Popular Science Monthly/Volume 69/September 1906/The Jews: A Study of Race and Environment I

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IN the search for the causes of various social phenomena characteristic of the Jews, most writers have been content to give 'race influence' a prominent place. The effects of the physical and social environment on the individual, or group of individuals, have been neglected. Once that remarkable cloak for our ignorance, 'race,' had served the purpose of explaining easily the causation of a given social fact, it was an easy matter to rest content with this explanation. It was repeatedly alleged that the Jews, though scattered in all the regions of the habitable globe, subjected to all varieties of climatic, social and economic conditions, nevertheless present everywhere the same characteristics with a remarkable uniformity. Demographic and social phenomena, such as fertility, mortality, marriage rates, illegitimacy, intermarriage, divorce, criminality, etc., were all attributed to ethnic origins, to Semitic influences.

Anthropological research has, however, revealed that there is no such thing as Jewish race, that ethnically Jews differ according to the country and even the province of the country in which they happen to live, just as catholics or protestants in various countries differ from each other. It was shown that there are various types of Jews, tall and short, blond and brunette, brachycephalic and dolichocephalic, etc.; and that all these types appear to correspond to the types encountered among the non-Jewish population among which they live. 'Race' can, consequently, not be the only cause of the demographic and social peculiarities said to be characteristic of the Jews. Other causes are to be sought for.

In the following studies statistical data of recent censuses in various European countries have been utilized in an attempt to find primarily whether the Jews do actually present uniformly, as has been alleged, similar social and demographic phenomena in every country, irrespective of difference of the physical and social environment. While the ethnic factor has not been neglected, still, in cases in which race influence is not sufficient to explain satisfactorily a social or demographic fact, or is in direct contradiction with actual conditions, the effects of the physical environment and of social conditions have been looked into. The author assumes that if an ethnic cause exclusively underlies a given social fact observed among the Jews, then we should expect that the Jews in every country would present the same peculiarity.

I will begin with the question of the fertility of the Jews.

I. Natality

From the enormous mass of vital statistics collected during the past century, nothing definite could be established as to the influence of race on the birth rate. On the one hand, one would be led to believe that the Teutons have a high birth rate, when judged by the proportion of births in the German empire, but, on the other hand, in Scandinavia, where the Teutons have preserved themselves in a much greater purity, the rates are comparatively low, and the same is true of England. The Slavonic races in eastern Europe have a very high degree of fertility, but the differences in the various provinces of Russia, Poland and Austria are so great as to disprove directly the contention that race is necessarily the cause. In the same manner, the differences in the rates in Italy and southern France are striking. The racial elements are about the same in both countries, yet the birth rate of Italy is much higher than that of France. The Jews in Europe, owing to their isolation and alleged abstinence from intermarriage with other peoples, should offer good material for the solution of the question on the influence of race on fertilty.

Country. Year. Birth Rate per 1,000 Population.[1]
Jews. Cristians.
Algeria 1903 44.67 32.57
Galicia 1900 38.04 45.86
Warsaw (Poland) 1837 35.79 37.92
European Russia 1897 35.43 53.36
Austria 1901 33.89 38.01
Hungary 1900 33.81 39.34
Roumania 1902 32.36 42.86
Bukowina 1900 29.54 42.81
Amsterdam 1900 24.82 31.53
Lower Austria 1901 20.51 32.10
Prussia 1903 18.40 36.03
Bohemia 1900 17.85 34.88
Bavaria 1903 17.80 37.8
Berlin 1904 17.02 27.36
Prague 1901 15.85 31.31

