage he goes on to discuss; incidentally, he is certain to have inherited
this alleged advantage. His grandfather owned a small necktie factory on the
outskirts of Montreal. One day he found his grandfather on the factory floor,
cutting something out of leftover cloth. He explained that by carving up the
remnants, he managed to stitch together a few extra ties out of each sheet of
cloth. SP asked him why he was doing this himself rather than having his
employees do it. He tapped his forehead and replied, "Goyishe kop" -- which means "gentile head" in Yiddish. End of quote.
am recounting this story with some discomfort. It is completely atrocious, and
fully as unfit to be told in public as, say, obscene jokes. It is quite
difficult to explain the humor here -- yet I am forced to do so. Getting ahead
of myself, I should point out that if a Caucasian American were to say
something of this nature about an African American or an Indian, the incident
could very well lead to criminal charges.
we have is a humorous aside, or rather a classical racist Jewish joke (not to
be confused with racist jokes about Jews). It begins with the fact that the
Jewish grandfather has gentile employees. The grandson asks him why he does not
delegate certain work to his gentile workers. The grandfather slaps his forehead
and replies, "The gentile head!" This reply, like many Jewish jokes, contains a
clever duality. At first glance, the grandfather seems to admit: I am just as
stupid as the goyim whose work I am
doing for unclear reasons! Yet in fact he is mocking his grandson (the
anecdotal Jewish grandfather is always smarter, being a better Jew than the
grandson, who cannot even speak proper Yiddish): Would gentile heads be able to
do what I am doing?
repeat: if a WASP dared to publicly use a term like "Schwartze kop" ("black head") or "Yiddishe kop" ("Jewish head") in a genuinely negative context, he
could be in for serious trouble. Yet the expression "Goyishe kop" is permissible even today, and so SP allows himself to
use it in the beginning of this essay .
This alone is sufficient to make it clear that SP accepts without question the
claim of Jewish inborn intellectual advantage. Nevertheless, he finds it
necessary to spell it out. For example:
appearance of an advantage in average intelligence among Ashkenazi Jews is
easier to establish than its causes."
"The Ashkenazi advantage has
been found in many decades, countries, and levels of wealth, and the IQ
literature shows no well-understood environmental factors capable of producing
an advantage of that magnitude."
"Jewish achievement is
obvious; only the explanation is unclear."
In fact, there is more: SP is also guilty of other
assertions unacceptable in modern society, having little relevance to the issue
at hand and describing mainly himself. We will quote one by way of an example:
"The CH&H study could
lower people's resistance to more invidious comparisons, such as groups who
historically score lower, rather than higher, on IQ tests."
One way or another, SP's
article strikes us as problematic, not only because its author does not examine
the issue with a priori scientific indifference -- he also exhibits an obvious
cultural bias. His case is compromised even further by another fact: he does
not discuss the key issues without which both his review and the work of
CH&H cannot be called scientific.
It is time to examine these
The issue is the advantage of Ashkenazi Jews -- and not
just a mere advantage. We quote:
"The Utah researchers… proposed that Ashkenazi Jews
have a genetic advantage in intelligence, and that the advantage arose from
natural selection for success in middleman occupations (moneylending, selling,
and estate management) during the first millennium of their existence in
northern Europe, from about 800 C.E. to 1600 C.E."
to SP and CH&H, the numerous fully biological (as yet hypothetical)
patterns of Jewish "selection", according to the initial assumption, are
attributable to no other than the socio-historical mechanism, or rather the
distinctive elements of the socio-historical existence of Ashkenazi Jews during
a clearly defined period.
begin with, we are quite surprised: for a scientific hypothesis, SP's assertion
too vague. It would be a good idea to provide a clear definition, clad in objective
terms, of what is meant by Ashkenazi Jews. The lack of a clear-cut definition
(as well as admitting the impossibility of formulating such a definition) is
virtually tantamount to a voluntary relinquishment of a real scientific
a matter of fact, the hypothesis proposed by SP and CH&H immediately gives
rise to striking anomalies -- or, if you will, incongruities. The first and the
simplest anomaly is of a "horizontal", synchronic nature: why should this
hypothesis, with its abstractly social mechanism, apply to Jews alone -- and
Ashkenazi Jews in particular? After all, quite a number of other ethnic groups,
including "Sephardi" 
Jews who mainly resided in Moslem countries in the vast area stretching from
Moorish Spain to Iran, fall under the aforementioned "middleman occupation"
category as well as, and probably even better than, their Ashkenazi brethren.
It was the Sephardi Jews who were the quintessential merchants and middlemen 
for almost fifteen hundred years, up until the present time. Fortunately for
them, they were largely spared the bloodshed, exile and ruthless religious
oppression that befell the Jews living in Christian countries. On the other
hand, Sephardi Jews were routinely barred from certain professions and
subjected to other restrictions, which pushed them in the direction of
middleman occupations, management, international and domestic trade, and so on.
Sephardi Jews were engaged in these fields much more frequently than Ashkenazi
Jews. On the average, they were wealthier than the Ashkenazi Jews; they found
it much easier to take advantage of the material benefits involved in middleman
businesses (and consequently, they had better chances of being selected); and
they were in a better position to advance their careers in the ruler's court
(especially since rulers frequently preferred to rely on outsiders). As a
result, there were far more Jewish viziers than Jewish ministers. On the whole,
the situation of Jews in the countries of South Africa, Persia or Turkey was
far more stable and consistent with the model proposed by SP and CH&H than
that of the Jews in medieval Germany, France or England. In the West there were
actually few Jewish middlemen and managers; and most importantly, they could
hardly count on centuries of untroubled existence, something that is tacitly
implied in the hypothesis proposed by SP and CH&H. On the contrary,
European Jews were constantly exiled from the countries in which they had
settled and forced to start everything from scratch in a new place -- when they
found one. It is worth noting that during a certain stage in Poland's history,
the situation of Polish Jews and accordingly the nature of their economic
activity, resembled that of the East -- but back then, Poland was actually an
Eastern state. In short, any comparative study of the history of Western and
Eastern Jewry will immediately determine that the model of SP and CH&H is
applicable -- if at all -- more to Sephardi than Ashkenazi Jews.
elementary ethno-geographic absurdity immediately pinpoints the reason for the
Ashkenazi, or in other words European, bias on the part of SP and CH&H:
they choose Ashkenazi Jews not a priori, as people branded with a certain
social destiny, but a posteriori, as an ethnic group that gave birth to Kafka,
Einstein and Freud. They did so not because their unique socio-economic
function merits particular attention as a possible mechanism of unique genetic
selection, but for a purely phenomenological reason. SP and CH&H prefer to
regard European Jews (regardless of their real ethnic homogeneity) as an
extraordinary phenomenon solely because they have won striking success in
certain prestigious fields. In their turn, Sephardi Jews, despite a similar and
even more spectacular social history, are overlooked merely because they have
not attained outstanding results in physics, mathematics or literature.
However, methodological licentiousness of this sort does not go unpunished. If
we are to study geography, Jewish or otherwise, we should do it seriously: one
look at the globe will tell us that Jews achieve intellectual success solely
among societies that are intellectually advanced themselves. Thus, Nobel prizes
go to German Jews along with Germans, to Russian Jews along with Russians, to
American Jews along with Americans, and so on -- almost regardless of how many
decades or centuries they have coexisted. As soon as we shift to countries
whose native inhabitants have made no outstanding contribution to the field of
intellectual endeavor, we discover that the Jews in those countries are in a
similar situation, whatever their ethnic origins.
then, SP and CH&H arbitrarily and vaguely defined the subject of their
study as the set of all Ashkenazi
Jews. In our opinion, given the a posteriori approach that concerns itself
exclusively with "successful" Jews, it would have made more sense to focus on
distinctive and more suitable groups of Ashkenazi Jews while leaving the others
aside -- particularly since it would be easy to make a list of "exceptions",
i.e. territorial sub-sets of Ashkenazi Jew who failed to reach any exceptional
intellectual summits. At any rate, as we have noted above, the researchers
should have started by providing a functionally comprehensive, and moreover
historically accurate, definition of the Ashkenazi population, tracing its
genetic evolution through times and places, and establishing the degree to
which its various sub-groups are linked with one another or with other Jewish
and non-Jewish ethnic groups. SP and CH&H have not done so, nor has anyone else.
