Why Are Jews So Smart?

And does it really matter?

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Comments (23)

(23) Knox Fitzpatrick, August 13, 2012 7:51 PM

An excellent response.

Rabbi Salomon hits the nail on the head. Many excellent jewish writers seem to have to comment on what a bad deal Jews get, (See Stephen Greenblatt on the Merchant of Venice in Will in the world.) This is one of the best books I've read on Shakespeare, Greenblatt has to throw in Shakespeare's dig at Jews. Let's face it, Jews are generally VERY intelligent, and have nthing to apologise for in my opinion

(22) to allen, June 25, 2008 10:06 AM

pushed around

not any more
sience the birth of israel jewish people have a place to call home
and they are not "pushed around" ever since.
happy birthday israel! may you live forever.

(21) Allen, March 7, 2008 12:03 PM


Education is important for Jews. Seems like culture to me.Jewish people have been
pushed around for a very long time.

(20) Chavi Hornig, November 21, 2007 11:15 PM

What really matters

Intelligence, as well as all other talents, are gifts bestowed by G-d. As such, there is no credit due the recipient. These gifts are not the result of any accomplishment on the part of the recipient.
However, these gifts also have another name-- potential. These gifts carry the responsibility to make every effort to actualize the potential inherent in every talent and ability that's been granted.
One may be justifiably proud of one's efforts (with or without accomplishment) in that direction. A person who constantly strives to actualize his G-d-given potential in every situation is certainly deserving of respect by all.

(19) Anonymous, November 21, 2007 6:03 PM


What a great Video.
Thank you

(18) Chaya, November 21, 2007 2:41 PM

To Phil

Okay. I guess we both agree. I misunderstood R' Salomon. I think I was commenting more on the gestalt of what he said rather than analyzing every word, every line. I'm more of a chachma person than a bina person. But to be having a conversation like this is so Jewish. That's why I love Jews.

(17) Anonymous, November 21, 2007 12:06 PM

comments to Orthodox world

in my opinion the author makes a valid point. "Here are some things you can expect from people in the top 5% of the curve (IQ of 125+): low rate of unemployment, low rate of divorce, low rate of child-birth out of wedlock, low rate of poverty, low rate of incarceration, low rate of reliance on welfare, low rate of dropping out of high school. However, "IQ does not correlate with subjective self-reports of happiness." So if any of you philosophers out there want to argue that happiness is the end-all measure of life, then IQ is thoroughly insignificant."
does seem to be true is that in the orthodox yeshiva world[where happiness is not the end-all measure of life]a young man's worth as a future husband seems to be primarily determined by his ability to master Talmud. You can praise his character all you want but a poor student is going to have to have great inner strength to maintain healthy self esteem. Rabbi Wein wrote about this a few years ago and if things have changed in the yeshiva world I'm unaware.

(16) Phil, November 21, 2007 8:19 AM

To Chaya

You quoted R' Salomon more accurately than I did, but I still think you misunderstood him. His "why does it matter at all, who really cares?" applies *only* to the "it's not how much brains we have, *not* to the "it's what we do with them" part.

(15) Kenny (Chaim), November 21, 2007 5:58 AM

It's all about education

Years ago a non-Jewish co-worker commented about Jews being smarter than other people. My response was that we are not smarter. It is simply the fact that there is no such thing as an illiterate Jew. Our strong belief in eduacation for all is what has seperated us from so many other cultures throughout our history. Illiteracy has been used as a tool for controling people. Education is our #1 priority whereas some people still do not give it that same level of importance we give to our children from the moment they are born.
We are not just the people of the Book, but of BOOKS.

(14) Chaya, November 21, 2007 2:43 AM

To Phil

This is what he said and I quote:

"It's not how much brains you have it's what do you do with them. But a more important question is why does it matter at all? Who really cares?"

Well, apparently G-d cares. And, apparently, we care -- all of us, that is, except for Yaakov Salomon. What matters to him is honesty. Well...

