A regular topic on The God Blog is my quest to balance my Jewish heritage with my Christian beliefs. This has played out in posts about Jewish exceptionalism and that unanswerable question: Who is a Jew? Well, Slate takes on both those topics in this story about “Jewgenics”:
Are Jews a race? Is Jewish intelligence genetic?
If these notions make you cringe, you’re not alone. Many non-Jews find them offensive. Actually, scratch that. I have no idea whether non-Jews find them offensive. But I imagine that they do, which is why Jews like me wince at any suggestion of Jewish genetic superiority. We don’t even want to talk about it.
Actually, a bunch of us did talk about it, three days ago at a forum at the American Enterprise Institute. The main speaker was Jon Entine, an AEI fellow and author of a new book, Abraham’s Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People. He was joined by fellow AEI scholar Charles Murray and by Laurie Zoloth, a bioethicist at Northwestern University. Entine and Zoloth are Jewish. Murray isn’t but talks as though he wishes he were. “One of my thesis advisers at MIT was a Sephardic Jew,” he announced proudly, turning the old “some of my best friends” clichÃ© upside down.
Entine laid out the data. The average IQ of Ashkenazi Jews is 107 to 115, well above the human average of 100. This gap and the genetic theories surrounding it stirred discomfort in the room. Zoloth, speaking for many liberals, recalled a family member’s revulsion at the idea of a Jewish race. Judaism is about faith and values, she argued. To reduce it to biology is to make it exclusive, denying its openness to all. Worse, to suggest that Jews are genetically smart is to imply that non-Jews are inherently inferior, in violation of Jewish commitments to equality and compassion. My friend Dana Milbank, who’s a better (if I may use that word) Jew than I am, watched the discussion, went back to his office, and wrote a column in the Washington Post poking fun at all the talk of superior Jewish intellect. The column, as usual, was really smart.
But what if Judaism as a genetic inheritance is compatible with Judaism as a cultural inheritance? And what if the genes that make Jews smart also make them sick? If one kind of superiority comes at the price of another kind of inferiority, and if the transmission of Jewish values drives the transmission of Jewish genes, does that make the genetics and the superiority easier to swallow?