cover image Jews, Judaism, and Success: How Religion Paved the Way to Modern Jewish Achievement

Jews, Judaism, and Success: How Religion Paved the Way to Modern Jewish Achievement

Robert Eisen. Univ. of Toronto, $49.95 trade paper (480p) ISBN 978-1-4875-4823-0

In this thought-provoking treatise, Eisen (Judaism and Violence), a religion professor at George Washington University, examines the roots of Jewish achievement in the modern western world. Jews have enjoyed disproportionate success in Western countries, Eisen writes—for instance, they currently represent 0.2% of the world’s population, but won 22% of the Nobel Prizes between 1901 and 2015—a trend that translates across artistic, intellectual, and economic fields. The author posits that rabbinic tradition primed Jews for success by centering the same values that helped modern western culture flourish: human autonomy, freedom of thought, the value of life, and education. For example, influential first- and second-century scholar Rabbi Akiva contended that humans have control over their daily choices despite divine omniscience. As well, Eisen explains how, after the destruction of the Second Temple, rabbis advanced a “deed-based” Judaism that prioritized laws and external acts of piety—but allowed ample latitude for individual freedom of belief. Eisen avoids framing Judaism as superior to other faiths, and makes clear Jews couldn’t have succeeded “had Christians not invited [them] to participate” in Western culture. Eisen approaches his subject with analytical rigor while also rendering complex subjects—such as the nuances of Mishnaic thought—comprehensible to the nonacademic. Those interested in modern Jewish history will want to take a look. (June)