Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/August 1899/Are Jews Jews?

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IN the December (1898) and January (1899) numbers of Appletons' Popular Science Monthly Prof. William Z. Ripley concludes the remarkable series of articles on the Racial Geography of Europe, originally delivered as Lowell Institute lectures, by a couple of articles on the Jews. Strictly speaking, the articles might seem to have no right in the particular series in which Professor Ripley has included them, since their main object is to show that the Jews are not a race but a people, and have therefore no claim to be considered in the racial geography of any continent. But one can not regret that a daring disregard for logic has caused Professor Ripley to conclude his interesting series with the somewhat startling paradox that Jews are not Jews, in the sense of the word in which both their friends and their enemies have hitherto taken it. As Professor Ripley has been good enough to refer to me as having written with some authority on the subject, and as I have not been convinced by his arguments against the comparative racial purity of the Jews, I am glad of an opportunity to discuss the question, which is of equal theoretic and practical interest.

The theoretic interest, with which alone we need concern ourselves here, seems to me of two kinds. Professor Ripley, as a student of anthropology, declares, as the result of his inquiries, that there has been so large an admixture of round skulls with the (hypothetically assumed) original long skulls of the Hebrews that all signs of racial unity have disappeared. I, on the other hand, who have approached the subject as a student of history,[1] see no evidence of any such large admixture of alien elements in the race since its dispersion from Palestine, and have come, therefore, to the opposite conclusion—that the Jews now living are, to all intents and purposes, exclusively the direct descendants of the Diaspora. Here, then, anthropology and history—if Professor Ripley and I have respectively interpreted their verdicts aright—appear to speak in two opposite senses, and no conference at La Hague or elsewhere can appoint a court of appeal which can decide between contrary propositions by two different sciences.

But the point in discussion seems to me to raise also a problem of exceeding interest within the anthropological sphere itself. Professor Ripley assumes that round heads beget round heads, and long heads descend from long heads for all time unchanged. That appears to carry with it the assumption that no amount of brain activity can increase the mass of brain, that skull capacity has no relation to mental capacity, and that alone among the organs of the body the brain and skull are incapable of growth, change, or development. The crux of Jewish anthropology raises this problem, as I shall proceed to show, and, if I have interpreted history aright, offers valuable material toward its solution.

I might have met Professor Ripley's arguments on narrower grounds, which would have enabled me to evade this larger question. His main, I might say his solitary, argument is that contemporary Jews are predominantly brachycephalic, or round-headed, whereas contemporary Arabs, whom he takes as the type of the Semites, are as predominantly dolichocephalic, or long-headed. Accepting Professor Ripley's own criterion of purity of race, I might point to the almost universal round-headedness of the Jew as a proof of their racial unity. The fact that Arabs do not share that quality really does not affect the question. Linguistically and geographically the Hebrews of history were associated with the Aramæans and Assyrians of Asia Minor, and Professor Ripley himself allows that Asia Minor was mainly brachycephalic. Till Professor Ripley brings forward craniological evidence that the cephalic index of the ancient Hebrews was below 77.8, his reference to the contemporary Arab must be ruled out of court. But, quite apart from this, the Arabic evidence would be of little significance, since the chief characteristic of Moslem civilization has been the predominance of marriage by capture and descent from slave concubines. Every caravan that has entered Arabia for the last twelve hundred years has had its contingent of female slaves of alien race, mainly from dolichocephalic Africa. I must confess my surprise that Professor Ripley has based his main argument on the shifting sands of Arabic racial purity.

The only attempt Professor Ripley makes toward a proof that the pure Hebrew is dolichocephalic is a half-hearted endeavor to claim that quality for the Sephardim, or Spanish and Portuguese Jews, descended in the main from Jewish refugees from Spain and Portugal in 1492. As a matter of fact, the largest number of measurements of Sephardic heads has been made by Mr. Spielman and myself,[2] and of the fifty-one heads examined by us only eight were long-headed. Professor Ripley gives a portrait of a Tunisian Jew, with index 75, who is also probably of Sephardic origin, like most of the Jews of the Mediterranean littoral. But, curiously enough, there is far more evidence for the mixture of race among contemporary Sephardim than of any other branch of Jews. Even while they were living in Spain as avowed Jews they were persistently accused of intermarriage, chiefly with the Moors, while a large number of contemporary Sephardim are descended not from refugees of 1492, but from the so-called Marranos—Jews who remained in Spain, professing Christianity and marrying tolerably freely among the surrounding population. If one wished to be hypercritical, one could trace the long-headedness of a minority of Jews to this admixture of race from Spain.

