Jewish Intelligence and Genius – Are Jews Smarter Than Everyone Else?
The pertinent question in the foregoing entries is, “how do we meaningfully parse all of this achievement and what truly comes of displaying this dazzling and rich pageantry of success and accomplishment?” The objective, in my mind, is not to engage in self-aggrandizement, and profitless self-adulation, but to ask how it can all be brought back to assist with the realization of the Zionist project, and specifically the plans for Zionism 2.0 as they are being articulated in this blog. How can we use and understand what has happened in the past to understand what we can build in the future? Is there some kind of threshold phenomena taking place where Jewish performance and creation requires some minimum population or is there some kind of social function requiring an enabling ‘density of connections’? What are the thresholds and the tipping points? Is all this success just a factor of high intelligence and what we might call inborn and native ‘genius’? The topic of Jewish IQ and the average Jewish IQ, is a subject that invariably veers into various verboten subjects such as superiority, implied racism, and all kinds of controversy. The putative source of this intelligence and its origins and evolution has been the subject of considerable research and study since at the very least, the time of Francis Galton, more than one hundred and fifty years ago.
Intelligence quotient what is it?
IQ or the general mental factor referred to as “g” has been exhaustively studied since the Victorian era polymath Francis Galton, published his landmark 1869 book, Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry into its Laws and Consequences. A subject which Galton came to honestly given that his cousin was Charles Darwin of the 1859 Origins of Species fame and that he was a member of the brilliant Darwin-Wedgwood family. His grandfather was the philosopher, poet, inventor and evolutionist Erasmus Darwin. Galton not only identified the general intelligence factor, but invented the entire field of statistics to support the science of Psychometrics which he gave birth to. Much of the conceptual foundations of statistics and much of its vocabulary is of his creation, including the definition of the concept of “correlation” and “regression to the mean”, he was also the first person to use “questionnaires” and “surveys” to collect statistical information. The word “eugenics” is his invention.
Since Galton’s time, intelligence, or better stated the mathematical construct “g”, which is essentially a statistical correlation or proxy for a general problem-solving capacity across different domains has been the most exhaustively and comprehensively studied of all human traits. Hundreds of millions of people have had their IQ or various aptitudes tested. The US army introduced systematic testing in 1917, and this has been ongoing for over one hundred years. Almost all school districts across the world have been testing IQ for the better part of a century. The IQ factor “g” has been found to be highly heritable (more than 50% attributable to heredity) and preserved within families and lineages. The distribution of intelligence in a population appears to strongly fit the classic bell curve, with the population normalized to a general mean figure, typically 100.
How Smart are Jews?
The big question that everyone wants to know the answer to constantly is the singular question, “are Jews more intelligent than everyone else?” and it is a question that everyone asks. Charles Murray, the political scientist and the author of the Bell Curve has noted that the short section in his book that dealt with Jewish IQ, was often the only reason that people purchased his book.
The subject of Jewish intelligence in modern IQ terms begins with Francis Galton, who notes parenthetically, anecdotal accounts of Jewish intellectualism, scholarship and long lineages of hereditary brilliance in many rabbinical families. The standard IQ test is known as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, it is a test like the Stanford-Binet, another widely used test, that is normalized at 100 with a standard deviation of 15 points, meaning that half of the population would be above 100 and the other half would be below 100. Accordingly, 68% of the population would be within 1 standard deviation, 95 percent be within 2 standard deviations and 99.7 percent would be within 3 standard deviations.
Since the very beginnings of IQ testing more than 100 years ago, anomalously high IQ results amongst Jews have been consistently recorded with very constant results. At first, Jewish IQ results were viewed as some kind of artifact of the testing procedures, but the ‘Jewish’ discrepancy has remained as a stubborn exception, for which various explanations have been sought, none satisfactory or testable in a true sense. Jewish IQ has been determined to be anywhere from 7 to 25 points above the mean, with 10 points being the generally accepted figure. The intelligence statistician Richard Lynn posits a 7.5 IQ difference in his book The Chosen People. Cochrane determined a figure of 112-115 and Murray and Entine 107 to 115. A study of Jewish Yeshiva students, determined that by separating out poor visual spatial ability, (in which Jews underperform) resulted in an incredible mean verbal IQ of 126. Even at the lowest figure, Jewish IQ is significantly higher than that of any other population in the world. The consequence of this higher IQ becomes very significant when it comes to understanding the size of the tails on the Bell curve. A 7.5 difference in a population’s mean IQ means that 4X as many people would have an IQ above 130; similarly a 10 point higher mean intelligence would mean that 6X as many Jews would have an IQ above 140 compared to those with a normalized IQ of 100. The Yeshiva study might explain the results of an IQ test that was performed across the entire multi-million size New York student population in 1954. That study found that 24 out of the 28 (86%) students with scores above 170 were Jewish. It has subsequently been determined 2 additional students who were not determined to be Jewish at the time may have been of illegitimate Jewish parentage in one case and the adoption of a Jewish child by a non-Jewish family in another, increasing Jewish representation to 95% amongst those in the stratospheric 170 plus IQ range. As Charles Murray and Richard H. Herrnstein explain in their book, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, these high IQ numbers go a long way to explaining the Jewish rosters of extraordinary performance in so many domains.
