“The Chosen few” – by the book of economists and by the Torah  

The book is “The Chosen Few – How education shaped Jewish history” by Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein published by Princeton university press.

This scientific book is based on easy verifiable historic facts of the first through 15th centuries AD. It examines the Jewish Chosenness from social and economic points of view – not from the traditional religious point of view that God made the Jews the Chosen. However, what is very important that the findings described in the book are analogous to the Torah-based religious description of the Jews as the Chosen.

It’s very important since it brings closer Religion and Science as well as contemporary scientifically-oriented Jews with Halacha-based religion of Judaism.

In the book, the following major social-economic patterns in Jewish history were researched and analyzed.  

Growth and spread of literacy among the predominantly rural Jewish population.

The book reminds us that throughout the first millennium, no people other than the Jews had a norm requiring fathers to educate their sons. With the destruction of the Second Temple, the Jewish religion permanently lost one of its two pillars (the Temple) and set out on a unique trajectory. Scholars and rabbis, the new religious leaders in the aftermath of the first Jewish-Roman war, replaced Temple service and ritual sacrifices with the study of the Torah in the synagogue, the new focal institution of Judaism.

The Torah and the Jewish spiritual history provide a reasonable explanation why it happened. From the very beginning, the Jewish faith had connected with each other the following spiritual ideas:

* to be the Jew means to accept the life of the Chosen,

* to be the Chosen means to accept the life-long mission of building a God’s better world under the guidance of the Torah,

* to build a God’s better world requires the life-long education on how to do it.

That’s why the book’s authors found the spread of literacy among the Jews in the predominately rural communities where the investment in education would not bring extra material wealth.

Urbanization of and commercial developments in Middle-Eastern and surrounding territories.

The book reminds us about the urbanization of humans when people were leaving their rural enclaves and beginning to do together commercial work in large urban conglomerates.

The Torah provides us with the spiritual meaning of urbanization. To build God’s better world for everybody the humans have to develop a common understanding of what is Good and what is Wrong in the God’s better world. The common understanding could be developed only when people live and work together – the urban realm provides such “togetherness”. The Biblical examples with cities Ur and Sodom/Gomorra are perfect illustrations of how the common understanding was developing: Ur as an example of Good and Sodom/Gomorra as an example of Wrong.

Comparative advantage of literate Jews in urban skilled occupations (e.g., crafts, trade, and moneylending) and movement of the Jews from rural to commercially-developing urban areas.

The book makes a point that in a world populated by illiterate people – as the world of the first millennium was such a world – the ability to read and write contracts, business letters, and account books using a common alphabet gave the Jews a comparative advantage over other people. But the Jews had even more than that – they also developed a uniform code of law (the Talmud) and a set of rabbinical (social) institutions that fostered contract enforcement, networking, and arbitrage across distant locations. High levels of literacy and the existence of contract-enforcement institutions became the levers of the Jewish people. The book proves with that the Jews were “making money’ and becoming wealthier as a group among other groups not by capturing, robbing or exploiting the others but rather by their own great traditional investment in education.

The spirit of the Torah clarifies the purpose of making money. Of course, you are supposed to make money to improve the life of your family – better food, better housing, better education, etc. However, you need money as well to realize your individual vision of a God’s better world – helping the poor, building an advanced technology, researching the God’s world, building a public institution, etc. To fulfill your mission of the Chosen which is to build a better world for everybody requires “money” in a broader, spiritual sense of this word. And statistical data shows that the share of individual wealth the Jews are investing in mitzvah/philanthropy projects, that is in building a better world for everybody, is much greater than the share of all other population groups.

Voluntary diaspora of the Jews in search of worldwide opportunities in crafts, trade, commerce, moneylending, banking, finance, and medicine and slow but significant process of conversion out of Judaism, which caused a significant drop in the Jewish population during the first half of the first millennium.

The book provides factual information on a relatively great number of Jews who were born to Jewish families and then were leaving Judaism by converting to other religions. The book explains this by purely economic reasons – I have a different explanation.

Based on my own understanding of the spirit of the Torah, I may explain this in the following way.

The Jews had taken upon themselves the mission of the Chosen freely without the fear of being punished for not taken it. Since then, the Jews followed the same intellectual-freedom-based approach – some of them decide freely to continue the mission of the Chosen, and some decide to quit. Thus the fact of being born to a Jewish family is a necessary but not sufficient condition. Rabbinical Jewish education may reduce the number of whose who are quitting Judaism but only if education is proper – see my post at https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-spiritual-power-of-rabbis-is-waning-and-that-is-bad-for-both-jews-and-non-jews/#comments

“The Chosen Few” is a very interesting scientific book that brings together Science and Religion.

About the Author
Vladimir Minkov graduated from the Naval Engineering Academy in the former Soviet Union, served in the Soviet Navy and there received his Ph.D. At the end of 1970s he immigrated to America where democracy and the Judeo-Christian spirituality of this country made it possible for him to actively defend both his scientific and spiritual ideas. In the USA he has found the place for his scientific public work in the spiritual realm of One God and Torah.