(13) Anonymous, November 21, 2007 12:06 AM

To Anonymous 11/19

What makes you think that rabbis "probably" embezzle tzedaka money? Plenty of things are publicized about rabbis, but the worst of them don't come close to the least awful things publicized about priests. And I'm sure that many people are just as eager to pounce on rabbis' failings as on priests', if not more so. If they would have the slightest reason to suggest that a rabbi embezzled charity funds, they would shout it from the rooftops. In fact, whenever a Jew with a beard does something improper, he is instantly crowned "Rabbi" by the Orthodox-hating media. No need to go to yeshiva, learn torah, get semicha (ordination); just do something wrong and presto - you're a rabbi!

(12) Phil, November 20, 2007 7:53 PM

Of course it matters, sort of.

Chaya writes: "But to say intelligence doesn't really matter, I think, is not showing proper hakaras hatov to the Abeshter."

I agree, and I think R' Salomon would, too, which is why he framed the issue not as "intelligence doesn't matter," but "who is *more* intelligent doesn't matter."

(11) Joey, November 20, 2007 4:02 PM

I agree

God gives different people different characteristics---some people are smarter, some are more physically attractive, some are more disposed to kindness, etc. This is does not make one person better than another. What really matters is how you use what you are given. Intelligence itself is amoral---it can be used for good (invent a cure for cancer), or evil (invent a death chamber at Auschwitz). One should use whatever traits they have for good and try to work on the traits they don't have as much, but ultimately everyone is God's child. May He bless you all. :-)

(10) David Chagall, November 20, 2007 3:57 PM

The truth alwaus matters

It's a form of Jewish self-deprecation to avoid facing the truth of Jewish intelligence. For the record, the world Islamic population is about 1.2 billion souls, 20% of the planet's population. Muslims have won a total of 7 Nobel Prizes in all categories. The world Jewish population is about 14 million souls, which amounts to 0.02% of the world's populations. Between 1901 and 2007, more than 750 Nobel Prizes were handed out. Jews have won 162 Nobel Prizes, most of them in Science and Medicine. Jews have won 22% of all Nobel Prizes while being just 0.02% of the world's people. These are the facts, not for Jews to gloat over but to marvel how God has blessed His Jewish people throughout history, sustaining them through all kinds of troubles and persecutions. To not marvel over that is to belittle the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

(9) Karl Kaplan, November 20, 2007 3:49 PM

The failures of Israeli leadership proves how smart we are NOT

1) Turning over control 0f OUR Temple Mount to Arab control after 1967
2) Removing all Jews from Gaza BEFORE
providing where they where to be resettled

(8) Bill in Pittsburgh, November 20, 2007 2:30 PM

Go forth and multiply

I heard an interesting theory receintly and want to toss it out for discussion. I take no sides.

From the time of the first exile when a Jew showed some intellegence he was sent to the yeshive to study. As a "good" Jew he would eventually get married and follow the commandmant to go forth and multiply. To whom would he marry? An intellegent woman who would challenge him inellectually. This would would perpetuated a high level of intellegence among the Jewish people.

If you were a smart Christian you also went into the clergy. To keep you from massin too much wealth and challengin the pope or king you were forbidden to marry and pass on your "intellegent" gene.

This is one theory on why Jews have a larger proportion Nobel and other accolades compaired to their population than other European groups.

Again, just a theory and not even mine. What do you think?

(7) BEN, November 20, 2007 11:43 AM


The video is nice PR but I feel the issue was dodged rather than addressed.
The question assumes that Jews are smarter. A response should emphasize this and deny the assumption i.e. "Not only Jews are so smart."
The accusation is resolved by admittimg that non Jews are smart.
Direct them to a specific area, "Plenty of people earned Nobel prizes."
If they press why do Jews earn disproportionate Nobel prizes then one may answer, "Apparently less non Jews try to earn Nobel prizes."
To say the question is hurtful is a mistake.

(6) Ruth Housman, November 20, 2007 9:35 AM

what smarts!

To smart about something means OW, it hurts! I think, the question itself is hurtful and totally irrelevant, so I do agree totally with this commentary. It's not possible to say that being Jewish or being anything is being "smarter". The question is non sensical. Within all populations there are people who seem intellectually endowed and those who aren't. It's a mixed bag, folks! On the other hand, the smarts referred to are available to everyone, irrespective of intellectual prowess, perhaps being smart means knowing how to be a real person, in kindness towards each other, in gratitude for being alive, for all those things that constitute what we call, being a mensch. So I totally agree! I do think the quality of humility doesn't get enough play and anyone who thinks they are smart and parades this, needs a good does of humble. We should all be on our knees before this greater mystery, that is, life.

