Did Jews’ Genes Protect Them from the Black Plague?

Feb. 11 2021

As the Black Death swept through Europe in the mid-14th century, many Christians, observing that their Jewish neighbors tended to die at less alarming rates, decided that the Jews were to blame. This conclusion resulted in some of the Middle Ages’ severest outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence. Over the last 200 years, historians have variously pinned the difference in mortality to better hygiene (perhaps related to handwashing and other halakhic observances), more fastidious care for the sick, kashrut, and Passover cleaning. Declaring these explanations scientifically untenable, Kathryn Glatter and Paul Finkelman suggest a different one:

We believe that the answer lies in a recessive genetic mutation—familial Mediterranean fever (FMF), which is found mostly in people of Middle Eastern ancestry. In 14th-century Europe, the most prominent and visible group of such people would have been Jews. FMF causes recurrent fevers and painful inflammation of the abdomen, lungs, and joints. However, as a 2020 study at the National Human Genome Research Institute showed, it also makes its carriers resistant to the bubonic plague.

A recent analysis of 400 blood samples in Tel Aviv found FMF in 39 percent of Jews of Iraqi origin, 22 percent of Jews from North Africa, and 21 percent of Ashkenazi Jews. In another Israeli study, 14 percent of Jews of Turkish origin and 20 percent of Jews from Bukhara, Georgia, and Bulgaria carried the mutation. Altogether, it seems that 20 to 40 percent of Israeli Jews might carry the FMF mutation.

Since FMF is a recessive gene, its carriage rate has likely declined since the 14th century, meaning that many more Jews would have carried the FMF mutation at the time of the plague. If so, this would explain the contemporary impression that Jews survived the plague in disproportionate numbers compared with their Christian neighbors. The fact that thousands of them were then murdered, in part because of their congenital immunity, is one of the tragic ironies of history.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Genetics, Jewish history, Plague, Science

 

How European Fecklessness Encourages the Islamic Republic’s Assassination Campaign

In September, Cypriot police narrowly foiled a plot by an Iranian agent to murder five Jewish businessman. This was but one of roughly a dozen similar operations that Tehran has conducted in Europe since 2015—on both Israeli or Jewish and American targets—which have left three dead. Matthew Karnitschnig traces the use of assassination as a strategic tool to the very beginning of the Islamic Republic, and explains its appeal:

In the West, assassination remains a last resort (think Osama bin Laden); in authoritarian states, it’s the first (who can forget the 2017 assassination by nerve agent of Kim Jong-nam, the playboy half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, upon his arrival in Kuala Lumpur?). For rogue states, even if the murder plots are thwarted, the regimes still win by instilling fear in their enemies’ hearts and minds. That helps explain the recent frequency. Over the course of a few months last year, Iran undertook a flurry of attacks from Latin America to Africa.

Whether such operations succeed or not, the countries behind them can be sure of one thing: they won’t be made to pay for trying. Over the years, the Russian and Iranian regimes have eliminated countless dissidents, traitors, and assorted other enemies (real and perceived) on the streets of Paris, Berlin, and even Washington, often in broad daylight. Others have been quietly abducted and sent home, where they faced sham trials and were then hanged for treason.

While there’s no shortage of criticism in the West in the wake of these crimes, there are rarely real consequences. That’s especially true in Europe, where leaders have looked the other way in the face of a variety of abuses in the hopes of reviving a deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear-weapons program and renewing business ties.

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Read more at Politico

More about: Europe, Iran, Israeli Security, Terrorism