Many regard education and knowledge as a key determinant of the future position and status of nations. This is even truer for the Jewish people, in Israel and throughout the world. An excursion into history shows that in every century and every country where Jews enjoyed a measure of religious, cultural, or economic success, they achieved it by superior knowledge, including apt governance. They learned languages, professions, trade routes, diplomacy, financial and other skills, and in some countries even military arts. Since the 19th century they have excelled in science, innovation, finance, and general culture, which irritated their enemies but impressed the rulers of the day and made some Jews indispensable. Israel’s thriving high-tech sector and its excellence in science and technology are not a revolution in Jewish history, but a culmination of Jewish history.
Every country promotes education and culture, and all want to excel in science and technology. Can the “People of the Book” hold its place? Surely there are many reasons to worry, particularly in Israel. Notwithstanding the great difficulties of finding and evaluating the necessary data, it is important to add a sixth gauge to the currently five Annual Assessment gauges that attempt to measure the overall situation of the Jewish people from year to year: the “People of the Book gauge.”
The proposed assessment will use the “hard power – soft power” paradigm coined in the 20th century. It will evaluate the “knowledge base” of different types of Jewish competitive strength.
Hard Power I: Economic Strength
The analytical starting point is OECD’s 1996 The Knowledge-Based Economy, one of its most widely read and politically influential publications. Israel’s productivity rates are low and half of Israel’s exports are from its high-tech sector and generated by ten percent of its working population. These are reasons for concern that must be addressed. Jewish wealth in the Diaspora is also intimately connected with knowledge. Continued Jewish excellence in regard to educational, scientific, professional and cultural achievement will also form an important part of this assessment.
Hard Power II: Military Strength
Recently a senior military officer spoke of Israel’s education gap and warned that the IDF’s demand for engineer officers exceeds the supply. This could sap Israel’s long-term military strength.
Soft Power: Cultural Achievements
Defining and measuring cultural achievements objectively is problematic. Yet the importance of soft power cannot be overestimated because it shapes international public opinion and even politics. In May 2016, the historian Niall Ferguson wrote: “I am a philo-Semite. The disproportionate Jewish contribution to Western civilization – not least to science and arts – is one of the most astonishing achievements of modern history.” At the same time, a rising wave of global anti-Semitism denies the Jews and Israel any commendable achievements.
|The Jewish people’s contributions to humanity has been peculiarly significant in relation to its size. Throughout history Jews have been committed to education and achieving excellence, and have thus helped make some of the greatest advances in the fields of science and technology. However, the Jewish people’s ability to maintain its qualitative intellectual edge could be challenged by technological developments predicted to take place within the next few generations.Looking at contemporary science today, substantial evidence suggests, and many prominent experts predict, that the world is on the cusp of a dramatic technological revolution. Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and biotechnology could potentially change human existence and the global order as much as the agricultural or industrial revolutions in previous eras.
A miniscule population relative to the vast population of our planet, the Jewish people will not be able to shape the larger societal and cultural forces that may be unleashed as a result of scientific developments.
This has led JPPI to initiate a new project based on a consultation process bringing together cutting edge scientists along with sociologists, philosophers, ethicists, and rabbis to discuss how new advances may impact and shape the Jewish people and the society around us.
What is already clear is that the advances taking place in AI and biological engineering could have a profound impact on the ability of the “People of the Book” to maintain its qualitative intellectual edge.
While quantity is certainly a concern of the Jewish people, qualitative excellence becomes even more critical to its thriving survival.