Kiddushin 69a ~ Nationality, Class and Caste

קידושין סט, א

 עשרה יוחסים עלו מבבל כהני לויי ישראלי חללי גירי וחרורי ממזירי נתיני שתוקי ואסופי כהני לויי וישראלי מותרין לבא זה בזה לויי ישראלי חללי גירי וחרורי מותרין לבא זה בזה גירי וחרורי ממזירי ונתיני שתוקי ואסופי כולם מותרין לבא זה בזה ואלו הם שתוקי כל שהוא מכיר את אמו ואינו מכיר את אביו אסופי כל שנאסף מן השוק ואינו מכיר לא את אביו ולא אמו אבא שאול היה קורא לשתוקי בדוקי

Ten genealogical classes went up from Babylon: Cohanim (priests) Levi'im (Levites), Israelites, halalim, converts, freedmen, mamzerim, netinim, shethuki and foundlings. Priests, Levites and Israelites may intermarry with each other. Levites, Israelites, halalim, converts, and freedmen may intermarry. Converts and freedmen, mamzerim and netinim, shethuki and foundlings, are all permitted to intermarry. This is the definition of a shethuki: he who knows his mother but not his father; a foundling: he who was found in the streets but does not know his father nor his mother....(Kiddushin 69a)

For the last few pages, the Talmud has been focussed on the status of various classes of Jews, gentiles, and those in-between.  The last Mishnah of the previous chapter detailed a method devised by Rabbi Tarphon (who lived between the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE and the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 CE) to allow the descendants of a mamzer to marry into the Jewish people, and the laws of genealogy continue in this, the last chapter of the last tractate of Nashim. So what is it about class and geneology that makes it so important to our social interactions?  Can science shed any light on the rabbinic obsession with who is in, who is out, who is in-between?

Kinship Selection

Kinship selection  - our favoring of relatives or those most like us - is a fundamental part of evolutionary theory. It is best understood by considering altruistic behavior, which here means "self-sacrifice behavior performed of the benefit of others." If I exhibit altruistic behavior for my offspring - be they chicks or children - then these offspring are more likely to survive and breed. In this way, my altruistic behavior has increased the chances of my genes being carried on to my descendants - which is all that evolution cares about. If I don't exhibit altruistic behavior and just focus on my own needs, I may leave my offspring more vulnerable, and hence less likely to survive. In this way, altruistic behavior, or better, the genes for altruistic behavior, are passed on and give those individuals who demonstrate it a competitive advantage over others. This idea is also true for my siblings and my cousins, who, after all, share some, or a lot, of my DNA.  A great example of this are the sterile worker bees, ants and wasps, who sacrifice themselves so that their kin - their bee, and or wasp cousins - will survive to breed. So looking after those to whom we are closely related is part of our genetic blueprint.  Here evolution acts not on individuals but on groups. The groups in which individuals exhibit altruism are more likely to survive.  We favor those in our group, and are hostile (to varying degrees of course) to those outside of it.  

National Character

Before we look at class within a race or social group, it is worth pausing to think for a moment about how we characterize nationalities. In 2006 researchers from the National Institute on Aging reviewed the stereotypes of several nationalities, which include the sterotype that  views Americans as "rude, arrogant, and self-centered...the Chinese as industrious, Latins as hot-tempered, and Scandinavians as somber." Except that they didn't really call these beliefs stereotypes. Instead, they  referred to "a standard set from a comprehensive taxonomy of personality traits [which] allows comparisons across many different groups. " These perceptions, "and the high inter rater reliabilities (agreement among judges) document that these are indeed shared perceptions of groups— and thus, stereotypes". What is most interesting to learn is that these shared beliefs about a national character are not only held within a culture; there is consensus across cultures. Thus, "the French view of Germans is similar to Germans’ view of themselves, and vice versa." 

Popular thought characterizes the Chinese as industrious, Latins as hot-tempered, and Scandinavians as somber. Although Americans may not have clear ideas about the typical Ethiopian or Indonesian, Ethiopians and Indonesians surely do.
— McCrae R, Terracciano A. National Character and Personality. Current Directions in Psychological Science 2006: 15 (4). 156-161.

The attribution of psychological characteristics to ethnic or racial groups has of course been used to justify genocide and slavery, but as the psychologist Steven Pinker noted,

...the problem is not with the possibility that people might differ from one another, which is a factual question that could turn out one way or the other. The problem is with the line of reasoning that says that if people do turn out to be different, then discrimination, oppression, or genocide would be OK after all. 

