The Secrets of Jewish Genius

It’s about thinking different.

By Bret Stephens

Opinion Columnist  

Editors’ Note:

An earlier version of this Bret Stephens column quoted statistics from a 2005 paper that advanced a genetic hypothesis for the basis of intelligence among Ashkenazi Jews. After publication Mr. Stephens and his editors learned that one of the paper’s authors, who died in 2016, promoted racist views. Mr. Stephens was not endorsing the study or its authors’ views, but it was a mistake to cite it uncritically. The effect was to leave an impression with many readers that Mr. Stephens was arguing that Jews are genetically superior. That was not his intent. He went on instead to argue that culture and history are crucial factors in Jewish achievements and that, as he put it, “At its best, the West can honor the principle of racial, religious and ethnic pluralism not as a grudging accommodation to strangers but as an affirmation of its own diverse identity. In that sense, what makes Jews special is that they aren’t. They are representational.” We have removed reference to the study from the column.

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Bret- Stephens

An eminent Lithuanian rabbi is annoyed that his yeshiva students devote their lunch breaks to playing soccer instead of discussing Torah. The students, intent on convincing their rav of the game’s beauty, invite him to watch a professional match.
At halftime, they ask what he thinks.

“I have solved your problem,” the rabbi says.


“Give one ball to each side, and they will have nothing to fight over.”

I have this (apocryphal) anecdote from Norman Lebrecht’s book, “Genius & Anxiety,” an erudite and delightful study of the intellectual achievements and nerve-wracked lives of Jewish thinkers, artists, and entrepreneurs between 1847 and 1947.  Sarah Bernhardt and Franz Kafka; Albert Einstein and Rosalind Franklin; Benjamin Disraeli and (sigh) Karl Marx — how is it that a people who never amounted even to one-third of 1 percent of the world’s population contributed so seminally to so many of its most pathbreaking ideas and innovations?

The common answer is that Jews are, or tend to be, smart. But the “Jews are smart” explanation obscures more than it illuminates. Aside from perennial nature-or-nurture questions, there is the more difficult question of why that intelligence was so often matched by such bracing originality and high-minded purpose. One can apply a prodigious intellect in the service of prosaic things — formulating a war plan, for instance, or constructing a ship. One can also apply brilliance in the service of a mistake or a crime, like managing a planned economy or robbing a bank.

But as the story of the Lithuanian rabbi suggests, Jewish genius operates differently. It is prone to question the premise and rethink the concept; to ask why (or why not?) as often as how; to see the absurd in the mundane and the sublime in the absurd. Where Jews’ advantage more often lies is in thinking different.

Where do these habits of mind come from?

There is a religious tradition that, unlike some others, asks the believer not only to observe and obey but also to discuss and disagree. There is the never-quite-comfortable status of Jews in places where they are the minority — intimately familiar with the customs of the country while maintaining a critical distance from them. There is a moral belief, “incarnate in the Jewish people” according to Einstein, that “the life of the individual only has value [insofar] as it aids in making the life of every living thing nobler and more beautiful.”

And there is the understanding, born of repeated exile, that everything that seems solid and valuable is ultimately perishable, while everything that is intangible — knowledge most of all — is potentially everlasting.

“We had been well off, but that was all we got out,” the late financier Felix Rohatyn recalled of his narrow escape, with a few hidden gold coins, from the Nazis as a child in World War II. “Ever since, I’ve had the feeling that the only permanent wealth is what you carry around in your head.” If the greatest Jewish minds seem to have no walls, it may be because, for Jews, the walls have so often come tumbling down.

These explanations for Jewish brilliance aren’t necessarily definitive. Nor are they exclusive to the Jews.

At its best, the American university can still be a place of relentless intellectual challenge rather than ideological conformity and social groupthink. At its best, the United States can still be the country that respects, and sometimes rewards, all manner of heresies that outrage polite society and contradict established belief. At its best, the West can honor the principle of racial, religious and ethnic pluralism not as a grudging accommodation to strangers but as an affirmation of its own diverse identity. In that sense, what makes Jews special is that they aren’t. They are representational.

The West, however, is not at its best. It’s no surprise that Jew hatred has made a comeback, albeit under new guises. Anti-Zionism has taken the place of anti-Semitism as a political program directed against Jews. Globalists have taken the place of rootless cosmopolitans as the shadowy agents of economic iniquity. Jews have been murdered by white nationalists and black “Hebrews.” Hate crimes against Orthodox Jews have become an almost daily fact of life in New York City.

