Jewish Doctors and Race Science in Fin-de-Siäcle Europe
Email this review


 A thorough and fascinating study of how 19th-century gentile and Jewish scientists worked to find a scientific understanding of race and of how that labor affected their views of Jews. The late 19th century saw ``the scientizing of anti-Jewish prejudice,'' states Efron (History and Jewish Studies/Indiana Univ.), who then presents a long background on medical opinion that tagged Jews with male menstruation, pathological hysteria, and nymphomania. Efron recounts unusual and often crude theories about the environmental or genetic factors behind ``Jewish'' professions (too many tailors) and proclivities (too few drunkards). Surveys of cranial types and hair and skin color were all the rage, but racial theories were often confounded by the facts: e.g., a low percentage of blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryans and a high percentage of Nordic- looking Jews. But Efron goes beyond the obvious point that the notion of race lent a scientific legitimacy to anti-Semitism. Jewish scientists were in fact working with the same data and assumptions as their non-Jewish colleagues; and some Jewish scientists were just as convinced as German and Austrian physicians that the Jews, like the Germans, constituted a distinct race. Among them were two pioneers of racial science whom Efron examines closely: Joseph Jacobs, a British Jew who made a statistical and anthropological study of Jews in Europe; and Samuel Weissenberg, a Russian-Jewish physician who incorporated Asian and Middle Eastern Jews into his studies. Just as race science played a role in the nationalism of France and Germany, it was appropriated by Zionists in the same way--as an affirmation of Jewish identity. Efron thoughtfully discusses this science and its practitioners, providing copious notes (some of which deserve to be integrated in the text) and ample references (many in German). A significant, lucid presentation of a little-known slice of Jewish history, the history of science, and the history of racism. (11 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-300-05440-8
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1994