When conservative radio personality Michael Savage wrote a book published in 2005 called Liberalism is a Mental Disorder,[1] no one really expected that there is a disorder, or a gene tied to liberalism.

It seems like there is, and apparently, many Jews are carriers.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In September 2009, über-intellectual Norman Podhoretz published his 352 page book, Why are Jews Liberal[2]?  Shortly afterwards, Commentary for whom he had been writing for 57 years, was its editor-in-chief for 35 years, and its editor-at-large for 14 more, published a “Symposium”  with contributions from my brother, Prof. Jonathan D. Sarna, as well as five other noted American thinkers to consider the same question.

There was no unanimity of opinion, and to me the mostly sociological and historical explanations they proposed were unsatisfying.

Let me explain why.

First, as the son of noted Biblical scholar, the late  Prof. Nahum M. Sarna, it was drilled into my head from an early age that anytime you say “there are [at least] seven explanations, that’s another way of saying, “we don’t know why.”

Second, as a nerdy techie, I want to see more rigorous proof than what was offered in Podhoretz’ book and by the learned symposium contributors.

I assumed there was just no answer. Then, a possible explanation suggested itself.

 The Epigenetics Project

My friend and former long-time partner, George J. Febish  sent me his latest blogpost from The Epigenetics Project, entitled “Can our Political Thinking be Wired in our Brains?[3]

Epigenetics is a new and rapidly developing science, that seeks to explain how everyday items like diet, positive or negative thinking, beliefs, environment and attitude can affect our health and well-being. Epigeneticists argue that while DNA does play a large role, we are not immutably wired by our DNA. Instead, we have a software-like system above the genetic hardware, called epigenetics, that “expresses” or turns on our genes based on environmental, dietary, and other factors.

In particular, George pointed to an article, “Political Orientations Are Correlated with Brain Structure in Young Adults,” by Ryota Kanai and others. Apparently, research at University College London found a link between our political views and our brains. Liberals, have a larger anterior cortex[4].  Conservatives, on the other hand, have a larger amygdale. These differences were found on MRI scans of different brains. Also, those with a strain of the DRD4 gene seek out “novelty” – such as people and lifestyles which are different to the ones they are used to. The effect is caused by a neurotransmitter in the brain called DRD4 which could be stimulated by the novelty value of left of center opinions. This leads them to have more liberal political opinions, another study found.

I was intrigued enough to look up the source articles,[5],[6] which supported the widely publicized news reports.

So maybe now I had an answer. Jews, perhaps, are genetically predisposed to be liberal, unless something in their environment turns off the expression of the liberal gene.

I had just one problem with this theory before I could be satisfied by the epigenetic explanation.

What about me?

My grandfather, Jacob Sarna, a  pre-State Zionist and dealer in rare Jewish books, used to proudly say of himself that he was “to the right of Jabotinsky,” a reference to Ze’ev Jabotinsky, developer of the “Revisionist Zionism” ideology.

Some allege, perhaps with justification, that I am to the right of my grandfather, and a supporter of “Rehav’am Ze’evi, (June 20, 1926 – Oct. 17, 2001), known as “Gandhi” was named after Jabotinsky. A native of Jerusalem, and former Major General in the Israeli army, he established the Moledet (Homeland) party, advocating the consensual population transfer of Arabs from Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip to the neighboring Arab countries. He was murdered on October 17, 2001 by four Palestinian gunmen who did not appreciate his nationalistic policies.

Some, even less charitably, might say I am to the right of Atilla the Hun.

What happened to my “liberal gene?”

Are Sephardic Jews Different?

Earlier, my brother had sent me a copy of the results from a new Y-chromosome genetic test performed on my nephew, Aaron Sarna, that clearly showed he was descended from Haplogroup J2 (M172) carrying the Y-chromosome markers M168 > P143 > M89 > L15 > P123 > M304 > M172), indicating he was descended from Spanish Jewry and ultimately to the early settlers in the land of Israel millennia ago, supporting the family tradition that we are descendants of the Spanish commentator and statesman, Don Isaac Abravanel. According to Genographic[7], a joint project of IBM and National Geographic, both M304 and its subgroup M172 are found at a combined frequency of around 30 percent amongst Jews, and, although they don’t say so, at a much-higher frequency among Sephardic Jews.

Now, I think I have the answer.

That Jewish liberal gene must be of Ashkenazi Jewish origin.

It was not inherited by descendants of Sephardic Jews like me.

Thank heavens.


[1] Michael Savage, Liberalism is a Mental Disorder (Thomas Nelson, 2005).

[2] Norman Podhoretz, Why Are Jews Liberal?, (Doubleday, 2009).

[3] Febish, George J., “Can Our Political Thinking be Wired in Our Brains?” The Epigenetics Project Blog, April 14, 2011 (http://georgefebish.wordpress.com/2011/04/14/can-our-political-thinking-be-wired-in-our-brains/, Accessed April 14, 2011).

[4] “‘Liberal gene’ discovered by scientists,” The Telegraph, April 11, 2011 (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/8093089/Liberal-gene-discovered-by-scientists.html, accessed April 17, 2011).

[5] Kanai, Ryota; Feilden, Tom; Firth, Colin; Rees, Geraint, “Political Orientations Are Correlated with Brain Structure in Young Adults,” Current biology CB doi:10.1016/j.cub.2011.03.017.

[6] Jaime E. Settle, Christopher T. Dawes, Nicholas A. Christakis, James H. Fowler. “Friendships Moderate an Association between a Dopamine Gene Variant and Political Ideology,” The Journal of Politics, 2010; 72 (04): 1189 DOI: Jaime E. Settle, Christopher T. Dawes, Nicholas A. Christakis, James H. Fowler.

[7] See https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/genographic/index.html (accessed April 17, 2011).

David E Y Sarna is a writer and former entrepreneur. He has eight published books including his latest, Evernote For Dummies, V2. He has nearly completed his first novel, about the David E Y Sarna is a writer and former entrepreneur. He has nearly completed his first novel, about the Mossad and the Jewish treasures in the Vatican’s secret archives and is working on a book about the Talmud for general readers.