21 February 2007

Who is a Jew: Is DNA enough?

Some food for thought in the Wall Street Journal by Moment magazine contributing editor Evan R. Goldstein.

It is the story of John Haedrich who, on a visit to Auschwitz in 2000, had a "serendiptious feeling." Although raised a Christian, he began to suspect he was actually Jewish, took a DNA test (the story doesn't say with which company), and was told that the results showed a "rather populous pedigree of Ashkenazi Polish Jews."

He petitioned the Israeli government under the Right of Return, refuses to convert because he says he is Jewish, and established the Jewish by DNA Research Institute to help others who want to establish their Jewish identity on biological grounds.
"What exactly does it mean to be a "Jew by DNA"? Is it even possible to define Jewishness biologically? And after Nazism perverted similar notions about heredity and race to justify ghastly, mechanized slaughter, is there something indecent about even posing the question?

"There is no biological marker that is unique to Jewish people," Raphael Falk, professor emeritus of genetics at Hebrew University, tells me. "There are no markers that can define an individual, man or woman, as a Jew or as belonging to any other community." A pioneer in the field, Mr. Falk is the author of a fascinating new book, "Zionism and the Biology of the Jews" (currently available only in Israel), in which he explores the science, philosophy and history of various biological theories that have clung to the Jewish people."

To read the entire opinion piece, click here.

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