VIII - RACE AND MYTH
The name occurs in Genesis 10, 3 and I Chronciles 1, 6, as one of the sons of Gomer, who was a son of Japheth.
Ashkenaz is also a brother of Togarmah (and a nephew of Magog) whom the Khazars, according to King Joseph, claimed as their ancestor (see above II, 5) But worse was to come. For Ashkenaz is also named in Jeremiah 51, 27, where the prophet calls his people and their allies to rise and destroy Babylon: “Call thee upon the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni and Ashkenaz.”
This passage was
interpreted by the famous Saadiah Gaon, spiritual leader of Oriental
Jewry in the tenth century, as a prophecy relating to his own times:
Babylon symbolized the Caliphate of Baghdad, and the Ashkenaz who
were to attack it were either the Khazars themselves or some allied
tribe. Accordingly, says Poliak, some learned Khazar Jews, who heard
of the Gaon’s ingenious arguments, called themselves Ashkenazim when
they emigrated to Poland. It does not prove anything, but it adds to
This indeed is the accepted view today among anthropologists and historians.
Moreover, there is general agreement that comparisons of cranial indices, blood types, etc., show a greater similarity between Jews and their Gentile host-nation than between Jews living in different countries. Yet, paradoxically, the popular belief that Jews, or at least certain types of Jews, can be instantly recognized as such, must not be dismissed out of hand - for the simple reason that it has a factual basis in every-day existence.
The anthropologists’ evidence seems to be at loggerheads with common observation. However, before attempting to tackle the apparent contradiction, it will be useful to look at a few samples of the data on which the anthropologists’ denial of a Jewish race is based. To start with, here is a quotation from the excellent series of booklets on “The Race Question in Modern Science” published by UNESCO.
The author, Professor Juan Comas, draws the following conclusion from the statistical material (his italics):
Next, we must glance at some of the physical characteristics which anthropologists use as criteria, and on which Comas’s conclusions are based.
One of the simplest - and as it turned out, most naive - of these criteria was bodily stature. In The Races of Europe, a monumental work published in 1900, William Ripley wrote: “The European Jews are all undersized; not only this, they are more often absolutely stunted.” He was up to a point right at the time, and he produced ample statistics to prove it. But he was shrewd enough to surmise that this deficiency in height might somehow be influenced by environmental factors.
Eleven years later, Maurice Fishberg published The Jews - A Study of Race and Environment, the first anthropological survey of its kind in English. It revealed the surprising fact that the children of East European Jewish immigrants to the USA grew to an average height of 167.9 cm. compared to the 164.2 cm. averaged by their parents - a gain of nearly an inch and a half in a single generation. Since then it has become a commonplace that the descendants of immigrant populations - whether Jews, Italians or Japanese - are considerably taller than their parents, no doubt owing to their improved diet and other environmental factors.
Fishberg then collected statistics comparing the average height of Jews and Gentiles in Poland, Austria, Rumania, Hungary, and so on. The result again was a surprise. In general it was found that the stature of the Jews varied with the stature of the non Jewish population among which they lived. They were relatively tall where the indigenous population is tall, and vice versa.
Moreover, within the same nation, and even within the same town (Warsaw) the bodily height of Jews and Gentiles was found to vary according to the degree of prosperity of the district. All this does not mean that heredity has no influence on height; but it is overlayed and modified by environmental influences, and is unfit as a criterion of race.
We may now turn to cranial measurements - which were once the great fashion among anthropologists, but are now considered rather outdated.
Here we meet again with the same type of conclusion derived from the data:
This diversity, it should be noted, is most pronounced between Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews.
By and large, the Sephardim are dolichocephalic (long-headed), the Ashkenazim brachycephalic (broad-headed). Kutschera saw in this difference a further proof of the separate racial origin of Khazar-Ashkenazi and Semitic-Sephardi Jews. But we have just seen that the indices ofshort- or long-headedness are co-variant with the host-nations’ - which to some extent invalidates the argument.
The statistics relating to other physical features also speak against racial unity. Generally, Jews are dark-haired and darkeyed. But how general is “generally”, when, according to Comas, 49 per cent of Polish Jews were light-haired, and 54 per cent of Jewish schoolchildren in Austria had blue eyes?
