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May 21, 2009 5:03 PM   Subscribe

"The special moment when the Kohanim blessed the assembly moved me deeply, for it possessed a great sense of magic and theatricality... I had heard that this indwelling Spirit of God was too powerful, too beautiful, too awesome for any mortal to look upon and survive, and so I obediently covered my face with my hands. But of course, I had to peek."--Leonard Nimoy, I Am Spock

Leonard Nimoy discusses his inspiration for the Vulcan "live long and prosper" hand gesture. Rabbi Yonassan Gershom explains its Jewish origins, and discusses Jewish themes in Star Trek. Via Laughing Squid.
posted by mattdidthat (47 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Beam me up, Scotty. There are no fresh bagels here.
posted by Afroblanco at 5:06 PM on May 21, 2009


"Was Gene Roddenberry Jewish? Very emphatically NO!!! ... Nimoy and Shatner are Jewish, as are Walter Koenig, Brent Spiner, Bob Justman, Rick Berman, Herb Solow, Ira Steven Behr, J.J. Abrams, etc. But not Roddenberry!"

Whoa, easy there Rabbi. And thanks for the spoilers.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:21 PM on May 21, 2009


He'll be happy to re-enact the inspiration for pon farr. But you'll hate yourself for asking.
posted by hal9k at 5:28 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


My old roommate and her husband are self-confessed geeks, who incorporated a lot of different fandom/geekdom elements into their wedding (the rings looked a bit like the One Ring, they used D&D figures as their cake topper, etc.). But we were all pleasantly surprised when the officiant, a non-demominational minister, raised both hands to bless them both -- and did the Kohanim's hand gesture. Of course, everyone there knew it as "omg it's the Vulcan salute", and so there were a few titters of surprise, at which the officiant paused, grinned, and said, "it's a real thing, you know, it's Jewish," and went on.

I realized that she actually had selected it precisely because she knew that everyone was geeky enough to know it as "the Vulcan salute" and thus would get a kick out of it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:30 PM on May 21, 2009 [11 favorites]


I'm fairly sure a lot of the stuff Spock ate in those random planets wasn't Kosher.
posted by qvantamon at 5:37 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Enough with the emotion already!
posted by brundlefly at 5:54 PM on May 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


The current Spock is half-Italian, half-Irish.

As a Jew, I'm not feeling it.

Jewishness, I mean. Quinto was the best thing in the movie.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:00 PM on May 21, 2009


I'm fairly sure a lot of the stuff Spock ate in those random planets wasn't Kosher.

11:4 Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that chew the cud, or
of them that divide the hoof: as the camel, because he cheweth the
cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.

11:5 And the coney, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the
hoof; he is unclean unto you.

11:6 And the reticulated razorbat of Rigel VIII, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof, and shooteth death rays out of his freaky faceted insect eyes; he is unclean to you, and you should probably not wear a red shirt around him just to be sure.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:01 PM on May 21, 2009 [40 favorites]


Well, Spock was vegetarian in the series, so it wouldn't have been too hard for him to keep kosher.
posted by grae at 6:08 PM on May 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


how long did you have to wait for someone to post a prelude to federation before springing this on us?
posted by doobiedoo at 6:17 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Heh. Jewish themes in Star Trek. Great movie. Mormon themes in BSG. Awesome series.

Seems like Scientology was last in line for SciFi picks.
posted by qvantamon at 7:11 PM on May 21, 2009


So, what you're saying is that Star Trek isn't just science fiction, but actually more like Sci Fi/Fantasy?!
posted by markkraft at 7:52 PM on May 21, 2009


Seems like Scientology was last in line for SciFi picks.

To be fair, they did have a couple pretty good episodes of South Park.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:56 PM on May 21, 2009


Jewwsss in Sspppacceeeeee!!!!!

No but seriously, let's not mix sci fi with primitive religion.
posted by Liquidwolf at 7:57 PM on May 21, 2009


If it were merely a symbol of blessing, that would be one thing.

