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Washington Post asks: Is Jewish Intelligence Genetic?

The Washington Post’s online news magazine Slate just published this surprising article about intelligence and genetics.

Ashkenazi Jews routinely produce the highest average IQ scores [especially verbal portions] while also exhibiting the highest rates of many mental illnesses. Jewish publications usually do not deny that this is a genetically driven phenomenon, though many of the same publications promote left-wing egalitarian fantasies that deny the existence of genetic differences at the same time.

The Ashkenazi Jews [also known as German Jews] appeared suddenly as a highly mobile merchant class along the Rhine and the Alsace around 1000 AD. They spoke a German derived language known as Yiddish. A common theory is that those with the best verbal skills made the best merchants. Those with poor verbal skills were unsuccessful, thus less likely to marry and more likely to leave the community. Ashkenazi Jews made up only a tiny percentage of all Jews at that time. Today they make up the majority of all Jews. The other large group of Jews are known as Shepardic or Spanish Jews. Shepardic Jews do not share the high average IQ that Ashkenazi Jews exhibit.

Recent DNA studies show that Ashkenazi Jews and Shepardic Jews are related, though Ashkenazi Jews also bear strong relation to the Khazar. Around 900 the aristocracy of Turkic Khazar Kingdom converted to Judaism. Several Jewish cities existed in Khazaria as early as 670. Historians do not believe that the general public converted, only the royal family and the aristocracy. The general public remained a combination of pagans, Christians, and Muslims. A few Ashkenazi Jews, such as Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan, have ethnic Khazar names.

From Slate (Online news magazine of the Washington Post)…

Are Jews a race? Is Jewish intelligence genetic?

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” cliché 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?

Apparently so.

According to Entine, the rate of Jewish “outbreeding”—procreating with non-Jews—is half a percent. That’s the lowest rate of any population in the world today. What drives this phenomenon? Culture. Ten years ago, my childless Orthodox uncle came up to me and said, “I hear you’re dating a Jewish girl.” When I replied in the affirmative, he added, “If you marry her, I’ll come to the wedding.” That was pretty much the whole conversation. A year and a half later, he was at my wedding. Today, he’s got a grandniece and grandnephew living in my house. I’d like to think he had no influence, but maybe I’m kidding myself. Explicitly and implicitly, Jews have been getting this message for millennia. As Murray pointed out, the Bible is full of instructions to marry within the faith.

A culture that trains its young people to procreate only with one another becomes, over time, a genetically distinct population. And if that culture glorifies intelligence to such a degree that it drives less intelligent people out of the community—or prevents them from attracting mates—it becomes an IQ machine. Cultural selection replaces natural selection. For example, Jews have long emphasized male literacy. For this reason, Murray argued, anyone who was Jewish and stupid 2,000 years ago found “it was a lot easier to be a Christian.” Entine called this kind of process a “bio-cultural feedback loop.”

The theory still sounds arrogant, until you hear the IQ machine’s possible costs. Some scholars now hypothesize that the genes that make Jews smart also give some of them nasty diseases such as Tay-Sachs. Entine finds this plausible. He pointed out that some genes associated with brain growth are also associated with breast cancer, including in his own family. During the question-and-answer session, someone brought up another tradeoff: Supposedly, Jews are deficient in visio-spatial skills, possibly because their brains allot extra space for verbal intelligence. That might explain the average Ashkenazi Jewish score of 122 on verbal IQ tests.