It is true that Virchov found “only” 32 per cent of blond Jewish schoolchildren in Germany, whereas the proportion of blond Gentiles was larger; but that merely shows that the co-variance is not absolute - as one would expect. The hardest evidence to date comes from classification by blood groups. A great amount of work has recently been done in this field, but it will be sufficient to quote a single example with a particularly sensitive indicator.
In Patai’s words:
One might sum up this situation in two mathematical formulae:
That is to say that, broadly speaking, the difference in respect of anthropological criteria between Gentiles (Ga) and Jews (Ja) in a given country (a) is smaller than the difference between Jews in different countries (a and b); and the difference between Gentiles in countries a and b is similar to the difference between Jews in a and b.
It seems appropriate to wind up this section with another quotation from Harry Shapiro’s contribution to the UNESCO series - “The Jewish People: A Biological History”:
How did this twin-phenomenon - diversity in somatic features and conformity to the host-nation - come about?
The geneticists’ obvious answer is: through miscegenation combined with selective pressures.
And he leaves his readers in no doubt about the answer:
The prophets may thunder against “marrying daughters of a strange god”, yet the promiscuous Israelites were not deterred, and their leaders were foremost in giving a bad example.
Even the first patriarch, Abraham, cohabited with Hagar, an Egyptian; Joseph married Asenath, who was not only Egyptian but the daughter of a priest; Moses married a Midianite, Zipporah; Samson, the Jewish hero, was a Philistine; King David’s mother was a Moabite, and he married a princess of Geshur.
As for King Solomon (whose mother was a Hittite),
And so the chronique scandaleuse goes on.
The Bible also makes it clear that the royal example was imitated by many, high and low. Besides, the biblical prohibition of marrying Gentiles exempted female captives in times of war - and there was no shortage of them. The Babylonian exile did not improve racial purity; even members of priestly families married Gentile women. In short, at the beginning of the Diaspora, the Israelites were already a thoroughly hybridized race.
So, of course, were most historic nations, and the point would not need stressing if it were not for the persistent myth of the Biblical Tribe having preserved its racial purity throughout the ages.
Another important source of interbreeding were the vast numbers of people of the most varied races converted to Judaism. Witness to the proselytizing zeal of the Jews of earlier times are the black-skinned Falasha of Abyssinia, the Chinese Jews of Kai-Feng who look like Chinese, the Yemenite Jews with their dark olive complexion, the Jewish Berber tribes of the Sahara who look like Tuaregs, and so on, down to our prime example, the Khazars.
Nearer home, Jewish proselytizing reached its peak in the Roman Empire between the fall of the Jewish state and the rise of Christianity. Many patrician families in Italy were converted, but also the royal family which ruled the province of Adiabene.
Philo speaks of numerous converts in Greece; Flavius Josephus relates that a large proportion of the population of Antioch was Judaized; St Paul met with proselytes on his travels more or less everywhere from Athens to Asia Minor.
The rise of Christianity slowed down the rate of miscegenation, and the ghetto put a temporary end to it; but before the ghetto-rules were strictly enforced in the sixteenth century, the process still went on.
This is shown by the ever-repeated ecclesiastic interdictions of mixed marriages - e.g., by the Council of Toledo, 589; the Council of Rome, 743; the first and second Lateran Councils 1123 and 1139; or the edict of King Ladislav II of Hungary in 1092. That all these prohibitions were only partly effective is shown, for instance, by the report of the Hungarian Archbishop Robert von Grain to the Pope AD 1229, complaining that many Christian women are married to Jews, and that within a few years “many thousands of Christians” were lost in this way to the Church.
The only effective bar were the ghetto walls. When these crumbled, intermarriages started again. Their rate accelerated to such an extent that in Germany, between 1921 and 1925, out of every 100 marriages involving Jews, 42 were mixed. As for the Sephardi, or “true” Jews, their sojourn in Spain for more than a millennium left its indelible mark both on themselves and on their hosts.
