In Brief — An exploration of the genetics of most modern Jews showing that physical traits rest in past history and human nature. Genetics and religion are different concepts that can’t be used to identify “Jewishness.” [Written in April/June 2017.]
Being Human Determines Physical Appearance —
“I don’t look Jewish, do I?” My lovely Jewish girlfriend touched her face and expressed worried concern that her face might show her Jewishness. I assured her that she looked just like any attractive blonde female. In the years since, I’ve thought about that exchange and, indeed, have lost a wonderful friend over related issues. This piece might clear the fog away from a fraught question…at least I hope so.
As you doubtless expected, this discussion will contain a little history and scientific evidence. I’ll make it as painless as possible.
Origins and Early History of Judaism —
Generally, Judaism arose from a blending of Bronze Age Babylonian religion with a mix of elements of other early Middle Eastern monotheistic religions. Although the date is hard to place, you’d be in the ballpark with between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago.
Researchers agree that Judaism is a religion, not a race (remember that!!). Indeed, the Semites of the Middle East, including the Arabs and the early Jews, had dark complexions and spoke similar languages. “Semitic” was a language concept until fairly recent times. When you hear “anti-Semitism,” you are hearing a political evaluation that may be denigrating adherents of Judaism, the religion of Judaism itself or it may be for political advantage. Benjamin Netanyahu, the current political leader of Israel, is using the term for political advantage.
I won’t risk boring you with more details. If you’re interested, you can do your own research or read my earlier pieces on religion and the modern Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Migration of the Jews—
In earlier times for a variety of reasons that include both voluntary and forced migration, adherents of Judaism moved to various parts of the world. For our purposes, I will focus on Europe.
There are three main types of adherents to Judaism, and of these, roughly 80% are Ashkenazi, or European, Jews. Many Ashkenazi Jews moved to different areas of Europe including Germany, Poland, Russia and other European countries. This group was larger before the advent of Nazism and the Holocaust.
According to scholars, those migratory male Jews bred with local females who then converted to Judaism. Human nature is…well, human. Males want to spread their seed with any available female. So it has been since we arose from pond scum. Females, particularly in early times, converted to Judaism and passed their DNA on to their children. Genetic studies bear this out.
Naturally, the migrating Jews associated with other Jews for both religious and understandable human reasons like solidarity and security. Thus, when I used the term “clannish” to describe the early Jewish groups it was intended to indicate that the group stuck together. My former friend was wrong when his cultural sensitivity falsely labeled me as anti-Semitic. The irony in this story is that my former friend is the product of not just his adoptive Jewish parents but of Native American ancestry. I urge you to look up “clannish” or click on the highlighted word.
Admiration is Not Identification—
Although I’m an atheist, I admire the Mormon commitment to community, the Quakers’ devotion to peace, mainline Christianity’s belief in service to others less fortunate, and Judaism’s focus on knowledge, but I’m still an atheist who opposes belief in a deity…any deity anywhere. It’s normal to admire something, but that admiration doesn’t make one an adherent of a particular belief system.
Likewise, I urge non-practicing Jews to recognize that Judaism is a religion, not a race, and stop identifying themselves as “Jewish.” They are humans of different sexes and colors, Americans, Spanish, Israelis or other valid identities, but they aren’t Jews. They may feel a cultural affinity to Judaism or to Israel, they may have genetic markers, but DNA, admiration or feelings don’t make them Jewish.
Whether or not my former girlfriend had so-called “Semitic” features is irrelevant, she didn’t have to worry…she was still lovely. Her racial characteristics are those of her European forebears. It’s the religious affiliation that counts.
My friend Lionel basically advocated that it’s only when we learn to be honest with ourselves that we can get past the religious divisiveness that leads to distrust and enmity. Let’s make this a better, less divisive world by recognizing that we’re all human…even those non-adherents of Judaism identifying themselves as Jews.
The Weekly Sampler—
As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.
If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.
Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.
Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on January 2017.