Jewish People

Jewish1Scarlett Johansson: Jewish entertainer

I love this response on Quora, so much so that I have added it to my blog.

Do Jews think they are superior to other ethnic/religious groups in the world?

Response by Marc Ettlinger, a yiddishe boychi

It’s certainly undeniable that Jews have reached incredible heights of achievement in science (Einstein, Feynman, Bohr, Salk, Sagan, Lise Meitner), social science (Freud, Marx, Chomsky, Boas, Levi-Strauss, Proust), technology (Google, Intel, half of Microsoft, Dell, Oracle, Facebook, von Neumann, Erdös, Kurzweil), business (Bloomberg, Soros, Fridman, Rothschilds), the arts (Chagal, Kafka, Roth, Modigliani, Rivera & Kahlo, Rothko, Dylan, Shoenberg, Gershwin), politics (Kissinger, Albright, Disraeli, Goldwater, Emma Goldman, Trotsky&Lenin, Jesus, Brandeis, Ayn Rand) and entertainment (from Groucho Marx and the founders of MGM to Mila Kunis, Scarlet Johanson and Natalie Portman – it’d be easier to list the entertainers that aren’t Jewish). Heck, even the joked about Famous Jewish Sports Heroes pamphlet is filled with luminaries like Mark Spitz, Koufax, Sid Luckman, Aly Raisman and Hank Greenberg; I once even calculated that the number of Jews in baseball (Braun, Youkilis, etc) was actually appropriately proportional to its population.


Krugman: Jewish economist

To throw some numbers behind it, Jews make up between 20-30% of Nobel prize winners in all science categories as well as Fields medal and AM Turing award winners. Economics Nobel winners are 36% Jewish, Pulitzers clock in at about 10-20% Jewish, except for Non-Fiction where fully half of all winners are Jewish. 37% of Oscar Winning Directors, 19% of Time Magazine’s 100 Greatest of the 20th Century, 21% of enrollment in the Ivy leagues and 11% of US Senators are Jews. And the cherry and perhaps the most dominant achievement, for 66 years out of its 122 year history, a Jew has been World Chess Champion (Influential Jews in History Jewish Popular History Jewish Population).

All in all, not a bad track record of achievement for a group that makes up about 0.2% of the world’s population.

To sum up, I’ll hand it over to Mark Twain:

“…If statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of  lost in the blaze of the Milky way. Properly, the Jew ought  hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of   his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and had done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it.”

All this, while Jews faced crippling antisemitism for hundreds of years in the US, particularly in the early part of this century (e.g., Harvard’s Jewish Problem). And they still do: Anti-Semitism: Do American Jews experience anti-Semitism ever?(Sorry, but Jew down is not a compliment even if you mean it to refer to Jew’s supposed superior business sense).

In fact, worldwide and throughout history, Jews have been pushed out, killed, converted, chased, banned, robbed from and scapegoated in pretty much every place we’ve lived. From the Roman conquest of Cana’an, the Spanish Inquisition, Christian blood libels, American KKK lynchings, Russian pogroms, 19th c. Muslim forced conversions, and oh yeah, the Holocaust, where fully 1/3 of the entire Jewish population was wiped of the face of the earth from levels it still has not recovered to, it’s been a tough go of it for the past 2000 years or so (Jewish Persecution | Timeline of Judaism | History of AntiSemitism).


Screenshot from Fiddler on the Roof, directed by Norman Jewison who, irony of ironies, is not Jewish.

Tevye put is best when he said, I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?

But, as Lisa Liel notes, in some ways we’re superior and in some ways we’re inferior. For example, I think you’ll find that many American Jews are attracted to Buddhism (Jewish Buddhist, or JuBus, e.g., Robert Downey Jr. and Alan Ginsburg) because of the things Buddhism has that Judaism or some Jews may lack. Let me reiterate so there’s no ambiguity: We’re incredibly successful in some ways, but not in others. And success does not equal superiority.

Howeverhaving said that (…) if you look across all the successes and the challenges, if there’s one thing that the crucible of history has ingrained in the Jewish people, if there’s one commonality across the highs and lows of Jewish history, if there’s one way in which Jews are indeed at least above average, it’s in their persistence and perseverance.


This is indeed impressive. But there is another story yet to be told of another tradition that is considered decimated… It is a cousin to Jewish people and it is coming back.

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