But a symbol of blessing from those who are supposedly from a genetically pure caste?! A bit creepy, really... no matter who it comes from.

But hey, I'm sure some exclusionary, racist religious traditions are more beautiful and sacred than others, right?
posted by markkraft at 8:14 PM on May 21, 2009


But a symbol of blessing from those who are supposedly from a genetically pure caste?! A bit creepy, really... no matter who it comes from.

Yes, we Jews are inherently creepy because we're "a genetically pure caste," and everything associated with us is contaminated. We're also "exclusionary and racist." Every last one of us.

What the fuck is wrong with you?
posted by Afroblanco at 9:39 PM on May 21, 2009


I believe the "caste" to which he was referring was mentioned in one of the linked articles as such: "The Vulcan greeting is based upon a blessing gesture used by the kohanim (koe-hah-NEEM) during the worship service. The kohanim are the genealogical descendants of the Jewish priests who served in the Jerusalem Temple."
posted by adipocere at 9:46 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


So he's saying that the Kohanim are creepy, exclusionary, and racist.

Is that really any better? One of my friends growing up had the last name of Cohen. A lot of Jews do. Many of them are no doubt descended from Kohanim. This fuck is calling them all creepy, exclusionary, and racist. Apparently he knows them all personally.

Also, calling Judaism "fantasy" and a "primitive religion?" What the fuck? This is somehow better than LOLXIANS?
posted by Afroblanco at 9:59 PM on May 21, 2009


I do not see him calling them creepy. The phrase "a bit creepy" is applied to "a symbol of blessing." Similarly, the religious tradition is being called "exclusionary, racist," not the people.

In both cases, you're reacting to a misrepresentation of what he said instead of what he actually said.
posted by adipocere at 10:14 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


You are splitting hairs. There's nothing exclusionary or racist about giving people a blessing. And the fact that the Kohanim are "genetically pure?" Why is that creepy? It's not like they're enslaving anybody. That's just their tradition. They're not hurting anybody by practicing their religion.

Anyway, before calling names, he should learn a thing or two. The Kohanim tradition is really no more strange than what you'd find in any other religion. In fact, if you're Reformed (like the plurality American Jews) you probably think the whole Kohanim tradition is a bunch of superstition anyway.

And you want to know something? If someone wants to bless me according to their tradition, I give them nothing but my gratitude. A couple years ago I was fortunate enough to be at St. Peter's Square while the Pope was giving Mass. At the end of the service, he blessed me (along with a few thousand others) in a number of different languages. And you want to know something? I thought that was pretty fucking cool. Inquisition notwithstanding.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:35 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


"There's nothing exclusionary or racist about giving people a blessing." I agree with that statement. However, that isn't what he said.

Well, if not anyone can perform this tradition, then that performance of tradition would be excluding someone. So, yes, in some lights, that tradition could be viewed as exclusionary. If that exclusion is based on who your parents are, well, draw your own conclusions there.

It is possible for someone to find something people do less than optimal without automatically applying it as a judgment upon "the people" who do it as a whole. He's talking about the tradition itself and who is allowed to perform it, rather than the people who receive the blessing.

You keep conflating the two for the purposes of your argument. I'm not splitting hairs here. They are different things, as far as I am concerned.
posted by adipocere at 10:52 PM on May 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


By the way, "geneological descent" from the Kohanim is not a rare thing.

Remember the 10 lost tribes? They were captured by the Assyrian empire and scattered across the middle east.

Those remaining in the land of Israel were from the tribe of Yehuda (hence Judea and Jewish), plus a fair number from the tribes of Levi and Benjamin. Plus the Kohanim. It's like Korea -- if you go back far enough, there's only a few patrilineal lines that have survived, though some were added through forced conversion in the Hasmonean era.

So pretty much everyone who is Jewish has Kohanim in their family, somewhere.

