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Mental deficiency, depending upon disease or imperfect development of the nervous system, and dating from birth or from early infancy previous to the evolution of the mental faculties.

Though the parents of more than 15 per cent of idiotic children have been alcoholics, and alcoholism is rare among Jews, yet idiocy and imbecility are found comparatively more often among Jews than among non-Jews. Thus in Prussia in 1871 there were among Jews 1,826 idiots per 100,000 of population; among Protestants 1,437, and among Catholics 1,346 ("Preussische Statistik," 1875, xxx. 137). In Silesia there was one idiot among 580 Catholics, one among 408 Protestants, and one among 514 Jews ("Bulletin de la Société d'Anthropologie," iv.). From recent statistics collected by Pilez it is evident that in Vienna the proportion of Jews affected with mental deficiency is very large. He found that of the cases of idiocy and imbecility treated at the clinic for nervous diseases in that city between Jan. 1, 1898, and Aug., 1901, no less than 17.7 per cent of the males and 15.3 per cent of the females were of Jewish extraction. At the census of 1900 the Jews of Vienna were found to constitute only 8.86 per cent of the general population.

In Wörttemberg, also, there was one idiot among 3,003 Jews, as against one among 3,207 Protestants, and one among 4,113 Catholics. Mayr reports that in 1880 the proportion of idiots and imbeciles per 10,000 population in Baden, Bavaria, and Prussia was as follows:


In Hanover it has been calculated that according to the census of 1855-56 there was one idiot to 1,528 Lutherans; 1,473 Reformed Church; 1,143 Catholics; 763 Jews (G. Brandes, "Der Idiotismus und die Idiotie mit Besonderer Berücksichtigung der Verhältnisse im Kgr. Hannover," 1862).

In New York city a large proportion of the inmates of the hospital for feeble-minded children are Jewish; but no definite statistics are obtainable. It must be recalled in this connection that the rigid examination at the port prevents the entrance of such defectives into the United States.

Amaurotic Idiocy.

It is a curious fact that amaurotic family idiocy, a rare and fatal disease of children, occurs mostly among Jews. The largest number of cases have been observed in the United States—over thirty in number. It was at first thought that this was an exclusively Jewish disease, because most of the cases at first reported were among Russian and Polish Jews; but recently there have been reported a few cases occurring in non-Jewish children. The chief characteristics of the disease are progressive mental and physical enfeeblement; weakness and paralysis of all the extremities; and marasmus, associated with symmetrical changes in the macula lutea. On investigation of the reported cases it has been found that neither consanguinity nor syphilitic, alcoholic, or nervous antecedents in the family history are factors in the etiology of the disease. No preventive measures have as yet been discovered, and no treatment has been of any benefit, all the cases having terminated fatally.

The Mongolian type of idiocy is also very frequently observed among Jews. Its chief features are shortness of stature; broad, protruding cheek-bones, flattened bridge of the nose, rounded pinna of the ears, enlarged tongue, and the obliquely placed Mongolian eyes. There is a more hopeful prognosis in this type than in amaurotic family idiocy. Many cases improve under treatment.

Marriages of those of near kin, which occur more often among Jews than among Gentiles (see Jew. Encyc. iv. 229, s.v. Consanguinity), have been assigned as a cause of the frequent procreation of mentally deficient children; but statistics do not bear out this contention. It appears that the proportion of idiotic children who are the offspring of cousins is not in excess of the ratio of consanguineous marriages to marriages generally; and the sole evil result of such marriages is the intensification in the offspring of some morbid proclivity common to both parents.

In the present state of knowledge of the etiology of idiocy and imbecility in general the only cause of their frequency among Jews that may be considered is the neurotic taint of the race. Children descending from a neurotic ancestry have nervous systems which are very unstable, and they are often incapable of tiding safely over the crises attending growth and development. They are often idiots or imbeciles.

  • Preussische Statistik, vols. lviii., lxix., c., cix., cxi., cxxviii., cxxx., cxliv., cxlviii., clviii., clxiii., clxxiii.;
  • Beiträge zur Statistik des Königreichs Bayern, xxxi. 48, 49;
  • Georg Luschan, Einfluss der Rasse auf die Häufigkeit und Form der Nerven- und Geisteskrankheiten, in Allgemeine Medizinische Centralzeitung, 1897, Nos. 9-11;
  • Falkenheim. Ueber Familiäre Amaurotische Idiotie, in Jahrbücher, für Kinderheilkunde, liv. 123. 171, Berlin, 1901.
J. M. Fi.
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