Inquisitiveness and Argumentativeness as Explanation for Jewish Success in Science and Scholarship

Patai, Jewish Mind, 333

Inquisitiveness and argumentativeness…have been Jewish mental characteristics for many centuries, nurtured by a concentration in halakhic study with its method of pilpul, questioning and arguing over apparently contradictory statements contained in the Talmud.  As long as the Jewish intellectual horizon was boxed in by the “four cubits of the Halakha,” as it was in the Ashkenazi majority of Jewry until the Enlightenment, the outlets for these old Jewish gifts were limited and remained outside the Veblenian global “intellectual enterprise.”  Once these barriers were removed, Jewish inquisitiveness and argumentativeness spilled over into all the newly opened up fields of scientific and scholarly inquiry, and especially into those which were of dominant interest among the Gentiles of the immediate environment.

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