I happen to be a Levi, but then, so are about 25 to 35% of Jews of eastern european descent. But our sacred ritual isn't very splashy, though it involves splashing.
posted by Araucaria at 11:15 PM on May 21, 2009


Let's address this issue of "racism" and "genetic purity." Conservative and Reformed Jews (who, together, make up about 80% of American Jewry) don't buy into the "genetic purity" of Kohanim. Reformed Jews reject the caste system altogether. And Conservatives accept intermarrying between Kohanim and non-Kohanim, and consider their children to be Kohanim.

Even in the extreme case of Orthodox Jews, I don't think that really counts as anybody's definition of "racism." If you don't buy into those kind of traditions, you wouldn't be Orthodox anymore -- you'd be Conservative or Reformed. I don't think that Orthodox or Conservative non-Kohanim feel discriminated against.

And creepy? Well, shit. Every religion -- including Atheism and Agnosticism -- has aspects that an outsider could call "creepy." To call them creepy is tantamount to religious defamation. No better than LOLXIANS.

Anyway, I was offended by that comment and also the comments about "primitive religion" and "fantasy." Let's have some respect here people, okay? It's not okay to just piss all over somebody else's traditions.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:20 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's not okay to just piss all over somebody else's traditions.

Are you sure? Really? Can you please tell my wife to drop out of school and get back to the kitchen and stop pissing all over somebody else's traditions?
posted by dirty lies at 11:39 PM on May 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ok, that did me. One false-equvalency too many. Sorry guys, I'm off to bed.

I'll be sure to tune in tomorrow to see what other innocuous aspects of my religion are "creepy, exclusionary, and racist."

And don't forget "primitive" and "fantasist!"
posted by Afroblanco at 12:18 AM on May 22, 2009


I would take that crack a lot better from markkraft if he didn't have a long history of walking the line on antisemitism. The "genetic pure caste" angle is not a Jewish one. Cohens are the descendants of priests, not purebred dogs. Only someone with a serious axe to grind about Judaism would leap to that characterisation. Which is why I flagged that comment, and I'm disappointed it's still there.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:03 AM on May 22, 2009


Wow, epic derail.

First, being a "kohen" was, traditionally, a status that only males could have. So not only were Kohenim always allowed to marry "non-kohenim", but there was not even such a thing as a female Kohen. There's nothing especially racially pure about them, aside from being (putative) direct male-line descendants of Aaron, Moses' brother.

Second, it's "Reform Judaism", not "Reformed". Nitpick, I know. :-)

Last, why is everyone using "primitive" like it's an insult? God forbid anyone should keep a tradition alive that isn't directly endorsed by rational thought. I'm not saying we shouldn't try and keep improving society, but just because something seems to make no sense---at least, not to you---doesn't mean it's automatically a bad thing. Learn from Spock: raise an eyebrow, call it "fascinating", and suspend judgment a little.
posted by goingonit at 5:25 AM on May 22, 2009


As an atheist myself, I found markkraft's comment to be mean-spirited, pointlessly inflammatory and completely LOLLOLJEWS. Sheesh. No wonder people don't like atheists.

I liked talking about Star Trek and its relation to religion. Isn't that what we were doing?
posted by freecellwizard at 5:35 AM on May 22, 2009


By the way, "geneological descent" from the Kohanim is not a rare thing.

* waves * Hi, I'm one! And I'm with Afroblanco, the whole thing is a little hand-wavey for me. markkraft either does not know what he is talking about or is pushing buttons for effect. This post deserves better than starting a shouting match about his comment, perhaps we can re-rail?
posted by jessamyn at 5:44 AM on May 22, 2009


"Let's address this issue of "racism" and "genetic purity." Conservative and Reformed Jews (who, together, make up about 80% of American Jewry) don't buy into the "genetic purity" of Kohanim. Reformed Jews reject the caste system altogether."

Hey, me too!

That said, I *do* find it kind of creepy and elitist, when, in fact, your average Palestinian is probably more of a genetic Kohanim than most Cohens, regardless of religious beliefs.