Origins and Explanation of Jewish High Intelligence
The origins of Jewish intelligence is another question altogether. Various historians, writers and academics have thrown out dubious explanations and theories, none of which have been particularly persuasive. Many of these theories have striven to try to place this upwards shift in Jewish intelligence to very recent modern times, or they have suggested that the intelligence ‘gain’ is part of some kind of winnowing factor, or some function of adaptive breeding in the Middle Ages that matched wealthy daughters with rabbinical scholars. Others have posited some kind of upwards bias in family mating required of the banking trade, or the consequences of the role of selective matchmakers. Others find a survival factor, where only the smartest and most talented people stay within the Jewish family whereas the less cognitively capable leave the fold. Others have suggested that Jews are merely the last carriers of the ‘hereditary intelligence’ of the greatly superior peoples that prevailed in ancient Mesopotamia or that Jews are descendants of Egyptian priestly elites. All of these explanations run in the face of how we understand inheritance, and the slow timeframe in which these changes occur, and also the particular population genetic ‘exigencies’ that apply in small communities such as Medieval Jewry; these small ‘breeding’ communities would presumably lack the allelic variability necessary for selective evolutionary pressures to act upon and arise. Moreover, small populations over time are subject to “reversion to the mean”, meaning that a disequilibrium tends to equalize over time. Untangling the effects of ‘nature’ versus ‘nurture’ is also very difficult and problematic. A testable hypothesis with respect to Jewish intellectual abilities has been the long sought-after goal.
Towards that goal in December 2006 a fascinating paper was put forward by the anthropologist Gregory Cochran and the University of Utah geneticist Henry Harpending. The paper was titled the Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence (Journal of Biosocial Sciences, 38(5), 659-693, (2006). The paper continues to elicit considerable interest and controversy eighteen years after it was originally published. Bret Stephens, the New York Times editor, wrote a tepid and partially retracted piece on the paper in 2019, called “The Secrets of Jewish Genius”. The bold thesis put forward by Cochran and Harpending, was developed out of the long-observed peculiarity that the first degree relatives, such as siblings and offspring, of people suffering from certain so-called “Jewish disorders” are often strikingly intelligent and occupationally successful. This unstudied relationship has been particularly noted with regard to Gaucher Disease, idiopathic torsion dystonia and non-classical adrenal hyperplasia. Cochran and Harpending took this observation and began a larger categorization of other Jewish disorders, such Niemann-pick disorder, Mucolipidosis type IV, and various DNA repair disorder also disproportionately common to Jews such as the breast cancer causing mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2, as well Fanconi’s disease and Bloom’s syndrome.
The rather extraordinary discovery that Cochran and Harpending made was that the underlying mutations of these diseases were not randomly distributed in the genome and were not, as statistically determined, the result of genetic drift or a genetic bottleneck. Rather, these mutations were non-randomly clustering around certain bio-molecular pathways and all modifying the same brain networks. Additionally, these genetic mutations were seemingly highly conserved, i.e. being inherited between generations and also under what is called evolutionary pressure. This was a counterintuitive and bizarre finding in that genetic disorders are typically purged from the genome. Cochran and Harpending determined that the genetic changes in these diseases were all modifying brain structure, neuronal density, dendritic length and neural sheathing and other aspects of brain architecture. The BRCA1 and 2 breast cancer causing DNA repair mutations also seem to produce denser and larger breasts in Jewish women while at the same time increasing neural complexity (an obviously strong and winning combination from an evolutionary point of view). Apparently, the genetic benefits of carrying these gene mutations greatly outweigh the costs of producing the profound disease as we see for instance in Tay-Sachs syndrome, or early breast cancer with the BRCA1 and 2 mutations. What kind of benefit is worth these terrible costs is the question.
