Sunday, January 10

The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History.

this book review was spot on, a great book which has now gone on my wish list. Quoting the salient bits

Botticini and Eckstein state on the first page of their book that their goal is to answer some basic questions: “Why are there so few Jewish farmers? Why are the Jews an urban population of traders, entrepreneurs, bankers, financiers, lawyers, physicians and scholars? When and why did these occupational and residential patterns become the distinctive features of the Jews? Why did the Jewish population shrink from 5–5.5 million at the time of Jesus to 1–1.2 million in the days of Muhammad? ... When, how and why did the Jews become the ‘the chosen few’?”

(1). The authors identified three major patterns in Jewish history. First, literacy grew and spread among the predominantly rural Jewish population of antiquity and at the same time there was a slow but significant process of conversion from Judaism that caused a significant drop in the Jewish population during the first half of the first millennium. Second, literate Jews had a comparative advantage over nonliterate populations in urban skilled occupations (e.g., crafts, trade, and money lending): urbanization and the development of a commercial economy gave them the opportunity to earn pecuniary returns on their investment in literacy and education. Finally, the Jewish diaspora was to a large extent voluntary and the result of Jews’ search for new opportunities in crafts, trade, commerce, money lending, banking, finance, and medicine.

The basis for all (or most) of these conclusions, the authors claim, is actually quite simple. The destruction of the Temple by the Romans ultimately transformed Judaism from a temple cult based on ritual sacrifices to a religion whose main norm required every Jewish man to read and study the Torah in Hebrew and to send his sons from the age of six or seven to primary school or synagogue to learn to do so (2). Literacy gave Jews an advantage but it was not without a price. Tuition required a significant investment, and not all Jews could or did invest in education. Many of the offspring of Jews who were unable or unwilling to pay for education therefore converted. Those who received an education and remained in the Jewish fold became the “Chosen Few”—and the ancestors of the modern Jewish population. The educational advantage of the Jews together with their exceptionally well-developed system of contract law gave them a competitive advantage over non-Jews and enabled them to thrive in urban environments. To prove this thesis (and related points), the authors survey key elements of 1400 years of Jewish history in about 275 pages.

And then some stupid people want to construct temples again (Ayodhya) and some take pride in being the custodian of temples. Learn, you idiots, learn!

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