Species of Exit: Israel

Israel is–as far as I can tell–one of the sanest, least self-destructive states in the entire West. (Note: this is not to say that I love everything about Israel; this is actually a pretty low bar, given what’s happening everywhere else.) Their people are literate and healthy, they have a per capita GDP of 36.5k, (33rd in the world,) and they’re 18th globally on the Human Development Index. They don’t throw people off of buildings or have public floggings, and despite the fact that they have birth control and the state actually pays for abortions, the Jewish population still has a positive fertility rate:

The fertility rates of Jewish and Arab women were identical for the first time in Israeli history in 2015, according to figures released by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday….Jewish and Arab women had given birth to an average of 3.13 children as of last year.

According to Newsweek:

This high fertility rate is not simply an artifact of Israel’s growing ultra-Orthodox or Haredi population; the non-Haredi fertility rate is 2.6. (This is, by the way, a far higher fertility rate than that of American Jews, which is 1.9; the replacement rate is 2.3.)

Did you think we were getting through this without a Polandball joke? And they’ve managed to resist getting conquered by their aggressive and numerically superior neighbors several times in the past century.

Not bad for a country that didn’t exist 100 years ago, had to be built from the sand up, and is filled with people whom conventional wisdom holds ought to have been rendered completely useless by multi-generational epigenetic trauma.

Now, yes, Israel does get a lot of support from the US, and who knows what it would look like (or if it would exist at all,) in an alternative timeline where the US ignores it. Israel probably isn’t perfect, just interesting.

Harking back to my Measures of Meaning post, I propose that Israel has 4 things going for it:

Ethiopian Jews
Ethiopian Jewish member of the IDF

1. Israelis have meaningful work. Their work has been, literally, to build and secure their nation. Israelis have had to build almost the entire infrastructure of their country over the past hundred years, from irrigation systems to roads to cities. Today, Tel Aviv is a city with a population of 430,000 people. In 1900, Tel Aviv didn’t exist.

Unlike the US, Israel has a draft: every Israeli citizen, male and female, has to serve in the Israeli army. (Obviously exceptions exist.) This is not seen as state-run slavery but part of making sure the entire society continues to exist, because Israel faces some pretty real threats to its borders.

The IDF even has a special division for autists:

Many autistic soldiers who would otherwise be exempt from military service have found a place in Unit 9900, a selective intelligence squad where their heightened perceptual skills are an asset. …

The relationship is a mutually beneficial one. For these young people, the unit is an opportunity to participate in a part of Israeli life that might otherwise be closed to them. And for the military, it’s an opportunity to harness the unique skill sets that often come with autism: extraordinary capacities for visual thinking and attention to detail, both of which lend themselves well to the highly specialized task of aerial analysis.


I suspect–based on personal conversations–that there is something similar in the US military, but have no proof.

My anthropological work suggests that one of the reasons people enter the military is to find meaning in their lives, (though this doesn’t work nearly as well when your country does things like invade completely irrelevant countries you don’t actually care about like Vietnam.)

2. Like I said, Israelis have above-replacement total fertility–meaning that many Israelis hail from large families, with lots of children, siblings, and cousins. Israelis appear to have managed to achieve this in part by subsidizing births (which probably will have some long-term negative effects for them,*) and in part by explicitly advocating high birth rates in order to prevent themselves from being out-bred by the Palestinians and to show that Hitler what for.

*ETA: See the comments for a discussion of dysgenic fertility on Israel.

I have been saving this picture for so long3. Religion is so obviously a unifying force in Israeli life that I don’t think I need to detail it.

What about that fourth thing? Oh yes: Many of the Jews who don’t like the idea of “nations” and “ethno states” and “religion” probably moved to the US instead of Israel. The US got the SJW Jews and Israel got the nationalist Jews.

4. A sense of themselves as a distinct nation. As I’ve discussed before, this is not exactly genetic, due to different Jewish groups having absorbed about 50% of their DNA from the folks around them during the diaspora years, and of course a big part of the country is Arab/Palestinians, but there is still much genetically in common.

There is probably a lot I’m missing.

15han-2-master675Of course there are religious Jews in the US (and their numbers are growing relative to the secular Jewish population.) While Jews as a whole voted 70% for Hillary, only 56% of the Orthodox supported her. (I’ve seen different numbers elsewhere, but these are the ones I’ve been able to find a source for.)

(I suspect that America’s high-IQ secular Jews suffer from being in America instead of Israel. They don’t have religion to guide them, children to focus them, nor (in many cases) meaningful work. Without something positive to work towards, they turn to politics/ideology to provide meaning in their lives, while simultaneously suffering the psychological stress of knowing that the Holocaust was directed at people like them.)

But that’s irrelevant to Israeli Jews.

Long-term, I’m not bullish on Israel, given its precarious location, surrounded by nations that aren’t very fond of it–and I am not offering any opinions about the Israeli/Palestinian situation–but as first world nations go, it at least desires to keep existing.


Re: Why does my fridge have a “Sabbath Mode?”

From the Geek Guide to Kosher Machines

So I got this letter from a reader: “I just got a new refrigerator, and it comes with a “Sabbath mode”–if Jews aren’t supposed to use electricity on Saturday, why don’t they just turn off the fridge? Isn’t this cheating?”

I may not be the most appropriate expert for this question, being not a Jewish lawyer, but it’s just too funny not to answer–but please consult with a real rabbi before making any important halakhic decisions about your fridge.