It has been observed all over Europe that the birth rates of the Jews are low. When compared with the non-Jewish population of some countries, like Prussia, Bavaria, Bohemia, etc., they are only one half as fertile as the christians. Some authors have asserted that this has a definite physiologic or ethnic basis as its cause, which is common to all Jews living in different countries. The social environment, such as economic prosperity, occupation, city life, etc., and also climatic conditions, were not considered. 'Race' was a satisfactory explanation. But the figures in the appended table giving birth rates of the Jews and christians in various European countries disprove the ethnic theory of the low birth rate of the Jews. If it was a physiological characteristic of the Jews, we should expect that the rates in every country would be about the same. As a matter of fact, however, the figures show wide limits of variation. In Algeria the rate is 44.67 per 1,000 population; in Galicia, 38.01; in Russia, 35.79, etc., while in Bavaria and Bohemia it is only 17.8, and in the city of Prague only 15.85. Ethnic conditions are never known to display such wide limits of variation.

It appears from these figures that wherever the rates are higher among the christian population, the Jews also show higher rates and the reverse. This is particularly striking when separate provinces of a country are considered. The following figures, taken from Ruppin's work on the Jews, illustrate this fact in Austria:

Province. Year. Birth Rate per 1,000 Population.
Jews. Christians.
Bohemia 1900 17.85 34.88
Lower Austria " 20.51 32.10
Bukowina " 29.54 42.81
Galicia " 38.01 45.09
Total Austria " 33.89 38.01

It is thus seen that in Galicia and Bukowina, where the birth rates of the christians are high, the Jews also have a high rate, while in Bohemia and Lower Austria the rates for both Jews and christians are low. In the fifteen provinces of Russia which constitute the so-called 'Pale of Settlement,' the same phenomenon was revealed in the statistics collected during the census of 1897, the birth rate of the christian population being 51.71, and that of the Jews, 32.13 per 1,000 population. From the figures presented below, it appears that in the provinces where the higher birth rates are observed among the christians the Jews also are more fertile, and the reverse. Thus in Ekaterinoslav and Kieff the highest rates are recorded among both Jews and christians, while in Kovno, Bessarabia and Wilna the lowest rates are recorded both among the Jews and the christians. With two exceptions (Minsk and Poltava) the rule appears to hold good.

Christians. Jews.
Ekaterinoslav 61.82 42.28
Kieff 55.44 39.92
Minsk 54.90 29.76
Cherson 54.30 34.15
Volkynia 53.31 35.67
Taurida 52.51 34.48
Mohileff 52.30 28.16
Podolia 52.06 34.66
Grodno 50.96 29.84
Chernigoff 50.67 28.13
Poltava 49.00 36.51
Witebsk 46.85 31.00
Wilna 45.10 21.72
Bessarabia 44.46 27.91
Kovno 40.98 27.34

An attempt has been made by several statisticians to find some geographical differences in the birth rates of Europe. Sundbärg points out that some striking differences are to be noted in the rates when eastern Europe is compared with western Europe. He calculated an annual rate per 1,000 population for eastern Europe, 46.1; for western Europe, 33.6; southwest, only 32.3, and northwest, 34.7. On the whole, his calculations are well-founded, although there are some exceptions which are attributed to social conditions of a local nature. A glance at the table of the birth rates of the Jews in various European countries shows that while their fertility is everywhere lower than that of the christians, still in general they follow the rule laid down by Sundbärg. Taking Russia, Poland and Galicia as typical of eastern Europe, we find that the rates for the Jews are highest, reaching 38.01 in Galicia. Considering Bavaria as typical of the west, we find here the lowest rate, only 17. Amsterdam is intermediate between these two, only 24.82, corresponding roughly to the northwest of Europe. For the south there are no available data, except some collected in the middle of the last century (1861) showing that in Tuscany the birth rate was 27.2 among the Jews as against 39.0 among the christians.

It thus appears that the Jews follow quite closely the rates observed in Europe. The highest rates are observed in the east, the lowest in the west, etc. It is also known that in Denmark the birth rate of the Jews is very low, corresponding to the north, and in France conditions are similar to those observed among the French. In general it can be stated that with some local exceptions Sundbärg's rule holds as good for Jews as for non-Jews in Europe.