No wonder: it is suspected that Ashkenazi Jews historically did not form a
stable ethnos, and hence cannot be constructively incorporated as such into any
theory. At the very least, we must admit that there is no coherent theory
regarding the ethnic origins of Ashkenazi Jewry, and that the assumption of its
ethnic homogeneity is largely unsubstantiated. Thus the very idea of
constructing a single genetic model of Ashkenazi Jewry deserves initial
critical analysis, and this is where CH&H should have started.
ahead, and at the risk of repeating ourselves, we stress that at the turn of
the 20th century the overwhelming majority of Ashkenazi Jews were citizens of
the Russian Empire. The number of flourishing Jewish communities in Russia (or
rather in Western Russia, including Poland) had grown at least fivefold in the
19th century, leading to significant changes in the Jewish ethnic map. By that
time all the other European Jewish communities had already reached the state of
demographic decline, and had actually come to the end of their insulated
existence. One could hardly claim that Polish and Russian Jews are direct
descendants or even close relatives of the Jews of Western Europe, who went
through centuries of genetic evolution which, though common to all of them, was
at the same time extraordinary and unique. On the contrary, there are good
reasons to believe that the blood flowing in the veins of East European Jews is
not quite the same as that of the Jews of Western Europe. In fact, the latter definitely
includes quite a lot of blood from Eastern Jews (who actively intermingled with
their East European brethren in the Balkans, Asia Minor, and the entire area
between the Black and the Baltic seas). Nor should we ignore the pagan gentiles
who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages in different places. That being the
case, how can we possibly regard the "Jews of Northern Europe" as a single
us, then, sum up. SP and CH&H repeatedly substitute a manifestly
non-existent ethnic homogeneity by citing the virtually total absence of either
intermarriages or conversions (an equally dubious assertion, requiring proof
even in the case of the Middle Ages, and patently wrong where the last two or
three centuries are concerned). Even the absence of conversions is a highly
questionable claim (undoubtedly there were outbreaks of conversions in
different countries, where non-Jews adopted Judaism, usually with active Jewish
support). What is far more important for us, however, is the fact that we are
talking about two completely different things. Moreover, even if we were to
ignore the biological intermixture with non-Jews during one historical period
or another, it is impossible to overlook the intermixture between Ashkenazi and
Sephardi Jews who, due to their lack of Nobel success, are considered an
unsuitable object of research by SP and CH&H.
we fail to understand why SP and CH&H, who believe that they are using a
strictly scientific approach, did not devote a similar study to other,
non-Jewish and socially comparable subjects -- such as the modern Armenian and
Chinese diasporas, or some ethnic groups from the past (e.g., the medieval
Tuscans or Lombardians). Such a project would be of value simply as a control
study, not to mention other interesting respects. Then again, it would almost
certainly nullify the specifically Jewish substance of the study, a substance
that CH&H attempted to illustrate rather than substantiate; and that,
perhaps, is what this is all about.
It is now high time to pass from geography to
history, and from the synchronic errors in the theory of SP and CH&H to the
far more painful, and more importantly, much more crucial diachronic ones.
shall begin by following SP's mistaken strategy, and share a childhood memory
of my own. (This may be a good time to tell the reader that SP's ancestors are
ludicrously similar to mine: the same traditional Ashkenazi Jews with
nationalistic tendencies, the same Yiddish, albeit in moderate quantities --
though without a necktie factory in my case). At a relatively young age, I came
across a thick volume of an old Russian encyclopedia, published, if memory
serves me right, in 1863. This was volume "J", and it was no accident that it
was preserved by the owners, our remote relatives. Naturally, it included the
article "Jews", written during the time when, to repeat ourselves, the
overwhelming majority of the world's Jews (let alone Ashkenazi Jews) were
subjects of the Russian Empire.
long, serene, incredibly benevolent article (which, in fact, would make an
interesting subject for discussion) contained something highly relevant to our
analysis. "Among the Jews," the article said, "there are many sensible, able,
and even talented people. However, they lack any people of genius whatsoever."
claim, which seems rather absurd today, was, strangely enough, quite true at
the time. Furthermore, substantially it is not very different from the
assertion made by SP and CH&H, which ascribed a "systematic advantage" to
Jews in prestigious intellectual fields -- or, putting it simply, a
disproportionate number of geniuses in their midst. Both instances involve a
sound description of a misunderstood reality. Today, there is incontrovertible
evidence to support the claim made by SP and CH&H; the encyclopedic article
from the mid-19th century relied on equally ironclad facts.
the "disproportionately brilliant" results achieved by Jews in science, the
arts and other worthy fields is an undeniable hallmark of the 20th century .
That century was full to overflowing (though not to a uniform extent -- by the
end this tendency appears to have run out of steam) with Jewish genius -- be it
in science, literature or music, not to mention business. If, however, we step
back a few decades further, we will see that brilliant Jewish individuals
conspicuously vanish from the world culture.
amazing fact -- the turning point in Jewish intellectual history -- is not new
and has been discussed at length. Sadly, it was ignored by SP and CH&H. This
is unfortunate, for the real state of Jewish affairs which preceded the middle
of the 19th century and was accurately described in the old encyclopedia is
more than relevant to our discussion. The fact of the matter is that for
centuries the Jews, for clear reasons, were unable to keep up with the rapid
pace of Western thought. Essentially, they were deeply and thoroughly bogged
down in the Middle Ages .
The emergence of a new European culture, which began with the Renaissance, left
them largely unaffected. As a result, among the truly great, top-grade minds of
the modern age, up until the middle of the 19th century, there are no Jewish
names (the third-rate example of Spinoza only confirms the rule). There was not
a single outstanding Jewish mathematician or physicist, chemist or musician,
writer or philosopher, astronomer or geographer for centuries. Any list speaks
for itself: Newton, Galileo, Kepler, Fermat, Leibniz, Shakespeare, Cervantes,
Goethe, Pushkin, Schiller, Voltaire, Rousseau, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Pascal,
Kant, Hegel… Whichever way you stack the list, there is not a single Jew in it.
We could go back further, to even earlier times -- the result would be exactly
the same. In other words, had Nobel prizes been awarded in the 14th, 15th, 16th,
17th, 18th, or even in the first half of the 19th century, there probably would
not have been any Jews among the winners -- and not because of anti-Semitism.
late as the 18th century Jews were absent altogether from the cultural map of
the modern age. During the early 19th century the situation started to change.
More and more Jews began to gain a sound European education, and accordingly to
acquire corresponding interests and ambitions. Naturally, most of them engaged
in free professions and private enterprise rather than in the sciences and
arts. Among European (not American, mind you) millionaires, there were quite a
number of Jews; it is no accident that Rothschild became one of the symbols of
his time. That is precisely what the encyclopedia talked about: a host of
talented, successful people -- and not a single genius. The authors of the
article mistakenly believed that Jews were incapable of reaching the heights of
abstract thought; contemporary facts were on their side, as opposed to sound
social analysis. They overlooked the fact that the Jews were only beginning to
move away from the traditional medieval way of life, that a realistic
assessment required time, and finally, that even the first decades of
emancipation had already yielded interesting results .
That the majority of outstanding Jews living in the first half of the 19th
century converted to Christianity is hardly significant in itself; it is more
likely that the change of religion symbolized the act of replacing the old,
Jewish reference-points, clearly unsuitable for intellectual endeavor, with
new, Western standards.
way or another, by the middle of the 19th century the majority of West European
Jews had left the insular Jewish communities, acquired European education and
adopted their norms to the modern lifestyle. It wasn't long before this
socio-cultural revolution began to bear intellectual fruit. However, West
European Jews were a negligible minority among Ashkenazi Jewry. Its real core,
as we have mentioned, was thickly concentrated in the Russian Empire, and up
until the last third of the 19th century they staunchly refused to abandon the
medieval lifestyle, provide their children with European education, or even
learn any kind of "goyishe" language.
These Jews eked out a wretched existence (by modern standards at least),
essentially unchanged from the previous two or three centuries, uninterested in
the arts and sciences in any modern sense. This, of course, explains the
virtual lack of any creative achievements in their time. Interesting exceptions
to this were a handful of Jewish converts to Christianity 
who made rapid advances in their respective fields -- but they were too few.
facts speak for themselves: virtually all Jewish intellectual accomplishments
were achieved in the last 120-130 years (with minor traces of Jewish
intellectual presence discernible in the preceding decades), predominantly in
the countries of Western Europe. The rest is silence.
this stage, we are merely stating the facts -- their interpretation will come
only in part 3. And the facts are so eloquently silent that this silence itself
puts the genetic theory of SP and CH&H in a very precarious position.
Indeed, the last thing this "innate genetic advantage" was expected to produce
was a single blinding explosion that synchronized, both geographically and
chronologically, with the collapse of the medieval community and the rejection
of that very lifestyle which, according to SP and CH&H, had given birth to
this advantage. What is worse, for some reason the genetically pure and
uniquely selected Ashkenazi Jews invented by SP and CH&H achieved their
intellectual accomplishments at the very time they began to actively assimilate
among European nations, or, in other words, to lose their genetic advantages.