First, as you probably already know, there are basically 3 varieties of Jews: Atheist Jews, moderately religious Jews, and Orthodox Jews. About 2% of Americans are Jewish, of them, 10% are Orthodox–and as far as I know, only the Orthodox care about following all of the little Jewish laws and whether or not their fridges are sabbath compliant.

Noam Chomsky may be Jewish, but he probably doesn’t care what his fridge does unless it can prove the existence of universal grammar.

The Orthodox Jews are the ones who tend to dress most identifiably Jewish, with black hats, curly sidelocks, black suits, and beards. For this reason, I think people sometimes confuse them with the Amish.

Orthodox Jewish family
Orthodox Jewish family
Amish family
Amish family

Yes, they both wear beards, but there’s an obvious difference: the Amish live in PA and Jews live in NY.

From Time, "This Photo of Mark Zuckerberg's Closet is Ridiculous"-- I remember when Time was a respectable magazine and not just clickbait trash.
From Time, “This Photo of Mark Zuckerberg’s Closet is Ridiculous” (ugh clickbait titles)

(I do wonder if there is a connection between the Orthodox Jewish tendency toward identical clothes has something to do with Zuckerberg’s preference for only wearing gray shirts–but please note that many Orthodox Jews do not, in my experience, dress in the stereotypical way. Most I have met, while they dress modestly, are pretty much indistinguishable from everyone else.)

That business you’ve heard about Jews not using electricity is wrong. The Amish are the ones who don’t use electricity. Jews use electricity, even on Saturday.

However, some Jews (mostly Orthodox) try to refrain from turning electrical things on or off on Saturday. It’s just fine for an electrical thing to be on and stay on all day. It’s fine for an electrical thing to be off and stay off all day. It’s the flipping light switches on and off that’s a problem.

6df93d0c2319e0324710f55dcfcc5446But isn’t this cheating? Aren’t they supposed to not use electricity?

No. There is nothing in the Bible about not using electricity–not even in the Apocrypha. Nothing in the Talmud, either. I guarantee it.

The Bible does say, in the 10 Commandments, to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy. In the Genesis account, God created the world for 6 days and then rested on the 7th, so traditional Jewish law proclaimed the Sabbath (aka Shabbat, aka Saturday,) a day of rest, when people went to synagogue or studied the Torah and didn’t do any work. “Work” is defined here in terms relevant to people in Biblical times, not today: agricultural activities like planting, plowing, reaping, and threshing; cooking: kneading dough and baking; clothes production: shearing, carding wool, spinning, weaving; animal-products: trapping, slaughtering, skinning, preserving; “creative” activities: writing, erasing, building, demolishing, kindling a fire or putting it out; and carrying around heavy stuff.

Yes, the law goes into A LOT more detail than this, like “Is it okay to trap a fly that’s buzzing around in your cupboard?” “What about a poisonous scorpion that’s in my shoe?” “What about a snail?” (IIRC, maybe, yes, and yes, respectively,) but this is the big picture.

Note that while there is a prohibition against lighting a fire (and against putting it out,) as this is considered a “creative” act and often involved carrying around large bundles of heavy wood, there is no prohibition against sitting near a fire and staying warm. Traditional Russian Jews would have gotten awfully cold in the winter if there had been. Instead they just built up a big fire on Friday afternoon and hoped it lasted until Saturday evening. There was never a requirement that they had to put out the fire and sit around and be cold.

The same holds for candles.

When electricity was first introduced, some folks decided that lightbulbs were an awful lot like candles and electricity like fire, especially electric sparks. So some Jews decided that turning lights on and off was analogous to lighting (or dousing) a fire, and thus shouldn’t be done on the Sabbath.

220px-refrigerator_sabbath_modeMost Jews who are concerned about the fridge light just take the easy route and unscrew it a little on Friday afternoon, but some people are now buying refrigerators with built-in display panels that let you program the ice maker or something. And these panels let you set the fridge to “Sabbath mode,” where the light and fan won’t turn on when you open the door.

(“Sabbath mode” is also available on ovens and other appliances.)

Note that, just as it is fine to leave the fire going overnight from Friday to Saturday so long as you don’t mess with it, it’s also fine to leave on an electric appliance. In fact, if the lights happen to be left on when the Sabbath starts, you’re not supposed to turn them off–you have to just leave them, even if you’re trying to sleep and they’re really annoying. Likewise, you are not required to turn off your refrigerator.

(Hey, don’t tell me I’m getting all Talmudic when the question was literally about Jewish law.)

I think you put the stylus in the holes and somehow it dials
I think you put the stylus in the holes and it dials.

Now, some people object that it seems like Jews are “cheating” by finding creative ways to circumvent the law instead of just obeying it. As someone who would never even bother about fridge lights, I don’t see how it’s “cheating” to turn it off by computer instead of unscrewing it. But perhaps more questionable is the old practice of hiring a non-Jew to show up on Saturday morning and make sure the fire is nice and warm or waiting for a neighbor to push the elevator buttons so you don’t have to walk up a bunch of stairs to your apartment. Or this telephone:

But the whole notion that Orthodox Jews aren’t being strict enough because they’ve developed funny work-arounds strikes me as trying to interpret Judaism as though it were a branch of Protestantism. Personally, I think they’re already over-thinking things and really don’t need to be encouraged to be stricter.

My impression of Judaism–and I could be wrong, because I’m mostly going off material on the internet–is that their attitude toward “the law” is quite different from the Christian attitude.

