Re: Does DNA prove that Jews are a race? #dna

Lee Jaffe

I found this question more disturbing than I anticipated.  I don't mean to imply anything about the author or her intentions – they could be entirely  innocent – but her question touches on some of the most sensitive and fraught points about Jewish identity I've come across.  Skirting the earlier points about race being a social and/or artificial construct, which should provide a baseline understanding for our discussion, I want to highlight the particularly thorny question of Jewish identity.  By Jewish law, tradition and practice, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew, whether their nearer relations lived in Ethiopia or China or Brooklyn or Aleppo.  We are all one people (Yes, there are distinctions, divisions, biases and social advantages / disadvantages within the Jewish world but for our purposes I'm just addressing whether someone is or isn't a Jew.) 

The notion that Ashkenazi Jews might be a race, and therefore distinct from the rest of the Jewish people is dismaying, to say the least.  And I think that notion goes along with a trend where other people try to determine what defines a Jew.  As already mentioned, these efforts haven't gone that well for us.   Further, I can't think of a time where defining Jews as a race has resulted in any protections: yes, as religious adherents, an ethnic group, a nationality, we have sometimes been considered part of a protected class where those identities could not be used to deny us access to housing, education, employment ...   

And therein lies my main point, that Jewish identity as understood by Jews does not fit neatly into any category(ies) understood by others.  And Jews as a race is the pigeonhole we should avoid most vigorously.  I think this is important to keep in mind at a time when Nazis (nothing "neo" about them) march with signs "Jews won't replace us," and progressive organizations ban "white Jews" from their boards because they see us a privileged, and even some Jewish organizations begin to internalize that view, worrying whether we are diverse enough.  (Representing 1% of the world's people, I bring diversity with me wherever I go.)    We are all one people, sharing a single origin and tradition and I think that's a perspective we need to assert at every turn.  Just because history has forced us into exile for thousands of years, living in every corner of world, where we've taken on different languages, dress, food, customs and even physical characteristics, we shouldn't forget that we are one people.

To put this in the genealogical context, looking at what my family has undergone over the past 2 to 3 centuries, what they have done to survive, hunkering down through oppression and taking enormous risks to escape to a better life – sometimes successfully, sometimes not – and, even after reaching "the land of the free," finding ourselves barred from jobs, housing, education until my generation, I don't and won't accept being relegated to some arbitrary label by someone with a limited understanding of what being Jewish means.


Lee David Jaffe

Surnames / Towns:  Jaffe / Suchowola, Poland ; Stein (Sztejnsapir) / Bialystok and Rajgrod, Poland ; Joroff (Jaroff, Zarov) / Chernigov, Ukraine ; Schwartz (Schwarzman?, Schwarzstein?) / ? ;  Rappoport / ? ; Braun / Wizajny, Suwalki, Poland,  Ludwinowski / Wizajny, Suwalki, Poland


Join to automatically receive all group messages.