Let's be clear. Mixing religion and genetics is poison. It's every bit as wrong and as damaging as phrenology... and it can lead down the same path.

The issue, however, isn't what you feel about it. You can decide that you don't buy into the "members only" club you can never be a member of, without having any sway whatsoever on either the influence of the club, or of the member's personal belief that they are, in some way, closer to God than you.
posted by markkraft at 6:17 AM on May 22, 2009


That said, I *do* find it kind of creepy and elitist, when, in fact, your average Palestinian is probably more of a genetic Kohanim than most Cohens, regardless of religious beliefs.

This is a religious issue, not a political one. The Palestinians have nothing to do with this. Leave them out of it.

You can decide that you don't buy into the "members only" club you can never be a member of, without having any sway whatsoever on either the influence of the club, or of the member's personal belief that they are, in some way, closer to God than you.

Do you know anything about Judaism at all? This scenario that you're imagining -- non-Kohanim leaving Orthodox Judaism in protest because they feel discriminated against -- I think you're making it up.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:29 AM on May 22, 2009


Anyway, I apologize for the derail. There were just a few comments in this thread that I really didn't think should have been here. Perhaps next time I'll "flag and move on."
posted by Afroblanco at 6:30 AM on May 22, 2009


"This is a religious issue, not a political one. The Palestinians have nothing to do with this. Leave them out of it."

I used Palestinians as an example of genetics, not religion. It should be noted that Jewish organizations are the ones who have really pushed the genetic study of Judaism, as a qualifier as for what groups should be considered for immigration and acceptance... and their studies concluded that "The Cohen Modal Haplotype is not exclusively found among Jews, but rather is also found among Kurds, Armenians, Italians, Palestinian Arabs, and a few other peoples."

Let me repeat... people in the Jewish community made this issue about genetics. If you want to not call it a matter of "genetic purity" and call it one of "genetic ancestry", that's fine by me.

That doesn't mean I don't find it as any other religious system that potentially puts one group of people above another. If it's any consolation, I find the higher levels of Scientology, the tapping of a dead Pope's head with a little silver hammer just to be sure, or the idea of 144K Mormons being the only ones that get to go to Heaven pretty creepy as well.

It's not something that Judaism has a lock on. I think lots of religions could stand to be reformed. I'm not denying the potentially positive aspects of religion, either. I just think there are more important things to religion than the trappings and the dogma that all too often separate people.


And no, it's not because I'm an atheist. Rather, I'm an agnostic who has no problem admitting that I cannot prove whether God exists or not. That said, if God does exist, I am willing to bet that he doesn't care much whether his followers are wearing special underwear, hijabs, yarmulkes, or Mickey Mouse ears.... and whacking dead people with little silver hammers is right out.
posted by markkraft at 7:12 AM on May 22, 2009


* waves * Hi, I'm one! And I'm with Afroblanco, the whole thing is a little hand-wavey for me. markkraft either does not know what he is talking about or is pushing buttons for effect. This post deserves better than starting a shouting match about his comment, perhaps we can re-rail?

Hey, me too!

Anyway, cute page. I do think it's interesting that, if you take Vulcans to be metaphorical for Jews (or, at least, any model minority--this is strongly felt in Enterprise I think, and in the teasing criticisms Spock's always gotten by both Bones and Kirk), then we now have a holocaust thrown into the mix. I mean, in the new movie, they took pains to say that 6 billion died--brought to mind immediately the 6 million of the holocaust. The remaining Vulcans now are scattered about in diaspora. I'm still not sure how I feel about the whole thing, even in terms of story potential.

I recently picked up a Star Trek novel called Vulcan's Forge which had a pre-Kirk human buddy for Spock--an Israeli starfleet officer. Apparently they bonded about being from the desert.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:19 AM on May 22, 2009



Heh. Jewish themes in Star Trek. Great movie. Mormon themes in BSG. Awesome series.