After all, I must insist that it is to history one must go to determine a question of this sort. Jews have shown such marked individuality throughout their career for the last two thousand years among the nations—they have been so much in the world's eye throughout that time—that any appreciable degree of intermarriage would not have escaped notice, both by themselves and by their enemies. Now there is practically no evidence of this kind during the Christian era. Religious antipathy has been so strong throughout that period as to form an almost insurmountable barrier to intermarriage and the consequent proselytism to Judaism which is necessary for a valid Jewish marriage. Sporadic cases doubtless occur, but their very infrequency drew attention to them, and all that historical research can discover is under one hundred cases throughout the middle ages, scattered through Europe. Jewish nomenclature has special formulæ to name the proselyte, and yet, though we have hundreds of the mediæval lists of Jewish communities and martyrologies, it is the rarest thing in the world to find one of these names referred to as "sons (or daughters) of Abraham our father." In earlier days, doctors of the Talmud, when discussing hypothetical cases, dismissed that of the proselyte as being so rare.[3] In my Memoir in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute for 1885 I have taken the marriage statistics of modern Algeria as most nearly representing the most favorable conditions that one could imagine at any time during the middle ages, and have found that during nearly half a century (1830-'77) there were only thirty mixed marriages out of an average population of twenty-five thousand Jews—not one a year. The only instances of proselytism on a large scale are those of the Chozars in southern Russia, converted to Judaism in the eighth century, and the Falashas of Abyssinia, about the same time. Yet these are an indirect proof, by the method of difference, of the comparatively pure descent of the rest of the Jews, for neither the Karaites, who are the descendants of the Chozars, nor the Falashas show any of the characteristic Jewish features or expression.

Those who contest the purity of the Jewish race lay great stress upon the Chozars as forming the nucleus of the Russian Polish Jews, who are, as is well known, a predominant majority among present-day Jews, probably ninety per cent of whom either dwell in the Russian dominions or are descended from former inhabitants of old Poland. Yet against this is the absence of any reference to Jews in Poland during the time the Chozars flourished (eighth to eleventh centuries), while the very speech of the Polish Jews—the so-called "Yiddish," really archaic German mixed with Hebrew—indicates their true source, the German kingdoms and principalities. Professor Ripley throws some doubt upon the possibility of such large numbers as those of the Polish Jews having been derived from Germany. Nowadays there are probably five millions of Jews in the regions once possessed by Poland, but the remarkable fertility of Jews is one of the most striking characteristics of their vital statistics, to which, indeed, Professor Ripley has called attention in his remarks upon their vitality. The development of a generation depends, as is well known, upon the relative number of deaths under five years of age, and it is just at this period that Jewish mortality presents so favorable an aspect, owing to the care of Jewish mothers and the absence of alcoholism among the fathers. I have estimated that the Jewish population of the world in 1730 (six generations ago) was only 1,300,000, whereas at the present moment it is at least nine times as much. If one could assume the same rate of progress to have existed through the middle ages the Jewish population in the fourteenth century would have been not much more than 25,000. Such a rate of progress is, however, extremely unlikely, considering the large losses by persecution, which in Poland alone, during the disastrous Cossack inroads between 1648 and 1656, is said to have removed no less than 180,000 Jews. But, making every allowance for this disturbance in the rate of progress, it would have been quite possible for 50,000 Jews who had migrated to Poland in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries to increase to over half a million at the beginning of the eighteenth. Americans, who have seen nearly half a million Russian Jews land upon their shores within the last twenty years after crossing nearly half the world, need not be incredulous as to the possibility of one tenth of that number passing over the borders between Germany and Poland in a couple of centuries during the middle ages, when, if means of transit were less numerous, intensity of persecution and motives for emigration were ten times as strong as even under the iron rule of the Russian Czar.

