I have always been fascinated by Jewish genetics. It probably began when I took note of the Middle Eastern origin of Jews and my Father’s family physical similarities more to Eastern European/Slavic peoples. My Father, Frank was a blue-eyed, blond haired 6 footer as a youth, resembling much more a Russian than a member of the tribes of Israel. And yet he and all his ancestors were known to be Jews from Eastern Europe, the Pale of Jewish settlement, the Russian lands now part of Byelorussia and Lithuania.
Known collectively as Ashkenazim, their native language was Yiddish. It just seemed as if there must have been genetic mixing in my family’s history. After all, Iranian Jews looked very “Iranian”, Ethiopian Jews resembled their countrymen, as did the black African Jewish tribe, the Lembas. When DNA testing became more accessible studies now seem to point to just what seemed to be the case.
Y chromosome analysis of Jewish males from around the world today seem to point to a Middle Eastern origin, mitochondrial DNA, derived from maternal lines, are much more varied. The logical conclusion–over the past 2 thousand years or more, Israelite males set out on “business trips”, met local women where they traveled, settled down and created the founding gene pool for a variety of populations. The proclamation of maternal Jewish affiliation was clearly a later invention.
And now its my turn. My results are in from 23 and Me, the online DNA analysis. No question of my Ashkenazic Jewish genetics. But of interest was my paternal haplogroup is R 1a 1a (R-M17) Present in only about 5 to11.5% of Askenazic Jewish males, it is the dominant male type in Slavic / Eastern European men. According to 23 and Me it is not of Near Eastern origin. So what does that mean? Am I descended from that legendary, exotic and controversial tribe the Khazars? Who you may rightlfully ask? (see Khazar Theory of Ashkenazi Ancestry in Wikipedia)
This Turkic tribe migrated into Eastern and Central Europe and converted to Judaism in the 8th or 9th century. Historical documents by contemporary Christian and Muslem historians questioned the wisdom of such a decision, thus strengthening the claim of its veracity. What remains controversial is to what extent these converts became integrated into Ashenazic, Yiddish speaking Jewry of Russia and Poland. Of course politics and anti-Semitism has played its role as well. Were Zionists from Eastern Europe actually Europeans after all? Were Israel’s critics right to deny the historical connection to the land itself?
Science seems to have provided THE answer. The haplotype of 85% + contemporary Jewish males today have Middle Eastern origins. Strangely, mine doesn’t. Does it really make any difference? Perhaps not, but it does explain the Eastern European phenotype (physical appearance) of
many contemporary Jews– particularly of some of my relatives.