Christian themes in Cool Hand Luke


Jewwsss in Sspppacceeeeee!!!!!


Shouldn't that be Lox in Space?
posted by etaoin at 8:17 AM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


markkraft - I agree with you that any kind of religious specialization that is tied to your supposed genetic heritage is highly suspect. Furthermore, as you've stated above, a vanishingly small percentage of Jews share genetic material with the people depicted in the Hebrew Bible.
However, I think the point people are trying to make is that this is more of an inheritance of certain traditions. For example, I'm a UCC Christian, therefore I claim the Reformers, the Puritans, the pilgrims, the abolitionists and the Civil Rights activists as my spiritual forebearers. I don't carry their genes - per se - but I am a "descendant" of their traditions. My mom was Jewish via Germany and my pa was... Russian? English? I dunno. But because of my particular religious heritage and beliefs I claim a whole incredible mythos and history that begins in 1517 and continues up till me.
Others claim a personal mythology that is much, much older. But only the most abject fundamentalist would tie genetics to the whole thing. And, as you've pointed out above, they would undermine their own arguments.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:40 AM on May 22, 2009


Anyway, I was offended by that comment and also the comments about "primitive religion" and "fantasy."”

The fantasy bit I can see. But don’t most religions take pride in their age and ancient traditions? I suppose ‘primitive’ is a pejorative in context. I’ve been part of some Jewish rituals, pretty uplifting and sophisticated really. So, opposite ‘primitive’ in the ‘rustic’ or ‘facile’ sense. But yeah, primitive in the old tradition sense. Doesn't mean it's not useful (in counterpoint to markkraft's assertions).

Fantasy is a whole other argument on legitimacy and efficacy and the underpinnings of shared ritual and tradition, etc. etc.

But I’ll be damned if I let anyone get away with bad mouthing phrenology.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:19 PM on May 22, 2009


Not to derail the religious discussion derail, but as far as Leonard Nimoy and the hand thing goes...

A few years back I went to my niece's Bat Mitzvah at a temple in LA. When conferring the blessing on my niece, the Rabbi put his hands on my niece's head with the middle fingers split. I thought it was really cool, and I remembered that Nimoy adopted the gesture for Spock from something he learned from temple.

Later, at the reception in the courtyard of the temple I noticed a large granite tablet at one end of the garden, with the names of the temple's benefactors engraved. There, at the top of the list was "Mr. & Mrs. Leonard Nimoy". I was at Spock's temple! Whoa!
posted by dchase at 1:10 PM on May 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


Speaking of creepy and exclusionary, man, those Vulcan children really wouldn't lay off lil' Spock. This Vulcan's in general seem to have reached the conclusion that Vulcan genetics are superior to all other genetics. They've likely reached this through some twisted form of logic, but logic stops being useful if its based on a faulty premise.

Unless, of course, 24th century science has proven that Vulcans are, in fact, genetically superior to humans.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:47 PM on May 22, 2009


OK, I just saw the film, and while Quinto was a good Spock, the truly best, very best thing about the film was Simon "Shaun of the Dead" Pegg desperately trying to keep a straight face while using the most ridiculously OTT Scottish accent ever known to man. Closely followed by John "Harold" Cho playing Ltn. Sulu. What a nerdfest...
posted by Skeptic at 5:19 PM on May 22, 2009


144K Mormons being the only ones that get to go to Heaven pretty creepy as well.

I think that's the Jehovah's Witnesses, and if I recall correctly, it's not like everybody else goes to hell, you either are resurrected and live happily ever after in paradise on Earth, or you're just dead, which is disappointing if you're a follower of another religion where you believe in the afterlife, but, hey, pretty much what you're probably already expecting if you're an atheist.

Mormon heaven's pretty open, depending on what you mean by heaven, which is complicated by the division of heaven into a number of "degrees of glory." The lowest degree (purportedly better than mortality) has a pretty low bar, probably easier to qualify for than Mormon hell (no degree of glory, Satan's fate).