It would be misleading to explain the lower birth rates of the Jews when compared with christians as due to a physiological characteristic having as its cause a peculiar ethnic trait. The facts that the rates are not everywhere the same, but show wide variations, and that these variations correspond more or less closely to those observed among the non-Jewish population, are against any such theory. A close study of certain social conditions of the Jews offers a more reliable explanation.

It is noteworthy that the birth rates of the JewS are decreasing much more decidedly than those of the Christians in the countries in which they live. In Poland, for instance, the birth rate of the Jews was in 1891, 36.98, sinking in 1901 to 30.85, while among the Catholic population of that city it remained stationary, 41.58 and 41.59, respectively. In Roumania it decreased among the Jews from 40.14 in 1896 to 32.36 in 1902, as against an increase of from 41.19 to 42.86 among the Christians. In Hungary also the rate sank from 36.86 in 1891-95, to 32.19 in 1903. In western Europe this decrease of the birth rates among the Jews is actually appalling. In Bavaria the difference between 1876 and 1903 is nearly one half:

Annual Birth Rate.
Jews. Christians.
1876 34.4 45.9
1903 17.8 37.8

The birth rate of the Jews has thus decreased nearly one half within twenty-seven years, while among the christians the decrease is only slight. That this is not due to any special cause operating in 1903 is shown by the fact that it has been steadily going down. The average annual rates were in Bavaria as follows:

1876-1880 33.5
1888-1890 26.3
1890-1900 19.9
1903  17.8

In Prussia the same phenomenon is to be observed. The rates have decreased since 1875 among the Jews and increased among the Christians. As Arthur Ruppin shows, if we consider the absolute number of births during 1875 as 100, then it is found that during 1903 only 61.56 per cent, were recorded among the Jews, while among the christians it increased to 118.47 per cent. In the following table, giving the rates in Prussia for eighty consecutive years, is shown the steady fall of the fertility of the Jews; it shows that the christians bear nearly double the number of children as the Jews:

1822-40 1841-66 1878-82 1888-92 1893-97 1898-02
Christians 40.01 39.55 37.92 37.03 36.89 36.19
Jews 35.46 34.75 29.96 23.75 21.61 19.71

The same is found to be the case in the United States: from statistics collected by the eleventh census (Census Bulletin No. 19, 1890), it is seen that the birth rate of the Jews is only 20.81 per 1,000 population, which is at least ten per 1,000 lower than the average birth rate among the general population. A fairer means of comparison, however, is the ratio of births with reference to the number of women of child-bearing age present, viz., those between 15 and 49 years of age, inclusive. This rate was found to be 72.87 per 1,000, as against 82.9 in Massachusetts, and 86 in Rhode Island. During the six years in which this investigation was made by the census officials, the rates among the Jews were decreasing perceptibly, showing the same tendency as is observed among the Jews in Europe. Physicians who practise their profession among the immigrant Jewish population of New York City all agree that its fertility is decidedly decreasing. Those who have been a longer time in the United States are always inquiring about the best means of limiting the size of the family, while the native Jews are hardly to be distinguished in this respect from the average American city population.

In no country in the civilized world is there to be seen such formidable decline in fertility as among the Jews in western Europe. In Germany the rates among the christians have remained about the same since the beginning of the nineteenth century; since 1840 the rates have been about 36, and remained so at the beginning of the twentieth century. In some provinces it has only slightly decreased, as in Prussia from 37.8 in 1841 to 36.5 in 1900. The most striking decline in procreative capacity is said to be observed in France. But even there it was 27.3 in 1841-50, and it sank to 22 in 1900. This is considered the most appalling decline. But among the Jews racial self-effacement is much more pronounced; in Prussia the birth rate sank from 35.46 in 1822-40 to 18.71 in 1904; in Bohemia, Bavaria, etc., the rates are lower, only 17 per 1,000 population; in large cities like Berlin, it is even lower, almost on the verge of reaching a vanishing point. The effects of this violent race suicide are evident to every one: the number of native Jews in those countries is decreasing in rapid strides to an extent unknown in the history of any civilized people.

