Denes Ban
Israeli tech entrepreneur-turned-investor on the weekly parshah

The 5 Jews who disrupted the world

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The word “disruptor” might have had a negative connotation in the past, but, If you look at the largest companies in the world – by market cap (i.e. valuation), all of the top companies are actually referred to as so called tech disruptors (Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (Google), Microsoft, and Facebook; and in China: Alibaba and Tencent). To disrupt in the world of business today is to radically change an industry. A company can introduce a new product or service which flips the previously assumed model on its head. 

Jews have always had a knack for disruption and I’m not only referring to Zuckerberg of FB, Page and Brin of Google or to the StartUpNation in general. Einstein disrupted theoretical physics, Freud and Adler disrupted psychology, Marx disrupted political systems and Levi Strauss disrupted the trousers we wear. But it goes even farther back than original denim…one might even say that disruption is a part of the Jewish DNA.

This week’s Parshah contains the laws against idolatry; and we read again about the commandment against serving “the sun or the moon…” (i.e., a kind of paganism) and against serving the “gods of others” (i.e, polytheism).

Why is the Torah so obsessed with our being committed to monotheism (i.e., the belief that there is only one God) and so forcefully opposed to paganism and polytheism? Really, what is the big deal? Well, in the realm of morality, monotheism has likely been the biggest disruptor in our world’s history. Here is why it matters – compared to the other two alternatives.

1. A pagan life ideal meant that man could have acted in any way he preferred, because in a world without a G-d there is NO right and wrong.

2. Polytheism or polytheist cults often did have a “right and wrong”, but it was relative. Many gods also means many “rights and wrongs” as each god has its “own moral“ system. Many gods also means that people can choose and change “gods” during their lifetime or even swap them for different things. So if you disagree with your current god’s “right and wrong” you can just do some “god-shopping” and change to another god. For example, if Hera was angry with you, you could just go to Aphrodite and accept her version of “right and wrong” to get protection. There was no absolute right and wrong and you could make deals and bribes with the different gods. (Just see most of Greek and Roman mythology.)

3. So why was Monotheism so disruptive? One God means one absolute morality and one absolute source and system of “right and wrong”. 

You may think of it this way: paganism is a kind of anarchy, polytheism is a kind of democracy and monotheism is a kind of “benevolent dictatorship”, where although the leader has absolute political power, he uses it for the benefit of the people. 

Conclusions: Can you imagine a world without Google search? 

Avraham’s and Moses’ call to disruption of paganism and polytheism into “monotheism” was an absolute crazy idea in its time. Now you may say: “why should I care?” or “thanks, but I am actually doing great without monotheism”. 

However, monotheism led to the development of absolute morality and conscience so that man could no longer make moral mistakes without consequences. This is so deeply imprinted in much of the world’s collective moral DNA now that we take it for granted, just as we automatically turn to Google, when we are searching for something. Interestingly, that’s exactly what Hitler said about the Jews ”…conscience is a Jewish invention…” 

Now what is the ‘Market Cap’ (i.e., valuation) of that?

Ps: ohh, I almost forgot: the 5 Jews who disrupted the world:

1. Moses said: “The Law is everything
2. Jesus said : “Love is everything”
3. Marx said : “Money is everything”
4. Freud said : “Sex is everything”
5. Einstein said: “Everything is relative”

I say Shabbat Shalom and “everything is everything” ;-).

About the Author
Denes Ban is the Managing Partner of OurCrowd, Israel’s leading venture capital fund. A serial entrepreneur turned serial investor, he founded and sold an HR company and co-founded PocketGuide, one of the world’s leading travel apps. Denes has lectured at Harvard, Kellogg, and INSEAD and trained thousands of CEOs and entrepreneurs around the world. After growing up without knowing he was Jewish, Denes found his way to a Yeshiva in Jerusalem and learned Torah for two consecutive years before returning to the business world. Now he uses his experiences representing Israel in Asia to share examples of what it can mean to be a Jew in the 21st c and writes a weekly blog that has spread to countless subscribers, combining the world of business, technology, philosophy, and psychology with his insights into Judaism and Zionism.
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