Christian theology teaches that because of Adam and Eve’s “original sin,” all humans are inherently sinful and destined for Hell–except that through Jesus’ sacrifice, they have been redeemed and can go to Heaven. (There are some variations on this throughout the many branches of Christianity, but this is pretty basic.)

Judaism–as far as I can tell–lacks this teaching entirely. Yes, Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and got expelled from the Garden of Eden, but this does not translate into “original sin” inherited by all humans. Humans are not inherently sinful and are not destined for Hell–in fact, Judaism doesn’t really have the concepts of “sin,” “Hell,” or “Heaven.” There is kind of a vague, nebulous belief that there might be an afterlife and something similar to Purgatory for sinners. The have a belief that the “messiah” (or “moshiach”) is going to come someday, but I don’t think they think of him the same way that Christians do.

In short: Christianity teaches that breaking God’s law is sinning and sinning => Hell. Jews don’t believe in sin or Hell, and so do not believe that turning on the lights on Saturday => Hell. Following the law is supposed to make you happy because God made the laws in order to show you the way to a nice life, (hence why it would be really stupid for God to require you to put out your fire and spend Saturday shivering,) but it’s not required.

Again, this is my impression; I am not an expert.

So why even debate matters like whether one is permitted to trap a fly on Saturday? To be honest, I think they enjoy the debate. The same for all of these silly work-arounds: I think they just do it because they find it amusing to think about their laws this way.

(That said, I get the impression that some of the stricter Hasidic sects take a much more hardline view and can be real kill-joys.)

How exactly a sect originally founded on the idea that unlearned peasant piety and mystical connection to God is superior to the Talmudic study of wealthy Jews became so devoted to strict halakhic observance remains a mystery for another day.

An Open Letter to the Jewish People

Guys, we need to have a serious discussion.

You’ve been around my whole life–friends, confidants, you’ve even helped me move–and I’m getting worried for you.

Anti-Semitism on the rise in Europe:

Overall, anti-Semitic violence rose by 40 percent worldwide, according to figures provided by the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University. A total of 766 violent incidents were recorded worldwide last year, a “sharp increase” over the 554 tallied in 2013, according to the European Jewish Congress, which contributed to the report.

Black Lives Matter’s anti-Israel position and the increasing expulsion of Jews from SJW-spaces:

Milan Chatterjee, a third-year law student at UCLA, on August 24 informed the school chancellor of his decision to leave the university and finish his UCLA law degree at New York University School of Law. In a letter that was made public earlier today, he alleged that since November 2015 he has been “relentlessly attacked, bullied and harassed by BDS-affiliated organizations and students” and that the harassment had become intolerable.

Anti-Semitism on the rise in the US, especially online harassment from the far-right. (Actually, the far-right exists in Europe, too.)

What’s driving this? Trends normally don’t just come out of nowhere.

Muslim immigration appears to be a major factor in Europe, eg:

A number of studies conducted among the Muslim youth in various western European countries have showed that Muslim children have far more anti-Semitic ideas than Christian children- in 2011 Mark Elchardus, a Belgian sociologist, published a report on Dutch-language elementary schools in Brussels. He found that about 50 percent of Muslim students in second and third grade could be considered anti-Semites, versus 10% of others. In the same year Unther Jikeli published his findings from the 117 interviews he conducted with Muslim male youngsters (average age 19) in Berlin, Paris and London. The majority of the interviewees voiced some, or strong anti-Semitic feelings. They expressed them openly and often aggressively.[47]

A large number of violent antisemitic attacks in Europe were done by Muslims- the murder of 4 Jews in Toulouse in 2012 by Mohammed Merah,[48] the 1982 attack on the Jewish Goldenberg restaurant in Paris that was carried out by Arab terrorists, the kidnapping and murder of the French citizen Ilan Halimi in 2006 by a Muslim gang and the antisemitic riots in Norway in 2009 are a few examples to this phenomenon.[47]

This is not really surprising to anyone who’s been paying attention.

Now, I know many of you have been in favor of helping Syrian refugees, on the grounds that suffering people fleeing from warzones ought to be helped. It’s a kind impulse, a humanitarian impulse. And it’s not in your own best interest.

If you want to help refugees, then help them get to safety in countries that are similar to their own, where they won’t face major linguistic and cultural barriers to starting new lives.

I know more about the American situation because I live here. Most American Jews, whether liberal or conservative, vote Democrat–even though it’s Republicans who are your staunchest allies. I mean look at this:


White Evangelicals are the Jews’ biggest fans, and they like Jews better than any other religious group (except themselves.) By contrast, Jews like Evangelicals less than everyone one–even less than Muslims.

Sure, Evangelicals can be kind of loud, they may support Israel because they think it’s somehow going to trigger the apocalypse, and they seem to think that Jews are just Christians who don’t yet believe in Jesus, but they don’t mean you any harm and they’re still trying to be supportive.

I figure this disconnect is largely due to Jews being heavily concentrated in NYC and LA, while Evangelicals are concentrated in the South. NYC and LA are Democratic strongholds where Evangelicals are disliked for their habit of voting Republican, so Jews have picked up this dislike.

But this is not sensible. Just because something earns you social approval in NYC does not mean it is in your own long-term self interest.

You’ve been involved in the Civil Rights movement since its beginning–again, because you believed it was the right thing to do. Tikkun Olam and all that.

Bernie Sanders was volunteering with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and getting arrested in Chicago during a demonstration. Hillary Clinton was a Young Republican and volunteering with Barry Goldwater, who voted against the Civil Rights Act.