Since, as SP admits, there are so many half-breeds among Jewish geniuses ,
this calls, at the very least, for a theory to explain why the alleged genetic
advantage is retained when selected genes are diluted. Naturally SP and
CH&H avoid this subject, for it explicitly demands a sociological rather
than a purely genetic approach.
the situation, SP and CH&C would be well advised to consider the following
extravagant idea: perhaps Jewish selection "coincided" exactly with the time
mentioned, i.e. it produced significant results only in the last decades of the
19th century. That is very unlikely, for in that case it would also have to be
credited with the transformation in Europe's Jewish societies. Furthermore, we
must not forget that in addition to the diachronic discrepancy, we also have
the aforementioned synchronic one, which inexplicably sets Ashkenazi Jews apart
from Sephardi Jews, as well as from all other nations with a similar history.
The motley nature of this picture rules out the very idea of genetic selection;
an explanation for Jewish cultural phenomenology -- whether of the 20th or the
16th century -- must be sought in the social sphere, or, if you will, in the
dialectics of Jewish ethnogenesis.
there is still more to come. Besides the two aforementioned mismeasures, SP and
CH&H are guilty of at least one more -- that of gender.
first thing that strikes anyone who reads their work is the way they casually
limit the alleged genetic advantage of Ashkenazi Jews to Ashkenazi males. This
element has several distinctive facets. First, it is more than likely that SP
and CH&H were simply unaware of the preference they had conferred on a
single gender: sadly, the chauvinistic idea of human accomplishments is deeply
ingrained and often taken for granted. Second, even in the 20th century the
estimated female contribution (both Jewish and gentile) to science, art and
even politics is relatively insignificant -- therefore in sociological terms,
culture can still be considered as an exclusively male domain. But not in terms
of genetics! Thus as soon as we begin to examine the mechanism of Jewish male
advantage, tacitly accepting its biological nature, it becomes immediately
clear that the number of Nobel prizes per male capita is far from everything.
It is not enough to win a prize for outstanding genetic achievement -- one must
also manage to pass it on along the male line! An implausible scenario, you
must agree. Therefore we must choose once and for all one of the two possible
explanations for cultural male domination -- either biological or social. We are
not about to start refuting the biological version from scratch -- this has been
successfully done before us. Suffice it to note that women's emancipation in
the 20th century, particularly in its second half, proved to be no less
effective than the emancipation of West European Jews in the first half of the
19th century, which provided the initial impetus for the Jewish contribution to
modern culture. Women, all but cut off from creative endeavor as recently as a
century ago, exactly as the Jews in their old communities, invaded hitherto
forbidden territory. This parallel is doubly effective, for it allows us to
predict a full-scale female break-through in a matter of decades. The female
version of the Jewish 20th century is yet to come.
put it simply, if we accept the idea of fundamental creative equality between
men and women, SP and CH&H, with their male genetic selection, find
themselves in an extremely tight spot.
Jewish social reality, up until the demise of the shtetl, set completely different life models for men and women.
Regardless of whether the Jewish man engaged in trade or shoemaking, his wife
and daughters stayed at home. Potential genetic benefits, the product of
middlemen activities, whether acquired a la Lamarck or passed down through
natural selection, were transferred exclusively along the male line; women
could only spoil the precious intellectual genes. This being the case, in order
for the theory proposed by SP and CH&H to have any validity, one of the two
must be true: either all "intellectual genes" are attached to the male
chromosome only and cannot be spoiled by female genes, or, at the very least,
this is where the genes specifically responsible for Jewish intellect are
located. The first hypothesis can probably be rejected outright. Adopting the
second one would mean (we will not spell out the reasons; let the reader figure
it out) that at least among Ashkenazi Jews, males are inherently more gifted
than females. Under any other scenario, including the most plausible idea that
intellectual qualities are inherited from both the father and the mother, the
genetic selection touted by SP and CH&H immediately breathes its last.
The attractive gender theme
could and should be explored further, but we believe that a professional
geneticist would do a much better job with this. We will limit ourselves to two
additional points. First of all, this brings to mind an old anecdote highly
pertinent to our case, commonly attributed to the late George Bernard Shaw. It
is said that a London beauty once tried to seduce Shaw, promising to give him a
child combining his brains and her beauty. "Yes," replied Shaw reasonably, "but
what if it had my beauty and your brains?" SP and CH&H should provide an
intelligible explanation as to why something similar cannot happen in an
Ashkenazi family, i.e. why the male intellectual genetic line has inherent
dominance over the female line, barring a castling a la Shaw.
the folklore model of Jewish intellectual selection put forth by SP and
CH&H is similarly unisexual: for generations, the brightest young man in
the shtetl, the yeshiva champion, was supposedly betrothed to the daughter of
the richest Jews, begetting scores of children. Never mind that the social
reality of the shtetl was completely different (there, as everywhere, money was
usually attracted to money). Never mind that the very context
(shtetl-yeshiva-wealth) was drawn not from the reality of medieval Western
Europe, but rather from the measly last century alone at best. Never mind that
this model tacitly implies that the yeshiva champion definitely carries the
genetic intellectual advantage, and one, moreover, that is equally relevant to
nuclear physics. This and similar notions assume that this advantage is
automatically passed on to this children, i.e. that the mother's genes have no
significant impact on their intellect. All we can do is sigh: and what if the
opposite is true, and intellectual genes are transferred along the female line?
This feminist hypothesis is no worse than the preceding one; it is just that it
is at odds with the politically incorrect genetic theory of SP and
Before we proceed to discuss the issue of "Jewish
advantage" in a serious and constructive manner, we find it essential to go
back to SP's article and to distinguish between reality and wishful thinking.
In other words, we intend to conclusively demonstrate not only the scientific
bankruptcy but also the mythological nature and parameters of the approach used
by SP and CH&H (as well as scores of others) to study Jewish issues, an
approach that is entwined with the idea of Jewish chosenness, which has not had
any substantial corroboration for centuries. Along the way, we will discuss a
number of central tenets employed by CH&H -- the mainstays of their theory.
will begin by taking another look at the passage quoted earlier:
The Utah researchers… proposed that Ashkenazi Jews
have a genetic advantage in intelligence, and that the advantage arose from
natural selection for success in middleman occupations (moneylending, selling,
and estate management) during the first millennium of their existence in
northern Europe, from about 800 CE to 1600 CE.
would be highly appropriate to have more than a cursory look at the second part
of this hypothesis, concerning the "middleman occupations" during the
aforementioned 800 years. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to have an
in-depth discussion of the problematic history of Ashkenazi Jewry --
particularly since there is no coherent, commonly accepted version of that
history. There is no doubt, however, that the rational kernel of Ashkenazi
history is incompatible with the concept proposed by SP and CH&H. One way
or another, the Ashkenazi communities -- the branches of what is actually a
southern Jewish ethnos that flowed north and east (from south-western Europe)
and north and west (from Asia Minor, Persia and Byzantium) -- grew to a
noticeable degree at the end of the first millenium CE at the very earliest.
These communities (in any kind of undiluted ethnic form) were simply
non-existent circa 800. Correspondingly, any rational thoughts about the
dynamics of Jewish ethnicity during the first two or three of the aforementioned
centuries (say, prior to 1000-1100) inevitably spoil the picture, since they
also apply to parts of the Jewish ethnos which are excluded by SP and CH&H,
and which should be called non-Ashkenazi in hindsight.
another thing. There is an important factor that invisibly affects the majority
of genetic studies of the Jewish ethnos. (We will return to it at least one
more time). The European Jewish ethnos in the region underwent a drastic
reduction in numbers around 1500-1600, down to several hundreds of thousands by
some estimates. Moreover, during the 12th -- 16th centuries Jews in most
European countries were subjected to persecution and exile, which led to a
reduction in the size of Jewish communities, and most importantly, to their
intermixture. It is this factor, according to many researchers, that accounts
for the data indicating a genetic bond between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, as
opposed to the Jews of India, to take one example, who appear to spring from
different origins. That is why any attempt to construct a separate ethnic, let
alone genetically pure, medieval past for Ashkenazi Jews is probably untenable.
In our opinion, SP and CH&H deliberately omitted a crucial component of the
real Jewish ethnogenesis -- to wit, its spatial dynamic during the Middle Ages,
without which their study cannot be taken seriously. The fact that SH&H are
biologists, and SP is a psychologist, does nothing to vindicate them.
