Jews as a race
My recent posts about the Jewish religion questioned its antiquity. My submission was that modern-day Judaism and modern-day Christianity both arose at the same time as ways of adapting the ancient Hebrew religion to the destruction of the the Jerusalem temple by the Romans and the expulsion of most Israelites from Israel -- with Judaism being, if you like, the more conservative solution and Christianity the more radical solution.
Neither religion does things that the ancient Israelites did -- such as killing homosexuals or burning animals on altars -- but both have remained close to the major ethical teachings of the Torah, with Jews remaining true to more minor teachings too. So both religions are only about 2,000 years old rather than the 3,000 years or thereabouts that some Jews claim for their religion.
I may not have convinced anyone of all that but it seems to me that I should complete the picture as I see it by looking at another important Jewish claim: That they are indeed the same people as the ancient Israelites; that they are the modern-day descendants of the exiles from Israel. And I will jump the gun a little by saying that I do see some substance in that claim.
And that claim is a central one for orthodox Jews. They really do believe that Jewish Israelis are the same people in the same land speaking the same language as of old. And some of my Jewish correspondents are so strongly attached to such a view that they see no difficulty in the fact that Jews from Lithuania mostly look like Lithuanians (blue eyes, blond hair) while Jews from Egypt mostly look like Egyptians (black hair, dark eyes). And at the last Pesach seder I attended we were honoured to have a Sabra family present -- who were by far the most dark-skinned people in the otherwise Ashkenazi congregation.
And that is the central difficulty for the orthodox claim: As we see in the famous story of Ruth, Israelites have never been wholly endogamous. The marrying out that is the despair of many a Yiddisher Momma in NYC today has been going on for a long time. So Jews from Lithuania are largely Lithuanians and Jews from Arab lands are largely Arab. Any genetic connection to the Israelites of old would appear to be tenuous indeed.
A second difficulty is that there is a very clear sense in which Judaism is a religion -- and that was the starting point of my posts of a few days ago. You can BECOME a Jew, just as you can BECOME a Christian. The requirements are more severe in some ways for Jews than for Christians but both conversions do happen. You cannot change your race but you can change your religion so is not Judaism simply a religion?
The answer lies, of course, in abandoning two-value logic. Jewry could be BOTH a religion and a race. And it seems that it is. The last I saw of the genetic findings, about half of Ashkenazi Jews do show some distinctively Middle-Eastern genes. So despite the exogamy, some genetic connection to ancient Israel would appear to remain among modern-day Jews. So many or maybe most Ashkenazim who make aliyah are indeed returning to what is at least partly their genetic home. And the fact that their religion is partly that of ancient Israel makes it their home too.
The situation with the Sephardim is harder to disentangle and may require further developments in genetic research to progress. But that the Ashkenazim have hung on to their original ancestry to some degree for so long is obviously encouraging.
So the holiest of holy cities has indeed regathered to itself its people.
Jewish humor is of course legendary and I am a great devotee of it. I was probably started off by being taken to see Marx Bros. movies as a kid. It often has tragic undertones, as one might expect. A totally mad example of that which I can never get out of my mind is the crack by Milton Berle: "Anytime a person goes into a delicatessen and orders a pastrami on white bread, somewhere a Jew dies". So let me end up my comments on endogamy/exogamy with an equally mad cartoon on the subject
And should I mention that I always order my Pastrami on rye?