Jews Rule The World Google Search
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Why do people think Jews are so successful?

A look at the history and culture of Judaism is enough to demystify the stereotype that being Jewish = being rich

Growing up as a Jew in North Manchester in the 1990s, I was made aware of the stereotype that all Jews were rich (which was surprising to me as my family certainly weren’t).

A routine Google search reveals thousands of anti-Semitic listings online – videos, articles, and forum discussions about Jews / Rothschilds / Zionists controlling the world with their money and power. I remember seeing a piece online saying Jewish bankers were to blame for the 2008 financial crisis. These conspiracies are, of course, bullsh*t – but they’ve got to come from somewhere, and I want to explore where that is.

The relationship between the Jewish community and economic success is almost taboo, because it’s so often used as an excuse to be anti-Semitic. But it’s pretty clear that the number of Jews in extremely ‘successful’ positions in society is disproportionate to the number of Jews there are in the world.

Less than 0.2% of the world is Jewish, yet 22% of Nobel Prize winners are Jews. 41% of Nobel laureates in economics are Jewish, as are 11% of the world’s billionaires, and 20% of the world’s richest 50 people.

 

The relationship between the Jewish community and economic success is almost taboo

Albert Einstein invented modern physics, Sigmund Freud invented psychoanalysis, Isaac Asimov defined the laws of robotics. The computer and internet field is full of big names in the Jewish community. Six of the eight biggest Hollywood studios were founded by Jews. How has this happened?

These statistics obviously don’t prove anything. Being of Jewish descent doesn’t ensure success, and of course not all Jews are successful. Still, I believe there are three factors at play here that could begin to explain the overrepresentation of Jewish people in high ranking positions: education, community, but most importantly, history.

Education is central to Jewish life. Prayers and texts like the Shema and Talmud emphasize the importance of teaching and learning, even providing guidelines on what age school should begin.

But valuing education isn’t unique to Judaism. 85% of the Hindu community hold college degrees, and atheists too show a strong tendency towards further education with 43% holding university-level qualifications. Compare this with the 58% of Jewish people with degrees, it’s clear to see that education, whilst important within the Jewish community, isn’t unique to us.

Then there’s the question of community. One example of community support in Judaism is the concept of Gemach, or the unwritten rule that everything can be borrowed for free – from household items, clothes, or books, to money, services, and advice. We also follow commandments relating to charity and hosting those who are struggling.

Again, though, this isn’t unique – most religions place strong emphasis on helping the needy, and the idea of ‘love thy neighbor’.

What sets us apart, then, is our history. To my mind, the story of the Jewish people has created a mentality of resilience, which is perhaps correlated with pursuing success.

Jews have been associated with money since medieval times. A lot of Jews had to practice money-lending to survive, and were restricted from owning land or engaging in other trades. Christian doctrine at the time forbade Christians from lending money, so Jews had the industry to themselves.

Tensions between lenders – often Jewish – and debtors – often Christian – were often peppered with religious undertones. The profession Jews held was seen as unethical by the Christian community, but Jews couldn’t engage in anything else because of the restrictions they faced. So in a sense the demonization of Jews became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a story that begins to explain the image of Jews as greedy, money-lending conspirators seeking global domination...

 

Tensions between Jews – lenders – and Christians – debtors – were often peppered with religious undertones…

Of course, anti-Semitism has roots in a lot of other places, from being blamed for the death of Jesus Christ to the issues surrounding Israel – but I feel that economics and our role in the economy definitely plays a part.

And Jews have paid the price. We have been expelled from 109 nations since 250 AD. We’re always being told to have our suitcases packed, just in case – hence the expression, “the wandering Jew.” A third of the world Jewry was wiped out in the Holocaust. To me, this is what’s led to the mentality of resilience I talked about earlier – and makes us want to succeed wherever we are, in a “F*** you – we’re still alive” sort of way. I understand this on a personal level – wanting to fight back at those who bring you down.

The bottom line here is that the relative success of some Jewish people is complex. But it isn’t anti-Semitic to acknowledge the positive and beneficial aspects of Jewish culture that help contribute towards successful lives, if only to fight against economic anti-Semitism and rumors of the existence of a Jewish global elite.

Sharing these myths on social media and in public life is dangerous, and we’ve got to discuss our differences, privileges, and historical legacy to disarm them. It’s not secret plots and genetics that got us where we are – it’s education, community, and history.

Liked this piece? Check out the rest of Economy Explores: Religion

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Reader Comments

  • Shit Break

    Minimum wage is a good thing to stop employers ripping people off (although this still happens) but the wage rise each year comes at a price… everything PRE minimum wage rise (April) council tax goes up, internet goes up, you pay more tax, phone bill rpi index rise kicks in, public transport goes up, food goes up… so you really don’t gain anything.