Jews are remarkably over-represented in benchmarks
of brainpowers. Though never exceeding 3 percent of the American population,
Jews account for 37 percent of the winners of the U.S. National Medal of
Science, 25 percent of the American Nobel Prize winners in literature, 40
percent of the American Nobel Prize in science and economics, and so on. On the
world stage, we find that 54 percent of the world chess champions have had one
or two Jewish parents.
is no doubt: during the strictly defined, brief span of history that, as we
have seen, is roughly termed the 20th century for the sake of convenience, the
Jews (specifically the European Jews, as SP and CH&H emphasize) were indeed
"over-represented" in science and culture -- as well as in business and
politics. In fact, they enjoyed considerable overall success during that
period. It should be kept in mind, however, that this phenomenon is far from
unprecedented in history. For example, in the Middle Ages and the early
Renaissance, it was the Italians,
mainly the Tuscans, who were over-represented in every possible intellectual,
business and other fields, while in early antiquity it was the ancient Greeks.
While this phenomenon of over-representation certainly merits examination, it
can hardly be explained by selection. For the sake of accuracy, we should
stress that the issue of over-representation has yet another aspect:
over-representation has a tendency to disappear as well as to appear. Where are
they now, the geniuses of Miletus and Athens, or the titans of the Renaissance?
The issue of their disappearance is fully as interesting as that of their
appearance. Indeed, why does this celebrated over-representation shift so
actively -- now west, now east, now north? Once again, the causes are unlikely
to be genetic. And another thing: SP mistakenly succumbs to the statistical
temptation to use half-breeds in conjunction with ethnic Jews, though they are
hardly compatible with his genetic model -- a non-Jewish or non-Ashkenazi parent
would effectively cancel out the results of the alleged selection. But
half-breeds are more than a match for pure-blooded Jews; the indisputable
abundance of brilliant and fabulously successful Jews of mixed parentage is an
almost certain indication of the environmental, or, to put it simpler, the
social nature of the phenomenon in question. This is particularly true in view
of the fact that far from all famous half-breeds had Jewish fathers, who alone
-- according to SP and CH&H -- are highly likely to pass the necessary
selection and reliably transfer it to their offspring. Since we are on the
subject of world chess champions, it is worth recalling that Fisher and Karpov
had Jewish mothers, and the same goes for Smyslov; it is true, however, that
Kasparov had a Jewish father.
Their (Jews') average IQ
has been measured at 108 to 115, one half to one standard deviation above the
mean… [A] decade ago, the American Psychological Association commissioned an
ideologically and racially diverse panel of scientists to review the evidence.
They reported that IQ tests measure a stable property of the person; that general
intelligence reflects a real phenomenon (namely, that measures of different
aspects of intelligence intercorrelate); that it predicts a variety of positive
life outcomes; and that it is highly heritable among individuals within a
is difficult to imagine a more social -- or, better yet, a less asocial, and
thus less suitable for a purely genetic study -- yardstick than the classical
IQ. It would make sense to discuss it and similar indicators (in the genetic
context) if we were talking about spontaneous testing of unprepared people,
preferably at a very young age. But where would SP and CH&H find any such
tests? It is common knowledge that in reality IQ very rarely constitutes a
person's natural, inborn trait; on the contrary, it is almost invariably a
quality that is significantly enhanced through special techniques. Today, no
one in his right mind would take an IQ test without some serious and costly
training; SP, being a psychologist, can attest to this personally. However, the
readiness to go through such training, not to mention the ability to afford it,
is a purely social phenomenon. It would be like testing adults for their
ability to solve logical problems, and being surprised that university
graduates, particularly form the faculties of mathematics and physics, do
better than others.
reverse side of psychological testing is figuring in the motivation factor,
i.e. the degree of the person's interest in raising his IQ and other
intellectual parameters; this factor, too, is patently social. In reality, the
tests involve people of more or less mature age, with a long and varied
educational background, who, moreover, had gone through special training whose
impact is difficult to overestimate.
is remarkable in this context is the ease with which SP (in the quoted
passage), without batting an eye, replaced the notions of "high IQ" with that
of "general intelligence" -- a term whose meaning he attempt so establish. Yet
from the point of view of methodology, and even of common sense, his observations
have no informative value. A high IQ predictably correlates with social
motivation (such as the desire to get a good education and subsequently a good
job) multiplied by the accessibility of IQ enhancements. Education, in turn,
correlates with every type of successful intellectual activity, from scientific
research to management, as well as with a high income and prominent social
status. We can go so far as to say that high IQ actually correlates with talent
and even genius (without being either a necessary or a sufficient condition for
the latter, as in the case of Einstein), which remain untapped in an
unfavorable environment. However, this does not lend itself to any clear
immediately suggests several points.
Point one: even though women are not
inferior to men where IQ is concerned, this does not make them equal to men in
terms of their success in science and other prestigious occupations, as well as
in terms of their social accomplishments. Once again, this is a compelling
anti-genetic argument, but also a worthy subject for a study that is yet to
take place (or one that has not been completed, or at least has not yielded
Point two: IQ and other psychometric
data measured in Israel, which is known for its multitude of Jews and scarcity
of genius, are very ordinary, exhibiting no upward trends. At the same time,
they are precisely socially correlated, the same as in America or any other
Point three: No one will question the
fact that a person's IQ reflects his intelligence -- but is it inborn? Could it
be, at least in part, acquired? Furthermore, although it does indeed "predict a
variety of positive life outcomes", one's social pedigree, or better yet,
financial standing does so at least just as well.
Point four: SP notes that IQ is
heritable within a group. Well now, that is stating the obvious: the motivation
to engage in intellectual activities, pursue a career and acquire money is
passed on from parents to children without any need for genetics. Educational
and social factors are more than enough, not to mention the influence of
friends and neighbors. We could similarly talk about the inborn proclivity for
army service on the part of British and French aristocrats, or about their
genetic predisposition for earning officer ranks.
It remains possible that the advantage is caused by
some poorly understood environmental cause.
our opinion, this statement (the original passage is much longer; we have only
quoted its beginning) is in poor taste. In essence, SP claims that the only
alternative to genetic selection must be something esoteric like the effect of
a little-known microbe or unusual atmospheric phenomena. He thereby eliminates
the most natural, social (perhaps in addition to biological) approach to
explaining the Jewish cultural phenomenon. It should be noted that so far our
common mastery of social material is just as tenuous as our overall grasp of
biochemical processes within the cell and the body as a whole; nevertheless, we
are making headlong progress in both fields.
is followed by the "hypotheses", i.e. those crucial statements by CH&H
which, in SP's opinion, are supposed to explain the "inborn Jewish advantage".
Respectfully, and despite their transparent weaknesses, we will list them here,
at least so as not to encounter them in a different guise, as well as to
forestall a justified reproach: if the "hypotheses" are so weak, why have we
not made the slightest mention of them?
1. "The CH&H theory can be divided into seven
hypotheses. The first is that the Ashkenazi advantage in intelligence is
genetic in the first place."
appears to be a relatively innocuous statement that contains no additional
information, only establishing the initial hypothesis; nevertheless, it is not
as harmless as it seems. From the outset CH&H assume the existence of
distinct "intelligence genes" -- and that is all. In other words, intelligence
is not the sum total of a varied range of inherited and acquired qualities, a
product of environmental influence and other factors, with inherited material
only part of the mix. It goes without saying that Jews (or rather Ashkenazi
Jews) possess this inherited material to a higher degree than anyone else --
hence their unquestionable intellectual advantage.
are not about to attack this thesis all over again -- the entire first part of
this article is devoted to its criticism, and we don't want to sound
repetitious. Suffice it to note that even if "intelligence genes" do exist, the
alleged Ashkenazi intellectual advantage is phenomenologically quite
incompatible with it, so that it would be far more reasonable to attribute it
directly to divine will: at least this way there is nothing to prove. And there
is another important point to add. The very idea of "intelligence genes", as in
fact of any genes at all which expressly determine complex biological or
behavioral phenomena, is terribly outdated. It is well known that the genetic
code in the narrow sense of the word -- the sequence of nucleotides in DNA -- is
merely one of several (possibly many) schemes, inherited or acquired, that
govern the functioning of our body. The nature of this complex mechanism is
still far from understood ,
so it makes little sense for CH&H to propose ideas like the first
hypothesis, which either focus exclusively on the nucleotide code -- which is
hardly appropriate -- or bring into play every known and unknown mechanism at
once -- which is downright ludicrous. By maintaining that intelligence is
determined by an unknown hereditary mechanism, CH&H behave in an
unscientific fashion. At present this hypothesis lacks any predictive power. It
cannot be proved or refuted; it is essentially philological or ideological,
depending on one's choice. What is more, it is quite possible that environment
has the ability to influence the workings of this mechanism: where, then, does
that leave the hypothesis?
aforesaid does not mean, to be sure, that one or another biological trait
cannot be exclusively determined by a gene, as shown by numerous examples. At
the same time, the opposite is not only true but (in our case) much more
relevant: in those instances where there is no practical evidence of a definite
"gene of influence", to assume that such a gene is the only influencing factor
is inappropriate, at the very least.