So with that caveat, researchers recruited an international team to measure five personality dimensions (each with a further five sub-categories) in 51 cultures across six continents.  And here is what they found:

Multidimensional scaling plot of 51 cultures for the 30 facet scores of the Revised NEO Personality Inventory, standardized across cultures. The vertical axis is maximally aligned with the Neuroticism factor, the horizontal axis with the Extraversion factor. From McCrae R. and Terracciano A, and 79 others). Personality Profiles of Cultures: Aggregate Personality Traits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2005: 89(3); 420. Hey - where are the Israelis?

Multidimensional scaling plot of 51 cultures for the 30 facet scores of the Revised NEO Personality Inventory, standardized across cultures. The vertical axis is maximally aligned with the Neuroticism factor, the horizontal axis with the Extraversion factor. From McCrae R. and Terracciano A, and 79 others). Personality Profiles of Cultures: Aggregate Personality Traits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2005: 89(3); 420. Hey - where are the Israelis?

In the plot, cultures are arranged such that the closer they appear, the more similar are their personality profiles. For example, the profile for the French closely resembles that of the French Swiss, and is quite different from the profile of Mexicans. "On average," the authors conclude, "the French are relatively high in Neuroticism and Mexicans relatively low." 

The Psychology of Prejudice

In 1906, William Sumner, the country's first professor of sociology (and at Yale, no less!) published his classic work Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores and Morals.  In it, he suggested a role for ethnocenterism, that is to say, a positive sentiment and feeling of superiority towards one's own ingroup:

For Sumner, a strong allegiance to an in-group automatically meant a hostility to those outside:

The relation of comradeship and peace in the we-group and that of hostility and war towards others-groups are correlative to each other. The exigencies of war with outsiders are what make peace inside...Loyalty to the group, sacrifice for it, hatred and contempt for outsiders, brotherhood within, warlikeness without - all grow together, common products of the same situation...

Oxytocin and Ethnocentrism

In 2011 a group of Dutch researchers published a paper in the widely respected Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. They explored the idea that because ethnocentrism also facilitates within-group trust, cooperation, and coordination, it may be modulated by brain oxytocin, a peptide which has been shown to promote cooperation among in-group members.  In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, men self-administered oxytocin or placebo and privately performed computer-guided tasks to gauge different manifestations of ethnocentric in-group favoritism as well as out-group derogation.  They found that oxytocin creates intergroup bias because it motivates in-group favoritism and, to a lesser extent, out-group derogation. The researchers suggest that oxytocin has a role in the emergence of intergroup conflict and violence. By my count this is now the bazillionth thing that oxytocin does.  

 

Oxytocin reduces the willingness to sacrifice in-group targets to save a larger collective but not the readiness to sacrifice out-group targets. Results range from 0 to 5 (displayed ± SE). (A) Results for experiment 4 with Arabs as out-group. (B) Results for experiment 5 with Germans as out-group. From De Dreu, CK. Greer LL. Van Kleff GA. et al. Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism. PNAS 2011:108 (4); 1264.

Oxytocin reduces the willingness to sacrifice in-group targets to save a larger collective but not the readiness to sacrifice out-group targets. Results range from 0 to 5 (displayed ± SE). (A) Results for experiment 4 with Arabs as out-group. (B) Results for experiment 5 with Germans as out-group. From De Dreu, CK. Greer LL. Van Kleff GA. et al. Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism. PNAS 2011:108 (4); 1264.

There are hundreds of scientific papers that study the phenomenon of in-group and out-group dynamics.  Among my favorites are:

For Members Only: Ingroup Punishment of Fairness Norm Violations in the Ultimatum Game (2014) which demonstrated that participants exacted stricter costly punishment on racial in-group than out-group members for marginally unfair game offers. Of course it helps to know how to play ultimatum.

Groupwise information sharing promotes ingroup favoritism in indirect reciprocity (2012) which suggested that ingroup favoritism can emerge when players implement reputation-based decision making and do not favor ingroup members.

Fear Among the Extremes: How Political Ideology Predicts Negative Emotions and Outgroup Derogation (2015), a Dutch study that showed that socio-economic fear, as well as negative political emotions, could be meaningfully predicted by political extremism. No kidding. But the really interesting part of the study is this finding: Political extremists—at both the left and the right—derogated a larger number of societal groups than political moderates did. It would seem that political extremists of any persuasion may be similar to each other psychologically.

