Who are the Jews? For more than a century, historians and linguists have debated whether the Jewish people are a racial group, a cultural and religious entity, the spiritual heirs of Abraham and his biological heirs through Jacob, to whom the land of Israel was given as an inheritance forever or something else. More recently, scientists have been weighing in on the question with genetic data. The latest such study, published today in the American Journal of Human Genetics, shows a genetic connection among all Jews, despite widespread migrations and intermarriage with non-Jews. It also apparently refutes repeated claims that most Ashkenazi Jews are descended from Central Europeans who converted to Judaism 1000 years ago.
Historians divide the world’s 13 million living Jews into three groups: Middle Eastern, or Oriental, Jews; Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal; and Ashkenazi Jews from Europe. Although the Bible traces Jewish roots back to the time of Abraham some 4000 years ago, most historians have concluded that the actual Jewish identity dates to only a little over 2000 years ago.
The origins of today’s Jews have been less clear, especially those of the Ashkenazis, who make up 90% of American-Jews and nearly 50% of Israeli Jews but Jewish communities in Europe and the Middle East share many genes inherited from the ancestral Jewish population that lived in the Middle East some 3,000 years ago, even though each community also carries genes from other sources — usually the country in which it lives.
Jewish communities from Europe, the Middle East and the Caucasus all have substantial genetic ancestry that traces back to the Levant; Ethiopian Jews and two Judaic communities in India are genetically much closer to their host populations.
1. Read more about Ashkenazi DNA here
3. DNA and Tradition: The Genetic Link to the Ancient Hebrews by Rabbi Yaakov Kleiman
4 other Books:
While there has been (and is sure to be more) controversy about some of these books’s conclusions below—-Koestler and Sand–,( or people that don’t agree with them like us) it cannot be denied that they are a brilliant piece of scholarship, and it should be read by anyone, Israeli and non-Israeli, Jewish or not, who is interested in getting a broader perspective on how identity is defined, and how mutable these definitions can be over time.
Arthur Koestler in his 1976 book The Thirteenth Tribe,
Historian Shlomo Sand of Tel Aviv University in Israel argues in his book The Invention of the Jewish People,