Rummaging through standard sources, Gerald Krefetz celebrates in agreeable prose the achievements of American Jews. Look where he will, except apparently sports and cooking, Jews have made it big as financiers, lawyers, doctors, shrinks, economists (I am pleased to say that I am on Krefetz's roster of "leading economists"), entertainers, philanthropists and art dealers.

Whatever Jews do, they do better than the goyim. Take crime. The news is good: "While contemporary Jews believe that crime is someone else's problem, Jewish criminality is well established." Indeed, "The list of prominent villains is long and the aliases are intriguing: Louis 'Lepke' Buchalter, Mickey Cohen, 'Tootsie' Feinstein, Solly Gross, Jake Guzik, Phil 'The Stick' Kovolick, Abe 'Kid Twist' Relis, Arnold 'the Brain' Rothstein, Benjamin 'Bugsy' Siegel and Maier Suchowljanski, a.k.a. Meyer Lansky."

Almost proudly, Krefetz reports that "Under Lansky, crime was no longer a cottage industry of small, warring groups disposed to petty rackets and grand violence, but an elaborate corporation with subsidiaries and affiliates in gambling, prostitution, narcotics, industrial racketeering, bribery, and political corruption."

No wonder the late and much mourned Albert Anastasia, keeper of an older tradition, complained bitterly in the good old pre-Castro days about Cuban hospitality to Lansky's casinos. His was the anguish of the handloom weaver displaced by power looms: "You bastards have sold yourselves to the Jews. The traditions of the Honored Society have been forgotten. The old days were bad, maybe, but at least we could hold up our heads in pride. We had respect then; now we're a bunch of f------ businessmen." The Mafia had fallen victim to progress. Much as the first Rockefeller rationalized the oil industry, "Lansky brought reason and order to crime, brought it to a point at which it paralleled American business in structure. He initiated free enterprise, delegated responsibility, and divided and administered markets."

Are Jews rich? According to the rather elderly data cited by Krefetz, they are the most affluent of ethnic groups. Their 1969 household median income, $12,630, was more than 50 percent higher than that of families of English stock. Still, when Jews are poor, there is nothing half-hearted about their efforts. The same 1969 Census study reveals that ". . . Irish, English, German, Italian, Polish and Russian groups had less of their populations living in poverty than Jews did . . . This is a curious anomaly: Jews are both the richest and almost the poorest group in American society."

With one substantial qualification, this is a harmless, if not very original, example of popular sociology. Krefetz's handling of stereotypes is distressing, for he can't quite make up his mind whether or not Jews possess common ethnic traits. It is the sort of speculation which, if not in itself racist, furnished convenient ammunition to anti-Semites. Remarks like these are scattered through the text: "Iconoclasm is an old Jewish characteristic -- indeed it may be the primary Jewish trait"; "The corporate infrastructure, however, is based on family ties -- a very Jewish trait"; "The money game holds a fascination for Jews that some might say is equivalent to sex to the French, food to the Chinese, and power to the politician"; and among Jewish doctors, "A definite racial trait was evident in their research work in the subject of pathology."

To say the least, these are dubious generalizations. The legendary injunctions of Jewish mothers to eat, eat and the grand tradition of obesity that accompanied this maternal imperative testify to a devotion to food quite equal to that of the Chinese, or, for that matter, the French, Dutch, Argentinian and Italian.

While he is not making flimsy arguments for Jewish uniqueness, Krefetz suggests more sensibly that they resemble other Americans: ". . . the scramble for success is something of a national passion of pandemic proportion. It is no more a Jewish trait than it is a Catholic, Anglo-Saxon, conservative, radical, Armenian, or Mormon characteristic"; ". . . Jews, along with Chinese and Japanese Americans; West Indians, Northern Italians, Scots, and other minority groups . . . believe in self-denial and tend to work and plan for the future . . ." Krefetz reassures us that ". . . gullibility and greed are not solely Jewish characteristics." He is quite capable within a single paragraph of taking both positions. Harken to this balanced judgment: "There was nothing specifically Jewish in Cornfield's action, though he did attract a substantial Jewish following. Jewish financiers are blessed (or cursed?) with a mystique of high finance; after all, the string of Jewish financial wizards is long."

Well, it is time to stop and indulge in another Jewish tradition, a hot pastrami on rye garnished with a half-done dill pickle washed down with Dr. Brown's cream soda. I have doubtless said enough to warn you that Krefetz has cast a dim, flickering light on the Jewish question. A deep thinker the man is not.