Evolution of in-group favoritism (2012) which showed that in-group bias emerges through the co-evolution of group membership and strategy without invoking the mechanism of multi-level selection. Actually I have no idea what this paper is all about, since it included the equation on the right. If you can explain it to me, I would be grateful.

the Mamzer

דברים פרק כג, ג 

'לא יבא ממזר בקהל ה' גם דור עשירי לא יבא לו בקהל ה

In his paper The Attitude toward Mamzerim in Jewish Society in Late Antiquity Meir Bar-Ilan wrote that

The only interpretation accepted as law in Talmudic literature for the verse "No mamzer shall be admitted into the community of the Lord" relates exclusively to the prohibition of marriage. That is, the words "shall not be admitted" were interpreted as a prohibition of an Israelite (and a fortiori Levite and Cohen) to be married to a mamzer (male or female). This is a social separation with only one application (a meaning that is disclosed to the individual only once and at a relatively mature age).

(Meir Bar-Ilan, who teaches history at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, is a direct descendent of Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan, (and hence of the Netziv,) after whom Bar-Ilan university was named. In the early 1980s my family hosted him on a visit to London, and it was on that visit that I took him to see the Valmadonna collection.  I wonder if he remembers? I certainly do. Now, where was I?) 

Bar-Ilan also notes that the Mishnah that opens this last chapter of Kiddushin is special because 

it depicts historically the formation of Jewish society in Palestine and its dependence on the previous period in the time of Ezra and the returnees from Babylon. The author of this Mishnah claims - or transmits - a tradition of what occurred centuries earlier. In this matter too this Mishnah has few parallels. Note, immediately after the "historical" heading, the author lists the different levels of Jewish society, a hierarchical list in descending order. Only after this social introduction does he turn to the law - the primary interest of the sages of the Mishnah.

After noting some further textual difficulties, Bar-Ilan suggests that rather than giving a historical accounting, this Mishnah actually expresses a sociological position. In other words, the Mishnah is trying to clarify the social structure of its time, and hence  "...may definitely be designated as a Mishnah of mythological nature, that is, a narrative of the formation of the society known to the narrator." There is a debate in the Mishnah (Yevamot 4:13) as to the precise definition of a mamzer: according to Rabbi Akivah, it is a person born of a relationship that is forbidden in Lev 18: 6-20; according to Shimon Hatimni it is a person born of a union whose punishment is kareth (this would include a person who has intercourse with his menstruating wife); and according to R. Yehoshua it is a person born from a union punishable by execution. These Tanna'im, wrote the scion of the Bar-Ilan family,

"...were engaged not only in a theoretical dispute but ... they represent different approaches in Jewish society. (The first Tanna anonymously represents a more ancient approach whereas Rabbi Simon represents a relatively new approach)...Though there were different opinions regarding the definition of a mamzer, the rabbinic law is seen to restrict the application of the definition of the mamzer to limited individuals...the rabbinic law of the Talmudic period shows a trend to limit the law as applied to the mamzer in two ways: first, in the definition of the mamzer; and second, in the nature and scope of his exclusion from society...
Thus mamzerim were more readily integrated into society, though the prohibition of marriage to them remained in force. That is to say, the social stratification based on ancestry continually weakened as can be seem from the narrowing of the exclusive characteristics of the priests on one hand and abolition - even if only partial - of the discrimination against mamzerim on the other...

Ancient Jewish society was one of many societies that used a caste system. These systems are still prevalent in India (even though discrimination against lower castes is illegal under Article 15 of its constitution), and in Pakistan, Nepal and Southeast Asia. In Korea, the baekjeong are an outcaste group and varieties of castes exit in Africa. In western countries the caste system may not exist, but intermarriage between classes may still be difficult. In 1936 Edward VII had to abdicate as king of Great Britain in order to marry the divorcee Wallis Simpson. Although I am a naturalized American, I am disqualified from being a candidate for President because I am not a natural born citizen. The disqualifications outlined in today's Mishnah differ from these, for they penalize not only the Jew-by-choice, but also the Jewish child whose parents' union was forbidden.  Liberal democratic societies have mostly left the issues of class and caste behind, leaving some religions with a great deal of work to do.  

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President...
— The Constitution of the United States, Article II, Section I, Clause 5
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