The genetic situation here is tantamount to looking at an automotive accident map in a very large city and seeing that all of the accidents, and in great variety, are only happening in one small neighbourhood around very specific intersections. One can conclude that the processes or circumstances behind this clustering are not random. The accidents are clustering in these areas for some very significant reason that must be very advantageous. The theory here is that these mutations and mutational patterns are supercharging the brain and allowing for the observed high intelligence. The explanation draws on what is known as heterozygote advantage, whereby a recessive allele (inherited from only one parent) for a disease confers a very significant advantage, so advantageous in fact that it outweighs the catastrophic effects of homozygous inheritance. Sickle cell anemia is an example of this pattern of inheritance in Africans and people of African descent. The gene heterozygously inherited (i.e. from one parent) protects the carrier from Malaria but the gene inherited homozygously from both parents leads to the devastating disease of Sickle Cell Anemia.
The problem with the Cochran and Harpending thesis, was the historical background and argument which they attached to the evolutionary time frame of the genetic changes. This historical thesis was further expanded and elaborated in a book they co-wrote called the “Ten Thousand Year Explosion”. This crucial historical side of their argument is based, in my mind, on a number of false assumptions, and a very limited understanding of Jewish and general history. The authors felt an absolute necessity to place their explanatory framework for high Ashkenazi Jewish intelligence in the Middle Ages from 800 to 1600 and to separate intellectually the Ashkenazi and Sephardic populations (something I have seen many other academics and lay people repeating quite frequently). The reason for this dating and separation is that they rashly concluded that the ‘adaptation’ to high intelligence had to have happened after the split between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewry in the early Middle Ages, since neither Sephardic Jewry or ancient Jewry had shown intellectual ‘exceptionalism’, or signs of very high intelligence. None of this bears much scrutiny and the separation between Ashkenazi and Sephardim has never really existed nor are Sephardic Jews any less prolific or talented than their German- Eastern European cousins.
High Intelligence–the False Divide between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewry
The data and studies and examples put forward by Cochran and Harpending to substantiate the “just average” European intelligence of Sephardic Jewry is clearly mistaken and wrong. The issue with Cochran and Harpending is that they don’t have either the grasp or discernment to distinguish Ashkenazi Jews from their Sephardic cousins. They are also obviously unaware of the Sephardic lineages of some many exceptional individuals. A lot of mixing has also taken place between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewry and they are not isolated populations.
Sephardic Jews, I would argue, have in fact produced more of the kind of exceptional lineages that Francis Galton refers to in his classic book on Hereditary Genius, than the Ashkenazi Jews. One could cite in support of this point of view such supreme Sephardic geniuses as Baruch Spinoza or Moses Maimonides, as well as a long list of Sephardic Nobel Prize winners. A list of such Nobel prize winners would include at first blush: Baruj Benncerraf, Rene Samuel Cassin, Rita Levi-Montalcini, Franco Modigliani, Boris Pasternak, Claude Cohen Tannoudji, Salvador Luria, Elias Canetti, and Emilio Gino Segre amongst others. Niels Bohr, perhaps only second to Einstein in terms of his influence on 20th century physics, was descended from two Danish Sephardic banking families, the Adlers and the Raphaels. His mother’s father co-founded the Danish Privatbanken and was a leading figure in the industrialization of Denmark. Niels Bohr’s family resided in the Gustmeyer Mansion at Ved Stranden 12, directly across from the Royal Family’s Christiansborg Palace. The Warburgs of the Warburg banking dynasty were also of Sephardic (Italian) lineage, a banking family that dominated large swaths of the German economy, and produced generations of exceptional individuals, including one of the very few double Nobel Prize winner, Otto Warburg, and the great bibliophile and book collector Aby Warburg. The Irish country squire born John Bernal, the so-called Sage of Cambridge was also of Sephardic ancestry as his Nobel prize winning disciple and lover Dorothy Hodgkin described in her biographical and adulatory treatment of him. One could also mention the Aleppo born Cambridge Professor Dennis W. Sciama who supervised and shaped the intellectual interests of most of the great astrophysicists of the 20th century, including: John Barrow, David Deutsch, Roger Penrose, Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees, and Brandon Carter amongst others. And of course one cannot fail to mention the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, a politician who really bears no comparison (a more detailed treatment of the subject of Sephardic genius will be dealt with in a future blog post).
Intelligence Theory, A testable hypothesis?