It has been stated that, notwithstanding the low birth rate, the Jews have a higher marriage fecundity or fruitfulness than the christians. This is not borne out by facts. In the following table it is seen that in Russia, Prussia and Bavaria the average number of children to a marriage is smaller than among their non-Jewish neighbors.

Country. Year. Jews. Christians.
Russian 1897 4.33 5.63
Poland (Warsaw) 1901 4.59 2.95
Austria 1901 5.37 4.59
Roumania 1902 3.22 2.15
Prussia    1875-99 3.77 4.4
Bavaria 1903 2.31 4.30

That this low fecundity has not always been observed among the Jews is shown from figures about the Bavarian Jews collected by J. Thon. The average number of children per marriage was during 1876-80, 4.75; it decreased during the next five-year period to 4.15; during 1886-90 to 3.49; then a further fall was observed to 3.01; during 1896-1900 it was only 2.50, and during 1902 and 1903 it again decreased, falling to an average of 2.20 and 2.31 children, respectively, per marriage.

In western Europe, where the birth rates of the Jews are lower, their fecundity is also lower. As will be seen later, this goes hand-in-hand with late marriges, celibacy, etc., among the Jews. In Russia, Poland, Galicia, Algiers, etc., where they are isolated from their christian neighbors and remain unaffected by what is generally known as modern civilized life, they marry earlier, have few celibates and raise large families. The birth rates are as a result quite high, though not as high as among the christians, who are largely engaged in agriculture and marry even earlier, as is the case in Russia and Galicia. Yet it must be remembered that in small cities in eastern Europe it is considered a sin for a Jew to remain unmarried, and an old maid in the family is a disgrace. In western Europe, on the other hand, the Jews are on a high social, economic and intellectual plane. Such people can not afford to marry early, and, after marriage, are not anxious to raise large families, for reasons known to-day in every large city. As a result they bear fewer children. Striking illustrations of this condition are presented in Austria. In Galicia and the Bukowina the rates are high, which goes hand-in-hand with poverty and strict adherence to their religious belief; in Bohemia and Lower Austria the rates are low, corresponding to the social and economic prosperity of the Jews in these provinces with the concomitant late marriages, celibacy, voluntary restriction, etc. In the United States also the newly arriving immigrants have a high fecundity, while the native Jews rarely raise large families.

Sex at Birth

The number of boys at birth exceeds the number of girls among most European nations. In some countries, like Greece and Roumania, the ratio is 112 to 100 girls, but the average appears to be about 103 and 105 for European countries. It was alleged that among the Jews this excess of male births is more pronounced than among the non-Jewish population. Ignorant, as we are, of the cause of the preponderance of males at birth, this excess, not being influenced by the social and physical environment, was considered a race trait of the Jews.

From statistics of the Russian Pale of Jewish settlement it is seen that there is actually a very large excess of male births among the Jews: During 1897 there were recorded 115,344 Jewish births, of which 66,03G were males and 49,308 were females, or 133.91 boys to 100 girls. But a careful study of these figures brings forth strong suspicion as to their accuracy. Thus, when we examine the various provinces we find great variations. In Taurida the ratio was only 106.15 boys to 100 girls; in Cherson, 112.15; in Poltava, 112.87; while in Wilna it reached 177.47; in Grodno, 170.62; in Minsk, 165.45. In general, it can be stated that in the southern provinces the excess of males is not much larger among the Jewish population than among the christians, while in the northwestern provinces the excess is very high. That climatic conditions are not the cause is shown by the fact that among the christians the excess of males is not much more pronounced in the northwest than in the south. In Wilna it was only 110 and in Grodno 112. Two provinces not far distant from each other, like Wilna and Curland, show great differences in the proportion of male births among the Jews—172.8 in the former and only 115.4 in the latter. Climatic conditions can not therefore be considered.

