The Chosen Few
Slate, November 9, 2012
Edited by Andy Ross
American Jews are nearly twice as likely to have a college degree as the
average American and more than four times as likely to have a graduate
degree. They are much more likely to be employed in a high-status profession
and report an income well above the American average.
two-thirds of the Jewish community disappeared in the first millennium CE.
Jews long ago moved out of agriculture but most Jews did not invest in a
Jewish education. The Talmud is all about agriculture but the rabbis
promoted a future Judaism of Torah reading, prayer, and synagogue. The
Romans all but wiped out Temple Judaism shortly after the time of Jesus and
the sages of the Talmud had a free hand to reshape Judaism. Over the next
several hundred years, they codified the Talmud and advocated universal
The Jewish global population shrunk from about 5
million to 1 million between the years 70 and 650 CE. Botticini and Eckstein
argue that the missing millions simply stopped being Jewish. Raising one's
children as Jews required a big investment in Jewish education. Only devoted
Jews or those ambitious to find a profession for the children that rewarded
literacy did so. For the rest, the option to leave the Jewish community was
more enticing. Over six centuries, the Jewish population shifted from nearly
90% in agriculture to nearly 90% in professions.
supported success in trade. Rabbinical courts for settling disputes
supported the trust required for commercial enterprises to grow. The Hebrew
language eased international negotiations. In societies where Jews developed
a bias to trades, Jews faced no particular discrimination in agriculture but
often did so in trade. Literate Jews continue to pass the torch but needed
money from trades to do so.
American Jews today must not only endure
a lot of ritual observance but also make a lot of money. Those who are
devoted Jews but on low incomes must sacrifice for their Judaism. Many others see
too high a price and drop out. So American Jews are disproportionately well
educated and rich.
Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History
By Maristella Botticini
and Zvi Eckstein
AR This is illuminating.