i’ve hinted around a few times now that i think — going by some things that i’ve read — that the historic mating patterns of ashkenazi jews (i.e. whether or not they married close cousins and/or practiced uncle-niece marriage) were quite different between western vs. eastern ashkenazis. quoting myself:

“wrt ashkenazi jews: i *strongly* suspect (but Further Research is RequiredTM) that there are two mating pattern histories here — western vs. eastern ashkenazi jews. western ashkenazi jews have, i think, avoided close cousin marriage since the medieval period almost to the same degree as the rest of western europeans. eastern ashkenazi jews — the ones in poland/russia — did not. again, i’m not at all sure about this — this is just what i’ve gleaned from my readings so far. (i will be posting on this one of these days.)

“where western ashkenazi jews differ from the rest of the western european populace is that they were not squeezed through the manorialism meat grinder. in that regard, they must’ve experienced some different selection pressures during the medieval period.”

i first came across this idea — quite a while ago now — in my favorite book, Why Europe?, by medieval and family historian michael mitterauer. he says on pg. 72:

“We find it difficult to comprehend today just how preoccupied the era [the middle ages] was with the fear of incest — and not only in the various Christian churches but in Jewish circles as well.”

he references himself on that — “Christentum und Endogamie” in Historisch-anthropologische Familienforschung — but i haven’t read it yet. one of these days, i just might order it from amazon…and dig out my german-english dictionary.

mitterauer is supported in this by one kenneth r. stow in “The Jewish Family in the Rhineland in the High Middle Ages: Form and Function” [pgs. 1095-96]:

“Unlike Christians, Jews were free to marry cousins and nieces; in the Islamic East, first-cousin marriage among Jews was the norm.[38] In the Rhineland, however, such marriages were somewhat of an exception. This difference may be deduced from the universally accepted Communal Ordinance (*Taqqanah*) proposed by Jacob Tam, the most imposing Jewish authority of his day (d. 1171), on the return of the dowry should the bride die without issue during the first year of marriage. Fathers, the ordinance propounds, should not lose both their daughters and their wealth in one blow.[39] If most marriages had been between first cousins, the respective in-laws, who would also have been siblings, would normally have found ways of resolving issues of money among themselves without the need for legal sanctions. The Responsa (*consilia*) literature, too, legal questions and answers pertaining to actual litigations, supports this conclusion. Responsa may represent exceptions, but they are useful in terms of their specifics or when their decisions reflect precendent or common practices. Thus, in one case, an executor, who was (it should be stressed for its own importance) not a relative of the deceased, married his ward to *his* brother.[40] The brothers of the bride protested, not because she had been married to a non-relative but because they were concerned with the suitability of the match. Had marriage between cousins been the rule, it is doubtful that an executor, especially one who was not a relative, would have dared to violate it.[41]”

so, stow doesn’t have hard-and-fast data on marriage types here — he’s making a deduction — but i think it’s a good one. what i find particularly persuasive is the fact that the family type of these medieval rhineland jews was primarily nuclear (or stem). in other words, according to stow, just like the broader western european population, medieval rhineland jews did *not* have clans. and that seems to be the general pattern: the more outbreeding, the smaller the family size.

fast forward to the nineteenth century (yes, that is an unacceptably large gap), in alsace-lorraine, the consanguinity rate amongst jews was 2.3% (whether that was first and second cousins or just first cousins, i don’t know) [see this post]. that is a very low rate by any standards. in comparison, though, the consanguinity rates for protestants in the region was 0.2% and for catholics it was roughly 1%, so the jewish cousin marriage rate was higher.*

if we move slightly to the east to what i infer must’ve been (at the time) the province of hohenzollern, we have these figures from steven m. lowenstein [“Decline and Survival of Rural Jewish Communities” in In Search of Jewish Community: Jewish Identities in Germany and Austria 1918-1933, footnote 44 on pg. 241]:

“In Hohenzollern, there was an 11 percent rate of marriage to relatives (5 percent to first cousins) among Jewish couples who died before 1922; of those still alive in 1922, the rate had increased to 22 percent (16 percent to first cousins). These rates were several times as high as the rates for Christian marriages. See Wilhelm Reutlinger, ‘Uber die Haufligkeit der Verwandtenehen bei Juden in Hohenzollern und uber Untersuchungen bei Deszendenten aus judischen Verwandtenehene,’ Archiv fur Rassen- un Gesellschaftsbiologie 14 (1922): 301-303, quoted by Marion Kaplan The Making of the Jewish Middle Class: Women, Family, and Identity in Imperial Germany (New York, 1991), p. 273 note 206.”