If the excess of males were really as large as the above figures would seem to indicate, we should expect that the number of male infants below one year of age would also be excessive among the Jews. But from the census statistics of 1897 it is shown that it was only 104.21 boys to 100 girls below one year of age. The higher mortality of male infants is not sufficient to account for the loss of so many boys during the first year of their life.

The only plausible explanation for this apparent excess is that a large number of female births are not reported to the authorities by the midwives and rabbis, who are expected to register each birth. The birth of a boy in a Jewish family is accompanied by important festivals and ceremonials, while the birth of a girl, particularly among the poorer classes, is not considered of any special importance and is not attended by any ceremonials. It is very dangerous in later life for a boy who has not been registered at birth: he can not obtain a passport, and may be drawn into military service unjustly. All this brings it about that practically all the boys are registered, while a large number of female births is missing from the registry books. That this is the true explanation is seen from the fact that in 1893 the proportion of male births was 145.9 to 100 females, while in 1899 it was only 130.6, indicating a more complete registration of female births in recent years.

If the excessive proportion of male births was a racial trait of the Jews it would be expected that the same phenomenon should be observed among Jews in other countries. But this is not the case. In Warsaw, Poland, the ratio was in 1897 only 106 boys to 100 girls. Ethnically there are hardly any differences between the Polish and Lithuanian Jews, still the latter show a ratio of 173 in Wilna, which again confirms the opinion that the excess in Wilna is due to neglect in reporting female births. In Prussia also the proportion was in 1893-1902, 106.24 (105.94 among the christians); in Austria in 1901 it was 107.85 (106.04 among the christians). In Prague the number of male births among the Jews in 1901 was equal to that of the female births, although among the christians there was an excess of males amounting to 104.1 per cent. In the United States the excess of male births is not large among the Jews, only 103.16 (Census Bulletin No. 19, 1890), while among the general population of Massachusetts and Rhode Island it is much higher.

Proportion of Stillbirths

Older statistics of stillbirths quoted by Bergman, Lagneau, Jacobs, etc., indicate that stillbirths occur less frequently among Jews than among Gentiles. More recent data on the subject show that this is not the case with the Jews in every country. Thus in Amsterdam the proportion of stillbirths in 1900 was among the Jews 3.48 per cent, of the total number of births, and much larger among the non-Jewish population, 4.81 per cent.; but in Warsaw it was in 1901 5.68 per cent, among the Jews, and only 4.13 among the christians. On the other hand, in Bavaria, it was in 1902-03 about the same among both, Jews (2.6 per cent.) and christians (2.9 per cent.). In Austria there are also no important differences. In 1901 the percentage of stillbirths was among Jews 2.61 and among christians 2.79. The most reliable statistics are collected in Prussia. The following are the percentages

Jews. Christians.
1875-1809 3.20 3.58
1901 3.07 3.03
1902 2.93 3.00
1903 2.83 2.99

There is practically no material difference in this respect among Jews and christians in Prussia. It should be mentioned in this connection that the smaller number of illegitimate births among the Jews would lead one to expect a smaller percentage of stillbirths, because the proportion of stillbirths is very large among illegitimates. The suggestion made by some that the large proportion of boys born among Jews is due to the fact that the percentage of stillbirths is small is also not to be seriously considered, simply because the proportion of stillbirths is not smaller among them. It must, however, not be overlooked that the percentage of stillbirths among the Jews varies with conditions observed among non-Jews in a given country. It is high among the Jews in Warsaw, and low among the Jews in Prussia, just as it is among the christians in these countries. In other words, in eastern Europe, where childbirth is attended to by ignorant midwives, the proportion of stillbirths is larger than in western Europe, where either physicians or trained midwives are in attendance. Stillbirths are, after all, greatly dependent on economic conditions. They are very frequently met with among people in the lowest social and economic strata, and rare among the prosperous.

