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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Race, the Jewish

The science of man, especially in his physical aspects, and of the climatic and social environments determining those aspects. The Anthropology of the Jews, who, either racially or socially, form a separate portion of mankind, should be of special interest to students of the science as bearing upon its central problem; namely, whether the similarities observed among different classes of mankind are due to "nature" or to "nurture"; that is, to common ancestry or to common environment. If Jews are wholly of one race, the difference produced among them by variations of social environment should form a suitable sphere of inquiry: if they are not of one race, it is of interest to the scientist to ascertain how the marked similarities between Jews of different climes have been produced. Much turns upon the preliminary question whether contemporary Jews are of the same race as those mentioned in the Bible.

Purity of Race.

The general arguments hitherto advanced against the purity of the Jewish race are: (1) The evidence that in Bible times the Jews intermarried with surrounding nations; (2) the frequent reference to proselytes in early Christian literature; (3) the prohibition of intermarriage repeated in many of the councils of the Church implies frequent infringements; (4) the conversion to Judaism of the Chazars, a Turanian tribe in South Russia, from whom, it is suggested, most of the Russian Jews, who form about half of contemporary Israelites, are descended; (5) the marked difference in type to be observed among contemporary Jews. To these arguments the upholders of the purity of the race reply: (1) The intermarriages mentioned in the Bible are few in number and with cognate tribes; (2) proselytes were the chief sources from which the early Christian Church drew its members, thus removing them from contact with Judaism; (3) the severity of the punishment attached by the Church to intermarriage proves how infrequent intermarriages must have been; (4) the conversion of the Chazars was merely nominal, and it has left traces on only the few Karaites of South Russia: the other Russian Jews came from Germany, as is shown by the German dialect they use; (5) the differences of type may have been produced by social differences and are not so great when a series is taken into consideration. The upholders of the purity point out: (6) That cohanim, or members of the priestly caste, were and are not allowed to marry a proselyte, and must, therefore, have preserved their purity of descent; (7) that the marked resemblance of Jewesses throughout the world, showing as they do less variation among the females of the race, conforms to the biological test of purity of breed; (8) that mixed marriages in the present day are markedly infertile, which would reduce the influence of such intermarriages in an increasing geometrical ratio; (9) the rarity of instances in historical sources of proselytism in mixed marriages since the Middle Ages; (10) the prepotency of Jewish blood, as shown by the marked Jewish type of even the remoter offspring of Jews that have intermarried; (11) the stringent social separation, which can be historically proved throughout the Christian centuries; (12) the existence of marked Jewish type in the features and bodily measurements of contemporary Jews wherever found.


Measurements of Jews have been taken sporadically in most European countries with the following results: The average height of Jews is 162.1 cm.; span of arms, 169.1 cm.; and girth around the chest, about 81 cm.: so that they are the shortest and narrowest of Europeans. Their skulls are mainly brachycephalic; that is, the breadth is generally over 80 per cent of the length. This has been used as an argument against the purity of race, as most Semites—like the Arabs and Syrians—are dolichocephalic, or longheaded. But, as Jewish skulls are almost the broadest in all Europe, it is difficult to say how this characteristic could have arisen from any mixture: it is probably due to cerebral development.

As regards complexion, Jews are darker than the surrounding peoples in Europe, except Galicia. The hair is also darker; on the average 15 per cent having black hair as against 3 to 4 per cent in the general European populations. Curiously enough, there is a larger proportion of red-haired men among Jews than in any other race; possibly due to want of nutrition. Jewesses seem to be more keen-sighted and to have greater strength of grip than other women. Among Jews about one-fifth have blue eyes, against one-third in the general populations. Altogether about one-fourth of the Jews can be described as fair, as against one-half of the populations among whom they dwell. The nose is generally considered the characteristic feature of the Jews, who have, on the average, the longest (77 mm.) and narrowest (34 mm.). Its characteristic shape is dueto the accentuation of the nostrils, which gives it the "figure 6" formation. The lips of Jews are also characteristic, as large a proportion as 48 per cent being thick. These features are the elements that go to make the marked Jewish type, which has been defined "as Semitic features with ghetto expression": it is found in the Assyrian bas-reliefs as well as in the ghetti of to-day. From composite portraits of Jewish lads, the Jewish face has been defined as possessing "accentuated flexible nostrils; largish mouth, with ends well marked, and pouting under-lip; heavy chin; broad forehead with prominent superciliary ridges scantily covered with hair toward the outer extremities; and large, brilliant, dark eyes, set closely together, with heavy upper and protuberant lower lid, having a thoughtful expression in youth, transformed to a keen and penetrating gaze in manhood."