so, higher cousin marriage rates in this region amongst the cohort closest to the alsace-lorraine group above — 5-11% versus 2.3% (remembering that that latter figure might be just first cousins). and much higher rates post-1922, the author argues because jews were leaving the german countryside during this time period, so potential marriage partners were becoming scarce. still, while a 16% first cousin marriage rate is high for northern europe, it’s not even close to the 30%+ first cousin marriage rates in sicily in the 1960s! and the earlier 5-11% rate may have been more “normal” — hard to tell — Further Research is RequiredTM.

if you thought all that was vague, the info for jews in eastern europe is even less clear. (>.<) it's basically just anecdotal evidence — a lot of people saying that cousin marriage was very common in eastern european ashkenazi communities. i wrote a whole post about it: jewish mating patterns in nineteenth century russia. this quote is from Jewish Marriage and Divorce in Imperial Russia [pgs. 25-27]:

Although data on consanguineous marriages in Russia are lacking, contemporaries claimed that they were ‘very common,’ largely because of the narrow circle of eligible partners for any given class of Jews. This geographic endogamy impelled one Jewish observer to write that ‘the expression “Kol Yisrael ahim” or “all Jews are brothers” is true in this sense, that Jews [who] belong to one strata of society and reside in one area, always find out that they are related when discussing their family backgrounds.’ The strategy of marrying relatives was particularly pronounced in small towns. It was due to concerns about family lineage, as well as to restrictions on geographic mobility (i.e., legal restrictions on residency, poor communications and transportation, and the high costs for travel).

“That observation indeed finds confirmation in the metrical records. These archival materials are unusually complete for Korostyshev, a small town in Kiev province with 2,657 Jewish residents in 1847. Unlike many Ukrainian towns where the metrical records were destroyed during World War II, Korostyshev preserved metrical books from the mid-nineteenth century to 1915, thus representing some of the most complete runs of Jewish metrical books in the entire Ukraine. Significantly, they reveal that most residents married locally — that is, to people from Korostyshev or, at most, from nearby villages and towns (Zhitomir, Berdichev, and Radomysl’). Still more striking were the marital bonds between small family networks — for example, the countless marriages among the Fuksmans, Gershengorens, Trakhtenbergs, and Ratners (all of whom lived in Korostyshev or nearby Zhitomir). Another network included the Vinikurs, Tsiponiuks, and Abrumovichs; this cluster overlapped with a group that included the Kagans, Umerskiis, and Peigers. And so on until, several decades later, many Korostyshev residents were distant or even close relatives. Devorah Baron’s description of small shtetl families was indeed perspicacious: ‘In our little town, families joined together by marriage ties often resembled well-fitted but separate sections of garment; all that was needed was the skillful hand that would join the seams.’”

in the late nineteenth century, russian-jewish leaders tried to do something about all this cousin marriage (these reformers were inspired by all the talk about the dangers of inbreeding generated by the darwins and galton, just as the japanese were) [pgs. 27-29]:

“In the late nineteenth century, Jewish reformers castigated this consanguinity as detrimental to family health. The developments in contemporary medicine (especially eugenics and clinical psychiatry) had a profound impace on public discourse; as physicians joined in, the debate on Jewish marriage became increasingly medicalized. ‘Owing to heredity,’ warned the ‘Evreiskii meditsinskii golos’ (The Jewish medical voice), ‘all physical defects appear in the offspring with particular force, since the definciencies of both parents are aggregated. Invoking Western science, Jewish physicians ascribed the increased rate of ‘nervous disorders,’ such as hysteria, epileptic seizures, imbecility, and insanity, among the Jewish in Russia to their pernicious inbreeding.