As for genetics and religion... yeah, there's often a streak of discrimination there in religious culture, and I think I can see what you're talking about with Jewish culture, though I don't know it well enough to say for sure, but I suspect it's probably founded in hopes about lineage and family as well as coming from a time where social communities were more tightly bound with religious identity which in turn was more strictly bound by heritage. I see less of that in Judaism as these other boundaries erode.

This Vulcans in general seem to have reached the conclusion that Vulcan genetics are superior to all other genetics.

I reached a milder conclusion: that the Vulcans consider dispassionate and logical thinking a significant advantage and Vulcan heritage as an advantage in these activities (and Human heritage a disadvantage). It's true there is an epistemological trap here, and it's true this might be part of an overall more or less racist viewpoint, but apparently like JW and Mormon heaven, there are degrees of possibility.

(And I love Quinto's delivery in front of the Vulcan science academy, but maybe that's just my human emotion kicking in.)
posted by weston at 6:10 PM on May 22, 2009


Furthermore, as you've stated above, a vanishingly small percentage of Jews share genetic material with the people depicted in the Hebrew Bible.

No. Multiple genetic studies have shown that the closest non-Jewish genetic matches for Ashkenazic Jews are, on average, Kurds, followed closely by Palestinians, then Italians and Greeks and other Mediterranean peoples. Even after several hundred years of population bottlenecks, inbreeding, intermarrying with the local European women* (which shows up in mitochondrial DNA haplotypes), and the not-so-occasional rape by the local European men (which shows up in y-chromosome haplotypes) their haplogroup percentages and their autosomal traits easily distinguish them from their host (or former host) European populations. One (somewhat controversial) very recent study was able to discriminate between non-Jewish Europeans and Ashkenazic Jews with 100% accuracy even when they dialed down the criteria for "Ashkenazic" to people with only two European Jewish grandparents out of four.

Sephardic Jews haven't been studied as much (yet -- they're still getting the short end of the stick!), but anecdotally I've seen then both match Ashkenazic Jews (who must have had Sephardic ancestors who melted into the general Ashkenazic population), and/or split the difference between Ashkenazic Jewish and Iberian (Spain/Portugal/Mexico/etc.) genetic matches, and/or split the difference between Ashkenazic Jews and other Mediterranean peoples (Greek/Cretan/etc.).

This is all on average, of course; any one specific individual person may be an outlier. But generally speaking, modern-day Jews match up pretty closely with modern Middle Eastern populations and can be genetically picked out from their host populations, especially the further you get from the Middle East and Mediterranean.

/nitpicky genetic genealogist who runs three DNA surname projects, one of which has the largest known number of Sephardim in a single-surname DNA study

* or in my case, a sub-Saharan African direct-maternal-line ancestress who apparently married into a Jewish family between 1500-2500 years ago -- I'm in mitochondrial haplogroup L2a1, along with 1.6% - 1.8% of Ashkenazic (but not Sephardic) Jews.
posted by Asparagirl at 12:27 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


And as a science fiction fan, this has all made me more than a little worried for the future. Rubicon virus, anyone? It's probably lucky that Jews and Palestinians match each other so closely genetically, which will hopefully make that prospect impossible under a Mutually Assured Destruction scenario.
posted by Asparagirl at 12:35 AM on May 23, 2009


Asparagirl: intermarrying with the local European women* (which shows up in mitochondrial DNA haplotypes), and the not-so-occasional rape by the local European men (which shows up in y-chromosome haplotypes)

So, Asparagirl, according to you, when a Gentile woman and a Jewish man conceived a child, it was necessarily within marriage; whereas when a Goy impregnated a Jewish woman, it was necessarily through rape...talk about creepy, exclusionary and racist!

Before you answer, I understand that, if the child of a Gentile woman and a Jewish man was himself raised a Jew, then the child was more than probably born (although not necessarily conceived) within the bounds of marriage. Although I must note your sub-Saharan African direct-maternal-line ancestress was probably a slave, not a wife.