2. "The second hypothesis is that Ashkenazim tended
to marry their own during most of their formative history."
this thesis is not only patently untrue in the genetic context CH&H need,
but it is also misphrased. At the very least, CH&H should have said
"Ashkenazim, and only Ashkenazim,
tended to marry their own during most of their formative history". The lack of indispensability in this thesis makes it
extremely vulnerable; another problematic link is the lack of a clearly defined
and foolproof notion of "Ashkenazi". Next, in order for the quoted assertion to
have any meaning for the following, two conditions must be fulfilled. First,
Ashkenazi Jews, whoever they may be, must not admit outsiders into their midst.
Second, they themselves must form a homogenous marital group -- otherwise (think
about it) unrelated Ashkenazi groups, and they alone, had to have produced
similar genetic effects, which would be going too far. The first is open to
debate; as for the second, it is out of the question. Ashkenazi Jews have never
been a single endogamous group. At the most (and even this is arguable) we
could talk about ten or twenty more or less endogamous units that may be termed
Ashkenazi; units that led their separate lives in different times; that were
not biologically interrelated, and certainly had no permanent ties, during the
period in question; and that, incidentally, dissolved separately. Furthermore,
we should keep in mind that the prohibition against mixed marriages, even when
it was observed, did not require segregation within the same Ashkenazi
community. Both marriages between members of different Ashkenazi communities
and marriages between Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi Jews were totally legitimate.
Therefore the genetic homogeneity so essential to CH&H was never achieved
3. "The third hypothesis is that Ashkenazim were
concentrated in mercantile, managerial, and financial occupations at a time
when their neighbors were likely to be peasant farmers, craftsmen, or soldiers.
Jews presumably had an accidental head start in these occupations because of
their religious obligation of literacy, their ability to network with one
another across far flung communities, and their role as a go-between amid
Christian and Islamic civilizations. In the Middle Ages they were funneled into
middlemen profession by their exclusion from guilds, their inability to own
land, and the niche opened up by the Christian prohibition of usury. CH&H
cite historians who have documented that a majority of Jews were middlemen
during the Middle Ages, many of them moneylenders."
have partially discussed this thesis above. It is erroneous, at the very least,
for the following reasons: a) Jews were not by any means the only ethnic group
with a propensity for the role of middlemen. b) Ashkenazi Jews never had an
advantage over Sephardi Jews in this respect; in fact, the opposite is more
likely. c) More importantly, even by the most optimistic estimate, only a
negligible percentage of Jews (the same as Italians, Arabs or Greeks) were
actually engaged in middleman occupations; the overwhelming majority confined
themselves to their community and worked as ordinary craftsmen. In fact, the
hypothesis proposed by CH&H depicts Jewish society as open and flexible,
whereas up until recently it had been ossified and impermeable. The percentage
of literate monks and priests (most of whom did not procreate) in Catholic
society was higher than that of Jewish middlemen in Jewish society. d) Jewish
women were definitely excluded from middleman occupations. e) Finally, talk
about universal Jewish literacy in the Middle Ages is highly exaggerated. Even
in those times when the number of literate Jews was high (say, in the 19th century),
this applies solely to the largely useless mastery of the written Hebrew and
Yiddish. Jewish communities did everything to prevent their members from
learning European languages, the same languages that these members, according
to SP and CH&H, had to know in order to work, along with mathematics and
other sciences. We should note that here, too, Sephardi communities were far
more liberal than Ashkenazi.
4. "The fourth hypothesis is that in traditional
Ashkenazi occupations higher intelligence led to greater economic success.
CH&H cite contemporary data that IQ predicts income and occupational
success in every profession, and that the minimum IQ requirements for financial
and managerial occupations are higher then for farming, crafts, and the military.
Presumably, numeracy, verbal skill, problem solving, and social intelligence
are invaluable in calculating slim profits and interest rates, in assessing
creditworthiness, in anticipating trends, and in meeting other cognitive
demands of the middleman niche. Cultural historians have noticed that these
skills seem to be cultivated among contemporary middleman minorities."
assertion has already been discussed above. Even though it makes some
phenomenological sense, at least as long as it stays within the framework of
"IQ predicts income and occupational success in every profession", it does not
tally well with genetic considerations, while it tallies perfectly with social
ones. We will return to this later.
5. "The fifth hypothesis is that richer people had
more surviving children during the centuries in which Ashkenazim were
middlemen. Today the wealthy tend to have fewer children, but before the
demographic transition (which began with industrial revolution) wealth brought
better nutrition and healthier surroundings, and hence more children who
survived to adulthood. CH&H cite historians who made this point about the
Ashkenazim in particular."
claim that during the Middle Ages more children survived in rich families than
in poor ones probably merits some consideration. It should be noted, however,
that the decreased birthrate in higher social classes is certainly not unique
to the 20th century. Consider, for example, the aristocratic and bourgeois
societies of the last three centuries, when so many wealthy families had one
child or none at all .
It is equally interesting to recall the Jews of the 19th century Russian
Empire: their notorious poverty did not stop them from multiply at a rapid rate
for a century, increasing their numbers roughly fivefold. It is not quite clear
to what extent the survival thesis is
applicable to medieval Jewish societies, which practiced a certain degree of
mutual help. Moreover, the frequent calamities and migrations of entire
communities leveled out the material differences to a considerable extent,
making them transitory. What is more important, however, is the tacit
assumption made by SP and CH&H in claiming that since intellectual
qualities foster prosperity, the reverse is also true: namely, that the majority
of affluent Jews owed their wealth specifically to intellectual advantages.
Sadly, here we have another logical fallacy that renders the entire line of
thought fruitless. SP and CH&H had the responsibility to inquire at least a
little into the sociology of Jewish communities. Had they done so, they would
have easily discovered that in those communities high status, closely related
to wealth, was largely inherited -- the same, in fact, as in other medieval
societies -- so that the alleged Jewish selection simply had no room to unfold.
Furthermore, it is once again unclear why this thesis applies to Ashkenazi Jews
more than to Sephardi Jews. At first glance, the opposite seems much more
6. "The sixth hypothesis is that the common
Ashkenazi diseases are the product of natural selection rather than a genetic
drift, the other mechanism of evolutionary change. In any finite population,
some genes can go to extinct and others can take over the population by sheer
chance. Imagine an island on which a lighting bolt happened to kill everyone
but the redheads; the descendants would found a redheaded race, despite the
lack of any advantage to redheadedness. As the example suggests, drift is most
potent in small populations. It can leave a genetic stamp on an inbred
community that was founded by a small number of pioneers, or that suffers a
bottleneck in population size and subsequently rebounded, multiplying copies of
whatever genes were possessed by the lucky survivors."
is hardly worth it to seriously discuss the possible origin of "common
Ashkenazi diseases" 
in this essay. Clearly, SP and CH&H, who neither can nor want to ignore
hereditary Jewish traits other than the alleged genetic intellectual advantage,
opt for "natural selection" as preferable to the other, more feasible
alternative for their origin -- "genetic drift". After all, if the latter
actually took place, the type of selection they favor would have been unlikely
to bear any significant fruit. At the same time, as we have noted above, it is more
than possible that at one or several stages in Jewish history the Jewish
population was markedly reduced in size, which could gave led to a "bottleneck
in population size". Wherever there is a reduction in population size, there is
possible "genetic drift". Even more importantly, SP and CH&H need the
"natural selection" hypothesis for a smooth transition to the seventh
hypothesis, which is called "pivotal" by SP for a good reason. Its main purpose
is to make the genetic advantage hypothesis more harmonious, at the same time
eliminating superfluous notions, exactly as Occam would have it. Indeed,
selection not only turned Jews into intellectual supermen, it also made them
pay for the privilege…
7. "The seventh and really pivotal hypothesis is
that the common Ashkenazi diseases are by-products of genes that were selected
because they enhance intelligence. The alternative is that they were selected
for something else, such as resistance to infectious disease. CH&H discount
disease resistance for most of the genes in question because the genes are not
shared by other Europeans, who must have been victims of the same germs."
a result of sticking to the idea of Jewish genetic selection, CH&H (SP
should probably be left aside in this instance, for he has not yet made his
choice) were forced to adopt the old hypothesis stating that Ashkenazi diseases
are the payment for Jewish genius. They either foster intellectual advantages,
or, at the very least, invariably accompany it. At present, this hypothesis is
unverifiable, absolutely unscientific, and in itself of no interest to us. We
will only note that the claim made by SP and CH&H, to the effect that the
alternative to the "intellectual value" of these inheritable diseases can only
be of some other direct benefit such as "resistance to infectious disease", is
wrong. There are other alternatives, which we do not intend to discuss here.