(For the confused, Bernie Sanders is Jewish.)

And what have you gotten for your trouble?

From NBC News

Let’s check in with Louis Farrakhan:

In Part 2 of his Saviours’ Day address at Mosque Maryam in Chicago, Farrakhan received a standing ovation after telling his audience that “the Satanic Jews that control everything and mostly everybody, if they are your enemy, then you must be somebody.”

Farrakhan says a lot of other, similar things. The “Nation of Islam” is not your friend.

Wikipedia notes:

Black Americans of all education levels are significantly more likely than whites of the same education level to be anti-Semitic. In the 1998 survey, blacks (34%) were nearly four times as likely as whites (9%) to have answers that identified them as being of the most anti-Semitic category (those agreeing with at least 6 of 11 statements that were potentially or clearly antisemitic). Among blacks with no college education, 43% responded as the most anti-Semitic group (vs. 18% for the general population). This percentage fell to 27% among blacks with some college education, and 18% among blacks with a four-year college degree (vs. 5% for the general population).[83]

Modern liberals see themselves as a coalition fighting for the rights of non-whites (“PoC”) against white oppression (structural racism.) While Jews are perfectly well aware that they have suffered from racism in white countries, PoC logic dictates that Jews are “white” and Palestinians are “brown,” and therefore Jews are white supremacist oppressors of non-whites.

Did you know that a majority of whites haven’t voted for the Democrats, in a presidential election, since 1964? American politics, viewed from the outside, is pretty darn racial: blacks and Hispanics vote overwhelmingly Democrat (For example, 90% of blacks voted for Gore; 62% of Hispanics and 55% of Asians voted for Gore. By contrast, 55% of whites voted for Bush II.)

To skip forward to the current election, (which, to be frank, is no longer interesting,) of the three major candidates, Sanders is explicitly Jewish; Trump has an Orthodox Jewish daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren; and Clinton’s daughter married a Jew, but does not appear to have converted and her grandchildren therefore aren’t Jewish under Jewish law.

Say what you will for the man, but I don’t think Trump hates his own grandchildren.

One of the weirder parts of this election has been people accusing the candidate with more Jewish family members of saying anti-Semitic things about the one with fewer Jewish family members–as though anti-Semitism were some kind of selling point with the Republican base! (No, that’s Hillary’s base.)

The media, in particular, has been actively pushing the whole “Trump is literally Hitler!” rhetoric for a long while.

Now, you might be saying, “Hey! We aren’t the entire media!”

Yes, I know. But you are visibly over-represented in the media, and many Jewish media folks have been vocally anti-Trump. Fair or not, being a small minority always means that people will be judging you.

To be explicit: You look like you are actively siding with non-whites (who hate you) against whites. With Muslims (who hate you) against the Evangelicals (who like you.) With internationalists (like Hillary) against nationalists who want to promote American interests.

And on top of that, you are super-successful, dominating Ivy League admissions and high-paying professions, way more than your % of the population, (while at the same time claiming that white over-representation in various areas is due to “white privilege.”) You write things like this:

White people need to open ourselves up to a particular type of wounding to genuinely understand and then work toward racial justice. Our comfort and privilege generally keeps us from incurring these wounds naturally, and thus they must be sought out, disseminated, and used to motivate action.

From the outside, this looks really weird.

And this is why the far-right thinks you are doing it on purpose to destroy white America.

Let’s show a little common sense. Stop working against your own long-term interests. Step away from divisive politics. Being simultaneously high-profile and opposed to the interests of the biggest groups in the country is a good way to get the majority of people mad at you. Stop supporting people who don’t support you.  Shame and ostracize Jews who make the rest of you look bad. Figure out who your friends are and be loyal to them.

Do science. Live well. Build civilization with me.


Oh, everyone, I know this goes without saying, but please be polite in the comments. Comments that impede discussion will be deleted.

Anthropology Friday: Smith’s Sacrifice Among the Semites

Guys, I was really excited to bring you W. Robertson Smith‘s Sacrifice Among the Semites, (1889) but it turned out kind of disappointing. It contains, in fact, very few descriptions of sacrifice, among the Semites or anyone else.

Like Tyler, he has an “evolutionist” view of religious history, but the essay feels more proto-Freudian; it was with no surprise that I found that the very next essay in my textbook deals directly with Freud.

Nevertheless, it does have some interesting parts that I think are worth sharing. Smith doesn’t offer (at least in this essay) much support for his claims, but he did spend much of his life studying Semitic religion. According to Wikipedia,

After graduation he took up a chair in Hebrew at the Aberdeen Free Church College in 1870. In 1875 he wrote a number of important articles on religious topics in the ninth edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. … took up a position as a reader in Arabic at the University of Cambridge, where he eventually rose to the position of University Librarian, Professor of Arabic and a fellow of Christ’s College.[1] It was during this time that he wrote The Old Testament in the Jewish Church (1881) and The Prophets of Israel (1882), which were intended to be theological treatises for the lay audience.

In 1887 Smith became the editor of the Encyclopædia Britannica after the death of his employer Thomas Spencer Baynes left the position vacant. In 1889 he wrote his most important work, Religion of the Semites, an account of ancient Jewish religious life which pioneered the use of sociology in the analysis of religious phenomena. He was Professor of Arabic there with the full title ‘Sir Thomas Adams Professor of Arabic‘ (1889–1894).

