On December 27, 2019 columnist Bret Stephens offered a reflection on “The Secrets of Jewish Genius” that received considerable attention. The Times published a short comment with a correction but The Jewish Week of December 31, 2019 provided a report that put the matter in a wider perspective: “Times Amends, Apologizes For Stephens Column.”
On December 22, 2019 The Wall Street Journal published Dominic Green’s review of Norman Lebrecht’s book, Genius and Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World, 1847-1947 (Scribner, 2019). Getting away from the dangerous theories of eugenics that contributed to Nazi ideology, Mr. Green has a point that is pertinent to the current discussion:
There is no Jewish gene, Mr. Lebrecht argues, only Jewish genius; no “Jewish exceptionalism,” only an exceptional situation. Jews’ minds were sharpened by the hermeneutical whetstone of the Talmud, their lives perpetually threatened. They were conditional insiders and eternal outsiders, “driven by a need to justify their existence in a hostile environment and to do it quickly.”
Probing the questions posed by Mr. Stephens requires more than a brief essay or even a book or two. May these efforts to ponder the mystery of one community’s contributions to society be made with a humble and generous spirit!