The reductionism to which SP and CH&H unwillingly resort is a wonderful
illustration of the deadlock into which they have been driven by their futile
initial hypothesis. Having started with the myth of genetic intellectual
advantage, they quickly deteriorated into pitiable pseudo-scientific babble --
an almost inevitable end-result of an ideological reaction that assumed a scientific
another important factor. SP writes that all seven hypotheses put forth by
CH&H must be true in order for their main theory, conferring a genetic
advantage on Ashkenazi Jews, to survive. We are not convinced that he is right.
It is quite possible that he was overly demanding and could have managed very
well with only some of the hypotheses -- so long as they hold water. Nor are we
convinced that some of them are not logically inconsistent with one another.
Since, in our opinion, they are simply untrue, there is no point in delving
into this problem. At the same time, SP should give the issue some
So then, as we have mentioned earlier, a reaction is
in evidence. SP, who begins his article with a racist passage, ends on basically
the same note:
"But is it good for Jews? More to the point, is it
good for ideals of tolerance and ethnic amity? In one interpretation, perhaps
it is. Jewish achievement is obvious; only the explanation is unclear. The idea
of innate Jewish intelligence is certainly an improvement over the infamous
alternative generalization, a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. And attention to the
talents needed in the middleman niche (whether they are biological or cultural)
could benefit other middleman minorities, such as Armenian, Lebanese, Ibos, and
overseas Chinese and Indians, who have also been targets of vicious
persecutions because of their economic success."
will be patently obvious to any even slightly traditional Jew that this time SP
reverts once again to an uncomplicated folklore code. In this case he exploits
the fact that the majority of readers are unaware of the folklorist, and thus
true meaning of the innocent-sounding expression "Is it good for Jews?" In the
Jewish jargon intended for internal use, it replaces the conventional "Is it
good for mankind?" The beauty of it is that the words "man" and "Jew" are used
in the framework of traditional Jewish culture as synonyms, which is not all
that absurd if we truly join SP in regarding Jews as supermen. The next
sentence is equally charming: "More to the point, is it good for ideals of
tolerance and ethnic amity" -- again, where the Jews are concerned. It is no
accident that after this folklorist introduction he states his credo: Jewish
achievements (what he actually means is superiority, but this way is far more
elegant) are unquestionable; therefore they should be correctly presented to
humanity. It is better for "goyishe heads" to imbibe the idea of innate Jewish
advantage with their mothers' milk than to believe in a worldwide Jewish
conspiracy. This is racist reductionism all over again, as if there were not
other means of arranging inter-ethnic relations. In SP's opinion, that is
indeed the case: the Jewish advantage comes first and foremost; the rest
follows. It appears that SP would be happy to see every school in the world
teaching his genetic, not to say racial, theory. He is not even deterred by the
fact that the "middleman niche" hypothesis could be of some benefit to other
groups that deservedly occupy that niche (he sites Armenians, Lebanese, and
others as an example) -- for these ethnic minorities, despite their business
acumen, have not acquired the sought intellectual advantage, have not won Nobel
prizes (besides, the Armenians had success in chess), and are no match for the
Jews. The most fascinating factor is that where Jews are concerned, SP
staunchly defends the theory of genetic selection; yet as soon as other
minorities come into the picture, the nature of the advantages involved in occupying
the "middleman niche" immediately becomes ambiguous ("whether they are
biological or cultural"). The pinnacle of scientific consistency -- and of one's
desires. Yet this is not all. Fending off future opponents, SP has the audacity
to write as follows:
"In recent decades,
the standard response to claims of genetic differences has been to deny the
existence of intelligence, to deny the existence of races and other genetic
groupings, and to subject proponents to vilification, censorship, and at times
physical intimidation. Aside from its effects on liberal discourse, the
response is problematic. Reality is what refuses to go away when you do not
believe in it, and progress in neuroscience and genomics has made these
politically comforting shibboleths (such as the non-existence of intelligence
and the non-existence of race) untenable."
So, it is important for SP to defend the general
idea of the genetic nature of intelligence (or Jewish intelligence at least).
And who are the people he is he defending it against? The scientists, most of
whom admit the existence of a biological (possibly inheritable) intellectual
factor while maintaining that biology is probably (this is still a wide open
issue) not the only, and perhaps not even the main factor. After all, if it is
not the only or even the main factor, the hypothesis of innate Jewish advantage
is not even worth discussing. In defending his position, SP employs the typical
reactionary strategy of misrepresenting his opponents' point of view: it seems
that they reject outright the role played by heredity in individual
intelligence. And in order to conceal his deception, he ups the ante: these
awful scientists also deny the existence of races, as well of "other genetic
A worse absurdity is difficult to imagine. The
existence of races is the cornerstone of several sciences at once, including
applied genetics; the existence of genetic groups forms the foundation for
research of specific genetic diseases and many other things. SP is grossly
misrepresenting the factual disappearance over the past centuries, as admitted
by most scientists, of pure races,
whose last remnants are still found in remote and out of the way pockets of the
globe. The latter probably applies to the purity of the Jewish ethnos as well,
but SP is unlikely to accept this.
And the last point: to sweeten his pill at least a
little, SP attempts to convince the reader that genetic studies can yield
The genetics of groups is also an exciting frontier
in the study of history. Many Jews have been thrilled by the discoveries of a
common Y-chromosome among many of today's kohanim (believed to be descendants
of the priestly caste in ancient Judea, who were themselves the descendents of
Aaron), of genetic commonalities between the Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews
traceable to a common ancestry in the Middle East, and of the presence of these
genes in isolated communities in Africa and Asia that retain some Jewish
Regrettably, he lacked the imagination to distance
himself, at least for a minute, from Jewish issues; then again, he sincerely
believes that the entire world concerns itself solely with Jewish issues. What
is more, he is recounting unreliable, as well as mutually inconsistent,
findings of "Jewish genetic studies". He does not say anything specific about
the "non-Jewish" findings of such studies (which is unfortunate -- today all the
theories of man's dispersion on the planet rely on genetic data), confining
himself to the following:
"Studies of the genes of African, American, and
Australian populations could shed light on their prehistory, filling in pages
that are sadly missing from the history of our species, as well as enlightening
curious individuals about their genealogy."
resulting impression is that he is not overly concerned with all this,
particularly since -- whether consciously or not -- he targets exclusively
traditional Jewish readers. This would explain -- but not justify -- his
folkloric flirting with them.
for some thoughts regarding the crux of the issue.
begin with, what is the issue?
it is the same Jewish issue -- which, however, must be wired for sound.
some deliberation, we have decided to avail ourselves of SP's help. As we have
seen, the word "over-representation" features prominently among his other
expressions. In our view, this word is far more appealing than the notorious
"advantage", which has the flaw of being a value-laden term, implying from the
start a very definite racial conclusion. The word "advantage" can and should be
questioned, which is what we have done earlier. On the other hand, the term
"over-representation" is self-evident. In the 20th century (and only then), the
Jews (that's right, those same Ashkenazi Jews, ever-elusive, and what is even
worse, never defined in other than blatantly flawed geographic terms) were
manifestly "over-represented" in most prestigious spheres: business, politics,
journalism, and free professions above all, but also in science and art, and with
no concessions, including the most refined areas. The question is, what can we
say about the mechanism of this phenomenon in and of itself?
holds on to the "advantage", and defends a purely genetic and, as we have seen,
erroneous theory of natural selection, one that contradicts the facts and is
preposterously outdated to boot. Moreover, against all scientific logic he
applies it exclusively to Jews, who come across as supermen as a result, no
matter how you look at it. Yet science does not confer a methodological
monopoly on anyone, Jews included; and the Jews are definitely not the first
people in history to be "over-represented" across the entire intellectual
spectrum. They were preceded by, first of all, ancient Greeks -- who,
incidentally, were not content with intellectual achievements alone, in
addition, or perhaps as a consequence of which, they conquered half the world
and spread their culture from India to the pillars of Hercules. What is equally
instructive, they subsequently lost all they had conquered -- their military
prowess, their intellectual superiority -- having let first their heirs and
later their rivals supplant them in both. What was the mechanism of the Greeks'
rise -- and eventual fall? Was it any different from the Jewish one? Probably
not; but then, this has to be proven. Or take the early Renaissance, the
unquestionable immense explosion of Italian genius. What produced it? Was it
really natural selection? And where did it go afterwards? If we are to believe
SP, someone must have sabotaged the Italian race. Who could it have been?
