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2017 Annual Assessment

The connection between knowledge acquired through education, and creativity as demonstrated by various accomplishments seems obvious, although, as said, it is not easy to statistically prove a direct correlation between level and quality of education and later achievements at a collective level.

For most of their known history, the Jews were among the most highly educated peoples in the world. This has given them a competitive advantage in their non-Jewish environments. Religious demands, the obligation to study the Torah is the best known and most compelling reason for Jewish education and literacy. The Talmud reports that the High Priest, Joshua Ben Gamla, who lived before the destruction of the Temple, ordered teachers to be appointed in each town and children to enter school at the age of six or seven.2 If the Talmudic story is true, it would have set up the first compulsory primary school system in the ancient world. When a few hundred years later Jews moved from agriculture into skilled crafts and trades, their literacy, although acquired for religious reasons, conferred advantages to them in other, particularly economic fields.3

There were equally powerful socio-economic reasons compelling Jews to acquire education. In the Middle Ages and later, their minority status, their connections across borders, and social or economic discrimination attracted them to commerce and long-distance trading, which required much more knowledge and education than, for example, farming, the main occupation of the majority population.

The history of German Jewry in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and of American Jewry in the 20th century, shows continuous improvements in general education. These preceded, and arguably preconditioned, the subsequent rise of Jewish economic, cultural, scientific and other achievements – bursts of creativity in many fields. Education is an indispensable but not singularly sufficient driver of creativity, but it is easier to identify and measure than other factors, and thus, trends in education might be useful indicators of future trends in creativity.


This chapter attempts to evaluate American and Israeli Jews of the 20th and 21st centuries, not German Jews. However, there is important research literature, including statistical data that document the history of German Jewry from 1800 to 1933.4 This research supports our hypotheses about the factors driving creativity, at least in the German case. The rise of German Judaism and the enormous contribution of Jews to German culture, science, and its economy occurred in several stages. At the end of the 18th century, most German Jews were poor and many were destitute, living from begging, hawking, junk dealing and petty crime. In 1800, almost 20 percent of all Jews had no profession at all; only 2 percent were wealthy. Their situation began to change after Napoleon decreed their emancipation, but their economic conditions improved gradually. What changed more radically was their education. Jews understood quickly that any real betterment of their socio-economic situation depended on a substantial elevation of their general education. From 1810 on, dozens of Jewish schools teaching general subjects sprang up across Germany, and in a short time Jews became fluent in literary German, which few had mastered before 1800. It took approximately one generation, until the mid-19th century, for a considerable improvement of Jewish economic conditions to become visible, and one more generation, until the late 19th century, for Jews to move out of commerce into many other professions and begin their extraordinary contribution to all sectors of German culture and science. It is uncontested that the rise of German Judaism over more than 100 years was the direct result of the initial fast rise in general education. It is equally clear that the long delays between educational and socio-economic and cultural improvements were due to anti-Jewish discrimination, which never completely disappeared in German society. Whatever other factors contributed to German Jewish creativity – stress and discrimination were certainly critical triggers – education was ultimately the key factor.

The United States5

The educational, economic, cultural, and political rise of American Judaism since 1945 is spectacular and unmatched in any other country or period of Diaspora history. Like in Germany, education took off first.

American Jewish Educational Attainments

Jewish educational attainments more or less on par with U.S. average.

Jews have 1.7 years more education than national average, 16% of Jews are college graduates; national average is 9%.

Jews have 2.6 years more education than national average; 39% of Jews are college graduates, national average is 13%.

56% of Jews are college graduates.

Jews have 2.6 years more education than national average; 61% of Jews are college graduates.

The figures show that Jewish educational attainments in relative terms levelled off from the 1972-80 period on. The numbers for the 1990s are almost the same as those for the 1970s and 1980s. This was also the period when complaints about the high cost of education in Jewish schools became more frequent.

American Jewish Income

Jews relative income 126% of Protestants; 140% of Catholics.

Jews relative income 147% of Non-Jews.

Jews relative income 246% of Protestants; 243% of Catholics.

Jewish earnings began to pick up soon after increases of educational attainments, but the most massive earning increases (1999) followed a period of approximately ten years after the 1980s when educational attainments were levelling off. The 1999 peak resulted from much earlier educational investments.

Jewish Contributions in Science, Literature, Art, Culture, Finance, Politics

Jews contribute 70%, relative to national average of 100%.
Jews contribute 43%, relative to English-American average of 100%.

Jews contribute 79%, relative to national average of 100%.
Jews contribute 53%, relative to English-American average of 100%.

Jews contribute 245%, relative to national average of 100%.
Jews contributed 216%, relative to English-American average of 100%.

Jews contribute 468%, relative to national average of 100%.
Jews contribute 587%, relative to English-American average of 100%.

These figures, taken from Who’s Who in America, show a sharp rise of Jewish American creativity in all sectors, relative to other segments of the American population. Thus in 1974-75 Jews contributed almost two and a half times as much as the national average and a little over twice as much as English Americans. This rise was enormous already in the 1970s, and became wildly disproportional in the 1990s. The disappearance of various discriminatory practices which held back Jews before the war can partly explain these figures. It is also likely that Who’s Who editors became more open to acknowledging Jewish contributions after the war whereas they might have been biased against Jews before. However, it is plausible that the main reason for the steep rise in both creativity and earnings is the substantial educational investments of American Jews that started in 1945 and preceded all other rises by several, if not many years. The sociologist Paul Burstein examined these data and arrived at similar conclusions: it is “social capital,” accumulated by networking, e.g. in Jewish schools, families and meeting places, and together with it, “human capital” accumulated by education that explains American Jewish creativity and success.