As Arnold Toynbee wrote:
The process worked both ways.
After the massacres of 1391 and 1411 which swept the Peninsula, over 100000 Jews at a moderate estimate - accepted baptism. But a considerable proportion of them continued to practice Judaism in secret. These crypto-Jews, the Marranos, prospered, rose to high positions at court and in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and intermarried with the aristocracy. After the expulsion of all unrepentant Jews from Spain (1492) and Portugal (1497) the Marranos were regarded with increasing suspicion; many were burned by the Inquisition, the majority emigrated in the sixteenth century to the countries around the Mediterranean, to Holland, England and France.
Once in safety, they openly reverted to their faith and, together with the 1492-7 expellees, founded the new Sephardic communities in these countries. Thus Toynbee’s remark about the hybrid ancestry of the upper strata of society in Spain also applies, mutatis mutandis, to the Sephardic communities of Western Europe.
Spinoza’s parents were Portuguese Marranos, who emigrated to Amsterdam. The old Jewish families of England (who arrived here long before the nineteenth-twentieth century influx from the east), the Montefiores, Lousadas, Montagues, Avigdors, Sutros, Sassoons, etc., all came out of the Iberian mixing bowl, and can claim no purer racial origin than the Ashkenazis - or the Jews named Davis, Harris, Phillips or Hart.
One distressingly recurrent type of event was miscegenation by rape. That too has a long history starting in Palestine.
We are told, for example, that a certain Juda ben Ezekial opposed his son marrying a woman who was not of “the seed of Abraham”, whereupon his friend Ulla remarked: “How do we know for certain that we ourselves are not descended from the heathens who violated the maidens of Zion at the siege of Jerusalem?” Rape and loot (the amount of the latter often fixed in advance) was considered a natural right of a conquering army.
There is an ancient tradition, recorded by Graetz, which attributes the origin of the earliest Jewish settlements in Germany to an episode reminiscent of the rape of the Sabine women.
According to this tradition, a German unit, the Vangioni who fought with the Roman legions in Palestine, “had chosen from the vast horde of Jewish prisoners the most beautiful women, had brought them back to their stations on the shores of the Rhine and the Main, and had compelled them to minister to the satisfaction of their desires.
The children thus begotten of Jewish and German parents were brought up by their mothers in the Jewish faith, their fathers not troubling themselves about them. It is these children who are said to have been the founders of the first Jewish communities between Worms and Mayence.” In Eastern Europe rape was even more common.
To quote Fishberg again:
And yet - to return to the paradox - many people, who are neither racialists nor anti-Semites, are convinced that they are able to recognize a Jew at a single glance.
How is this possible if Jews are such a hybrid lot as history and anthropology show them to be? Part of the answer, I think, was given by Ernest Renan in 1883: “Il n’y a pas un type juif il y a des types juifs.” The type of Jew who can be recognized “at a glance” is one particular type among many others.
But only a small fraction of fourteen million Jews belong to that particular type, and those who appear to belong to it are by no means always Jews. One of the most prominent features - literally and metaphorically - which is said to characterize that particular type is the nose, variously described as Semitic, aquiline, hooked, or resembling the beak of an eagle (bec d’aigle).
But, surprisingly, among 2836 Jews in New York City, Fishberg found that only 14 per cent - i.e., one person in seven - had a hooked nose; while 57 per cent were straight-nosed, 20 per cent were snub-nosed and 6.5 per cent had “flat and broad noses”. Other anthropologists came up with similar results regarding Semitic noses in Poland and the Ukraine.
Moreover, among true Semites, such as pure-bred Bedoums, this form of nose does not seem to occur at all. On the other hand, it is “very frequently met among the various Caucasian tribes, and also in Asia Minor.