Even more interesting is the example of the Arabs.
In the 7th century, rather backward, mainly nomadic tribes exploded in a burst
of extraordinary zeal -- political, religious, military and intellectual at
once. For several centuries, they were the guiding light of Western
civilization -- and then, exactly like their predecessor, they lost their zest.
The list of such examples may be continued; we shall do so below.
The multiple occurrence of the "over-representation"
effect points at its natural character, and instills the hope that we can
manage without mysticism and the meaningless ideas it engenders. However, there
is no point in giving up one extreme for another, particularly since they
overlap in this instance. Neither divine nor genetic selection is capable of
providing a coherent explanation for the historical recurrence of the
"over-representation" phenomenon. Therefore we must look for another
explanation, free from ideological bias and true to facts, straddling the
boundary between biology and sociology.
In our opinion, a careful examination of the
phenomenology of the Jewish intellectual explosion allows us to determine -- at
least roughly -- its mechanism. In all likelihood, this mechanism also accounts
for earlier similar phenomena, including the vivid instance of the Greeks.
However, we will refrain from detours into ancient history, if only because we
would then have to rest our conclusions on a rather shaky factual foundation .
should point out yet another factor: the discussion that follows may be also
applied in exploring other, broader evolutionary questions. After some
hesitation, we decided to leave them aside, focusing exclusively on one
phenomenon: the Jewish intellectual ascent of the modern age (with minimal
asides whenever necessary).
(with the exception of confirmed theists, and we are not about to enter into a
debate with them) knows beyond doubt that man is a multi-level biological
machine, so that our traits, including intellectual qualities, are ultimately
determined by biological contents and mechanism. So far, the well-fortified
biological citadels cannot be taken by frontal assault; biological mechanisms,
particularly those as complex as human intellect, do not give themselves up to
direct analysis. Thus we should concentrate not so much on the biology of
intellect in its pure form as on the phenomenology of group intellectual
dynamics, which sheds a bright light on a hitherto totally unexplored
we get down to business, a short digression is in order.
believe that one of the most impressive examples of obtaining a brilliant
objective result from virtually nothing, by means of an elegant argument
structured as a phenomenological approach to the problem, is Leonard Eiler's
formulation of the so-called equation of thermal conductivity. A lecture on
this subject (one of the introductory lectures for a course in the equations of
mathematical physics) which we had heard many years before was forever etched
in our memory. We were deeply moved when it turned out that our admiration for
Eiler's wonderful argument was shared by many outstanding scientists and
thinkers. Though we do not aim to be compared to Eiler, we intend to use an
approach somewhat similar to his, without striving for mathematical precision,
but doing all we can not to violate the laws of logic.
examining the Jewish intellectual explosion (JIE) of the modern age, the
following facts draw attention to themselves:
The JIE unfolded on a mass scale, i.e. some type of transformation that had a
biological component at least, affected many people.
The JEI was rapid and dramatic. Essentially, it had an impact on a distinctly
defined generation in each geographic area, and was passed down for at least
several generations. Hypothetically, this resembles a virus striking in
different places and at different times, but not a genetic mechanism. Had the
cause of the JIE really been genetic selection, its effects would have probably
manifested themselves gradually; in other words, the Jews would have grown more
intelligent from one generation to the next. In all likelihood, the proverbial
giraffe from classical evolutionary blueprints also lengthened its neck
gradually -- it could hardly have stretched instantly to a three meter length
while consisting of the same seven vertebrae. Our case is nothing like that:
the intellectual awakening of the multi-millions of European Jewry was
spatially non-synchronous, but on the temporal, historical, let alone
biological scale it was instantaneous.
- Most importantly, in every case without exception the JIE followed immediately
in the wake of a violent social and cultural upheaval. It took the form of
individual (true, it was almost always part of a collective, but we are about
biological transformation which must ultimately come down to the individual)
rejection of the traditional Jewish lifestyle, traditional education and
culture, which were invariably replaced by a European lifestyle and education.
This is no laughing matter; it is more like a sort of initiation, a death and a
rebirth. It is no accident that in traditional families children who renounced
the old tribal way of life, sometimes only starting to speak another language
and wear European clothes, were mourned as if they were dead, and
excommunicated from their society as from the world of the living. A more
detailed analysis of this matter indicates that the real trigger for the JIE
was not emancipation or prosperity as such. It was the deliberate renunciation
of the old life and the tragic rejection of the past with its absolute
standards that injected a huge dose of adrenaline into Jewish veins, causing
intellectual and social hyperactivity. This is probably a good time to
introduce a key word into our lexicon: motivation. It should be noted that this
word has a synonym intended for similar usage: passion.
The most dramatic example of the JIE took place not in Germany (with its
geniuses, both Aryan and Jewish), where history spread it over a span of
several decades (the mid 19th -- early 20th centuries), but in Russia, where
Jews were subjected to government sanctioned discrimination up until the
revolution of 1917. The universal emancipation ushered in by the Soviet regime
differed in its nature from that in Europe. In Europe the Jews were granted
civil rights, yet the governments made no attempts to destroy the traditional
Jewish communities, which were disintegrating on their own; furthermore, in
Europe civil rights were usually introduced in a gradual fashion. In
consequence, the mass influx of Jews into hitherto closed or inaccessible
fields in Western Europe took a long time and proceeded for several
generations. In Russia everything that had happened in this regard before the
revolution was child's play compared to the events that unfolded during the
early years of the Soviet regime, which deliberately destroyed Jewish communal
life. The very first generation of Jews, not born but merely raised under the
Soviet regime, produced untold numbers of scientists, writers, musicians, as
well as engineers and functionaries of the new regime, and agents of its
apparatus. Soviet Russia, having launched the JIE, became extraordinarily
Jewish in the space of ten or fifteen years. Moreover, if in the beginning it
possessed only relatively few Jews assimilated under the old regime, within a
mere decade or two it gave rise to huge numbers of enthusiastically educated
Jews, including scores of young geniuses who had uniformly shed their
traditional past. In our opinion, this was the only success accomplished by the
Soviet regime in its vigorously pursued and loudly proclaimed policy of
creating a new man; there is no doubt that they had managed to create a new
- It should be noted that even in our time zealous motivation, including the
Jewish kind, does not have to be exclusively intellectual or even social. Thus,
the unquestionably zealous Israel totally lacks the excessive intellectual
motivation, at least on the Ashkenazi scale, that we have seen in Europe and
the United States. If the Jews (even if only Ashkenazi Jews -- although why?)
truly had a genetic intellectual advantage, Israel would be a land overflowing
with genius, and that is certainly not the case. On the other hand, Israeli Jews,
who are still at odds with their tribal tradition, exhibit a fair amount of
zeal to this day. This is evidenced, among other things, by their remarkable
business activity, particularly in the field of innovation. Furthermore, as we
know, recently Israel has experienced an extraordinary upsurge of military
zeal, enabling it to repulse its converging neighbors and make certain
territorial acquisitions. The relative normalization of the regional atmosphere
has made the fiery Spartan saber-rattling not only inappropriate but downright
of this is more than relevant for a discussion of the nature of human
intellect, and of Jewish intellect in particular. Of course, this would be a
good time to define it, as least roughly. Without delving too deeply into this
issue, let us tentatively define intellect
as the readiness and ability to raise and solve a certain broad range of issues
-- scientific, artistic, social, and so on. From here on, we will regard the
degree of this readiness and ability as the level of intellect. It would be
quite easy to make this definition more elegant and precise, but in this case
it will not be necessary.
is an abundance of data showing that human potential, both physical and
intellectual, is tremendous and far in excess of the level actually reached by
most of us. Plenty of examples illustrate this fact. There are recorded cases
of people who, in order to escape mortal danger, make impossible jumps, climb
sheer cliffs or demonstrate incredible strength enabling them to break chains,
crush rocks, and strangle wild animals. Similarly, there is hardly an
intellectual who has not performed at least one small scientific feat in his
lifetime, solving a problem in extreme conditions that would have ordinarily
been beyond his powers. Moreover, the outstanding results obtained by teachers
using extraordinary teaching methods on ordinary students speak for themselves:
it is possible to unlock the intellectual potential dormant in virtually
everyone. In other words, practically every child has the capacity to become,
if not a genius, at least a competent physician, linguist or lawyer. The
educational system, social environment, family standards and other elements
have the power to squash or, on the contrary, stimulate the intellectual (as
well as physical) capacity of the overwhelming majority of people. The
important point is this: our biological shell conceals a far greater
intellectual potential than we usually manage to fulfill.
