This article reduces the reason for Ashkenazi Jews’ aggregate, genetically based, high IQ to Jewish exclusion and suffering: “selection events”:
… the frequent pogroms to which Jews were subject in Eastern Europe would have been “selection events” which would have selected for correlates of IQ such as future-orientation, social skill, planning and simply the wealth needed to escape. Thus, Lynn argued that, even though Jewish IQ was high before the Holocaust, it was probably even higher afterwards.
There are other reasons for the high IQ in Ashkenazi Jews predating the pogroms and the Holocaust. These have to do with the substantive nature of Judaism itself, not least the premium put on the study and analysis of scripture and certainly the study of Talmud. (I would argue that even the study of our Tanach, which Rabbi Ben Shapiro has mistakenly called Torah, does the brain good.)
At the secular, Israeli secondary school I attended, not enough Talmud was taught, unfortunately. Still, the process of reasoning, called pilpul, captivated me; it’s marvelous—magic, really.
There is the Socratic Method and there is pilpul—“a dialectical method of Talmudic study, consisting of examining all the arguments pro and con in order to find a logical argument for the application of the Law and at the same time to sharpen the wits of the student.”
The Talmud is calisthenics for the mind, for sure, but also sagacious.
Whittling down Jewish thinking and achievement over thousands of years to oppression-generated genetic mutations during the Middle Ages has its flaws. The article, “Are Jews Smarter?”, in the New York Magazine, puts paid to such reductionism:
“To say that the Jews have a history of emphasizing scholarship is not just the fantasy of ethnic chauvinists and Woody Allen fans. To look at a single page of the Talmud is to understand this, with its main text at the center, its generations of rabbis arguing around the rim. The dialectic and critical reasoning are at its core.”
Remember, too, that the young scholar who did mental gymnastics the best got the prettiest girl …