Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 179–192 | Cite as

The Multiple Meanings of Jewish Genes

  • Susan Martha KahnEmail author


This article addresses contemporary social challenges created by new genetic research on Jews and by Jews, and its implications for the meanings of Jewish identity, on both the individual and the collective levels. The article begins with a brief overview of selective genetic studies of Jewish populations and the controversies they have generated. It continues with an examination of the emerging field of Jewish genetic demography, which employs genetic tests to identify lineages, claim kin, and support Jewish historical and political claims. Here the article explores how Jewish genetic demographers interpret genetic studies to reinforce oral tradition and Biblical prophecy about the origins of the Jews and their experience in the Diaspora. This research is then juxtaposed with debates that emerge from contemporary rabbinic deliberations over the appropriate uses of new reproductive technologies, debates that, contrary to the assertions of Jewish genetic demographers, suggest genes are believed to possess limited ability to confer or create Jewishness in the traditional rabbinic imagination. In the final section of this article, a debate is staged about contemporary biomedical practices that allow for the exchange and transfer of body parts and bodily substances, as a strategy for challenging genetic notions of Jewish identity.

Key Words

Jews genes Jewish identity genetic demography 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Middle Eastern StudiesHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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