I have found the success of the Jews in America a fascinating story. Like many I have attributed much of it to cultural literacy because of the centerpiece of the “book” to the Jews. The torah service looks like a people who worship a book, the torah scroll. The service is rife with ritual, the scroll adorned with velvet and silver, ritual objects like the yod, processionals, etc.

In Outliers Malclom Gladwell finds a different source of their success. Beacuse the Jews were denied access to land and many trades, they came to America with select skills, especially garment making. New York is filled with stories about garment manufacturers that progressed from kitchen tables to pushcarts to storefronts to factories to distribution centers to retailers. Bloomingdales, Saks, Macy’s, Wannamakers, as well as many designers such as Ralph Lauren share these roots.

The founders of many of the garment companies started these businesses and their sons went into the businesses and grew them. But the next generation went into professions, largely law and medicine.

A hugely disproportionate share of the largest and most successful law firms in New York have family roots in the garment business. Many of the Jewish law school graduates were excluded from the WASPy firms and opened their own firms, often taking the business the ‘proper’ law forms did not want. In the 1970’s this was the business of unfriendly takeovers and mergers and acquisitions. It became the boom field of law and that is why it is largely Jewish dominated.

If intellectual predisposition was the sole qualifying fact, then you would expect sons of rabbis and teachers to enter the field, yet the top lawyers were more likely to have fathers and grandfathers in the garment business. It was the skills of building, being on their own and seeing direct rewards for their efforts that the lawyers learned.

I have noted before that it is ironic that much of the success of the Jews in America is the result of their persecution in Europe.