History, then, as I read it, has nothing to say against the purity of descent of contemporary Jews from those of the Bible. What has anthropology, as interpreted by Professor Ripley, to produce against this negative evidence of history? Mainly, it would appear, the fact that Jews of the present day are predominantly brachycephalic. Of the fact there can be little doubt. The list given by Professor Ripley in the Popular Science Monthly (vol. liv, page 340), of over twenty-five hundred heads, would be sufficient to establish this. But the very uniformity of the index is almost sufficient by itself to refute the deduction Professor Ripley draws from it. If there had been any general amount of admixture, that would have tended rather to produce variety than uniformity. Surely Professor Ripley does not contend that the Jewish young men and maidens, who, on his theory, so freely welcomed outsiders into the family circle, have never fallen in love with long-headed persons of the opposite sex. His argument requires that the original Jews of the Diaspora were long-headed, and that they have uniformly intermarried with the broad-headed varieties of the genus homo. Now, he adduces no evidence whatever that Jews originally were dolichocephalic, and even if he succeeded in proving this he would have the further difficulty of finding a European race with skulls so broad as to raise the average index of the race considerably over 80. If we assume that the original index of the Jewish skull was 75, Professor Ripley would have to find some race with an average index of nearly 90 before the mixture would raise the contemporary Jewish skull to its present broad-headedness. Dr. Ammon has shown[4]that there are only two small regions in Europe where such abnormally broad skulls exist, neither of them centers of Jewish population.

But Dr. Ammon has shown more. By comparison with the skulls found in the long barrows in Germany, he shows that the index of German skulls has risen from 77 to no less than 83 during the last thousand years or so; and he further shows, by reasoning similar to that which I have just given, that this rise in index can not be due to any admixture of race. Now, to what is this rise in head index due? Dr. Ammon, who is a professed disciple of Weismann, does not go into the question of causation, but the simplest and most obvious explanation is that cranial capacity has followed brain development, and that, roughly speaking, brachycephalism implies intellectual development. A few instances may be given, confirming this impression of the superior intellectual capacity of the broad-headed. Prof. Karl Pearson, in his Chances of Death (voL i, page 205), has given the following sexual ratios of the superiority of English, German, and French men over the opposite sex:

English. German. French.
Brain weight. 1.120 1.17 1.125
Skull capacity. 1.179 1.126 1.069
Stature 1.081 1.078 1.069

In other words, men's skulls contain about eight per cent more and their brains weigh four per cent more than women's, even allowing for the difference in height. So, too, there is a uniform increase of cubic capacity from the skulls of the Australians (75 cubic centimetres) up to the Teutons (93.5 cubic centimetres).[5] The same authority gives the average weight of brain in a number of brachycephalic individuals as 1,314 grammes, as against 1,287 grammes for dolichocephalic cases.[6] Professor Pearson points out that the higher the caste in India the broader the skull, the Brahmans being highest, with an index of 78.86, according to the measurements of Pisley. The same writer gives a long list (page 290) of the indexes of skulls of some thirty-seven races, ranging from Australians at the bottom of the list, with 70.34, and headed by mediæval Jews (only twelve skulls), with an index of 84.74. Every indication seems to point out that in races where progress depends upon brain, rather than muscle the brain-box broadens out as a natural consequence. Little investigation has as yet been made as to the influence of brain development on the form of the skull, but what little has been done all points in the same direction. Dr. Giulio Chiarugi[7] has made some careful measurements of twenty-one brains, and has shown that in every instance there is much greater complexity of the cerebral convolutions in the brachycephalic as compared with the dolichocephalic skulls, in which the brains were contained. From the nature of the sutures of the skull it is tolerably obvious that if brain capacity produces an enlargement of brain, the consequent internal pressure on the skull will be lateral and tend to produce brachycephalism. The application of all this to the case of Jews seems obvious. If they had been forced by persecution to become mainly blacksmiths, one would not have been surprised to find their biceps larger than those of other folk; and similarly, as they have been forced to live by the exercise of their brains, one should not be surprised to find the cubic capacity of their skulls larger than that of their neighbor's. When it is remembered that they are, owing to their persecutions, the shortest of all European folk, their relative superiority in brain comes out even more strikingly.