(5) Rivkah, November 20, 2007 8:59 AM

Rabbi Salomon makes a good point.

Rabbi Salomen makes a very good point here, what do we do with WHATEVER G-d has gifted us with

(4) Chaya, November 20, 2007 8:21 AM

Of course it matters.

There's a chassidishe saying that goes something like this: Only kind is a fool and only smart is a thief. Of course intelligence must be tempered with other midos but to shrug it off, I think, is disingenuous. And I also think that to say that it depends on what a person does with that intelligence is also untrue. Sometimes an intelligent person will seemingly not contribute anything of world-changing value to society but must use that intelligence in order to navigate his or hers life predicaments. I would also say that I think the Jewish peoples' intelligence comes from thousands of years of Torah study that translates into a distinct form of logic and even humor. But to say intelligence doesn't really matter, I think, is not showing proper hakaras hatov to the Abeshter.

(3) Yoni C, November 19, 2007 10:38 PM

What exactly do you mean by "Does It Matter?"

G-d comes to Shlomo Hamelech in his dream and says that he will grant him anything his heart desires. He does not choose wealth or happiness. He chooses wisdom. You can argue the case that Shlomo Hamelech was the smartest man that has ever stepped foot on Earth. And we will definitely never come close to the intelligence of Shlomo Hamelech but there's a reason that we ask G-d 3 times a day in the shemona esreh, to grant us wisdom, understanding, and intelligence.

The smarter a person the more he or she has to offer to the world. Those that pursue medical degrees and PhD's have an opportunity to greatly impact the world. Of course you can make a difference no matter who you are, but in reality you cant deny that smarter people are *USUALLY* the ones for lack of a better term, on top. You cant be a *COMPETENT* rav if your like the next Joe on the street. Besides for being a G-d fearing Jew and being well mannered you need to be a well-educated and intelligent person to be one. And the same thing can be said of a Dr. If for example, someone in your family needs a complicated heart surgery to whom would you rather take him; to some Dr. who got his medical degree in the Virgin Islands or to a well-renowned heart specialists who graduated top of his class in Harvard?

One of the greatest Torah personalities of the last century was the Chofetz Chaim. Open your eyes and look at what this Torah giant has done for Judaism. I don't think there's one frum Jew alive who has not learned at least one single halacha from the Mishna Berura. As humble and well mannered as the Chofetz Chaim was, there's no denying that he could have written the Mishana Berura if he wasn't highly intelligent.

On the other side of the token, I must say though that I agree with you that being well mannered, honest etc. are all *VERY* important. And of course we shouldn't judge other people based on their IQ level. And just because your smarter then someone else that doesn't give you the right to mock less smarter people. Because the truth is G-d gave you that intelligence, you did little to be smart. And after 120 G-d's not going to reward you for scoring high on your iq test but for what you accomplished. In fact, Pirkei Avos tells us that your maasim (good deeds and actions) take precedence to your wisdom. And remember, Bin Laden is (or was) a very intelligent person also, but yet one of the most despicable people to ever step foot on this planet.

(2) Anonymous, November 19, 2007 9:10 PM

Don't Make Stereotypical Comments or Ignorant Slurs

I'm stunned by Rosen's ignorant comment: "because unlike some priests who embezzle money from the church collection plate, I have never heard of any rabbis embezzling tzedekah money from the tzedekah box to suit their own whims ..." While it may not be publicized, it probably happens.

(1) Rosen, November 18, 2007 11:00 AM

being smart vs. intelligence

I've learned that it's better to be smart than obtain intelligence, since intelligence can falter and/or get disorganized. It's bad enough we had faulty intelligence when the US went to war with Iraq the second time.

As for honesty, it does pay off, and will get one less in trouble than if he/she lies. I feel that being lied to is frustrating, but even being honest can sense devastation and betrayal...It could be fair to say that Jews tend to be very honest with their earnings, because unlike some priests who embezzle money from the church collection plate, I have never heard of any rabbis embezzling tzedekah money from the tzedekah box to suit their own whims.

If the world was more honest, then there would probably be less conflict and confusion.


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