The above results are averages taken from different numbers and different classes, and consequently vary in trustworthiness. The details as to hair, eye, and complexion are based upon the examination of no less than 120,000 individuals; those with regard to the nose, upon only 119. Differences in social position are found to affect results considerably; thus, while 12,000 Jews gave an average height of 162.1 cm., that of 130 English Jews of the better class was 170.8 cm. The predominantly narrow girth of Jews would give them what is technically known as the lowest "index of vitality"; but statistics prove otherwise.


With regard to their vital statistics Jews show equal similarity among themselves and differences from the populations of which they form a part. Thus, as regards marriage, Jews in almost all countries have a lower marriage-rate than Christians when reckoned upon their total population; their average being about 6 marriages to every 100 inhabitants. They marry earlier than Christians (in Russia one-half of Jewish marriages are between persons under twenty); and, as a consequence, there is a larger proportion of Jewish marriages between bachelors and spinsters. Jews marry their cousins more frequently than other people do: probably three times as often. The rate of intermarriage between Jews and Christians varies in different localities, from 1 per cent in Algeria to 12 per cent in Berlin. Jews appear to seek divorce in slightly fewer numbers than the rest of the population.

Estimated upon the total population, the birth-rate of Jews is less—an average of about 33.5 per 1,000 per annum against 36.3 per 1,000 of the whole population—though this is opposed to the general impression, and appears to be contradicted by the fact that, as a rule, Jews have larger families than Christians. On the other hand, mixed marriages are remarkably infertile, resulting in only 15 births per 1,000. The sex of Jewish children is more predominantly male than in the general population, in the proportion of 112 to 105 (the female children being reckoned at 100); though, curiously enough, in Europe there is a larger proportion of Jewesses to Jews (106 to 100) than of other women to men in the general population (103 to 100). This predominance of male births among Jews has attracted the notice of naturalists, and appears to be due partly to the smaller number of illegitimate and still-births. It is found that a larger proportion of males occur among the still-births, so that if there are less still-births, the larger is the number of males born. Jews show an average of about 3 per cent still-births among all births as against 4 per cent for the general population: this difference, though only of 1 per cent absolutely, is 25 per cent relatively. The comparative infrequency of still-births may be due to the small proportion of illegitimate births among Jews, which is, on the average, only one-fifth of the normal proportion. The superiority varies in different places, and is growing less marked as the pressure of ghetto opinion is becoming less effective: in Prussia, for example, there has been a perceptible rise in the rate of illegitimacy.

The death-rate of Jews is lower than that of their neighbors: strikingly so in deaths under five years. This is the key to the whole of Jewish vital statistics, inasmuch as comparatively few deaths occur between five and twenty; hence, a relatively larger proportion of the Jewish population is living between these ages than is the case in general populations. Consequently when marriages or births are reckoned on the whole population they appear less among Jews than among their neighbors; though if reckoned upon the population over twenty years of age—which would be the proper method—they would be really larger. Thus in Budapest, the percentage of the Jewish population under twenty was 45, while that of the Christians was about 34. The low death-rate among infants is probably due to the fact that Jewish mothers rarely do anything but housework. A low death-rate is shown in almost all the remaining ages until the very highest age, which implies that Jews are longer-lived than their neighbors. It has been suggested that Jews should claim special life tables and premium rates from the insurance companies. Owing to the early date of marriage and the viability of children, the length of a generation (= average age of males at marriage + 1 year + half the number of years of female fertility) of Jews is less than among Christians (about 31 years to 36); so that there are a larger number of generations living together; their increase is more rapid; and tradition holds a stronger place among them.


Little has been done in the collection of details as to the special morbidity of Jews, either as regards the diseases to which they are most susceptible or as regards those from which they die. Jews have been credited with immunity from tuberculosis; but this has been disproved by the experience of the overcrowded immigrants in New York. They are undoubtedly freer than others from alcoholism; the number of such cases at Jewish clinics being phenomenally small. Jews are said to be more liable than others to diabetes and hemorrhoids—due probably to their sedentary habits. They are less liable to venereal diseases. They are undoubtedly more liable to disease of the nervous system, as is shown by the larger percentage of deaf and dumb, blind and insane among them than among the general population. Jews are markedly more color-blind than their neighbors, at least one-half as much again. Their neurotic tendency is due either to racial peculiarities or to the fact that they are mostly town-dwellers and that they earn their living by relatively more brainwork. Curiously enough, Jews, while showing inferiority compared with Christians in regard to nervous diseases, show superiority with regard to suicide, few of them resorting to self-destruction.

Social Conditions.

