Thursday, October 01, 2015

What’s the Secret? – Part I

“If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one quarter of one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous puff of stardust 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 importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk.”

That quote is from an article titled “Concerning The Jews” that appeared in Harper's Magazine, but the quote continues as follows:

“His [Jewish] contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine and abstruse learning are also very out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world in all ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself and be excused for it. The Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greeks and Romans followed and made a vast noise, and they were gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, and have vanished.”

I’m certain that you’ve heard versions of this before, however the author then poses a question: “The Jew saw them all, survived them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert but aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?

How Is This For Timing?

It is not only this question that is unique since the timing of the above article, as well as its author are both extraordinarily so. Would you believe that this article appeared in Harper’s Magazine exactly 116 years ago in September, 1899? Its author, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, is probably more familiar to you as Mark Twain. From the breadth of Twain’s statement it would seem that he was prophetic and most prescient in his implication of Jewish immortality, and that Jewish contributions to the world order would continue in perpetuity.

Twain touches on an issue that is really most consequential for his basic argument. He writes (above), “his [Jewish] importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk.” In other words, the disproportion between the significant degree of Jewish accomplishments, and the relatively small number of Jews in any population count is nothing less than astounding.

The New Book vs. The Old

A book published the beginning of this year titled “The Debate Over Jewish Achievement” explains whether it is the “nature” or the “nurture” (or both) of human accomplishment that explains the asymmetric performance of Jewish virtuosity. However, in order to fully appreciate this year’s book, it would be most instructive to first read another book by the same author published in 2009 that established the basis for the second one. Its title is “The Golden Age of Jewish Achievements.”

This is a 626-page treatise by Steven E. Pease, a non-Jewish author who maintains that he had been fascinated by Jews and their outstanding attainments since childhood. Born and raised Presbyterian in Spokane, Washington, he is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Washington with a master's degree from Harvard Business School. He is a CEO specializing in turnarounds, a venture capitalist, and a community activist.

The Empirical Facts

What is truly remarkable about this book is the depth of scholarship that transcends the traditional “history of the Jews” type of book. The facts portrayed are so overwhelmingly multitudinous, at some point they assume an almost implausible life…but they are empirically factual. At the risk of having you complain that your eyes are glazing over, I have chosen to bombard you with a portion of what the author terms “Jewish achievements.” Just remember that the book is now six years old so the numbers may be off slightly, although in some cases I have updated them. What follows are primarily direct quotes relating the statistics that Mr. Pease cites:

“There are, perhaps, thirteen to fifteen million Jews [16.5 million counting those identified as partially Jewish] in a world of six billion people [7.4 billion today]. Jews are so few in number that in a room of 1,000 people representing the world’s population, only two would be Jewish. A comparable sample from the United States would count only twenty-two Jews among 1,000 representative Americans.” Keep in mind that Jews comprise only 0.2 percent of the world’s population and some 2.1 percent of the U.S. population.

Nobel Prizes

Despite this relatively low distribution, Jews have won 22 percent of all the Nobel Prizes ever awarded— 27 percent since 1946— after the Holocaust destroyed a third of their numbers. Given their small population, Jews should have earned only one of the 521 Nobels awarded for physics, chemistry, medicine, and physiology through 2007. They have won 137.

Since that first Nobel for physiology or medicine in 1901, 189 awards have been made. (For a variety of reasons, Nobels have not been awarded every year, and in some years more than one laureate has been honored.) Fifty-nine (31 percent) of those have gone to Jews. This is nearly two-thirds of the ninety-one Nobels for Physiology or Medicine earned by Americans and almost twice the thirty-two earned by Britain. Germany, with twenty-two, is the only other country with more than ten Nobel Prize laureates in physiology or medicine.

There have been 151 Nobel awards for chemistry since the first in 1901. Awards were made in all but 8 of the 107 years. As before, given the statistic of 2 Jews per 1,000 in the world’s population, Jews would be unlikely to have won even a single prize. In fact, they have received thirty (20 percent) of the prizes for chemistry.

