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January 28, 2015 / 8 Shevat, 5775
 
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The Secret Behind Jewish Genius


Murray also observes that “Sephardi Jews rose to distinction in many of the countries where they settled. Some economic historians have traced the decline of Spain after 1500 [following the expulsion of the Jews], and the subsequent rise of the Netherlands, in part to the Sephardi commercial talent that was transferred from one to the other.”

Murray’s scholarly and extensively documented article cites other reasons for Jewish intellectual superiority in verbal and reasoning skills. One is a decree issued in 64 C.E. by the martyred sage Joshua ben Gamla, high priest in the last years of the Second Temple, requiring that all males be enrolled in school by age six.

“Within about a century,” Murray notes, “the Jews, uniquely among the peoples of the world, had effectively established universal male literacy and numeracy.”

Moreover, throughout the centuries, Jewish males have had to study and learn the law, a process one never completes, and to read – often aloud in public – in order to practice their faith and teach it to their children. Murray speculates that many Jews of low intelligence, who could not read well and fulfill the intellectual demands of their religion, tended to drift away from it.

Murray also cites a thesis of the geneticist Cyril Darlington and argues that Jews were “decisively shaped much earlier,” during the period of the fall of Jerusalem and captivity under Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E. According to the Bible (2 Kings 24:10-14), only the elite among the Israelites were taken to Babylon, leaving behind the unskilled and presumably less intelligent. The king “carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valour… and all the craftsmen and the smiths; none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land.”

By the time the Israelites returned more than a century later, many of those remaining had been killed off or had married foreign spouses and been absorbed by other peoples. The returned exiles reconstituted a Jewish community comprised largely of descendants of its most intelligent members. Until recently, the vast majority of Jews continued to try to marry within their own group and resisted assimilation with their neighbors.

Still Murray wonders: “Why should one particular tribe at the time of Moses, living in the same environment as other nomadic and agricultural peoples of the Middle East, have already evolved elevated intelligence when others did not?”

The answer, he speculates, may be his “happily irrefutable” hypothesis, drawn from the Jews’ earliest and most famous literary work:

“The Jews are God’s chosen people.”

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