It’s an old argument: are Jews are a religious group, an ethnic group with a religious component, a self-determined community, or is there some more essential racial component to being Jewish? The Daily Beast reports on new evidence confirming an genetically based, inborn Jewish je ne sais quoi—and notes that the genetic marker is turning up in plenty of people who never thought they were Jewish. One guy, Alan Tutillo, raised in a Catholic home in Italy, discovered Jewish roots and recently converted to the religion. Another, Frank Tamburello, a former Catholic priest, found out he had Sicilian Jewish ancestry, and has since converted and become a rabbi.
Maybe Tamburello was just looking to get out of his vow of celibacy, but whatever the explanation, there’s something that feels right about people returning to the religion/culture/community of their forefathers. On the other hand, though, there is something a bit chilling about the idea that a biological marker can “prove” one’s Jewishness. Do Tutillo and Tamburello have more of a claim on the religion than someone who converts for other reasons, or someone raised Jewish who turns out to be descended from some other group? And does a person raised with no other ties to Judaism have an obligation mandated by her genes? Maybe the truest sign of being Jewish is answering an old question with exponentially more new ones.