Friday, June 20, 2014

The Race Debate: Is there a Jewish race?

When I was in college I took a class called Jews in The United States. Obviously the class was focused around how Jews lived in the USA, but early on our professor Barbara Burstin brought up a question I had barely thought about; Who is a Jew? The class discussed multiple ideas of defining who is a Jew; someone born to a Jewish mother, one who practices the Jewish religion, one who descends from the 'Jewish People' (a.k.a. a Jewish race). What really stuck out with me is the idea of Jews as a race. At that point of the class I was a year into my serious genealogy research and had just begun to trace out my Ashkenazi roots in Holland, something I thought I'd never find from my Dutch Sephardic line. As well I had just learned about the Joods Monument, which I wrote about here. I was slowly realizing how connected the Jewish population around the world truly were, so the idea of the Jewish race just made sense to me.

When the class discussed this idea further I realized that many other Jews and non-Jews were quite against this idea. Some discussed how this was just anti-semitic and could lead to another Holocaust because the idea of Jews as a race is used by anti-semites in their propaganda. What the anti-semites do is use the argument of a Jewish race to say Jews have been bred to be evil and manipulative. I could understand why this would lead to many rational people saying the idea of Jews as a race is not only wrong but is morally wrong, especially when you read articles like this, but I think if you look at it with fears aside (there will always be crazy people in the World) you can see the proof in genetics. Another argument that was difficult to counter is the idea that Judaism is a religion and people leave or convert Judaism all throughout history, thus Jews couldn't be a race. While this argument is valid in a way, if you look at it in a different way it makes more sense why this is wrong (at least in my humble opinion).

The first thing you need to do is think of Judaism in two lights; the religion and the race. Yes, as two different things. To make this easier I will refer to the religion as Judaism and the race as Israelites. Judaism is just a religion anyone can enter or leave based on their personal beliefs. Israelites are those who descend from the people who lived in the Middle East who practiced the Jewish faith. So to be an Israelite would be your genetics consisting of mostly Israelite markers. What kept the Israelite DNA flowing throughout it's own community was the Jewish faith, a societal barrier which kept marriages within the Jewish community. Even after hundreds of years apart many people from around the world who claim themselves to be Jewish share a common descent which has been shown through DNA.

Anyone with a percentage of Jewish Diaspora genetic markers (what I previously referred to as Israelite markers) on Family Tree DNA could tell you how fascinating it is to see the thousands of Jews who are anywhere from 2nd cousins to 5th or 6th cousins. Most of whom rely on the chromosome browser to determine how they are related to the others. On Family Tree DNA in the My Origins section of Family Finder they talk about the Jewish Diaspora and say "While Judaism is a religion, the Jewish people are also a nation. Modern Jews have diversified into numerous branches, such as Ashekenazi, Sephardic, and Mizrahi, as well as odds and ends such as the Bene and Beta Israel. Unifying many of these populations are genetic commonalities, likely resulting from a common Middle Eastern Ancestry. This combination of Middle Eastern and European is found in many other groups, and many of them exhibit signatures of the Ashkenazi Diaspora, but it is not common descent."

Interestingly enough I see a correlation of this idea with a Muslim race but the World already refers to them as the Arab race. At this point some of you might say, "But there are a lot of Arabs who are Jewish, Christian, or other religions and a lot of Muslims who aren't Arabs." True but you can say the exact same thing about Israelites as there are hundreds of thousands who have converted to Christianity, Islam, and other religions over the past 5000 years as well as lots of Jews who aren't Israelite. I would even bet that many Christians with newly discovered Jewish ancestry are reading this, especially since it is more common for those with Sephardic ancestry.  I found out from my own DNA test that I am 6% Arab, meaning that one of my 2nd great-grandparents could be fully Arab (there are only three of my 2nd-great grandparents I don't know about, so possible) but at the very least I have a multiple 3rd great-grandparents and other ancestors further down with partial Arab blood.

In the end I think the main point I'm getting at is when it comes to "Is there a Jewish race?" the answer is Yes. If you look at it from a completely scientific standpoint based on genetic evidence you can see there is an abundance of proof that points in the affirmative.

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