Illegitimate Births

Illegitimacy has often been taken as an index of the morality of a community. While it may be a true index in many countries, yet in some countries, owing to special marriage laws, an excessive proportion of illegitimate births is not necessarily an indication of vice. A good illustration is presented in Austria. There a child is considered illegitimate in case the parents have not registered their marriage with the civil authorities. It appears that the Jews in Galicia and Bukowina very often neglect to register their marriages and consider their religious ceremony as sufficient. As a result of this special law, it is found that while nowhere else is the proportion of illegitimate births among the Jews over four per cent., it reaches in Austria 61.37 per cent. In Storozynee the records even show 99.61 per cent, of illegitimate births among the Jews, which is manifestly absurd.

Country. Year. Per Cent, of Illegitimacy.
Jews. Christians.
Bavaria 1876-1900 1.80 13.60
" 1902 2.39 12.40
" 1903 2.55 12.50
Amsterdam 1900 1.71 5.88
Austria 1901 1.37 11.38
Warsaw 1901 2.14 14.33
Prussia 1875-1899 2.83 8.81
" 1901 2.89 7.88
" 1902 3.90 7.13
" 1903 3.46 7.06
Berlin 1903 5.55 16.70
Budapest 1898-1902 12.50 30.50
Russia 1897 0.36 2.61
" 1898 0.37 2.67
" 1899 0.54 2.65

It is seen from the above figures that about seven illegitimate children are born to christians in Bavaria to one to Jews; in Amsterdam it is about three to one, in Warsaw seven to one, in Prussia and Budapest two to one, and in Russia five to one. The high percentage in Austria and in part of Budapest has already been explained above as being of no significance.

It is noteworthy that the percentage of illegitimacy among the Jews increases as we proceed from east to west of Europe. It is very low in Russia, about one-half of one per cent, higher in Bavaria, 2.5 per cent., and reaches over three per cent, in Prussia, while in Berlin it is even 5.55 per cent. This indicates that where the Jews are not affected by modern civilized conditions, the chastity of the women is much superior, the family ties are much stronger, and the girls only rarely go wrong. In the small towns of Russia, Poland and Galicia, one only rarely hears of a Jewish child born out of wedlock. Unmarried women seldom associate, even socially, with men before marriage. The absence of alcoholism, particularly among Jewesses who never drink, is another factor in keeping the sexes apart. But in the large cities in eastern Europe, where the separation of the sexes is not so strict, illegitimacy is encountered. In western Europe it is more frequent for the same reason. It was shown by Ruppin that in Germany illegitimacy is rarer among the Jews in eastern Prussia (Posen, Pomerania, East and West Prussia) where they adhere strictly to their orthodox religion, while in the large cities, where they have adopted many of the habits and customs of their christian neighbors, the percentage of illegitimacy is much higher, though still smaller than among non-Jews. In Russia also it is rare in Lithuania, only 0.02 per cent, in the province of Wilna, 0.24 per cent, in Minsk, 0.19 in Kovno, etc., while in the southern provinces it occurs more often, reaching 1.57 per cent, in Bessarabia and 1.19 per cent, in Ekaterinoslav.

It is well known that illegitimate births are very rare among women living with their parents, while agricultural servants, domestics, factory hands, etc., show the highest percentage of births out of wedlock. The Jewish women in eastern Europe only rarely live away from their parents or relatives, comparatively few are engaged in domestic service, and practically none are agricultural servants. In the small town a Jewish girl rarely works outside of her home. In western Europe social conditions of the Jews are nearer those of the christians among whom they live, and illegitimacy is more frequent than in the east. But inasmuch as the economic condition of the Jews in western Europe is superior to the average non-Jewish, the women being taken better care of, illegitimacy is rarer than among Gentiles.

  1. The term 'christian' includes: In Algeria, the Europeans living in that colony, the Mohammedan inhabitants being polygamous can not be compared with the monogamous Jews; in Warsaw Roman Catholics are referred to, and in European Russia, Greek Orthodox; in all the rest it includes the total non-Jewish population of the country.