Menachem Mendel

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Genetics and the Jewish Identity

There’s an interesting article in the Jerusalem Post on “Genetics and the Jewish Identity.” The conclusion is very important.

What genetic data cannot tell us is who is a Jew. The answers to that question are, variously, halachic, political and cultural. On a purely technical level, there is no genetic screen that can sort Jews from non-Jews. Population differences do not translate into reliable tests of individual lineage. What genetics can tell us is something about where our ancestors came from – no more. It cannot tell us who we are. Nor can it tell us who we want to become, as individual Jews or as a Jewish people. As new data emerge from genetics laboratories, though, we are likely to learn a great deal more about the history of our people.

Genetics will be helpful for finding out about the history of the Jews, but it won’t help telling us who is a Jew.

2 Responses to “Genetics and the Jewish Identity”

  1. 1

    If you mean by pronouncement that you hope that’s the case, good and well. If you mean anything more than that however then I’m not sure what you base your predictive powers on. People in future – more genetically aware – generations may define the word “Jew” differently than might an early 21st-century Orthodox Jew. L’mashal…

    I can easily see a scientifically-aware Orthodox Scholar some 50 years hence refuse to consider someone a Cohen if he falls outside of haplogroup-J. If we can rationalize sheshes Yimei bereishis into some 14 billion years we can certainly update our Cohanic records without too much violence to the traditions of our sacred texts. Again- sheshes. YIMEI. Bereishis. And we did it! Updating our methods of “checking” into yichus? piece of cake.


  2. 2
    Menachem Mendel:

    I never thought of using genetics to try and exclude a cohen. I think that in general poskim have been hesitant about using DNA for such things as paternity questions, so I am not sure if they will start using them for something like who can do birkat cohanim, but maybe some innovative posek will permit a divorcee or giyoret to a cohen on the basis of his genetics.




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