Jews of the late 19th century would have been familiar with the hatreds. Jews of the early 21st century should recognize where they could lead. What’s not secret about Jewish genius is that it’s a terribly fragile flower.

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My Turn

by Will Wainwright

Will Wainwright

To begin, I have no argument with Bret Stephens. I would however like to substitute his use of the word smart to, aspiring or enterprising and even determined. And from my world of numbers I would like to add one number to Mr. Stephens hypothesis, 6%, thats the number of Jews in the country. Those living in NY or Hollywood, no doubt would think that is way too low.

I’ll overlook the old cliché, “Some of my best friends” etc etc. Instead, I’d like to profess my fondness for a few Jewish media hosts; Dennis Prager, Mark Levin and especially the late Charles Krauthammer.

Since my comments on Jewish Genius will be political in nature I’ll over looked other favorite Jewish gentlemen I love and respect such as Neils Bohr and Albert Einstein, Irving Berlin and George Gershwin to name a few. Politically, it would have to be Benjamin Netanyahu. As for todays contemporary Jewish comedians and actors, I’d have to put them on a lesser plain. 

Yes, I concur Jews do excel in all pursuits. Some would say where money is to be made like finance, law and medicine. I would counter, what about physicists?  Not a hell of a lot of money there, even with a Nobel prize.

Outside of science and medicine, there is one area in particular where Jews excel that is out of proportion to their 6% numbers. And that effects us all. That is in the print and electronic media. The bulk are politically “Progressive” and bordering on Communist. Just take a look at the columnists names in the New York Times. Herds of them are woven throughout our government’s bureaucracy too, as witnessed by the numerous attacks on Trump during his administration. 

Unfortunately this is an area where their zest for achievement has a way to destroy goodness. As a favorite Jewish commentator of mine likes to say, “The Left ruins ever thing it touches from the Boy Scouts to literature and the arts”. Most of the destruction comes at the hands of organizations such as the ACLU and SPLC whose Jewish members far far exceed 6%. Do you remember William Kunstler the disheveled hippy’s lawyer. That is the era our country began to go down hill starting with  two Supreme court decisions back in the sixties. The Miranda decision and Engel v. Vitale forbidding (even a generic) prayer in Schools. These cases were brought by the largely progressively Jewish, ACLU. Do you remember Jerry Rubin & Abbie Hoffman, Gloria Steinem & Betty Friedan? 

In prewar politics you find Jewish excellence going back to Carl Marx, and “the Jews that Dreamed of Utopia". In the aforementioned Times article it says “Most Jews, of course, were not revolutionaries. But Jews did make up a disproportionate percentage of leftist utopians…. In the early days of the Soviet Union, Jews not only held top political positions but also occupied central positions in the artistic avant-garde.”   Sound familiar? 

But we will overlook Hollywood in this conversation.

Herbert Marcuse

Take Herbert Marcuse. What you never heard of him? He’s a Jew who brought us to the “Identity Socialism”of today.  That is  Identity Politics, Cancel Culture, Wokeness and PC  of today all  in one. It is  best explained in the short VIDEO HERE.

Today in their quest for excellence, whatever they do, secular Jews do Socialism best. In Government, in the Press, in Hollywood. I’ve separated todays modern secular Jew from the conservative and orthodox sects of Jewry who still read their bible which is part of mine and they still teach and try to maintain the morality taught within. They more likely than not, send their children to Yeshiva. No better example of the seperation between secular and religious Jews can be found in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, 'Ron DeSantis Is Persona Non Grata at a Holocaust Memorial'.

Karl Marx, the descendant of rabbis who would call religion the “opiate of the masses.” — “Comrade. Jew. We Only Wanted Paradise on Earth” — sets the tone for an extensive overview of the dreams and nightmares of communism and international socialism, as seen through the lives and work of Jewish politicians, philosophers and artists: not just Marx, but also Leon Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, El Lissitzky, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Morton Sobell, David Greenglass, Oscar Seborer, Jonathan Pollard, Saul Alinsky and many others including todays secular Jewish politicians.

Currently we have behind the scene, a secular Jew running the country, pulling the strings of our fraudulently elected and mentally disabled President. Next time you see "The White House says..."think Ron Klain.

Some familiar Jewish Faces in Government