Judaism and the meltdown

Rabbis are a great resource during this economic crisis, providing both support and networking oppor

In any period of difficulty, it is essential that communities pull together to share their expertise to support those in need. During this period of economic uncertainty, it is certain that there will be no sector, faith, nor community that will be unaffected by redundancy and financial turmoil. It is clear that the leaders of those communities will be looked to for guidance during such a testing period.

I was therefore delighted to speak last week at a seminar, convened by the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, for the communal rabbi’s of the various synagogal bodies across the UK. Featuring industry leaders and communal organisations, the seminar provided the rabbis with an overview of the current economic crisis, the impact it might have on the Jewish community, as well as the resources available to assist those affected.

The common view of those in attendance was that whilst not expected to be business experts, rabbis are, like their counterparts from other religions, often the first point of contact for congregants struggling during testing times. In addition, faith leaders can be a great focal point for networking opportunities within a community. Rabbi’s, with an in-depth knowledge of their congregants skills and expertise, are often able to create positive and beneficent synergies.

By creating positive and mutually supportive relationships it is always possible to develop business contacts, find employment for those made redundant and provide advice in setting up a new business. It can be beneficial in the long-term too – the person you are helping today may have the expertise you need help with tomorrow.

Jewish text tells us that the highest form of charity – as discussed at length by Maimonides, the great twelfth-century philosopher and expert in Jewish law – is to find someone a job, thereby putting him in a situation where he can dispense with other people’s aid.

At TrainE we work within the Jewish community to empower people to make a strong and sustainable income by offering training and business development options. By offering nationally accredited training courses, a pioneering mentoring scheme and a business incubator supporting entrepreneurial business enterprise, we are supporting those in generating long term and sustainable incomes.

During any economic crisis, the job market is demanding and making career choices is all the more challenging. The tools to make an informed choice may give the added edge needed to make the right decision. We aim to do just that and our training courses together with extensive support network are a perfect way to gain the qualification that can help people stand out from the crowd and find a perfect vocation.

The attendance of so many rabbis at this seminar, and their willingness to engage with these issues should serve as an inspiration to others to think, not only about how to survive the economic downturn, but how to support others through it too. We can certainly draw inspiration from the ancient proverb of first-century Jewish scholar and theologian Rabbi Hillel “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I?”

Shraga Zaltzman is the Managing Director of TrainE, a non-profit Jewish community organisation dedicated to empower individuals to make a strong and sustainable income. He studied at Gateshead Talmudic College and at the Mir Talmudic College in Jerusalem. He holds a BA in Technology, Marketing and Management from the Jerusalem College of Technology and an MBA from Bar Ilan.

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White supremacists are embracing genetic testing – but they aren't always that keen on the results

Users of far-right site Stormfront are resorting to pseudo science and conspiracy theories when DNA tests show they aren't as “pure” as they hoped.

The field of genomics and genetics have undergone almost exponential growth in recent years. Ventures like the Human Genome Project have enabled t humanity to get a closer look at our building blocks. This has led to an explosion in genetic ancestry testingand as of 6 April 2017 23AndMe, one of the most popular commercial DNA testing websites, has genotyped roughly 2 million customers.

It is perhaps unsurprising that one of the markets for genetic testing can be found among white suprmacists desperate to prove their racial purity. But it turns out that many they may not be getting the results they want. 

Stormfront, the most prominent white nationalist website, has its own definition of those who are allowed to count themselves as white - “non-Jewish people of 100 per cent European ancestry.” But many supremacists who take genetic tests are finding out that rather than bearing "not a drop" of non-white blood, they are - like most of us a conglomerate of various kinds of DNA from all over the world including percentages from places such as sub Saharan Africa and Asia. Few are taking it well.

Dr. Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan, of UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics and the research institute Data and Society respectively, presented a research study (currently under peer review for publication) at the American Sociological Association a week ago, analysing discussion of GAT on Stormfront forums. Panofsky, Donovan and a team of researchers narrowed down the relevant threads to about 700, with 153 users who had chosen to publish their results online. While Panofsky emphasised that it is not possible to draw many quantitative inferences, the findings of their study offer a glimpse into the white nationalist movement's response to science that doesn't their self perception. 

“The bulk of the discussion was repair talk”, says Panofsky. “Though sometimes folks who posted a problematic result were told to leave Stormfront or “drink cyanide” or whatever else, 'don’t breed', most of the talk was discussion about how to interpret the results to make the bad news go away”.

Overwhelmingly, there were two main categories of reinterpretation. Many responses dismissed GAT as flimsy science – with statements such as a “person with true white nationalist consciousness can 'see race', even if their tests indicate 'impurity'".

Other commentators employed pseudo-scientific arguments. “They often resemble the critiques that professional geneticists, biological anthropologists and social scientists, make of GAT, but through a white nationalist lens", says Panofsky. 

For instance, some commentators would look at percentages of non-European DNA and put it down to the rape of white women by non-white men in the past, or a result of conquests by Vikings of savage lands (what the rest of us might call colonialism). Panofsky likens this to the responses from “many science opponents like climate deniers or anti-vaxxers, who are actually very informed about the science, even if they interpret and critique it in idiosyncratic and motivated ways".

Some white nationalists even looked at the GAT results and suggested that discussion of 100 per cent racial purity and the "one drop" rule might even be outdated – that it might be better to look for specific genetic markets that are “reliably European”, even though geneticists might call them by a different name.

Of course, in another not totally surprising development, many of the Stormfront commentators also insisted that GAT is part of a Jewish conspiracy, “to confuse whites by sprinkling false diversity into test results".

Many of the experts in the field have admitted to queasiness about the test themselves; both how they come to their results and what they imply. There are several technical issues with GAT, such as its use of contemporary populations to make inferences about those who previously lived in different places around the world, and concerns that the diversity of reference samples used to make inferences is not fully representative of the real world. 

There are other specific complications when it comes to the supramacist enthusiasm for GAT. Some already make a tortous argument that white people are the “true people of color" by dint of greater variation in hair and eye color. By breaking up DNA into percentages (e.g. 30 per cent Danish, 20 per cent German), Panofsky says GAT can provide a further opportunity to “appropriate and colonise the discourse of diversity and multiculturalism for their own purposes". There's is also, says Panofsky, the simple issue that “we can’t rely on genetic information to turn white nationalists away from their views."

“While I think it would be nice if the lesson people would take from GAT is that white nationalism is incoherent and wrong. I think white nationalists themselves often take the exact opposite conclusion."