However, I do see a great many alternatives to rape as possible explanations for a Jewish woman being pregnant from a non-Jew...
posted by Skeptic at 11:29 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Skeptic, are you seriously proposing that Jewish men in the early Ashkenazic community somehow didn't marry local European women in highly disproportionate numbers that have affected the European composition of modern Jews' mitochondrial DNA signatures out of proportion with the non-European components of their y-chromosomes? And are you seriously proposing that early Ashkenazic Jewish women were as likely or more likely to marry local men who converted to Judaism, thereby introducing European y-chromosome haplotypes into the gene pool by love and/or marriage, rather than the high incidence of rape? If so, you're going to be slogging upwards against a whole lot of historical and genetic evidence, and I wouldn't want to be in your shoes for the trek.

when a Gentile woman and a Jewish man conceived a child, it was necessarily within marriage

No, not necessarily, of course! No group gets to claim sainthood here. But when we're specifically talking about how and when traditionally-non-Jewish mitochondrial DNA haplotypes wound up in the Jewish gene pool, it's much more likely to have been from conversion and marriage, due to a number of historical and religious reasons, as buttressed by modern genetic evidence. The Ashkenazic Jewish community was originally very small, located in northern Italy, and then moved upwards into Germany and had a population explosion. They then spread out to the various corners of Europe by male Jewish traders -- often single -- who often married local women. There was also some Jewish population flow from Anatolia up the Black Sea into Romania and Ukraine -- again, male traders creating trade networks. That much is pretty non-controversial historical fact.

Now, given that Judaism is also historically matrilineal (i.e. "if your mom's Jewish, you're Jewish, and your dad's ethnicity doesn't matter"), the local women would not have been considered Jewish and nor would their children and grandchildren unless the women converted to Judaism prior to a halachic marriage to the local trader guys. We can assume that this had to have happened, because it's their much-later modern-day descendants, still Jewish, who are the ones ordering up the DNA testing kits online today. So, uh, yes; the available historical and genetic data are saying that "when a Gentile woman and a Jewish man conceived a child, it was necessarily probably within marriage". I really don't think you're going to find many sources that claim otherwise. Note that these liaisons primarily took place in the very early days of the (proto-)Ashkenazic community, because of how segregated some of these mitochondrial haplotypes have become from other haplotypes in the same haplogroup. Mitochondrial DNA haplogroup K is a great example of this -- or even my own L2a1 to a lesser extent, because we've picked up some unique mutations that an L2a from, say, Cameroon just wouldn't have.

Furthermore, let's assume for a second that you were somehow correct in implying that ancient Jewish men were, in significant numbers, either fooling around with or outright raping the local non-Jewish women, not marrying them. If so, you would expect to see evidence of traditionally-Jewish y-chromosome signatures also popping up within modern non-Jewish local populations. But we just don't see that; you don't see significant numbers of non-Jewish guys testing as y-chromosome haplogroup E3b1b1* in Poland, or J2 in Germany, or T (formerly called K) in Latvia or G2c in Lithuania, to use some obvious examples. (For G2c, you would probably see startlingly close to zero, in fact!) And that's just talking about the crude haplogroup designations, not even getting to the specific meaty haplotype clusters within them, haplotype clusters that even today still test as almost exclusively Jewish. Modern-day Christians who sign up for y-chromosome testing through DNA testing firms almost never wind up in those Jewish clusters. So if paternal gene flow had gone from Jews to non-Jews in similar proportions in pre-modern times, wouldn't there have been some trace today?

(One contrary case: you do see a small number of men in Italy, for example, who match the Cohen Modal Haplotype and yet are not Jewish. But let's use Occam's Razor here: did some or all of those men have female ancestors who were raped or knocked-up-then-deserted by Jewish guys -- kind of statistically unlikely since Jews were a minority group in the area -- and who also happened to have only had sons to carry on that y-chromosome, or is it more likely that they just had some Jewish paternal ancestors within the past 2000 years who eventually converted to other religions under serious social and religious pressures? C'mon.)

