I am currently reading a book entitled “Guns, germs and steel” by Jared
Diamond, that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2000. In this, the author attempts to
describe the development of human societies, and explain why it was that
Eurasians developed advanced societies much more rapidly than those on other
continents, America, Africa, Australia. He poses the question why was it
that Europeans conquered many other countries and not vice versa. In doing
so he dismisses ideas of mental superiority, and focuses instead on
physical-geographical factors, such as climate.
His explanation is that those who developed farming first, including
culturing food crops and domesticating animals in the fertile crescent of
the Middle East starting ca. 10,000 years ago, could produce enough excess
food to support a chief and an entourage of specialized workers (such as
soldiers, scribes, etc.) who did not have to produce food to feed
themselves. In this way societies evolved from bands of primitive
hunter-gatherers into settled villages, to organized chiefdoms, to fully
fledged states. Those who embarked on this evolution first, due to the
circumstances of their area of settlement, eventually came out on top. They
developed iron and steel first, then guns and also the germs in densely
inhabited cities that wiped out non-immune populations.
It occurred to me while reading this book, that the Jews could be described
as the ‘hunter-gatherers of modern society.’ What I mean by this is that
since the Jews were known to be a “tribe of wanderers,” they sought out food
and sustenance wherever they could within other’s societies, without being
primary food producers themselves. As societies developed and cities grew,
the Jews acted as opportunists, seeking advantage wherever possible in order
to survive. They insinuated themselves into the back alleys of modern
cities and found opportunity where others found none.
They performed as hunter-gatherers had in the ancient forests, foraging for
survival, but they did so in developed city-states. In that way, the Jews
became a feature of modern society, marginal yet always abreast of its
latest developments and always prepared to take risks. In this way they
built new empires of their own, in the garment trade, in the movie business,
in the nascent electronics industry, in the professions. Always staying
ahead of the pack.


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