Physics is perhaps the most recognized of the three primary scientific disciplines. If the Jews had been citizens of a single nation, that country would have come in second, behind the United States, in Nobel awards for physics. The United States has earned eighty-two versus the forty-eight earned by Jews. Twenty were native-born Jews, and another ten were Jews that lived in the United States and one or more other country during their lifetime. Given that 2 percent of the U.S. population is Jewish, we should count ourselves grateful that Jews have helped us win 37 percent of our Nobels.


The Fields Medal is awarded to the world’s brightest mathematicians under age 40. One-fourth of the Fields Medal winners are Jews. As economists they are gifted. They have earned 36 percent of all Nobel Prizes for economics and 67 percent of the John Bates Clark Medals for promising economists under age 40. They were instrumental in the creation of the Federal Reserve System and have headed it for twenty-nine of the last thirty-eight years. (That number now is thirty-five of the last forty-four years).

College/Politics/Supreme Court

Jewish students are 21 percent of all Ivy League students. Any review of the lists of faculty of most schools will evidence a disproportionate number of Jewish teachers. They are, for example, roughly 30 percent of the faculty of the Harvard, Stanford, and Yale law schools. In politics, they were 11 percent of the United States Senate and 6 percent of the House of Representatives in the 108th Congress. (Currently 9 percent and 4 percent.) They were 42 percent of the 100 largest political donors to the 2000 election cycle, and since 1917, when Judge Louis Brandeis was appointed, 16 percent of Supreme Court justices have been Jews. They hold two [now three] of the nine positions. [I would point out the fact that Catholics now holding six of those nine positions is even more impressive].

Where We Shop/The Movies We Watch

More than half of America’s department stores were started or run by Jews, including such greats as Macy’s, Federated, May Company, Bloomingdale’s, Filene’s, Saks, Abraham & Straus, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Sears, and, in London, Marks & Spencer.

Every major Hollywood studio was created or essentially shaped by Jews. Even Disney that was created by a non-Jew, has been guided to incredible success by three Jewish CEO’s in a row. NBC and CBS were started by Jews. Of the three original television networks, only ABC was not started by a Jew, but Leonard Goldenson bought it seven years after its founding and ran it for forty-five years. Viacom and Comcast were largely created by two Jewish families, while Steve Ross and Gerald Levin played critical roles at Time Warner.

The Kennedy Awards/Philanthropy

One of the most prestigious artistic awards for an American performing artist is to be designated a Kennedy Center honoree. In the words of the Kennedy Center Web site, selection is “quintessential recognition for a lifetime’s endeavor.” This is America’s equivalent of a British knighthood or the French Legion of Honor. Over a period of thirty years, 157 honorees have been selected. Of them, forty-one (26 percent) are Jews. This is thirteen times their proportion of the U.S. population.

A Business Week November 2007 feature article “The Greatest Givers” provided a list of “The 50 Most Generous Philanthropists.” It focused on amounts given or pledged over the five years 2003 through 2007. But perhaps most striking is the fact that at least nineteen of the fifty “Givers” are Jews. As such, they were 38 percent of America’s fifty most generous philanthropists.

(Although Mr. Pease does not mention this, the individual (Jewish or otherwise), who was the greatest achiever in mankind’s history, (if based on his historic influence) was a Jew. Ironically he was not recognized as such until well after his death. His name has undergone several changes over the millenniums, from Yeshua (Ancient Aramaic), Essa, Isa, Issa, Yushua (Arabic), Iesous (Biblical Greek), Yehoshua, Yeshua (Biblical Hebrew), Iesus, Iosue (Biblical Latin) and more currently to Jesus.)

But as interesting (and unlikely) as are the Jewish achievements listed above, so is the comment of Mark Twain that, “All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?

Although Mr. Pease attempts to answer that question in this book, he apparently felt it required significantly more research and discovery. That resulted in his new book published this year (2015), and it, and his answer to that question will be covered in next month’s column. However, as an indication of Mark Twain’s genius, a website containing close to 2,000 of his most famous quotes, included the following:

“They did not know it was impossible so they did it.”