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Biological Discourse and American Jewish Identity

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Publication Date: January 2007

Publisher(s): Association for Jewish Studies; Association for Jewish Studies

Author(s): Lynn Davidman; Shelly Tenenbaum; Lynn Davidman; Shelly Tenenbaum

Series: AJS Perspectives: The Newsletter of the Association for Jewish Studies, Fall 2007, pp.30-32.

Special Collection: Berman Jewish Policy Archive

Topic: Culture and religion (Religion and religious groups)

Keywords: Race; Jewish Identification; Culture; Study

Type: Report

Coverage: United States United States


The authors discuss the place of biological discourse in American Jewish life, especially amongst Jews unaffiliated with synagogues and adult children of intermarriages. Although a racial theory of Jewishness has been discredited, the authors explain that many modern American Jews often speak of Jewishness in terms of immutable, heritable characteristics. Among the possible reasons for this theme, the authors contend, is that if Jewishness is absolute and biological, then it cannot be increased or lessened by practice or belief; Jews can therefore claim full Jewish identity without participating in any rituals or practices.