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Durham University

Department of Anthropology


Publication details for Professor Yulia Egorova

Egorova, Y. (2009). The proof is in the genes? Jewish responses to DNA research. Culture and Religion 10(2): 159-175.

Author(s) from Durham


The paper explores Jewish responses to genetic research aimed at reconstructing the history of different Jewish populations. The focus is on two case studies – the book by Rabbi Yaakov Kleiman devoted to DNA studies, which attempted to ‘test’ biblical tradition and the reaction of the Bene-Israel Indian Jewish community to the research on their origin. The data are analysed in the context of recent debates in science and technology studies about the biologisation of race and ethnicity. It is demonstrated that though in both cases the recipients of DNA studies stress that Jewishness is not reducible to genetics and that their tradition is correct irrespective of what the results of the tests say, they still assign genetics a significant amount of cognitive authority, quote genetic research in support of their tradition, and interpret its results to suit their own agendas. The paper suggests that genetics appears to be adding to the wide range of possible rhetorical sources of Jewish self-understanding and identification, however, it has not superseded other notions of what it means to be Jewish. It is argued that what may account for this type of engagement with population genetic research is the fact that though it is ascribed unique explanatory power in public discourse, when applied to questions about the history of human populations, it offers inferences that are open to a variety of interpretations.