Did Jews’ Genes Protect Them from the Black Plague?

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.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Genetics, Jewish history, Plague, Science

Hizballah Is Learning Israel’s Weak Spots

On Tuesday, a Hizballah drone attack injured three people in northern Israel. The next day, another attack, targeting an IDF base, injured eighteen people, six of them seriously, in Arab al-Amshe, also in the north. This second attack involved the simultaneous use of drones carrying explosives and guided antitank missiles. In both cases, the defensive systems that performed so successfully last weekend failed to stop the drones and missiles. Ron Ben-Yishai has a straightforward explanation as to why: the Lebanon-backed terrorist group is getting better at evading Israel defenses. He explains the three basis systems used to pilot these unmanned aircraft, and their practical effects:

These systems allow drones to act similarly to fighter jets, using “dead zones”—areas not visible to radar or other optical detection—to approach targets. They fly low initially, then ascend just before crashing and detonating on the target. The terrain of southern Lebanon is particularly conducive to such attacks.

But this requires skills that the terror group has honed over months of fighting against Israel. The latest attacks involved a large drone capable of carrying over 50 kg (110 lbs.) of explosives. The terrorists have likely analyzed Israel’s alert and interception systems, recognizing that shooting down their drones requires early detection to allow sufficient time for launching interceptors.

The IDF tries to detect any incoming drones on its radar, as it had done prior to the war. Despite Hizballah’s learning curve, the IDF’s technological edge offers an advantage. However, the military must recognize that any measure it takes is quickly observed and analyzed, and even the most effective defenses can be incomplete. The terrain near the Lebanon-Israel border continues to pose a challenge, necessitating technological solutions and significant financial investment.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Hizballah, Iron Dome, Israeli Security