However, it also says (regarding the work from which today’s quotes are taken):

After 75 years Evans-Pritchard, although noting his wide influence, summarized criticism of Smith’s totemism, “Bluntly, all Robertson Smith really does is to guess about a period of Semitic history about which we know almost nothing.”[25]

With those caveats, let’s begin (for readability, I am just using “” for Smith’s portions):

“The sacrificial meal was an appropriate expression of of the antique ideal of religious life, not merely because it was a social act and an act in which the god and his worshipers were conceived as partaking together, but because… the very act of eating and drinking with a man was a symbol and a confirmation of fellowship and mutual social obligations. The one thing directly expressed in the sacrificial meal is that the god and his worshipers are commensals, but every other point in their mutual relations is included in what this involves. Those who sit at meat together are united for all social effects, those who do not eat together are aliens to one another, without fellowship in religion and without reciprocal social duties. …

“Among the Arabs ever stranger whom one meets in the desert is a natural enemy, and has no protection against violence except his own strong hand or the fear that his tribe will avenge him if his blood be spilt. But if I have eaten the smallest morsel of food with a man, I have nothing further to fear from him; “there is salt between us,” and he is bound not only to do me no harm, but to help and defend me as if I were his brother. So far was this principle carried by the old Arabs, that Zaid al-Khail, a famous warrior in the days of Mohammed, refused to lay a vagabond who carried off his camels, because the thief had surreptitiously drunk from his father’s milk bowl before committing the theft. It does not indeed follow as a matter of course that because have eaten once with a man I am permanently his friend, for the bond of union is conceived in a very realistic way, and strictly speaking lasts no longer than the food may be supposed to remain in my system. …

“The Old Testament records many cases where a covenant was sealed by the parties eating and drinking together. In mot of these indeed the meal is sacrificial, so that it is not at once clear that two men are bound to each other merely by partaking of the same dish, unless the deity is taken in as a third party to the covenant.”

The Lord makes a covenant with Abraham:

15 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,[a]
    your very great reward.[b]

He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring[d] be.” … He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 …

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram… (Genesis 15:1-18)

Isaac and Abimelek make a covenant:

26 Meanwhile, Abimelek had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces. 27 Isaac asked them, “Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?”

28 They answered, “We saw clearly that the Lord was with you; so we said, ‘There ought to be a sworn agreement between us’—between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we did not harm you but always treated you well and sent you away peacefully. And now you are blessed by the Lord.”

30 Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. 31 Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they went away peacefully. (Genesis 26:26-30)

But the covenant between David and Jonathan involves no food:

16 So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.” 17 And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.

“Now in the most primitive society there is only one kind of fellowship which is absolute and inviolable. To the primitive man all other men fall under two classes, those to whom his life is sacred and those tho whom it is not sacred. The former are his fellows; the latter are strangers and potential foemen, with whom it is absurd to think of forming any inviolable tie unless they are first brought into the circle within which each man’s life is sacred to all his comrades.”

EvX: The gist of this is, I suspect, basically true, and I note it for its contrast with the modern world, in which not only are we supposed to be concerned with the lives of all strangers, but simultaneously, there is no longer anyone (outside of our nuclear families) to whom our lives are sacred.

“But that circle again corresponds to the circle of kinship, for the practical test of kinship is that the whole kin is answerable for the life of each of its members. By the rules of early society, if I slay my kinsman, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, the act is is murder, and is punished by expulsion from the kin; if my kinsman is slain by an outsider I and every other member of my kin are bound to avenge his death by killing the manslayer or some member of his kin. It is obvious that under such a system there can be no inviolable fellowship except between men of the same blood. For the duty of blood revenge is paramount, and every other obligation is dissolved as soon as it comes into conflict with the claims of blood. I cannot bind myself absolutely to a man, even for a temporary purpose, unless during the time of our engagement he is put into a kinsmans’ place. And this is as much as to say that a stranger cannot become bound to me, unless at the same time he become bound to all my kinsmen in exactly the same way. Such is, in fact, the law of the desert; when any member of a clan receives an outsider through the bond of salt, the whole clan is bound by his act, and must, while the engagement lasts, receive the stranger as one of themselves.

“The idea that kinship is not purely an affair of birth, but may be acquired, has fallen out of our circle of ideas; but o, for that matter, has the primitive conception of kindred itself.”

EvX: I don’t know about you, but I remember as a kid declaring myself “blood brothers”* with my friends, often with some kind of made-up ritual. Perhaps we’d gotten the idea from TV (I remember a scene in something or other I’d watched in which two or three kids cut their thumbs and pressed them together, then declared themselves blood brothers, but I never did that because AIDS is icky.) and perhaps the TV got the idea from the Indians or something like that. But either way, it was a thing we kids did.

*Yes we were girls but we still called it that.

“To us kinship has no absolute value, but is measured by degrees, and means much or little, or nothing at all, according to its degree and other circumstances. In ancient times, on the contrary, the fundamental obligation of kinship had nothing to do with degrees of relationship but rested with absolute and identical force on every member of the clan. To know that a man’s life was scared to me, and that every blood-feud that touched him involved me also, it was not necessary for me to count cousinship with him by reckoning up to our common ancestor; it was enough that we belonged to the same clan and bore the same clan name. … But the essential idea of kinship was independent of the particular form of law. A kin was a group  of persons whose lives were so bound up together, in what must be called a physical unity, that they could be treated as parts of one common life. The members of one kindred looked on themselves as one living whole, a single animated mass of blood, flesh, and bones, of which no member cold be touched without all the members suffering.”

