zaterdag 19 november 2011

Are Jews smarter?

It is sometimes claimed that Jews are smarter than other people. Indeed, that they are richer as well. I do not know if that’s true. I hear enough stupid things in shul. And I encounter plenty of people there who like me earn average or less.

That does not mean that there are no differences between the Jewish tradition and other traditions when it comes to the place of the intellect. I myself have experience with the Catholic tradition as well, and I daresay that piety there did not primarily engage the intellect. Rather it combined with simplicity, subservenience, humility. The innocence of small children and the statement “Blessed are the poor in spirit” are doing well in Catholic circles. And the Dutch Catholic newspaper De Volkskrant until long after the war considered its readers to be subjects who were to be instructed and entertained (respectively by the bishops and popular novelists).

That does not mean that in those circles people don’t think. But the real thinking is preferably not left to the average believer. That can better be done by intellectual elite troops, such as the orders of the Dominicans or the Jesuits. They are allowed to indulge their theological, philosophical and scientific passions to the full. The responsibility to intellectually lead the Catholic faithful rests mainly on their shoulders.

Within the Jewish tradition it applies that learning befits an ordinary believer as well. Indeed, it is considered an achievement for every Jew to lern, that is to intensively study the sacred texts and to discuss them.

Whether one becomes smarter because of that I do not know. That actually is what René Kahn argues in his Ten Commandments for the brain: ten tips to make the brain perform better. These commandments are, in Kahn’s order: Study, Sleep, Make music, Don’t stress, Make friends, Enjoy prestige, Don’t drink, Sweat, Play. Finally is added: Choose your parents carefully, but that one is not meant seriously because it is obvious that you do not provide the implementation of that commandment yourself. This one only serves to put the rest in perspective.

Whether Kahn really assigns a prominent place to studying, can only be known for sure if for him the order of his tips is important. And if it would be clear that his order runs from major to minor or vice versa. Does he deliberately put "Study" at the beginning and "Play" at the end? That makes a big difference, because when play is more important than study then the Catholic Church may again have an advantage in the maintenance of the brains.

See also La Trahison des Clercs