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2017 Annual Assessment

This chapter is the first iteration of a work in progress. It discusses the links between creativity and its drivers on the one hand, and Jewish achievement particularly in non-material fields: culture, science, technology, and the arts, on the other. Our underlying assumption is that creativity in all fields was essential to the survival and thriving of the Jewish people in the past, and thus, Jews have an interest in promoting creativity in the future as well.

Creativity is generally defined as the ability to synthesize knowledge from different (including subconscious) sources to produce innovative ideas or products. In many known civilizations, there have been two basic pre-conditions of creativity and if these two are met, there are two factors triggering creativity. The pre-conditions are: I. education and II. cultural versatility, the triggers are III. stress or necessity and IV. curiosity. One might add to these factors enabling conditions (another term for a supporting environment), for example material resources or fame and popularity. But enabling conditions alone do not bring about creativity if the other factors are not present. It might look artificial to separate a complex phenomenon like creativity into four boxes. However, separating the conditions and triggers will facilitate the formulation of policy recommendations at a later stage. The relative weight of each factor and their combinations vary from case to case, and different authors offer their own assessments of the weight of each factor.

It is difficult to demonstrate with precise statistics whether and how the four factors mentioned affect creativity. The tools to answer such questions are the traditional tools of the historian and sociologist: studying relevant literature as well as biographies of creative individuals, collecting available data, looking for precedents and parallels in history and using common sense to identify the most plausible factors.

If we define creativity as the ability of a person or a people to innovate, change and transform itself in order to survive or achieve any other goal, the definition is valid for Jews and many others, but it is not universally valid. Some cultures and societies have survived well, apparently by resisting change or by changing very slowly. This too may require its own kind of creativity. Haredi Jews in Israel and the Diaspora are quite creative in their own ways in resisting change and innovation, so it seems.1 A more famous example is Pharaonic Egypt. Egypt’s ancient civilization lived and often flourished during 3000 years without any lasting, profound changes in its language, script, religion, art, dress, political structure and patterns of behavior.

The Jewish creativity reviewed here is that of the last 200 years, but modern creativity could also have roots in pre-modern history. The following reflections include historical, religious, and socio-economic causes that could have affected the four factors mentioned above.