Jews are smarter, and funnier too

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From Haaretz: “What makes Jews so smart?” By Manuel Trajtenberg:

The intellectual success of the Jews in the modern era and their prominence in occupations in the realms of commerce, medicine and finance since the Middle Ages are among the most challenging mysteries in the long history of the Jewish people.

Zvi Eckstein and Maristella Botticini present in their book “The Chosen Few,” recently translated into Hebrew by Inga Michaeli ‏(Tel Aviv University Press‏), a revolutionary thesis about the development of the Jews’ relative advantage in occupations that necessitated literacy and education: After the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E., the survival of the Jewish religion demanded that every Jew learn to read and write, and acquire knowledge-acquisition skills; whoever was unable to do so − became assimilated. Thus, out of necessity, the Jews found themselves possessed with skills that proved critical for their economic development.

Comedian Robert Klein and writer Lawrence Richards talking on public radio in NY about their new movie, a portrait of a generation of comics in the 50s and 60s.

Robert Klein: All cultures laugh I’m sure, but I believe that the Jewish culture is especially given to humor. Maybe it has to do with oppression. I feel the same way about Irish culture. There was American slave humor. There was even concentration camp humor…

Richards:  We also touch… on some of the issues that you almost have to to try to convey elements that deserve to be at least mentioned: Why there are so many Jewish comedians. One of the reasons for the creation of the film was this amazing stat, that a poll was taken in the early 70s, and Jewish people represented at that time, I don’t think it’s changed that much, about 3 percent of the population but about 80 percent of the comedians.

Klein repeated the claim on a weekend show on National Public Radio:

Jacki Lyden: What was the connection between Jewish humor and the Catskills? Why were so many people coming from New York City itself and why had a lot of people congregated there from the diaspora around Europe?

KLEIN: Well, of course, we’re talking about people who settled in New York. It was only about 90 miles away. It was inexpensive in the small places. And, of course, humor has always been a very, very important part of the Jewish culture. I daresay all cultures laugh. But let’s face it, Jews are overrepresented in professional comedy by an enormous amount and underrepresented in the priesthood. But…

I grew up with these beliefs. Maybe they were true once. But hanging on to them in this era of Jewish power and cultural prominence seems like uninterrogated vanity. 

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