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 ScribeJoseph Jacobs: Fighting Anti-Semitism, Genetically
Ada Brunstein is the Head of Reference at a university press.