As of this writing (Wednesday, October 5), five of the seven Nobel Prize winners already announced are Jews. That is not normal.
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Bruce A. Beutler,
Jules A. Hoffmann, Ralph M. Steinman, in Physics to Saul Perlmutter, Brian P. Schmidt, Adam G. Riess, and in Chemistry to the Technion Professor Daniel Schechtman. Beutler, Steinman, Perlmutter, Riess and Schechtman are all Jews, and for all I know, the Luxembourg-born Hoffmann is Jewish as well (making six out of seven). The Australian Schmidt is the outlier, literally and geographically. With the Economics Prize winners often Jews, the tribe is doing quite well this year. But it is still not normal. What do we make of all this ?
I remain as astonished as Mark Twain, when he wrote of the Jews:
”…If statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the
human race. It suggests a nebulous dim 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 commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in
literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are
also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a
marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and had done it with his hands
tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it.
The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with
sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed; and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat 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 and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”
– Mark Twain
(“Concerning The Jews,” Harper’s Magazine, 1899
Not that Twain was necessarily a lover of Jews, as some of his other writings are sprinkled with the traditional prejudices of his time. But his question remains a good one: what is our secret ?
For sure, we are beneficiaries of the kindness of the Creator who has preserved, protected and sustained us for thousands of years in the most inhospitable and hostile corners of the globe. Our survival is as unique as our consistent contributions to mankind. And, truth be told, our success and survivability has often engendered even more, and more belligerent, enemies, notwithstanding our contributions to mankind. If only the world would allow the Jew to live in peace and tranquility, and especially to build a model, just society in the land of Israel, who knows what blessings would flow to the entire world ? And that is part of the eternal frustration of the Jew, and the diabolical ignorance of our enemies, ancient and modern.
Additionally, the love of knowledge is paramount among Jews, and even Jews
far from the world of Torah seem to bear within them the questioning, probing,
analytical style of Talmudic-study. Creativity, innovations in thought and investigation, and an unwillingness to settle for theories or conclusions that are deficient are typical of the Jewish mode of study, and therefore quite typical of Jews. Breakthroughs come to minds that are trained or geared to look beyond the shibboleths of any field, and Professor Schechtman’s statement of his own
discoveries (that so challenged accepted notions in his field that they were originally rejected and he was expelled from his research group!) underscores that point.
But there is a broader and nobler point as well, and it all goes back to
the blessing that Yitzchak bestowed on his son Yaakov thinking he was Esav.
Yaakov certainly merited the blessings of Avraham, which were G-d’s to grant in
any event: the blessings of Torah, Israel and the special covenant with G-d.
But Yitzchak assumed that Esav – more materially grounded than Yaakov – could assist Yaakov in his mission by providing him with both muscle and sustenance. Rivka intervened because she realized that Esav’s nature was such that his wickedness would be used against Yaakov, and not to support him.
Yaakov our father therefore merited, in addition to the blessings of
Avraham, the blessings of the material that can be used to advance the divine
will – in other words, civilization. Yaakov would not only transmit the truths
of G-d to his descendants and to all nations but he was also blessed with being
a civilizing influence in every society in which his family would dwell. Yaakov’s
heirs would contribute to the welfare of all nations – their prosperity,
health, morality, knowledge and culture – and indeed that has been the destiny
of the Jewish people in every society in which we have lived. (Not always successfully: we have too often contributed to the tawdriness of modern life, but that too is a consequence of the divine gift of prominence.)
That Jews are a civilizing, stabilizing and usually unappreciated
influence across the globe should be undisputed. That Jews are still being
celebrated for our achievements to mankind in such disproportionate numbers
that the word “disproportionate” does not fully convey the asymmetry is itself
remarkable and worthy of celebration. And more: it is worthy of repeated mention in a world community that is, again, increasingly hostile to Jews and Jewish national life. That evil short-sightedness endangers not only Jews – but is also destructive to the future and well-being of our detractors.
May they soon see the light, and continue to benefit from the gifts of
the Jews to the world community.