Article Library / 2016

2016 Annual Assessment

Between 63 and 65 CE the Jewish High Priest Yehoshua ben Gamla issued an edict requiring all Jews to send their sons to school so that they could learn to read the Torah. The destruction of the Second Temple had changed Judaism and it was no longer based on ritual and sacrifices in the Temple, but rather on Torah study, prayer, and observance of the commandments. To achieve this, the Jews had to promote literacy and Torah education. This obligation, in a world where more than 90 percent of the population could not read and write, gave Jews a relative advantage over the members of other religions, an advantage that continued for hundreds of years and served to catapult them toward success in a broad range of spheres.

The Jewish culture that developed over the years continued to prioritize learning and literacy, phrases such as “the People of the Book” and “Jewish genius” were ascribed to the Jews because of their attitude toward education and their achievements in numerous scientific spheres.

Today, too, outstanding achievements and intellectual excellence are attributed to Jews. Most prominent, among other things, is the high representation of Jews on the list of recipients of prestigious awards in the scientific world. Thus, for example, out of 1,081 Nobel laureates through 2015, 185 have been Jewish (around 17 percent): in chemistry,  36 recipients constituting 14.3 percent of all recipients; in physics, 51 recipients or 19.5 percent; in medicine, 55 recipients constituting 15.5 percent; literature, 14 recipients or 10.85 percent; and in economics, 29 recipients constituting around 34 percent.

Figure 1 – Percentage of Jewish Nobel Prize Laureates

Among the 64 recipients of the Turing Award (the most prestigious prize in the field of computer science), 21 have been Jewish (around 33 percent).

Figure 2 – Percentage of Jewish Turing Award Recipients

And among the 311 recipients of the prestigious Wolf Prize, awarded in Israel to scientists and artists from around the world for achievements benefitting humanity, 106 have been Jewish (representing some 34 percent):  chemistry, 19 winners (39.6 percent);  physics, 26 winners (45.6 percent);  medicine, 23 winners (roughly 41 percent); mathematics, 20 winners (35.7 percent); agriculture,  6 winners (roughly 12 percent); the arts,  12 winners (26.6).

Figure 3 – Percentage of Jewish Wolf Prize Laureates

All this while the total number of Jews in the world, as of 2015, is estimated to be about 14.3 million people, which is only 0.2 percent of the world’s population.

Table 1 – Participation in Education – American Jews3


Pew, 2013

NJPS, 2000-01

NJPS, 1990

NJPS, 1971

Advanced degrees – Masters and above

28% (10%)

25% (6%)

26.4% (8.7%)


Bachelor’s degree

30% (19%)


26.7% (11.8%)


Studied or studying in an academic framework, not yet graduated (and no other degree)

25% (29%)


19.3% (17.3%)


High school or less

17% (42%)


27% (62%)


Data regarding American Jews, the largest Jewish community outside of Israel, also indicate an over-representation of Jews in higher education. It’s important to point out that, according to the Duncan Index of Dissimilarity, the advantage of Jews over the rest of the population declined during the period between 1990 and 2013 (from 34.6 to 29 percent). This means that in 1990, 34.6 percent of non-Jews had to acquire further education to match the Jewish educational profile; in 2013, this number decreased to only 29 percent. The advantage eroded primarily at the high school level and in bachelor’s degree recipients. For master’s degrees and higher, the level of achievement of Jews and non-Jews is quite similar.

The Jewish People Policy Institute, aware of the great importance of science and education in Jewish culture and the impressive achievements of the Jewish people throughout history, is undertaking a wide-scale project to examine long-term trends in education both in Israel and among Jews the world over. Our intention is to formulate a suitable methodology to examine these trends and, if necessary, propose policies to help improve the state of education.