on this, it would be reasonable to raise the question of the biological and
other natures of the intellectual level actually achieved by a person, rather
than of his potential intellect as such; the latter is probably much more
extensive than is commonly believed. This being the case, the most instructive
aspect of this matter concerns the possible ways of breaking the fetters that
hamper intellectual development. In this regard, social factors are far more
potent than genetic ones.
collective instances of intellectual and other explosions, like the recent
Jewish one, are related to unconventional changes in the lifestyles of the
groups in question, to unexpected challenges they have to face, and to other
momentous circumstances that produce and propagate psychological stimuli
enabling the members of these groups to fulfill their potential to a higher
degree than usual. What actually happened to the Greeks and the Tuscans is a
matter for conjecture only. We have some theories on this issue, but they will
have to wait for more opportune times. We will also resist the powerful
temptation to analyze the thought-provoking Arab intellectual explosion -- this
would take us too far. A somewhat more transparent example we have not yet
mentioned is that of Genghis Khan, who transformed a small Mongolian tribe, one
among similar nomadic neighbors, into a formidable war machine. The Mongols,
without a doubt, became the best soldiers and generals of all times, conquering
enormous areas between the Pacific Ocean and the Adriatic Sea within several
decades (during the lifespan of two or three generations, depending on how one
calculates it). The awakening of Mongol military genius, inseparable from the
unprecedented motivation that engendered it, was, just like in the case of
Jews, related to the radical disintegration of the traditional way of life,
although it was probably not the only contributing factor.
Jewish example is even more explicit.
centuries the tribal Jewish unit lived in conformance with the medieval
paradigm, i.e. as an ideal insular society with a totalitarian structure. Each
Jew was brainwashed into believing that he belonged to a chosen race (it is
easy to show that this was a race, and not a religious community) which is the
be-all and end-all of history. He was told that only Jews are fully human, that
they live in the midst of inferior sub-humans out to devour them; finally, that
all of human and divine wisdom is contained in traditional Jewish teachings.
The collapse of this concept, the mass abandonment of the Jewish ghetto, the
break with tradition, the replacement of medieval Jewish scholasticism with
European education and a contemporary worldview, complete with the modern
system of intellectual priorities -- all of this gave rise (why and how is a
different question that belongs to the field of collective psychology) to a
wave of unprecedented, passionate collective ambition. This ambition was
personified by the European (as well as American, naturally) Jew we all know so
well, who finally fulfilled (just like the Greeks, the Tuscans, the Romans, the
Arabs and the Mongols before him) his ambitious talents driven exclusively by
be sure, we cannot interpret the Jewish example in a way that is too
mechanical. Not every breakup of collective tradition leads to a zealous
explosion; on the contrary, it frequently brings about collective depression.
Furthermore, we have already seen that such explosions do not necessarily
result in intellectual motivation -- there are other alternatives. Nevertheless,
human history contains quite a few examples of this kind. The Jewish example is
not only one of the most dramatic (second only, we believe, to that of ancient
Greeks), it is also recent and fresh, all but unfolding in front of our very
eyes -- it is still incomplete, in fact, and thus so impressive.
should be kept in mind that the JIE, like any zealous explosion, has limits and
boundaries, temporal ones above all. To begin with, it can only endure for a
limited time, and even then with some difficulty. The Mongols retained their
military prowess for about two centuries, the Romans slightly longer; the Jews,
in our opinion, have only a few generations at their disposal. In fact, the
inheritable nature of zealous qualities is rather peculiar. Even if we
unconditionally accept that a Jew breaking out of the ghetto becomes inflamed
with ambitious ideas, how would they make their way to his son, let alone his
grandson or great-grandson? Sadly, the break with one's social roots is not
instantaneous; on the contrary, it lasts for decades at the very least, as long
as the parents and brothers back in the ghetto survive, as long as the past
life and stories about it are still alive, as long as the ghetto continues to
exert a direct or indirect pull on the fugitive and his offspring. We have
clearly seen, for example, that SP has not broken his ties to the ghetto, and
that it continues to affect him. Many Jews, in a sense, were returned to the
ghetto by the Holocaust, which reminded them of the allegedly irrational nature
of being Jewish. In short, like almost any other phenomenon, zealousness is
inert and coexistent with time.
On the other hand, it is not infinite. There is ample
data indicating that at present, the Jews are gradually losing their
hysterical, gleeful ambition, primarily of the intellectual kind, becoming the
aristocracy of the Western world. It appears that they are more interested in
preserving their won social positions than in paving new roads; and finally,
that new ambition-driven people, mostly of Asian descent, are beginning to
appear. Naturally, this process is far from complete. We are pleased to see
considerable number of relatively young Jews rightfully winning Nobel prizes,
earning millions and solving complex mathematical problems. Nevertheless, the
present generation of Jews and their accomplishments are a far cry from the
generation of Einstein, Kafka, Lasker, Trotsky, Shenberg and Ben-Gurion. No
wonder: the memories of medieval ghetto (sadly, not the ghetto itself;
fortunately, today's Mea Shearim has no sentimental attraction for most of the
world's Jews) will soon be gone. A Jewish child born in a fashionable area of
New York, Boston or Tel Aviv is unlikely to grow up eager to prove to the world
that it will perish without him. Finally, the existence of Israel, with all its
virtues and shortcomings, is a clear sign that modern Jews are no different
from all the other nations, and that there is nothing remarkable about their
qualities. Normality is the cost of success, if not its prerequisite. Only now
can we say with confidence that Jewish emancipation is completed, at least in
regard to Ashkenazi Jews in the form they have taken over the recent decades.
As long as the Jews remained zealous intellectuals, businessmen and
politicians, they could still be credited with the ontological traits of a
collective superman. The end of zealous ambition spells the final break with
ghetto theories, as well as with the Jew depicted by Jewish theology and the
hostile environment. It is also the end (or at least the beginning of the end)
of the phenomenon that SP alternately calls "advantage" and
"over-representation". Until now we have preferred the second term. Now, given
the reality of desegregation emptied of intellectual zeal that we have
described, we no longer care one way or another.
 The New
Republic Online, "The Lessons of the Ashkenazim: Groups and Genes", by Steven
Parker. Post date: 06.17.06. Issue date: 06.26.06.
Cochran, Jason Hardy and Henry Harpending, "Natural History of Ashkenazi
Intelligence", Journal of Biosocial
Science, 2005. This work was subsequently reprinted (not always in its
entirety) in such popular publications as The
New York Times and The Economist.
SP refers to this work as an article (or a study) by CH&H. We, too, will
use this abbreviation.
 A number of
Far Eastern nations, such as the Japanese and the Chinese, hold a similarly
deep conviction of their chosen status, which also implies genetic superiority.
Nevertheless, we have not come across any studies designed to verify this
tradition. What is more, to the best of our knowledge neither nation has made
an attempt to link its supposed superiority to achievements in one empirical field
or another, let alone prove it in genetic terms. Yet they both have a lot to
boast about; they have the traditions and the chromosomes -- why not give it a
 Alas, in the
Jewish world "Schwartze kop" and
other similar expressions are far from uncommon. Racism? Absolutely.
deliberately use the term "Sephardi" rather than "Oriental Jews", for the
latter is essentially a somewhat broader concept, encompassing a number of
other groups (the Jews from India and China, the Mountain Jews, etc.), whom we
have no intention of discussing at present.
 Although not
to the all-encompassing degree that is essential for the genetic hypothesis of
SP and CH&H to have any validity.
 To be sure,
this does not mean a precise span between two round dates; then again, the
question of the exact beginning and end of the 20th century has been raised
repeatedly and in various contexts -- it is not for us to settle it.
virtually the same sentiment is justifiably expressed regarding the Moslems.
 For example,
during the first half of the 19th century poets like Heine, as well as
phenomenal musicians like Mendelsohn, Meyerbeer and Bizet materialized out of
 Such as the
Rubinstein brothers in music.
invites comparison between Einstein and Bohr, Kafka and Proust, Mahler and
Schoenberg, and so on.
for discovering one of them, American biologists Andrew Z. Fire and Craig Mello
were awarded a Noble prize in October of 2006.
 Come to
think of it, we should begin with earlier times. Countless Roman emperors were
childless, and were forced to adopt their heirs.
 It is far
from clear whether a serious discussion of this issue is even possible at this
stage. It may very well be too much for modern science to handle at this point
 We cannot
discuss Greek genius without wandering back at least to the 8th centuries BCE.
Yet we know too little about pre-classical Greece, and would have to gather the
required information piecemeal. If someone well acquainted with the relevant
historical issues volunteers to come to our aid, we will gladly join him.