EvX: There is a play by Voltaire which I read some years back, Zaire. The story, shortly, is of a slave girl (Zaire) in the Sultan’s court. The sultan has fallen in love with her and because of her virtue and modesty they are going to get married. But then Zaire discovers her father (whom she’d never met before, having been raised in the sultan’s court) is a French Christian. Her father dies a few minutes later and Zaire is now wracked with doubts because how can she marry a Muslim when she is a Christian? The sultan observes her strange, secretive behavior, concludes that she is having an affair, and kills her.

Back when I read this, it made no sense at all. Zaire’s spontaneous adoption of Christianity had nothing to do with a theology or belief–all that happened in the play to make her suddenly become Christian was that she discovered that her dying dad, whom she’s known for all of five minutes, was Christian.

I was attempting to understand the play’s actions through the lens of our modern understanding of religion as a matter of personal conscience, and ethnicity a matter of background genetics.

But Voltaire was clearly working within a tribalist framework, where Christianity = ethnicity, and ethnicity = tribe and you cannot marry outside your tribe.

Continuing on:

“This point of vie is expressed int he Semitic tongues in many familiar forms of speech. In a case of homicide Arabian tribesmen do not say,”the blood of M. or N. has been spilt,” naming the man; they say,
Our blood has been spilt.” In Hebrew the phrase by which one claims kinship is “I am our bone and your flesh.” Both in Hebrew and in Arabic “flesh” is synonymous with “clan” or kindred group.”

In the days when the judges ruled,[a] there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. …

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. Ruth 1:1-19


Judaism as Memetic Model

Judaism is a useful ethno-religion for modeling mitochondrial/viral meme interactions because it is relatively small.

Depending on which study you read, the US has between 4 and 6 million Jews, neatly split into four main groups:

"Jewish Denominational Affiliation" graphic courtesy Pew Research Center.
Jewish Denominational Affiliation” graphic courtesy Pew Research Center.

A bit confusingly, Orthodox are the most conservative and Conservatives are more moderate. Reforms are liberal, and “No denomination” is mostly atheists who are, of course, the most liberal.

Orthodox have a TFR (total fertility rate, or children per woman,) of 4.1.

Conservatives have a TFR of 1.8.

Reform have a TFR of 1.7.

Atheist Jews have a TFR of 1.5. (source)

(Here I have to stop and point out an error in the source, which claims that “TFR”=total number of children per adult, when TFR is defined as childen per woman. The US TFR of 2.2 means the average woman has 2.2 kids, not that the average woman has 4.4 kids.)

Back to our data. We can see immediately that only Orthodox Jews have a TFR above replacement (approximately 2.) Let’s run through the numbers, just for fun (using a compromise starting number of 5 million total Jews):

Generation 1: 500,000 Orthodox Jews; 900,000 Conservative Jews; 1.75 million Reform Jews; and 1.5 million atheist Jews.

Generation 2: 1,010,000 Orthodox; 810,000 Conservative; 1.488 million Reform; and 1.125 million atheist Jews.

If this trend continued, by Generation 5 we’d have: 8.8 million Orthodox; 530,000 Conservative; 776,000 Reform; and 356,000 atheist. From 10% Orthodox to 84% in just a century; from 30% to 3% atheist.

In reality, though, this doesn’t happen, because many of the children of Orthodox Jews don’t stay Orthodox: “Fewer than half of Jews raised in Orthodox homes have remained Orthodox, with more than 20 percent leaving the religion altogether.”

But this finding requires a caveat, the authors are quick to add: those who left Orthodoxy in droves came of age in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The 1980s and 1990s have been a lot kinder to the Orthodox denomination; fully 83 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 who were raised Orthodox are still Orthodox.

!! If that doesn’t look like the less-devout boiling off, leaving a more genetically-inclined-to-Orthodoxy core, I don’t know what does.

Among Jews who were raised Conservative, the number who have left Jewish observance rises to 30 percent; among Jews raised Reform, 35 percent.

Notice that no one talks about Reform Jews becoming Orthodox, because very few do. Orthodox Jews may know how to have children, but their beliefs are simply unattractive to anyone who isn’t raised Orthodox. By contrast, Reform Jews can’t replenish themselves, but their ideas are attractive to non-Reform Jews.

In other words, Orthodoxy is mitochondrial; Reform and atheist Judaism are viral.

Here’s a graph for you:

Denominational switching among Jewish Americans, courtesy of the Pew Research Center
Denominational switching among Jewish Americans, courtesy of the Pew Research Center

I love a good graph.

Okay. So let’s recalculate Generation 2:

1,010,000 Orthodox => 48% O, 15%C, 11% R, and 26% A (as a practical matter, “no denomination” is pretty darn close to atheist,) or 485,000 O; 152,ooo C; 111,000 R; and 263,000 A +

810,000 Conservative => 4% O, 36% C, 30% R, 30% A, or 32,000 O; 292,000 C; 243,000 R; 243,000 A.

1.488 million Reform => 1% O, 6% C, 55% R, 37% A, or 15,000 O; 89,000 C; 818,000 R; 551,000 A.

and 1.125 million atheist Jews => mostly atheists.

For a total of 532,000 O; 533,000 C; 1,172,000 R; 2,182,000 A.  In case you’ve forgotten, Gen 1 had:

500,000 O; 900,000 C; 1,750,000 R; and 1,500,000 A.