The conclusion I have thus drawn from anthropological data receives remarkable confirmation from the results of an inquiry I made on the Comparative Distribution of Jewish Ability, and contributed to the Anthropological Institute in 1886. Applying the methods of Galton, I compared the celebrities produced by the Jewish race during the last hundred years with those of Englishmen and Scotchmen, and came to the conclusion that the race, as a whole, took rank between Scotchmen and Englishmen in intellectual capacity, while if the comparison had been confined to western Jews, who alone have had an opportunity of displaying their talents, they would have come out superior to both. From the anthropological side we should expect that the brachycephalism of Jews would show itself in superior mental capacity, and this is confirmed by the number of distinguished persons of Jewish blood recorded in the European dictionaries of biography.

The anthropological and sociological importance of this result, if confirmed by further inquiry, seems to me of very great significance for the science of anthropology, and for this reason I have insisted so much upon it. Skull capacity and cephalic index are not so much indications of race as of intellect. If it is found that, as a rule, each race, and even each people, tends to have a uniform cephalic index, that would merely imply that the sociological conditions of the said race or people were tolerably uniform as regards intellectual development. Australians, who have had no opportunity of pitting their wits against any other competing race, and have depended for their existence on the fleetness of their legs and the capacity of their stomachs to carry food from one orgy to another, have used their brains less than all other human races, and have the narrowest skulls of all. Teutons, who have had the largest sphere for intellectual rivalry with their neighbors, have the broadest skulls of all except the Jews, who have, so to speak, lived by their wits the last two thousand years. The evidence produced by Professor Kipley of long-headed Jews among the lower developed communities only shows that where the brain is not much exercised the skull is not broadened.

So far, then, from history and anthropology giving contrary verdicts with regard to the racial purity of the Jews, the above considerations would seem to show that they rather confirm one another's interpretation of the facts. If brain capacity and skull index follow the intellectual struggle for existence, we should not be surprised to find the Jews mostly broad-headed. If there had been much intermixture with races who had less cause to exercise their brains in the struggle for existence, we might expect a greater admixture of dolichocephalism among them. To my mind a much stronger case could have been made out for the admixture of the Jews by the large number of blondes among them, ranging to about twenty per cent, but, as a rule, in Europe blond types are dolichocephalic, and the evidence of admixture that could be drawn from the admixture of blue eyes or brown hair among the Jews is counterbalanced by that very evidence of their uniform round-headedness, upon which Professor Ripley lays so much stress. In the memoir I have frequently quoted I have given reasons for believing that there was a blond as well as a brunette type among the ancient Jews, and till evidence is shown to the contrary the presence of the fair Jew is only an indication of descent from the earlier blond strain of the race.

Professor Ripley has scarcely taken into account the more positive arguments I have adduced in my memoir for the comparative purity of Jewish descent. I have pointed out a definite class of Jews—the Cohens, or priestly descendants of Aaron—who can not, according to Jewish law, marry proselytes. These still constitute, I have calculated, some five per cent of Jews even at the present day. He appears to think that this is merely a matter of name, and asks how I would explain the existence of quasi-Jewish names, such as Davis, Harris, Phillips, and Hart, among Christian populations of the Anglo-Saxon world. As a matter of fact, it can be proved that, on the contrary, these names among the Jews have been adopted for "mimicry" reasons from the corresponding Christian names which are mostly derived from the Bible. But, at the best, Professor Ripley's argument would merely prove a certain amount of Jewish blood among the Christian populations of Europe and America, which nobody would deny. That Jews, under the pressure of persecution or for other reasons, have abjured their faith, married Christian wives, and become merged in the surrounding populations, is undoubtedly a fact, but does not in any way affect the relative purity of the "remnant" which has remained true to its faith. It certainly does not affect the very important fact that the ancestry of at least five per cent of Jews at the present day can not have married proselytes, owing to the rigid requirements of Jewish law.

So far as I understand the latter part of Professor Ripley's second article, he appears to contend that the remarkable similarity of the Jewish physiognomy all over the world has no force in proving their racial unity. This is, of course, from the popular point of view, the strongest argument which Professor Ripley has to meet. Speaking generally, one can always tell a Jew or Jewess by the Jewish features and expression. So marked is this that Andrée mentions an instance where the negroes of the Gold Coast even distinguish between other whites and Jews by its means, saying not "Here are three whites coming," but "Here are two whites and a Jew." So marked a community of expression and appearance would be, to an ordinary mind, an absolute proof of unity of race, but Professor Ripley prefers to judge by the skull beneath, rather than by the expression and features on the surface. He hints at some obscure embryological process by which Jewish mothers can stamp on their offspring the Ghetto expression, whatever be the racial formation of skull. According to him, it would appear that noses are more plastic in this regard than skulls, I do not quite see how this would work out in detail. Are we to suppose that a pair of snub-nosed converts to Judaism would produce offspring with the characteristic Jewish nose because the lady convert had her imagination influenced by the hook-noses surrounding her? Are we to suppose that round heads can only beget round heads, but that snub noses can produce the hooked variety as a mere result of imagination?

