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I get a lot out of the investigative journalism that Shemarya Rosenberg provides for free to the Jewish community, and he mainly gets a lot of undeserved mean and nasty comments for it. But this guest post on Rosenberg’s blog Failed Messiah did not pass the logic test.
Based on reading a story by Hillel Halkin in Commentary the anonymous, Orthodox guest blogger made the case that Jews have always intermarried, and that only recently has this been a source of contention in the Jewish community.
The basis of this claim is that many Jewish men have a genetic marker associated with Levites on their Y chromosome. Jewish women, on the other hand, do not have a genetic marker. So, the nameless guest blogger suggests, this must mean that Jewish men married non-Jewish women and were perhaps more relaxed about them converting.
But how does he deduce that? It’s a Jewish genetic marker on the Y chromosome. I am not a scientist, not even a little bit, and yet I somehow realize that women do not have Y chromosomes. That’s what makes us biologically female–we have two X chromosomes. So if there is a genetic marker for being a Levite in the Y chromosome, no women, Jewish or not, will have it, ever. It’s one marker, and Jewish men may have it even if their other genetic patterns aren’t similar. Or they may not. No biggie.
I just have to edit this to add that I didn’t take into account any of the discussion of mitochondrial DNA in the original article. The genetics in this might be more interesting than what my limited science background has prepared me to understand!
In any case, I continue to find the whole emphasis on Jewish genetics troubling, mainly because I think it locates current Jews’ identity in an odd place, and has racial overtones.
Of course, Jewish people are not all genetically similar. You can tell that with your eyes. This argument is fishy. You can tell that with your nose–whether you have a Jewish one or not. (And whatever you think that means!) Being Jewish is not a genetic condition, it’s a cultural one. When we choose to preserve our culture–religion, language, foodways, jokes, music–that’s what preserves the Jewish people. We pass on a legacy to our children, whether they are biological or adopted. People who decide to join us by conversion become Jews, period, and don’t get a new chromosomal marker when they do it.
Yes, it would be very interesting if we’d always had supportive non-Jewish spouses helping us do that throughout our history. It’s even more interesting that we have supportive non-Jewish spouses doing that right now. It’s nice of the anonoblogger to say that conversion should be an easier process, but this genetic argument is about as relevant as the price of fish on Tuesday.
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