The numbers aren’t extreme (which makes sense, since the average TFR is close to 2,) but notably, even though 52% of Orthodox children elected to go be something else, Orthodox is the only Jewish denomination that actually managed to grow. Conservative and Reform numbers, despite influxes from Orthodox Judaism, (and, for Reform, from Conservatives,) fell. Atheist Jews, of course, had a significant rise.

Carry on this pattern for several generations, and you get a Judaism that is increasingly split between Orthodox on one hand and atheism on the other.

Now suppose that the more recently observed trend of younger people staying Orthodox at higher rates than previous generations holds true, and the future looks even grimmer for the Conservatives. I’m not going to work out the math, because you can probably estimate for yourself what an 83% retention rate combined with a 4.1 TFR looks like–a very Orthodox Judaism. And very atheist.

I suspect that Christianity (at least white, American Christianity; Ugandan Christianity is totally beyond my knowledge zone,)  is following a similar pattern, with a large increase in atheists on the one hand, massive losses from the moderate center, and the most conservative elements almost hanging on:

I wanted a graph that went back further in time, but this is what I found.
Courtesy of Pew Research Center, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape

I suspect that the “unaffiliateds” include both atheists and people who believe in god or spirituality in some sort of vague way, but not enough to actually attend a real church.

These drops are just over the past 7 years; looking further back, in 1948, nearly 70% of Christians described themselves as “Protestants” (including both mainline and Evangelicals;) today, that’s dropped to 38%. (I think Black Protestant churches and the Mormons are doing fine, however.)

I don’t want to get into the details of the changing Christian landscape, because that’s way too much to cover in the tail end of a post, but the pattern looks very similar, especially the precipitous drop in the Catholics and Mainline Protestants (the Christian moderates and liberals.) Evangelical Protestants don’t have the birth rates of Orthodox Jews, otherwise they’d probably be doing a little better.

Moldbug proposed that Reform Judaism is Judaism infected with the Progressive virus, where Progressivism itself is a viral form of Mainline Protestant (ie Puritan) Christianity that has shed its specifically theistic aspects in order to compete in our officially a-religious political sphere.

But how much could just be convergent memetic evolution, given an identical meme-vironment?

Judeo Ethnogenesis

Ethnogenesis, as the name implies, is the process whereby a new ethnic group is created. An ethnicity is more or less a group with a shared culture, belief in common ancestry, and that preferentially marries within itself rather than outside of itself. Over time, this creates a group that is ethnically distinct from its neighbors, even under conditions of close proximity.

The Amish, for example, after splitting off from the Swiss in the 1600s over religious differences (remember, religion is ethnicity,) arrived in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s, so we may mark Amish ethnogenesis around the mid 1600s or early 1700s People today make fun of Ben Franklin for complaining that the German-speaking immigrants to Pennsylvania were problematic and not integrating with the rest of the population, but you know, the Amish still haven’t integrated. They still speak German, follow their own religion and traditions, and don’t inter-marry with the rest of the Pennsylvania population, such that they are quite ethnically distinct, at least on a genetic level.

The Hui of China are another example; they were not really considered an ethnic group before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China circa 1949. The Chinese decided to just lump all of their Muslim minorities–some of them quite distinct–under one term. (Historically, the term “Hui” also referred to Christians and Jews and was just a general catch-all.) Hui now marry other Hui preferentially enough that the Wikipedia page goes into detail on known cases of inter-marriage with the Han, but a fellow Hui from across the country may be regarded as just another Hui, and so a preferred partner.

Anyway, so that got me thinking about the establishment of Israel. Normally when I think of Jews, I am actually thinking of Askenzim, and you probably are, too. But Israel is actually 61% Mizrahi Jews–Jews from predominantly Muslim countries.

You know the general story: Once upon a time, all of the Jews lived in Israel. These people were probably pretty similar, ethnically, to the Palestinians, assuming the Palestinians are anything like the region’s residents 2000 years ago, and don’t have a massive influx of Turkish DNA or something like that.

Then the Jews got conquered and scattered to the winds. Most famously after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, but also during the Babylonian  and Assyrian eras, etc. Anyway, for the past 2000+ years or so, there have been significant Jewish communities in a lot of places that aren’t Israel, eg:

Uzbeki Jews
Uzbeki Jews
Chinese Jews
Chinese Jews
Ethiopian Jews
Ethiopian Jews
Cochin Jews
Cochin Jews
Lemba Jews?
Lemba Jews?

Then in the late 1800s, the Jews–mostly Ashkenazim, I think–got sick of this state of affairs and decided to exit Europe and go back to Israel. Unfortunately, they didn’t really succeed until 1948, at which point Jews from all over the world started pouring in.

Since most people are genetically similar to their neighbors, eg the Palestinians and Syrians, or Han and She, I began wondering how similar Jews were to their neighbors of millenia verses their similarity to each other.

Here’s a graph showing major genetic lineages of a bunch of different ethnic groups, including several Jewish ones:


Broad cultural zones are easily distinguished, like East Asians in yellow, South Asia in greens, Europeans with their large dark blue chunk, Middle Easterners with their big patches of light green and light blue, and the rust-tones in sub-Saharan Africa. This data set is great, because it lets us compare various Jewish groups to their immediate neighbors, eg:


I made a condensed version of the graph that highlights the measured Jewish groups and their neighbors, (sadly, some of the samples are pretty small, making them hard to read):


And an even more condensed version that just compares the Jews to each other:


(Note that the pure green section on the right-hand side is not a Jewish group, but just a chunk of the graph that happened to overlap the text due to the Cochin Jewish section being so small.)