Among the indigenous races in this region, such as the Armenians, Georgians, Ossets, Lesghians, Aissors, and also the Syrians, aquiline noses are the rule. Among the people living in Mediterranean countries of Europe, as the Greeks, Italians, French, Spanish and Portuguese, the aquiline nose is also more frequently encountered than among the Jews of Eastern Europe. The North American Indians also very often have ‘Jewish’ noses.”
nose alone is not a very safe guide to identification. Only a
minority - a particular type of Jew - seems to have a convex nose,
and lots of other ethnic groups also have it. Yet intuition tells
one that the anthropologists’ statistics must be somehow wrong. An
ingenious way out of this conundrum was suggested by Beddoc and
Jacobs, who maintained that the “Jewish nose” need not be really
convex in profile, and may yet give the impression of being
“hooked”, due to a peculiar “tucking up of the wings”, an infolding
of the nostrils.
Ripley, quoting Jacobs, comments: “Behold the transformation! The Jew has turned Roman beyond a doubt. What have we proved then? That there is in reality such a phenomenon as a Jewish nose, even though it be differently constituted from our first assumption [the criterion of convexity]. But is there?
Figure 1 could still represent an Italian, or Greek, or Spanish or Armenian, or Red Indian nose, “nostrility” included.
That it is a Jewish, and not a Red Indian, Armenian, etc., nose we deduce - at a glance - from the context of other features, including expression, comportment, dress. It is not a process of logical analysis, but rather in the nature of the psychologist’s Gestalt perception, the grasping of a configuration as a whole. Similar considerations apply to each of the facial features considered to be typically Jewish - “sensuous lips”; dark, wavy or crinkly hair; melancholy, or cunning, or bulging or slit Mongol eyes, and so forth.
Taken separately, they are common property of the most varied nations; put together, like an identikit, they combine into a prototype of - to say it once more - one particular type of Jew, of Eastern European origin, the type with which we are familiar.
But our identi-kit would not fit the various other types of Jews, such as the Sephardim (including their very anglicized descendants in Britain); nor the Slavonic type of Central Europe, nor the blond Teutonic, the slit-eyed Mongoloid, or the crinkly-haired Negroid types of Jews. Nor can we be sure to recognize with certainty even this limited prototype.
The collection of portraits published by Fishberg, or Ripley, can be used for a “believe it or not” game, if you cover the caption indicating whether the portrayed person is Jew or Gentile.
The same game can be played on a café terrace anywhere near the shores of the Mediterranean. It will, of course, remain inconclusive because you cannot walk up to the experimental subject and inquire after his or her religion; but if you play the game in company, the amount of disagreement between the observers’ verdicts will be a surprise.
Suggestibility also plays a part.
Hutchinson’s Races of Mankind has a picture of three Geishas with the caption: Japanese with Jewish physiognomy.
Once you have read the caption you feel: “But of
course. How could I have missed it?” And when you have played this
game for some time, you begin to see Jewish features - or Khazar
features - everywhere.
Fit out anybody with long corkscrew sidelocks, skull-cap, broad-rimmed black hat and long black kaftan, and you recognize at a glance the orthodox Jewish type; whatever his nostrility, he will look Jewish. There are other less drastic indicators among the sartorial preferences of certain types of Jews of certain social classes, combined with accents and mannerisms of speech, gesture and social behaviour. It may be a welcome diversion to get away for a moment from the Jews, and listen to a French writer describing how his compatriots can tell an Englishman “at a glance”.
Michel Leiris, apart from being an eminent writer, is Director of Research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and Staff Member of the Musée de l’Homme:
However, when Leiris says that facial expressions are not “physique” but “come under the heading of behavior” he seems to overlook the fact that behavior can modify the features of individuals and thus leave its stamp on their “physique”.
One only has to think of certain typical traits in the physiognomies of ageing ham-actors, of priests living in celibacy, of career-soldiers, convicts serving long sentences, sailors, farmers, and so on.
Their way of life affects not only their facial expression but also their physical features, thus giving the mistaken impression that these traits are of hereditary or “racial” origin. If I may add a personal observation I frequently met on visits to the United States Central European friends of my youth who emigrated before World War Two and whom I had not seen for some thirty of forty years.
Each time I was astonished to find that they not only dressed, spoke, ate and behaved like Americans, but had acquired an American physiognomy. I am unable to describe the change, except that it has something to do with a broadening of the jaw and a certain look in and around the eyes.