Before you answer, I understand that, if the child of a Gentile woman and a Jewish man was himself raised a Jew, then the child was more than probably born (although not necessarily conceived) within the bounds of marriage.

Dude, WTF?! After alllllll that, you're now suddenly admitting that perhaps it's not "racist" and "exclusionary" to note that early Ashkenazic Jewish men sometimes married local non-Jewish women, which was the source for bringing much European mitochondrial DNA into the Jewish gene pool, but yet you originally poo-pooed the scenario because...why, exactly?

whereas when a Goy impregnated a Jewish woman, it was necessarily through rape

Oh, please. Of course, it wasn't necessarily through rape, but yeah, primarily it was likely to be through rape. Or are you honestly arguing for the presence of hundreds of thousands cases of of Romeo Roman and Juliet Jewess where Romeo eventually converted to Judaism and married Juliet -- during the early Middle Ages Europe? The Romans, the Crusaders, the Inquisition mobs, Khmelnytsky's boys, the Tatars, the Ottomans, the Russian-vs.-Romanian-vs.-Moldovan tugs-of-war, Petlura's boys, the Cossacks, et al, couldn't possibly have contributed some genetic inflow -- or even a majority of it? -- to the Jewish gene pool, detectable by genetic studies of modern Jews' y-chromosomes? You really think it's "creepy" and "racist" to point that out? I think it's fucking creepy and racist to pretend it didn't happen.

Plus, the number of local non-Jewish guys who converted to Judaism and married into the Jewish community over the years probably wasn't zero, but was probably much, much smaller than the number of local non-Jewish women who converted and married in, largely for reasons relating to the aforementioned single male traders who traveled about before establishing new communities -- along with contributing factors like gender roles in the early Middle Ages, self-segregation between the Jewish and local pagan/Christian/Muslim communities, the legal penalties for conversion to Judaism (loss of property, social standing, etc.), and so on and so forth. Could star-crossed lovers Rivka and Rolf gave been having a secret tryst, resulting in Rivka getting preggo with a baby with y-chromosome haplogroup R1b1b? Sure. But you're missing the obvious point that this probably would have also gotten Rivka booted from her community while her parents sat shiva, which means that the baby would have been raised as non-Jewish, which means that his DNA would not show up in the modern Jewish population, who are the ones whose DNA was being studied in the first place.

"talk about creepy, exclusionary and racist"

Yeah, well take it up with the mitochondria; I just work here.
posted by Asparagirl at 11:54 PM on May 23, 2009


Asparagirl, the only thing I implied is that your scenarios are very one-sided. As I said, I agree that the "non-Jewish woman converts, marries Jewish man" scenario was almost certainly the most likely one to introduce some variety on the matrilinear side (although not the only one, unlike you originally implied). Neither was I denying that rape was relatively frequent and must have played an important role on the patrilinear side: but it was almost certainly not the only way, maybe not even the most frequent way non-Jewish Y-haplotypes ended up in the Jewish population.

For starters, you are presupposing that a rape baby would be easily accepted into the community, which isn't quite as obvious as you make it to be, and I don't think Rivka's parents would always make the difference between consensual sex and rape.

Secondly, there's also the "cuckoo egg" scenario of adultery, which you strangely refuse to countenance even now, yet historically is far from infrequent, independently of race or religion.

Yes, it is creepy, exclusionary and racist to suggest, as you did, that the only way a non-Jew can get a Jewish girl knocked up is by force.
posted by Skeptic at 2:37 AM on May 24, 2009


"Yes, it is creepy, exclusionary and racist to suggest, as you did, that the only way a non-Jew can get a Jewish girl knocked up is by force."

Clearly, this is a good time for a classic MeFi levity break... and what could be more classic MeFi than a bit of Walken!
posted by markkraft at 3:05 AM on May 24, 2009


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