Observations: Most Jewish groups are significantly more similar to their immediate neighbors than they are to other Jewish groups, especially when we look at the furthest-flung folks. Cochin Jews and Ethiopian Jews, for example, show almost no DNA in common (in this graph.)

Given what all Middle Eastern groups look like in the sample, we may speculate that the original Jewish group primarily had a large section of light blue and a slightly smaller section of light green, with probably a smidge of sub-Saharan. Several of the Middle Eastern Jewish groups still have this genetic makeup.

Three Jewish groups show a more European makeup, with a large dark blue chunk characteristic of Europeans and North Africans: the Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and Moroccan Jews. They look closest to Cypriots, though I compared them to Spaniards and Tuscans as their nearest neighbors in the graph.

Since the Ashkenazim are estimated to be about half Italian, it’s not surprising that they have about half as much dark blue as the Italians. Even within European groups, while they look fairly similar at this level of resolution, some groups are quite distinct from each other–Italians and Germans, for example, or Brits and Greeks. Geneticists can determine whether your ancestors were Italians or Germans or Greeks just by looking at your DNA, but those kinds of small details don’t really show up all that well on a graph that is trying to show the differences between Sub-Saharan Africanss and Asians. So while Moroccans, Sephardim, and Ashkenazim all look rather similar here, there may be finer grained differences that just don’t show up at this scale.

What’s up with the Moroccan Jews? They do not look like Moroccans; I therefore speculate a more recent migration of Moroccan Jews from somewhere else that’s not Morocco, like Spain.

The Jews who migrated to the East, however, lost a significant portion–almost all–of their light blue component, replacing it with dark green more typical of Indians and other SE Asian populations.

I don’t think this dataset contains Uzbeki Jews (or the Lemba, who are not Jewish enough to be considered Jewish, but still have a few Jewish traditions and folktales and a bit of Jewish ancestry,) which is sad, but I’d wager the Uzbeki Jews look a lot like other Uzbeks.

One of the things I’ve heard often from Jews is that all Jews are Jews, part of one great big Jewish family descended from Abraham (even the atheist ones!) and thus Jews should always try to be kind to each other, all Jews are welcome in Israel, etc. This is a perfectly sensible philosophy when you’re a peasant in Poland and the only foreign Jews you’ve ever met were from Lithuania. But 2000+ years of diaspora have resulted in far flung groups becoming quite ethnically distinct from each other. Like the Amish, isolated groups in Cochin or Ethiopia have become their own ethnies distinct from their ancestors, but unlike the Amish, they have inter-married significantly with the locals. (The Amish do not marry non-Amish.)

The Roman Exile, therefore, should be regarded as a major ethnogenesis event–the beginning of the creation of most current Jewish ethnic groups.

The creation of the state of Israel constitutes a second major ethnogenesis event, a bringing together of these multiple ethnic groups into one population that views itself as one population. I expect a great deal of mixing between these historically distinct groups into a more homogenous whole, (though some groups may not mix terribly well.)

The Khazar Theory

Khazar Theory o hai there, anti-semites.

Have you heard of the Khazar Theory of Ashkenazic origins? I like to read blogs on human genetics, which seem to attract the occasional Neo-Nazi, and have Facebook friends who think bombing Palestine is a bad idea, which also attracts Neo-Nazis, so I’ve heard all about the Khazar Theory.

The one fact behind this theory: There was once a central Asian country (Khazaria) that converted to Judaism. It later converted to Islam.

The Theory: Modern Ashkenazim are descended from Khazar converts, rather than from the Jews of Judea. The Jews of Judea stuck around Judea and became Palestinians. The Khazar-converts, now the majority of “Jews”, moved to Germany and then decided to go steal the “Jewish homeland” from the “actual ethnic Jews,” the Palestinians.

Thus, (according to the theory,) “Jews” are sneaky thieving conniving evil bastards, (and Palestinians, of course, are totally innocent lambs who would never hurt a fly.)

The reality: Genetic testing is a thing we have, and we can pinpoint pretty darn accurately where someone’s ancestors came from.

Genetically, Ashkenazim are about half Italian and half Middle Eastern, with no admixture from the Khazar region of Asia.

Even if Jews had significant Khazar ancestry, it wouldn’t actually make any difference, but it happens that they don’t. Ashkenazim are less than half the population of Israel and about 75% of the world’s Jews, according to Wikipedia. The most controversial thing you can say about this is that the Italian half is on their mothers’ side, which appears to be true for virtually all diasporic Jewish groups. Men moved to new places and took new wives.

Additionally, we have a fair amount of documentary evidence of where the Ashkenazim came from, since they were often explicitly invited into newly-founded German cities by bishops and princes who thought a Jewish community would make their new cities more economically productive. (Eastern German cities are very recent, on a European scale.)

In short, the theory is just completely false.

Study: The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people

The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people

From a study published in Nature, 08 July 2010: “… we use high-density bead arrays to genotype individuals from 14 Jewish Diaspora communities and compare these patterns of genome-wide diversity with those from 69 Old World non-Jewish populations, of which 25 have not previously been reported. These samples were carefully chosen to provide comprehensive comparisons between Jewish and non-Jewish populations in the Diaspora, as well as with non-Jewish populations from the Middle East and north Africa. …”


My conclusion: Most Jewish communities are highly admixed with the local communities.