Family ties

The real family ties that bind are genetic! It seems that genes are the true origin of most of our physical and mental characteristics. Two independent groups, one working in New York lead by Harry Ostrer (Albert Einstein College and NYU) and one in Israel lead by Doron Behar (Haifa University and Tartu University, Estonia), have recently published findings that show that there are genetic markers that define the Jewish people.

This was reported in The Jerusalem Post a few weeks ago, but without sufficient details. Now an article in Science magazine gives more specifics (Michael Balter, Science 328, 1342, 2010). Both research groups independently used what are termed microarrays to analyze commonalities between nuclear DNA from a range of hundreds of Jewish and non-Jewish individuals. The difference between this work and previous work is that they used the total genome, or nuclear DNA content, rather than analyzing only the male Y chromosome or the female mitochondrial DNA, to assess similarities. The results obtained in the new studies provide a statistical probability of nearness of relationship. The results of the two studies were consistent, showing that Jews from the three main Diaspora groups: Ashkenazi (Jews of European origin), Sephardi (Jews of Spanish origin) and Oriental Jews (of Middle Eastern origin), showed closer genetic relationships than comparison to non-Jewish groups of the same geographic region. Further, the European Jews showed greater similarities to Cypriot and Druze groups than to other European groups.

These results support earlier studies on more restricted genetic regions that agree with the commonly held view that all Jews share a common Middle Eastern origin. Jews from peripheral groups, such as the Ethiopian Jews, the Bnai Israel from northern India and the Cochin Jews of southern India, all showed more distant relationships to the main Jewish groups and were more related to their local populations. This ties in with the general view that although these groups share ancient Jewish origins, they have over the centuries experienced more genetic dilution thru intermarriage with the local populations.

There is a view, expressed originally by Arthur Koestler in his book “The thirteenth tribe,” that European Jews were mainly descended from converts of central Asian origins, specifically the Khazars, a Turkic tribe that was converted to Judaism in the 8th century. This was expanded on recently (2008) by Tel Aviv University historian Shlomo Sands in “The invention of the Jewish people.” These can be seen as attempts by left-wing ideologues to justify their view that the Jews have no legitimate claim to the land of the Middle East and hence allows them to oppose Israel but support the claims of the Palestinians. All genetic studies carried out so far refute these views and support the conventional view that the main Jewish groups are related to each other and not to Turkic tribes and that all Jewish groups do in fact have an origin in the Middle East.

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