The other blow to the historical timetable of Cochran and Harpending was the extraordinary 2004 discovery at a shopping mall excavation site in Central Norwich in the UK. Excavators discovered, to their disbelief, what appeared to be a mass grave at the bottom of a medieval well. The grave consisted of 11 children and 7 adults who all appeared to have been thrown into the well after being brutally killed. Pottery shards and other radiographic testing put the dating of the grave in the 12th to 14th century period. Further studies narrowed the likely date of the event to the late 12th century. Given that there was a well known massacre of the Jews of Norwich in 1190, and that the well was just south of the old Medieval Jewish quarter of Norwich, the immediate thinking was these individuals were indeed victims of the historically attested attack on the Jewish community at the time of the 3rd crusade. Genomic and DNA sequencing was done on the skeletal remains to determine definitively who they were and to garner any other information. The finding provided a unique opportunity in that DNA sequencing is otherwise forbidden on Jewish remains, so this study allowed for the production of a rare genomic dataset.
The determinations which were just published in October 2022 (Current Biology, Vol. 32, Issue 20, 24th October 2022, Pages 4340-4350) are very interesting and of considerable relevance to the “Cochran-Harpending” hypothesis; the skeletons were indeed Jewish, as can be determined by certain genetic markers and distinctive haplotypes. Moreover, the individuals had many of the telltale allelic variations that Cochran and Harpending had argued had only recently emerged from selective evolutionary pressure in the Medieval period and solely amongst Ashkenazi Jewry. In addition, very little genetic change had occurred in the intervening 800 years between these people and modern Jews (in other words, no adaptive evolution had taken place). These genetic findings essentially falsified Cochran and Harpending’s thesis, or at least the historical side of it in any case. The results push back the emergence of Jewish heterozygous disease causing variance considerably further in time. These variations may extend back to the great dispersion at the time of the destruction of the Jewish Temple in the 1st century as Charles Murray suggests, or perhaps even earlier to the time of the Babylonian Exile as the great cytologist and chromosome authority, Cyril Darlington put forward in his magnum opus The Evolution of Man and Society (1969). It is quite likely, however, that the genetic mutations emerged much earlier, possibly during the Neolithic agricultural revolution, is my thought. The forefathers of the early Hebrews may have been amongst the first agriculturalists, negotiating the neolithic divide from hunter-gathering nomadic tribes to settled agriculture. This epochal event would certainly have resulted in significant adaptive changes given the new evolutionary or ‘fitness’ landscape. The complete turnover and shift from a hunter-gatherer wild game originated protein diet to harvested grains and domesticated animal derived protein is one of the most profound and complicated transitions in human history; an event that would have placed enormous selective evolutionary pressures on those that were first to cross this ‘fateful’ threshold (see Evolutionary Biological Basis of Jewish Genetic Diseases and Intelligence- It is all because of Diet; Dave Dalton, January 26, 2022).
The basis of Jewish high intelligence and IQ ‘exceptionalism’ is likely a problem that will defy a complete explanation. The many questions that it gives rise to are, however, very important and indeed might be crucial to understanding our genetic possibilities and constraints and potentially a better understanding of our civilizational limits. Much light will be shed on these questions as more datasets from the genomic sequencing of peoples both from the ancient and medieval world take place. The Jewish intelligence conundrum begs the question as to how extraordinary human talent and hereditary genius has been preserved through time. If Jewry is a genetic island of sorts, at risk of being submerged. If boosting intelligence comes with the sort of huge disease ‘costs’ and other ‘genetic liabilities’ that we see in the illnesses that Cochran and Harpending examine, it would seem to suggest that human mental faculties are mostly optimized or maxed out as we might say in common parlance. It would appear that pushing the ‘hardware’ much further in terms of efficiency and intellectual ‘output’ will not come easily. IQ gains outside of a ‘locked-in’ endogamous mating group may also be very hard to sustain, resulting in a loss of this intellectual potential. It needs to be added that we are in the midst of a great genetic mixing brought on by an unprecedented wave of global migration, the implications of which are very hard to gauge.
Jewish Intelligence and Genius – Relevance to Zionism 2.0
It would seem from the perspective of Zionism 2.0 that the special intellectual capacities and talents of the Jewish people which have been so much on display in this foregoing essay, will continue to surface and find expression in all major domains of intellectual activity and production at least through the 21st century. Even adjusting for the enormous and seemingly irreparable demographic losses of the Holocaust, the Jewish people miraculously continue to possess enough residual talent to allow the same continuum of genius to emerge. Indeed, Israel’s intellectual potential should spike, as its population crosses some critical thresholds over the next ten years.