If this is so, it stands to reason that the relative educational levelling-off that began in the 1980s will have long-term consequences. It could show itself in a levelling off of Jewish earnings and cultural contributions relative to other parts of the American population. Many Jews will remain wealthy, creative, and influential, but other minorities, such as Indian Americans and other Asian Americans are catching up and are about to reach similar levels. The relative levelling off of American Jewish earnings, influence, and cultural creativity may have already started, although it will take years before it is reflected in the statistics.


Linking educational performance to creativity as expressed by contributions to science, culture, art, etc. and following trends both in education and creativity is much more difficult for Israeli Jews than it is for American Jews. A quarter of Israeli Jews were not born and educated in Israel, and on the other hand, there is no internationally comparable and relatively unbiased measurement of Israel’s general creativity. However, it is possible to measure with a high degree of objectivity, Israel’s performance in science and technology, and to evaluate how this performance is related to Israeli schools and universities.

One of the accepted measures of educational attainment is the estimate of average years of education attained by the population. According to a report by the OECD for 2015 that measures social welfare, the average years of education for Israel’s population aged 25-64 is 11.4, which is very close the OECD average. This average masks large gaps of inequality, especially as it includes the Arab population (whose average educational attainment is 9 years), and the Haredim (10.3 years). A 2016 United Nations Development Programmes (UNDP) report shows a slightly different picture. The report shows that as of 2015, when estimating the educational attainment of the population above 25 years of age, Israel is seventh out of 188 countries with an average of 12.8 years.6

In the 2016 Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) statistical yearbook, it is noted that Israel “is one of the more highly educated countries in the OECD.”7 This claim rests upon the number of university educated individuals, another important measurement. Both in 2014 and 2015, Israel was ranked fourth among developing nations in the number of university educated individuals between the ages of 25 and 64 (see figure 2 below).

When one examines the data for the 25-34 age cohort, Israel loses its high ranking, even though it is still above the OECD average. One of the hypotheses for the lower ranking is connected to the older age at which Israelis begin higher education stemming from mandatory military service and the tendency of Israeli youth to go on extensive post-army trips before starting their academic studies.

Not only is the number of years of education an important measurement but so too is the quality of education. In Israel, seven universities engage in research and teaching. According to the ranking of the ARWU (Academic Ranking of World Universities, also known as the Shanghai Rankings) two Israeli universities, the Technion (69) and Hebrew University of Jerusalem (87) were among the 100 top universities in the world in 2015.8 The distribution among the top 100 universities in the world in 2015 is as follows:

51 American universities
9 British universities
4 universities from each of the following: Switzerland, Canada, France, Germany, Australia, Holland, and Japan.
3 Swedish universities
2 universities from each of the following: Denmark, Belgium, and Israel
1 university from each of the following: Finland, Norway, and Russia

The Weitzman Institute, which had been in the top 100 in 2012-2013, has declined somewhat in the last few years. In August 2017, new rankings were published and Hebrew University was not among the top 100, leaving the Technion as the only Israeli institution on the list. Nevertheless, one should emphasize that controversy attached to the rankings, and the need to look at long term trends make it difficult to draw conclusions from this short terms data alone.

It is useful to look at rankings in specific disciplines. Thus, in Mathematics for example, four Israeli schools are ranked in the top 100 – the Hebrew University is ranked 11th, and the Technion, Weitzman Institute, and Tel Aviv University are ranked in the 51-75 group. In Chemistry, two Israeli universities are found in the top 100 – the Technion and the Weitzman Institute. In Physics, though, only the Weitzman Institute is in the top 100 (76), and in Biology, no Israeli university ranks among the top 100. In regard to the last two disciplines, five Israeli research institutes are in the leading 500.

Patent registration is a measure of creativity that is very difficult to obtain for Jews around the world, but it is accessible for Israelis. In order to register and approve a patent it has to meet certain criteria of innovation and usefulness. Therefore, analyzing the pattern of patent registration provides useful insight into the dynamics of innovation. There are various measures of patent registration. One of them that reflects the intensity of the innovative dynamics of a country is the proportion of patent applications relative to the population. Such an inquiry was conducted by the Shmuel Neeman Institute in their reports which present indices of science, technology, and innovation in Israel. According to the Neeman Institute’s analysis as seen in Figure 4, in 2012 Israel was listed as fifth in patent applications PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty) in proportion to population size (23.9 per 100,000).

This data shows a positive correlation between the achievements of Israeli education and the high degree of innovation. Israel ranks high when demographic and economic data are integrated. Though, as we pointed out in the 2016 Annual Assessment, the overall picture of Israeli education as reflected in the data is complex and cannot be summed up as either one of increased success or decline. This very complexity brings several researchers and experts to suggest that the situation today reflects successes and trends of the past (for instance, the Russian Aliyah) and not to current efforts. If this argument turns out to be accurate, the future may bring a decline in many of the indices. Because of the relatively young age of the State of Israel, and because many of the indices are relative and depend upon parallel trends in other countries, there is an objective difficulty in testing this claim. However, whether accurate or a mistaken hypothesis, it is clear that in order to advance Israel and to bring it to the top of the rankings, long range strategic thinking is needed along with high levels of material and cultural investment in education and human development.