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Defenders of the Race: Jewish Doctors and Race Science in Fin-De-Siècle Europe

Toby Gelfand, PhD
JAMA. 1995;274(5):432-433. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03530050080042.
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In 1901 at the Fifth International Zionist Congress, Theodor Herzl's lieutenant, Dr Max Nordau, called for research on Jewish social demography. He is quoted in John Efron's Defenders of the Race: "How many criminals, mentally ill, deaf-mutes, cripples, blind, and epileptics do the Jewish people have?" Supported by impressive erudition drawing on extensive reading, especially in German-language sources, Efron's monograph uncovers a world of scholarship that sought answers to Nordau's questions and many related issues, collectively constituting what Efron calls Jewish race science.

Sociological and anthropological research on Jews by Jews began, he shows, as a response to a general climate of late 19th-century science and medicine in which the Jewish race was increasingly viewed as an object of research and, more frequently than not, stereotyped in negative terms. Specifically, the rise of racial anti-Semitism throughout Europe, epitomized in its most violent form by the pogroms in Russia beginning in


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