“Samuel Gruzenberg (1854-1909), who held a degree from the Medical-Surgical Academy in St. Petersburg, publicized a series of essays in an influential Jewish journal. Representing the views of the medical establishment, he warned parents that ‘nervous illness’ and hereditary diseases, such as blindness, deafness, and muteness, posed a threat not only to the immediate offspring but also to subsequent generations. Endogamous unions, he declared, also produced a large population with unhealthy ‘national physical features’ — namely, ‘a short [body], weak muscles, and especially … a high level of nervousness.’ Citing a study on army conscripts, he noted that nearly half of the Jewish recruits failed to meet the physical requirements and exhibited ‘extreme forms of the Jewish physical type.’

“It was no accident that Gruzenberg cited the Jewish recruit to demonstrate the evil of consanguineous marriages: the physiognomy of male offspring greatly concerned reformers. In contrast to the modern ideal of man, who displayed ‘virility, proportion, and self control,’ the asthenic Jewish conscript embodied all the traits of the effeminate Jew so despised in European society. Whereas Jewish society had long associated a pale, slender Jewish body with Torah scholarship and edelkayt (nobility), reformers now scorned this model as passive, cowardly, and feminine, a clear indication that the reforemers had embraced the new European construction of masculinity. The inbreeding affected not only the body but the mind: ‘Moral sickness and physical sickness were thought to be identical — the latter leaving an imprint on the body and face….’


“[T]his public debate did not reduce the frequency of consanguineous marriages….”

so, from all of this medical hysteria, i am guessing that the historic cousin marriage rates among jews in eastern europe were much higher than those in the west — at least in the nineteenth century.

sephardic jews have historically had much higher rates of consanguineous marriages than ashkenazi jews — up to 20% in some places according to joseph spitzer [pg. 160]. see also this post: jewish endogamy on mallorca. same with mizrahi jews — for example, the rate of consanguineous marriages among iranian jews in 1991 (first and second cousin plus uncle-niece marriages) was 25.4%.

it seems to me that jews — wherever they have lived (outside of judea/israel, i mean) — have generally copied the broader population’s mating patterns. in medieval western europe, they avoided close cousin marriage and, according to mitterauer, were very worried about incest in the same way that the rest of western europe was at the time. in eastern europe, though, they appear to have married their cousins with greater frequency, probably down through the centuries not unlike the rest of eastern europeans. in the nineteenth century, however, some eastern european jews began to be influenced by ideas on outbreeding coming from western europe. sephardic jews had high cousin marriage rates, just like southern europeans. and jews in north africa and the middle east have extremely high cousin marriage rates — same as the rest of the populations in those places. (for more on the histories of mating patterns in each of these regions, please see links to posts below ↓ in left-hand column under the “mating patterns in” series.)

long-term outbreeding (since the middle ages) of western ashkenazi jews would fit with the genetic evidence which indicates that ashkenazi jews are not inbred (see razib’s posts here and here). all the apparent historic cousin marriage of eastern ashkenazi jews would not fit with that. i’d like to see the genetic data (runs of homozygosity) for ashkenazis parsed out between eastern and western europe to see if any differences can be detected. my guess is that they should be there (there should be more roh in russian jews than in german jews), but i could be wrong.

so, the reasons i think that western european jews must’ve avoided close cousin marriage over the long-term, whereas in contrast eastern european jews did not, are:

– the scanty historic data (i will dig around for more of that);
– the somewhat supportive genetic data;
– the circumstantial evidence suggesting that jews have tended to copy the mating practices of their host populations;
– and that, by the high middle ages, western european jews did not have clans but, rather, had nuclear (or stem) families.

as i mentioned in my self-quote at the start of this post, though, european jews did not experience whatever selection pressures were connected to the bipartite manorialism of medieval europe. one of the things that i think was selected for via the manor system was the late marriage practices (i.e. delayed gratification) of northwest “core” europeans. western ashkenazi jews, on the other hand, continued to marry very young right into the early modern period, perhaps because they were never manorialized.

(yes, this is me gearing up to respond to professor kevin macdonald’s recent post On the HBD Chick Interview. i’ve got a couple of other “prep” posts i’d like to do first, though, before i get to my response. stay tuned! (^_^) )

previously: inbreeding in nineteenth century alsace-lorraine (including jews) and jewish mating patterns in nineteenth century russia

*i also have some data for jewish cousin marriage rates in nineteenth century england, but shortly after writing that post, i decided that those data need to be disregarded. see this post for my reasons why.

(note: comments do not require an email. medieval german jews. and a duck!)