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Cracking the Code

One of my co-workers pointed me to the article Cracking the Code in the current issue of Reform Judaism magazine. It's a long article, but worth reading if you're fascinated by either genetics or Jewish history.

I've known for a while about one of the things the article mentions, which is the apparent genetic evidence about the kohanic line. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this concept, in Judaism there is a group called the kohanim, who by tradition are accepted to have all been descended from the priestly class of ancient Israel. (The name "Cohen" tends to indicate someone who is considered part of this group.) Traditionally, kohanic status was determined by the male line, so even though my mother was a daughter of a kohein, I myself am not a kohein.

If you know anything about human genetics, you can see where this is going. The Y chromosome is the only one guaranteed to be passed from father to son, so anyone who claimed to be a kohein ought to have inherited a Y chromosome that went back for generations. (I'm simplifying here.) It turned out that almost 100% of Jewish kohanic males tested in an experiment in 1995 shared a genetic marker for a common ancestor, implying that the tradition was valid.

The article in Reform Judaism magazine discusses more recent experiments that show that the vast majority of Jews all over the world seem to share a common ancestry going back 4,000 years to the middle east. Unfortunately, the article doesn't include references, so I can't verify all the claims within. And there is one place where the writers seem to equate Orthodox Judaism with Lubavitch Chasidism. I suppose from the Reform Jewish perspective, it might be hard to distinguish, but this is the first time I've ever run across the claim that Orthodox Judaism strictly prohibits abortion.

Anyway, it's still a fascinating article.


Fascinating indeed! Thanks for linking to it.
Anyway, it's still a fascinating article.

You said it, brother. An excellent read.

Edited at 2008-04-03 05:43 pm (UTC)
the first time I've ever run across the claim that Orthodox Judaism strictly prohibits abortion.

Really? Wow. The average article I read says it is prohibited except when the life of the mother is at stake. More liberal approaches include psychological health of the mother as part of the definition of 'life' but most chareidi poskim don't hold by that. And just about everybody holds it isn't a matter of a woman's right to choose, it is a matter of a rabbi (more likely a posek)'s obligation to decide after consulting with a woman's doctor. According to the halacha as it seems to be taught currently abortion is either required or forbidden, it is never optional.
My point is that Orthodox doesn't equal chareidi.
I don't think chareidi "strictly prohibits abortion, as well as premarital ... testing" - the second part as demonstrated in the next sentence of the article where they describe a rabbi's system to do premarital testing (which he couldn't do if it were strictly prohibited), and the first part as mentioned in the comment above, where I think they follow the same rules as other orthodox (either required or prohibited, on a case by case basis).

"and most of the Tay-Sachs victims and carriers were living within the Orthodox community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn" - um? Someone in my family - very much not in the Crown Height community or chareidi or even Orthodox for at least a generation or two - tested positive as a Tay-Sachs carrier.

This part of the article reads like a mix of facts and confusion, and unfortunately that casts doubt on the rest.
I'm not trying to argue against your point - I fully agree with it - just mentioning a couple of other "huh?" moments in that paragraph that suggest wider confusion
From my understanding (having not yet read this article, I do not know if it is mentioned), scientists have been able to use such genetic markers to show a connection between accepted Jewish cultures, and an Ethnic group of African Jews in Zimbabwe, referred to as Lemba.
Yes, that's in the article, along with other "they're Jewish after all" communities elsewhere in the world. Pretty cool stuff.
Disappointing to hear about the lumping of all flavors of Orthodox together. (I haven't read the article yet; the dead-tree edition came yesterday and I'll read it there.)
Disappointing to hear about the lumping of all flavors of Orthodox together.

But that's just it. Chasidism is not a branch of Orthodox Judaism, just like Reconstructionist Judaism is not a branch of Reform Judaism. So they're not lumping flavors of Orthodox Judaism, such as Modern Orthodox and Traditional Orthodox, together. They made the assumption that anything to the right of Conservative should be called Orthodox, which (I think) is not the case.
(Meant to use a lowercase "o". Oops. But tangential.)

I thought chassidic communities considered themselves to be orthodox. If you're making the point that Orthodox is a specific movement (like Reform), I agree. If you're making a point about theology, I'm not grokking it yet.

Is Traditional Orthodox a specific community (like I understand Modern Orthodox to be)? I hadn't heard of the capital T before.
"I do not think it means what you think it means."

Certainly when *I* use the term "orthodox Judaism", I mean it to include Chasidim, and I believe that's the way I usually have heard it used. I wish I could write more on the subject -- maybe after Shabbat.
I've been rekindling my interest in DNA thanks to folks like Stephen Oppenheimer and the Bradshaw Foundation...*Adds this article to my e-library*...Thanks for posting it!

December 2016

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