To the Editor:
Re The Secrets of Jewish Genius, by Bret Stephens (column, Dec. 28):
As the daughter of one of the Jewish Nobel Prize winners of the 20th century, I take issue with much of Mr. Stephenss column. I am certain my father, Lawrence R. Klein, would agree with me that no ethnic group has a lock on thinking different or the achievements that issue from that.
What drove my father to excel was not his Jewishness, but rather his experience growing up during the Depression, his natural aptitude and a passion for economics. I dont remember a time when he wasnt working till late at night. His devoted students at the University of Pennsylvania came from all over the world.
My father received an excellent public education, which laid the foundation for his future Nobel Prize-winning research.
In the future, perhaps someone will be writing columns about the preponderance of African and Middle Eastern Nobel Prize winners, from marginalized immigrant groups that were welcomed into new countries and given the opportunity to be educated and to show their genius.
To the Editor:
Bret Stephens is being unjustly accused of racism despite preaching a message of unity and enlightenment. He draws attention to traditions of critical thinking and moral reasoning that are hardly exclusive to Jews. His point is that Jewish genius is representative of types of thinking shared by other groups that have also accomplished great intellectual feats.
Mr. Stephens seeks to draw broader lessons from this to overcome the current assault on free speech and freedom of association that devalue important habits of thought. By offering the example of Jewish genius, which contributed so greatly to the world despite persecution over the millenniums, Mr. Stephens reveals the intellectual and moral void lying at the heart of the exploitation of ethnic and cultural differences used to divide people.
There are Jewish geniuses, Christian geniuses, Muslim geniuses, Hindu geniuses and geniuses from every country, religion and culture in the world (apologies to anybody I left out). The fact that a disproportionate number of Jews made enormous intellectual contributions to the world in no way denigrates the accomplishments of any other group.
Mr. Stephenss attempt to use their example to identify common traits shared by other groups that can be developed by an enlightened educational system and praised by a society that values freedom of thought deserves praise rather than condemnation.
Michael E. LewittDelray Beach, Fla.
To the Editor:
As an Ashkenazi Jew, I disagree with Bret Stephens that there is a phenomenon of Jewish genius. Mr. Stephens cites the fact that American Jews have won a hugely disproportionate number of Nobel Prizes in science in the 20th century as an indication of Jewish brilliance. Where is the high number of prominent Jewish scientists and thinkers before that era?
Where are the Jewish equivalent of Euclid, Shakespeare and Newton? The signers of the Declaration of Independence and American statesmen in the 18th and 19th centuries were not Jews.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews, the fastest-growing segment of world Jewry because of their high birthrate, look down on secular knowledge and most reject a university education. Where, then, is the future of Jewish genius?
To the Editor:
Bret Stephens writes of Ashkenazi Jews being smart and associates this with questioning, thoughtful attitudes. Jews tend to value education and reading highly; we are the People of the Book. This led to New York Citys best high schools, with admission by competitive examination, being mostly Jewish for much of the 20th century. Now students of Asian heritage are often the ones with the fierce drive for education, so they fill many of those seats.
It seems unlikely that any ethnic group is genetically more intelligent than any other. Smartness, to a large extent, comes from reading, thinking, discussing, arguing, exercising the brain.
Gerald M. LevitisNew York
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