The Impact of the Jewish People on Humanity, as Traced by Scholars Throughout Time

05/28/2015 12:15 pm ET | Updated May 27, 2016


When Abraham first discovered the method of connection, he told about it to whomever would listen, and those who joined him became the first truly connected people. Those people then went to Egypt, and finally emerged from it in much greater numbers, an entire nation. That nation received the method of connection, namely the Torah, and connected as one to provide the world with an example of unity. In the First Temple, the Jewish nation achieved its highest level of connection.. From there the nation began to decline until they were exiled to Babylon. When they returned to the Land of Israel, the majority of the Jewish nation chose to stay in the Diaspora and assimilate.

This is how the circulation of the method of connection began. When people who had learned to connect above their self-interest mingled with those who have never had such thoughts, those noble ideas began to percolate to the host societies and help instigate more humane cultures. Notions of universalism and humanism began to take hold in people's minds.

During the renaissance, several renowned scholars maintained that the Greeks adopted at least some of their concepts from the Jews, in this case specifically from Kabbalah. Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522), for example, the political counselor to the Chancellor, wrote in De Arte Cabbalistica (On the Art of Kabbalah):

"Nevertheless, his [Pythagoras'] preeminence derived not from the Greeks, but again from the Jews. ...He himself was the first to convert the name Kabbalah, unknown to the Greeks, into the Greek name philosophy."

In 1918, French pastor, Charles Wagner, was quoted as having written,

"None of the resplendent names in history--Egypt, Athens, Rome--can compare in eternal grandeur with Jerusalem. For Israel has given to mankind the category of holiness. Israel alone has known the thirst for social justice, and that inner saintliness which is the source of justice."

More recently, Christian historian Paul Johnson wrote in A History of the Jews:

"The Jewish impact on humanity has been protean. In antiquity they were the great innovators in religion and morals. In the Dark Ages and early medieval Europe they were still an advanced people transmitting scarce knowledge and technology. Gradually they were pushed from the van and fell behind, by the end of the eighteenth century they were seen as a bedraggled and obscurantist rearguard in the march of civilized humanity. But then came an astonishing second burst of creativity. Breaking out of the ghettos, they once more transformed human thinking, this time in the secular sphere. Much of the mental furniture of the modern world too is of Jewish fabrication."

Similarly, In The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, author Thomas Cahill, former director of religious publishing at Doubleday, describes the Jews' contribution to the world, which began during the exile in Babylon. In his words,

"The Jews started it all--and by 'it' I mean so many of the things we care about, the underlying values that make all of us, Jew and Gentile, believer and aethiest, tick. Without the Jews, we would see the world through different eyes, hear with different ears, even feel with different feelings ... We would think with a different mind, interpret all our experiences differently, draw different conclusions from the things that befall us. And we would set a different course for our lives."

Interestingly, some renown Jewish leaders also wrote about the spreading (and spoiling) of Jewish wisdom after the ruin of the First Temple. Rabbi Shmuel Bernstein of Sochatchov, for example, wrote,

"The Greeks had the wisdom of philosophy, which originated from the writings of King Solomon that have come to their possession after the ruin of the First Temple. However, they were spoiled by them with subtractions, additions, and substitutions until false views mingled with them. And yet, the wisdom itself is good, but parts of the bad have mingled with it."

Baal HaSulam wrote similarly in "The Wisdom of Kabbalah and Philosophy,"

"Sages of Kabbalah observe philosophic theology and complain that they have stolen the upper shell of their wisdom, which Plato and his Greek predecessors had acquired while studying with the disciples of the prophets in Israel. They have stolen basic elements from the wisdom of Israel and wore a cloak that is not their own."

The Legacy of the Jews

The Jews that remained in Babylon after the ruin of the First Temple disappeared, leaving no trace but the notions they had bequeathed to their hosts. Later, when the Second Temple was ruined, the whole of the Jewish people exiled and introduced the world to two tenets that were to become the basis of all three predominant, aptly named "Abrahamic" religions: "Love your neighbor as yourself," and monotheism, meaning that there is only one God, one force governing the world. These notions are paramount to the success of humanity because when understood correctly, the former defines the mode by which we will achieve this beneficial connection among us--through loving others, and not kin, but our neighbors, meaning strangers--and the latter defines the essence of our attainment once we are connected--the singular force of reality.

Accordingly, Professor T.R. Glover from Cambridge University wrote in The Ancient World,

"It is strange that the living religions of the world all build on religious ideas derived from the Jews."

Likewise, Herman Rauschning, a German Conservative Revolutionary who briefly joined the Nazis before breaking up with them, wrote in, The Beast from the Abyss:

"Judaism, nevertheless ... is an inalienable component of our Christian Western civilization, the eternal 'call to Sinai' against which humanity again and again rebels."


Johannes Reuchlin, De Arte Cabbalistica (Hagenau, Germany: Tomas Anshelm, March, 1517), 126.
Source: A Book of Jewish Thoughts, ed. J. H. Hertz (London: Oxford University Press, 1920), 134.
Paul Johnson, (Christian historian), A History of the Jews (New York: First Perennial Library, 1988), 585-6.
Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (New York: Nan A. Talese/Anchor Books (imprints of Doubleday), 1998), 3.
Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, Shem MiShmuel [A Name Out of Samuel], Miketz [At the End], TARPA (1921).
Rav Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), The Writings of Baal HaSulam, "The Wisdom of Kabbalah and Philosophy" (Ashlag Research Institute: Israel, 2009), 38.
Terrot Reavely (T.R.) Glover, The Ancient World (US: Penguin Books, 1944), 184-191.
Herman Rauschning, The Beast From the Abyss (UK: W. Heinemann, 1941), 155-56.