(An anthropologist friend attributed the former to the increased use of the jaw musculature in American enunciation, and the look as a reflection of the rat-race and the resulting propensity for duodenal ulcers.)
I was pleased to discover that this was not due to my imagination playing tricks - for Fishberg, writing in 1910, made a similar observation:
The proverbial melting-pot seems to be producing an American physiognomy - a more or less standardized phenotype emerging from a wide variety of genotypes. Even the pure-bred Chinese and Japanese of the States seem to be affected by the process to some extent.
At any rate, one can often
recognize an American face “at a glance”, regardless of dress and
speech, and regardless of its owner’s Italian, Polish or German
From the geneticist’s point of view, we can distinguish three such major influences: inbreeding, genetic drift, selection. Inbreeding may have played, at a different period, as large a part in Jewish racial history as its opposite, hybridization.
From biblical times to the era of enforced segregation, and again in modern times, miscegenation was the dominant trend. In between, there stretched three to five centuries (according to country) of isolation and inbreeding - both in the strict sense of consanguinous marriages and in the broader sense of endogamy within a small, segregated group.
Inbreeding carries the danger of bringing deleterious recessive genes together and allowing them to take effect. The high incidence of congenital idiocy among Jews has been known for a long time, and was in all probability a result of protracted inbreeding - and not, as some anthropologists asserted, a Semitic racial peculiarity.
Mental and physical malformations are conspicuously frequent in remote Alpine villages, where most of the tombstones in the churchyard show one of half a dozen family names. There are no Cohens or Levys amongst them. But inbreeding may also produce champion race-horses through favourable gene combinations.
Perhaps it contributed to the production of both cretins and geniuses among the children of the ghetto. It reminds one of Chaim Weizmann’s dictum:
But genetics has little information to offer in this field.
Another process which may have profoundly affected the people in the ghetto is “genetic drift” (also known as the Sewall Wright effect). It refers to the loss of hereditary traits in small, isolated populations, either because none of its founding members happened to possess the corresponding genes, or because only a few possessed them but failed to transmit them to the next generation. Genetic drift can thus produce considerable transformations in the hereditary characteristics of small communities.
The selective pressures active within the ghetto walls must have been of an intensity rarely encountered in history. For one thing, since the Jews were debarred from agriculture, they became completely urbanized, concentrated in towns or shtetls, which became increasingly overcrowded.
As a result, to quote Shapiro,
This, he thinks, may account for the rarity of tuberculosis among Jews, and their relative longevity (amply illustrated by statistics collected by Fishberg).
The hostile pressures surrounding the ghetto ranged from cold contempt to sporadic acts of violence to organized pogroms. Several centuries of living in such conditions must have favoured the survival of the glibbest, the most pliant and mentally resilient; in a word, the ghetto type. Whether such psychological traits are based on hereditary dispositions on which the selective process operates, or are transmitted by social inheritance through childhood conditioning, is a question still hotly disputed among anthropologists.
We do not even know to what extent a high IQ is attributable to heredity, and to what extent to milieu. Take, for instance, the Jews’ once proverbial abstemiousness which some authorities on alcoholism regarded as a racial trait.
But one can just as well interpret it as another inheritance from the ghetto, the unconscious residue of living for centuries under precarious conditions which made it dangerous to lower one’s guard; the Jew with the yellow star on his back had to remain cautious and sober, while watching with amused contempt the antics of the “drunken goy”.
Revulsion against alcohol and other forms of debauch was instilled from parent to child in successive generations - until the memories of the ghetto faded, and with progressive assimilation, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon countries, the alcohol intake progressively increased.
Thus abstemiousness, like so many other Jewish characteristics, turned out to be, after all, a matter of social and not biological, inheritance. Lastly, there is yet another evolutionary process - sexual selection - which may have contributed in producing the traits which we have come to regard as typically Jewish.
Ripley seems to have been the first to suggest this (his italics):
Ripley did not inquire into the ghetto’s “ideal of physical beauty”.
But Fishberg did, and came up with an appealing suggestion:
This was a delicate, anemic, willowy youth with a wistful expression, all brains and no brawn.
But, he continues,
Least of all, we may add, among young Israelis.