Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People

Oxford University Press  2012


In Legacy, geneticist Harry Ostrer explores the intricate nature of Jewish identity and in doing so takes us on a historical and scientific journey of Judaism. We meet the scientists who explored the frequency of various traits within the Jewish population (Tay-Sachs, depression, intelligence, etc.), and we see where the science has been both right and wrong over the decades.

The author gives us a rather technical tour of the genealogies of various groups within the Jewish population (Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Cohanim), as well as other populations in the Middle East. The book concludes with a more ephemeral question: what does it mean to feel Jewish? We hear from Einstein, from a Holocaust survivor, and from a journalist, among others. We also get a glimpse into Israel's Law of Return, which formalizes the relationship between Jewish identity and modern Israel.

Although the genetic details are quite dense, the book is a remarkable achievement in its biological and historical scope. Ostrer's thorough research provides a rich and authoritative account of Jewish identity, a subject whose controversial nature the author handles deftly and with great care. References.

Read Harry Ostrer's Posts for the Visiting Scribe

Joseph Jacobs: Fighting Anti-Semitism, Genetically

Chaim Sheba: Identifying Founder Effects for Jewish Genetic Diseases

Arthur Mourant: It’s All In the Blood

Albert Einstein: A Highly Committed Jew by Heritage and Origin

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