From my perspective, and based on various deductions, I believe that extraordinary talents, clusters of remarkable abilities, schools of great learning centered around protean intellectual figures, and other singularities of various sorts, will begin to emerge when Israel’s population begins to reach the ten to twelve million figure. Upon reaching this figure we should see the same spectrum of industriousness, inventiveness and startling intelligence emerge as we have in earlier eras. This flourishing of entrepreneurial talent, invention and creative genius should be equal to or greater than what we witnessed in fin-de-siecle 19th Europe or that of America in the middle to late 20th century. The future Niels Bohrs’, Richard Feymanns’, Liese Meitners’, Georg Cantors’, Leopold Kroneckers’, Dennis Gabors’, Rosalind Franklins’, Max Borns’, Leo Szilards’, Steven Weinbergs’, John Bernals’, Emmy Noethers’, Eugene Wigners’, Robert Oppenheimers’, Albert Einsteins’, John von Neumanns’ Sigmund Freuds’, James Sylvesters’, Ludwig Wittgensteins’ Fritz Habers’ amongst so many countless others will change the world in ways we can not possibly imagine. With Israel as the generative centre and locus of the Jewish people, the civilizational focal point, these energies will be concentrated, contained and nationally focused, and not otherwise lost, fragmented and dissipated. Confined within a cohesive Israel, these energies and talents will be captured and will spiral upwards in a virtuous cycle that will feed and build upon itself. This is the deep Herzlian dream, the great promise, that is hidden and cradled within Zionism. We must know and be confident that the ambitious, daring and pioneering projects that stand before Israel and the Zionism 2.0 proposals will all be realizable based on the extraordinary talents I’ve outlined.
This excursus across Jewish intellectual performance and the remarkable economic, industrial and financial feats of Jewish inventors, creators and entrepreneurs provides a panoramic view of the historical skyline, the bright shining heights of achievement, so to speak. And what a glittering and spectacular sight it is to see! These startling accomplishments are the product of a small often molested nation that is, as Mark Twain states, but a “puff of stardust in the milky way”. And as Twain also adds as part of the same quotation, they are “a people that should never have been heard from but whom the world has always heard”. And what vicissitudes and travails the Jewish people have faced. Often in chains and “with our hands tied behind our backs”, and in the last century subject to a continent-wide genocidal fury that likes of which the world has never seen before. I hope that these encapsulations and examples will allow Jewish people and Israelis to take stock, and to be proud, tremendously proud, and to hold their heads up and not to fear the challenges ahead. We have tremendous resources, talents and power. What has been accomplished in the past can be accomplished in the future. And what has been accomplished just in the last century has been unparalleled, unmatched and unequaled. No nation can question the rights of Israel, or its right to exist. Jewish and now Israeli accomplishments give us, indubitably, and without question or opposition great grants and privileges; these privileges by historical extension confer on the Jewish people a natural nobility and lordship over the land of Israel. But the work of Jewry has only begun. As the Comte Henri de Saint Simon said nothing “great can be accomplished without passionate commitment”. What I am putting forward in Zionism 2.0 is an outline for a set of inspiring proposals. From far-seeing vision everything else follows and all life derives. The objective is not to create floating castles in the sky but to set out by way of hard and carefully thought through plans–to elaborate these plans, and to attach extraordinary and talented people to them and to commence forthwith the necessary first tasks. To get started is what matters and to get on with building the basis for a new Hebraic Civilization; a new epoch as the Count Henri de Saint Simon might call it. The second chapter of the Zionist movement, Zionism 2.0 will require the bringing together of tremendous intelligence and genius, unlike any that has yet been summoned. All that has gone before will allow for all that will come and can come in the future. We must emphatically know what we have done so we can know what we can do! We must put before our eyes a vision of a future Israel as a country that knows no peer, a country that seeks to make great discoveries, to pioneer new processes and to find new startling worlds of creation. A nation that will furnish new levels of wealth and new levels of intellectual and artistic attainment to her people; a nation of strength and compassion that will strive to ameliorate the world’s suffering and pain. Israel has always sought to create and not to destroy. We desire nothing more than to give life and to draw forth into this world a magnificent and never before seen splendour and a glowing effulgence. This brief canvas of accomplishments makes it abundantly clear that the Jewish people only wish to perfect Eretz Israel; to patiently nurse and lovingly cultivate it with unsurpassed commitment. Israel can uplift untold multitudes, while creating a world of abundance and plenitude for all as long as there is a mutual commitment to prosperity, peace and comity.
“If you will it,
It is no dream”
- This posting is dedicated to the Kapshitzer family, Parents Evgeny and Dina and their beautiful children Alina, (eight) and Eitan (five) who had been camping in Park Ashkelon and were ambushed at the entrance to Sderot on October 7th, 2023. May their memory be a blessing, and that they should be forever enraptured in the arms of the Almighty. Rest in Peace Dear family in the comfort of each other..