Dear Rabbi Simon,
Do the Jewish holy books tell followers of Judaism to excel in their work and profession, as we have seen many Jews reach the very top of all areas like business, science, arts, cinema, entertainment, etc, as well as Nobel laureates?
Thank you for your interesting question.
While there are passages in the Scriptures and Rabbinic literature which encourage industry and pursuit of excellence in all one’s endeavours, I am sure that this is true for other cultures and religions, ancient and modern, as well. Jewish achievement in the areas you mention has been attributed to:
- A respect for learning and the value of intellect generally.
- A commitment to education
- The fact that Jews have historically been excluded from many traditional means of earning a livelihood, such as through land ownership, membership in guilds, inheritance of wealth through aristocratic birth, etc. This has fostered resourcefulness and innovation.
- Due to religious and other forms of discrimination, Jews have lived on the margins of society, forcing them to live with uncertainty and the knowledge that they may be forced to flee at short notice (remember Fiddler on the Roof?). This fosters a penchant for risk-taking and a cultivation of the ultimate portable asset: The intellectual ability of every individual.
- Historically, Jews have often been subject to capricious, extortionate taxation, essentially forcing them to earn the means to survive, the alternative being to face expulsion or worse. It was earn or burn.
I hope these brief reflections are of use or interest.
Rabbi Rashi Simon