Mere expression one could understand could be produced by sociological causes, and it is certainly my impression that Jews who mix more with their fellow-citizens lose a good deal of the characteristic Jewish expression, but that Jewish features should be influenced in this way few people would be prepared to allow. Jewish "nostrility," as I have termed it, and the "Jew's eye," can not be affected by change of environment. They can be affected, I grant, by admixture with races snub-nosed or dull-eyed, but as they have persisted throughout the ages they are themselves a striking proof of the absence of such admixture.

Altogether I remain unconvinced by Professor Ripley's arguments as to any large admixture of alien elements among contemporary Jews as unvouched for by history, and not necessarily postulated by anthropology. The broad skulls of the Jews, if they differ from those of earlier date (of which Professor Ripley has produced no evidence whatever), are due to the development of Jewish capacity, owing to their consistent attention to education and to the conditions under which they have pursued the struggle for existence. The persistence of Jewish features throughout the ages and the existence of an influential minority who are not allowed by Jewish law to marry outside their race is further proof of the position for which I have throughout contended. If there has been a tolerably large admixture of Jewish and alien blood throughout the Christian centuries it has been by conversions to Christianity or Islam, not by adoption of Judaism, and it is confirmed by history that the offspring have wandered away from the Jewish race and have not affected the more conservative remnant.

The significance of this result for the science of anthropology can not be overrated. The great question of the science is that expressed by Dr. Galton as "the struggle between Nature and nurture"—the difference that social influences can produce on men of the same race. Jews afford the science almost the sole instance in which this problem can be studied in its least complex form. My own investigations have shown that social environment has a direct influence on such anthropometrical data as height and breathing capacity. The Jews of the West End of London, though of the same race as those of the East End, are superior in height and other external qualities, and this superiority can thus be shown to be due entirely to nurture. Similarly, if the argument I have previously adduced is correct, the brachycephalism of the Jew is a proof that intellectual development produces broad heads, and that, roughly speaking, the cephalic index is a key to intellectual capacity. I should rather reverse Professor Ripley's main contentions: breadth of skull is not a criterion of race, but of intellectual development; whereas features, which are not directly influenced by social or intellectual characteristics, are the true index to racial purity.


By Prof. M. V. O'SHEA.


MODERN studies in neurology have contributed much to our knowledge of the function of the nervous system as a whole and of its several parts, and also of the relation of psychical activity to cerebral conditions and processes. The architecture of the neural mechanism delineated by these investigations is not only interesting in itself on account of the marvelous unity of things apparently diverse, but it is at the same time suggestive respecting its office as the physical instrument through which mind must express itself in this world. Psychologists now quite generally conceive of a living being, human or otherwise, as a reacting organism, receiving impressions from its environment and responding to them in some characteristic manner. To be fitted for this office an individual must be provided with appliances alike for the reception of stimulations and for their transformation into incitements to muscular activity. In the human species Nature has ordained that action need not follow immediately and inevitably upon any sense stimulus; fortunately, it may be deferred, so that when it does finally occur it

  1. To prevent misunderstanding, I should perhaps add that I have not neglected the anthropological aspects of the question. My paper on The Racial Characteristics of Modern Jews, which appeared in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute for 1885, contained, I believe Professor Ripley would allow, the fullest account of Jewish anthropometry collected up to that date.
  2. On the Comparative Anthropometry of English Jews, in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute for 1889.
  3. Babylonian Talmud, Gittin, 85a.
  4. Die Natürliche Auslese beim Menschen, Jena, 1883.
  5. Topinard, Éléments d'Anthropologie, 1885, p. 612.
  6. Ibid., p. 568.
  7. La Forma del Cervello umano e le variazioni correlative del Cranio, Siena, 1886.