If Jack the Ripper Was Jewish, Does It Matter?


So the Jews did it after all.

OK, scratch out that pluralizing “s.”

Not that it will make any difference to diehard antisemitic conspiracy nuts – “the men who taste Jews in their sandwiches.”

Those types must have squirmed with glee when the Daily Mail reported that Jack the Ripper’s identity had finally been revealed thanks to DNA testing.

Author Russell Edwards (Naming Jack the Ripper) claims to have iron-clad proof that the first famous serial killer of the modern era was indeed long-time suspect Aaron Kosminski.

The mentally deranged Kosminski was 25 years old, an immigrant (likely from Russia’s Pale of Settlement), a sometime-hairdresser – and a Jew.

Of the numerous conspiracy theories that have sprung up since the Jack the Ripper murders began in 1888, the most pernicious posit a Jewish killer — if not Kosminski, than another one of the tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants squeezed into London’s East End slums.

Nathan Abrams at Haaretz notes that Victorians would have been primed to accept a Jewish suspect.

Antisemitism wasn’t just a religious trope — it was a literary one as well.

Sinister Jewish stereotypes populated the era’s popular fiction, from Dickens’ Fagin and du Maurier’s Svengali to Sherlock Holmes’ arch-enemy, Moriarty.

“Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula,'” Abrams writes, “would have been understood by contemporary audiences as Jewish, whether explicitly revealed or otherwise. As an immortal yearning for the life force of the virtuous Christian women under his spell, he embodied the Christian blood libel.”

As well, it “was widely thought that no Englishman could be responsible for such brutal and barbaric crimes.”

Furthermore, some cryptic graffiti discovered near one of the crime scenes has been held up as evidence of some kind of Jewish connection to the Ripper murders.

However, as one “Ripperologist” notes at the exhaustive site, “Since the second word of the 12 word phrase has had at least seven different interpretations, the sentence has been rendered entirely too obtuse to make sense of it” at this late date.

See the video below for one particularly strained and loopy “solution”:

If Jack the Ripper turned out to be, say, a member of the royal family or some other aristocrat – or even a Mason – the resulting uproar would have been deafening, and probably fatal.

It’s easy to imagine impoverished London citizens, those with nothing to lose, carrying out assassinations and other acts of revenge against the gentry.

But if the Ripper was Jewish — perhaps a shochet, or kosher butcher — an all-out pogrom could break out.

(Hence the authorities’ decision to wash away that weird graffiti about “the Juwes” [sic] before it could even be photographed for posterity.)

That might be why Kosminski was never charged.

Better that a few more prostitutes lose their lives, authorities could have reasoned, than London’s Jewish ghetto go up in flames.

Of course, the other reason might be that Kosminski wasn’t the Ripper at all.


The DNA evidence that Russell Edwards’ theory relies upon is far from sound:

This is not the first time DNA has been used to try to solve the Ripper murders; in 2002, the mystery novelist Patricia Cornwell published a book called “Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper Case Closed,” which fingered the British painter Walter Sickert, based on DNA from a stamp the Ripper reportedly licked.

As has Edwards, however, Cornwell relied on mitochondrial, not nuclear, DNA, which is relatively non-specific; “many people,” reports an NBC news story, “can share the same mtDNA signature. … Thus, the determination doesn’t mean much unless the signature can be narrowed down to a rarer subtype.”

More problematic for Edwards is the chain of evidence; the shawl has had a life of its own in the 126 years since Eddowes was killed.

“The inquest reports and official files show everything Eddowes had on her and with her the night she was murdered. There is no mention of the shawl,” notes Ripperologist Mike Covell in an interview.

What’s more, Covell “worked with a television crew on the shawl in 2010. We tested several stains and whilst they were discovered to be blood and semen we could not get any matches or DNA sequences because the samples were too old and too degraded.”

So it looks like this latest “solution” to the Ripper case will go the way of many others.

We live in a world in which “multiple historians can listen to the same Watergate tape and come up with three different transcripts,” and the most photographed and eye-witnessed murder in history seems more puzzling than the average killing, rather than less so.

All that to say that a crime committed in 1888, for which little evidence was collected, will quite simply never be solved.

And even were one to miraculously materialize, a definitive verdict wouldn’t satisfy everyone.

For over one hundred years, antisemites have enjoyed having the “Jewish Ripper” theory within their quiver of crazy talking points, along with their better known “facts” about banking, Hollywood and what they call the “Holo-hoax.”

Fortunately, Russell Edwards’ findings have been so swiftly, well, eviscerated that the loonies won’t be able to use them to further their conspiracy fairy tales.

But the descendants of Aaron Kosminski are bracing for aftershocks nevertheless:

The family “are very afraid of anti-Semitism, that Aaron was a Jew, so they asked to remain anonymous because they still live as Jews and do not want to link it to them,” Edwards said.

The family, who are practicing Jews, “are afraid that [hostile elements] will come to their home and harm them,” Edwards said.

In those days, tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants from Poland – who suffered from the government – arrived [in England], and the last thing we want is to tarnish an entire population,” he said.

Edwards’ forensics may be questionable, but his instinct to allow Kosminski’s ancestors to remain anonymous is sound.