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Jews and Genes

The idea that biology determines identity has been both catastrophic and empowering for Jews.  The racial “science” of eugenics gained widespread influence in early 20th century Europe and America—and the Nazis carried it to malevolent extremes. But Jews have embraced the medical applications of modern genetics, participating in a successful global effort to prevent Tay-Sachs disease.

Add your voice to a conversation on ethics: if science gains the power to predict and alter human traits, where do we draw the line? Is this a return to the slippery slope of eugenics, or a path to better health and longevity?


“There is no hiding from DNA research. It is one of the forces of our time.” ~ Journalist Nadine Epstein, 2001

World Tuberculosis Day

Did you know that March 24th is World Tuberculosis Day? Each year the World Health Organization (WHO) commemorates World Tuberculosis (TB) Day to “raise public awareness about the devastating health, social and economic consequences of TB, and to step up efforts to end the global TB epidemic. The date marks the day in 1882 when Dr […]

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Sephardi Jews Need Genetic Testing, Too

A new article in Moment Magazine explores the future of genetic testing for particular Jewish communities. “For the Jewish community, perhaps the biggest success story in genetic testing is Tay-Sachs: The disease is carried by one in 27 Ashkenazi Jews (who come from Eastern Europe), and nearly always has been fatal. Today, among Ashkenazi Jewish populations, […]

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Women in Medical Science: Gertrude Elion

Gertrude Elion was born January 23, 1918 in New York City. In school, she enjoyed and excelled in all of her classes, but when it came time to choose a major for college, a family experience led her choice. In 1937, Gertrude graduated from Hunter College with a degree in chemistry. Upon graduation, Elion began […]

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Genetics: How Far is Too Far?

In our current exhibit, “Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America,” there is a section about genetics. One half of the section focuses on Eugenics and the other on genetic predisposition in the Jewish population, particularly Tay-Sachs. These two big ideas create tension with each other and stage an important conversation on genetic screening. […]

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Meet Fred and Stacey

One of the interactive activities in Beyond Chicken Soup is the “Gene Screen” wheel, designed to give a brief demonstration of inherited traits and Mendelian probability.  Rather than use the familiar sweet pea-color example, we decided to change it up a little bit and use an animal instead. Early discussion amongst the exhibit team used […]

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Women in Medical Science: Rosalind Franklin

ROSALIND FRANKLIN Rosalind Franklin was born July 25, 1920 in London into a Jewish family. She was the second of the five children, and the eldest daughter. She excelled greatly in school, and was fluent in German and French. In 1938, she won a college scholarship, which she gave to a refugee student in need. […]

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Beyond Chicken Soup Bibliography: Identity, Eugenics, and Genetics

Comfort, Nathaniel. The Science of Human Perfection: How Genes Became the Heart of American Medicine. Yale University Press, 2012. Dorr, Gregory Michael. Segregation’s Science: Eugenics and Society in Virginia. University of Virginia Press, 2008. Efron, John M. Defenders of the Race: Jewish Doctors and Race Science in Fin-de-Siècle Europe. Yale University Summer Press, 1994. Glenn, […]

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