The peculiarities of Jewish statistics may be due to racial unity or to similarity of social conditions. Even such measurements as those of height and growth may be due to nurture rather than to nature. It has been found, for example, that Jews in the East of London reach an average height of 64.3 inches, whereas in the West End the average is 67.5. The social condition of Jews has thus a direct bearing upon their anthropometry, and the key to thisis afforded by the fact that they live almost exclusively in towns, due in part to medieval persecution and in part to the needs of public worship. As a rule, only one-fifth of the Jewish population dwell outside of large towns, whereas two-thirds of the general population do so. This accounts in a large measure for their frail physique and shorter height, and for the larger proportion of mentally and physically afflicted. It also explains the small number of Jews in Continental armies, and, above all, the rarity of their employment as agricultural laborers. The peculiarities of their occupations are the pre-dominance of commerce—over 50 per cent of the adult workers being thus engaged as against only 6 per cent of the general population—and the correspondingly small number of artisans, who are only one-half as numerous as among the Gentiles. Of the occupations most in vogue among Jewish artisans tailoring and shoemaking take the precedence, as they do in the general population; and these have been the occasion of much "sweating" in the United States because of the long work-hours which the Russian Jews are willing to accept. Owing to the prevalence of these ill-paid industries, Jews in the general mass are poorer than their fellow citizens, though a few exceptional persons have acquired great wealth. Taken as a whole, Jews are poorer than any European people. They appear to give more attention to the higher education of their children; and as a consequence are found among the professional classes in much larger proportion than their numbers warrant; for example, in Italy 8.7 per cent of Jews against 3.7 per cent of the general population. Here, again, correction has to be made, because of the fact that Jews are town-dwellers, from whom the professions are almost exclusively recruited. This is especially the case with regard to medicine. Jewish doctors on the Continent of Europe are, comparatively speaking, three times as numerous as Gentile doctors. There are fewer clergymen: an average of 1 Jew to 1,500 of the population as against 1 Christian to 1,000.

The results mentioned above have been compiled from a large number of statistics of various countries, and it may be desirable to illustrate the general results by the case of Prussia, which has collected statistics about its Jews for a longer period than any other country.

Statistics Relating to Jews in Prussia.
Living in towns, per 10078.9135.4
Women to 100 men108103
Marriages, percentage of, to population6.58.2
Mixed, percentage of marriages6.18.5
Unmarried persons over 1448.9554
Births per 1,00022.738.2
Still-births, percentage of all births3.44.1
Illegitimate, percentage of all births2.97.9
To a marriage3.54.6
To a mixed marriage1.7
Deaths per 1,00014.922
Under 15, percentage of all deaths40.156.2
Suicides per 100,0009.620.2
Excess of births over deaths7.816.2
Afflicted, per 10,00063.4541.98
Blind, per 10,00013.349.45
Deaf-mutes, per 10,00014.889.96
Insane, per 10,00035.2322.57
Color-blind, percentage4.12.1
Official and professional6.267.18
Without occupation15.798.23
Unable to read7.28.9
Criminals per 1,00058.769.5

The foregoing figures relate for the most part to the averages of the last quinquennial period (1891-95) for which statistics are available; but some of the details refer to earlier dates. They are similar to what is found among Jews of other countries in every case except with regard to births and marriages, and the excess of births over deaths, which is generally above the proportion in the general population.

Anthropologically considered, the Jews are a race of markedly uniform type, due either to unity of race or to similarity of environment. Their physical condition is mainly determined by their dwelling in towns. Their social position is the least fortunate, owing to the fact that they are crowded together, as in the Pale of Settlement in Russia, or are forced to immigrate to other countries, where they have to compete as foreigners. The general population is approaching the Jewish with regard to predilection for town life. The Russian Jews domiciled in other countries are bringing up a generation adapted to the newer environment. Jewish anthropological characteristics will therefore be likely to become more similar to that of the general population in the future. But the peculiarities due to race will still remain. See also the following articles:

Army and Navy.












Deaf and Dumb




Expectation of Life.



Generation, Length of.












Physical Development.



Purity of Race.


Social Condition.




Vital Statistics.

  • C. Iknow, Neue Beiträge zur Anthropologie der Juden, 1886;
  • Joseph Bergel, Die Medizin der Talmudisten, 1885;
  • Billings, Index Catalogue of the Surgeon General's Library, under Jews, gives a full list of monographs to date;
  • Andree, Zur Volkskunde der Juden, 1881;
  • Jacobs, Studies in Jewish Statistics, London, 1891, deals with most of the topics in detail. The chief contributions since made are those of Weissenberg, Die Anthropologie der Süd-Russischen Juden, 1895, and W. Z. Ripley, The Races of Europe, 1899, 14:363-400.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Race, the Jewish'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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