Jewish Genetics: Abstracts and Summaries
A collection of abstracts and reviews of books, articles, and genetic
This section is the most comprehensive summary of Jewish genetic data.
In recent years, advances in genetic technology and the broadening in
scope of genetic studies to encompass more ethnic groups have allowed
scientists to come to more accurate conclusions. Now that we have the
benefit of more than a decade of comprehensive genetic testing of Jewish
populations using modern techniques, we have finally come close to
answering all the questions about Jewish ancestry.
Part of the story is that Eastern European Jews have
significant Eastern Mediterranean elements which manifest themselves in
close relationships with Kurdish, Armenian, Palestinian Arab, Lebanese,
Syrian, and Anatolian Turkish peoples. This is why the Y-DNA haplogroups J
and E, which are typical of the Middle East, are so common among them.
Jewish lineages from this region of the world derive from both the Levant
and the Anatolia-Armenia region.
At the same time, there are traces of European (including Northern Italian
and Western Slavic including Polish), Northwest African (Berber), and
East Asian ancestry among European Jews.
Many Greek and Roman women married Jewish men before conversion to Judaism
was outlawed by the Roman Empire, and many of the Southern European ancestral
lines in Ashkenazic families come from these marriages.
Ethiopian Jews mostly descend from Ethiopian Africans who converted to
Judaism, but may also be related to a lesser extent to Yemenite Jews.
Yemenite Jews descend from Arabs and Israelites and have a small portion
of Sub-Saharan African maternal ancestry. North African Jewish
and Kurdish Jewish paternal lineages come from Israelites.
Jewish Y-DNA tends to come from the Middle East, and that studies that
take into account mtDNA show that many Jewish populations are related to
neighboring non-Jewish groups maternally. All existing studies fail to
compare modern Jewish populations' DNA to ancient Judean DNA and medieval
but in the absence of old DNA, comparisons with living
populations appear to be adequate to trace geographic roots.
Advanced genetic testing, including Y-DNA and mtDNA haplotyping, of
modern Jewish communities around the world, has helped to determine which
of the communities are likely to descend from the Israelites and which are
not, as well as to establish the degrees of separation between the groups.
Important studies archived here include the University College London
study of 2002, Ariella Oppenheim's study of 2001,
Ariella Oppenheim's study of 2000, Michael Hammer's study of 2000,
Doron Behar's study of 2008, Steven Bray's study of 2010, and others.
The main ethnic element of Ashkenazim (German and Eastern European
Jews), Sephardim (Spanish and Portuguese Jews), Mizrakhim (Middle
Eastern Jews), Juhurim (Mountain Jews of the Caucasus), Italqim (Italian
Jews), and most other modern Jewish populations of the world is
Israelite. The Israelite haplotypes fall into Y-DNA haplogroups J and E.
Ashkenazim also descend, in a smaller way, from European peoples
from the northern Mediterranean region (including Italians and French) and
even less from Slavs. We know most of the European ancestry came from
women who married into the community since the Ashkenazic haplogroups of
European origin are usually mtDNA rather than Y-DNA. Unexpectedly,
most Ashkenazim have a tiny fraction of East Asian ancestry.
Their typically East Asian mtDNA haplogroups include M33c1 and N9a3. The
characteristically East Asian hair thickness allele 1540C for the EDAR
gene is carried by about 1.7% of Ashkenazim.
Dutch Jews from the Netherlands also descend from northwestern Europeans.
Sephardim also descend, in a smaller way, from various non-Israelite
Georgian Jews (Gruzinim) are a mix of Georgians and Israelites.
Yemenite Jews (Temanim) are a mix of Yemenite Arabs and Israelites.
Moroccan Jews, Algerian Jews, and Tunisian Jews are mainly Israelites.
Libyan Jews are mainly Israelites who may have mixed somewhat with
Ethiopian Jews are almost exclusively Ethiopian, with little or no
Bene Israel Jews and Cochin Jews of India have much Indian ancestry in
Palestinian Arabs are probably partly Israelite.
Click the link above to see studies and commentaries related to Y-DNA tests of
Cohens and Levites.
The Cohen Modal Haplotype is found among many Jewish populations of
the world, including Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and the Bene Israel of India.
The Cohen Modal Haplotype, which belongs to haplogroup J, was a
component of the ancient Israelite population, and especially common
among the Cohens (priests of the Temple in Jerusalem).
The Cohen Modal Haplotype is not exclusively found among Jews, but
rather is also found among Kurds, Armenians, Italians, Palestinian Arabs,
and a few other peoples.
About half of Ashkenazic Levites possess haplotypes belonging to the
R1a1 haplogroup. This is almost never found among Sephardic Levites, and
is rare in non-Ashkenazic populations as a whole, but the phylogeny of the
branching out of R1a1 shows the Ashkenazic variety of R1a1 to be distinct
from both the Eastern European and Central Asian forms of R1a1,
contradicting the theory that Slavs or Khazars who converted to Judaism
introduced this lineage into Ashkenazim. The actual source of Ashkenazic
R1a1 was a population in Iran.
This section has studies and commentaries related to Jewish genetic
diseases such as Mediterranean Fever, Tay-Sachs, and pemphigus vulgaris.
Learn about their geographical and ethnic diffusion, and what this often
tells us about the degree of closeness between Jews and certain
non-Jewish ethnic groups like Iranians, Anatolian Turks, and Palestinian
The 185delAG breast cancer mutation is found among both Ashkenazim and
A mutation causing Factor XI Deficiency is found among both Ashkenazim
and Iraqi Jews.
One form of the gene causing Familial Mediterranean Fever is found
among Ashkenazim, Iraqi Jews, Druzes, and Armenians. Another form of the
gene is found among Iraqi Jews, North African Jews, and Armenians. Some
Sephardim, Arabs, and Anatolian Turks also have the gene.
Gaucher Disease is found among both Ashkenazim and some Europeans.
The mutation DFNB1, which causes deafness, is found among both
Ashkenazim and Palestinian Arabs.
The mutation G2019S sometimes associated with Parkinson's Disease is
found among both Ashkenazim and Arabs.
I1307K, an allele that causes Colorectal Cancer, is found among
Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and Arabs.
The pemphigus MHC susceptibility gene is found among both Ashkenazim
The protective CCR5-D32 allele may have been introduced into the
Ashkenazic population by a non-Jewish population.
This is a section related to the ancestry of such groups as the
Samaritans, Lembas, and American Latinos of the southwest.
Samaritans are descended from Israelite men and Assyrian women.
Those Lembas who possess the Cohen Modal Haplotype have Middle Eastern
ancestry, possibly Jewish Cohen. The Buba clan is especially Middle
Eastern in its paternal DNA.
Many Spanish-speaking Latinos of the American Southwest are descended
from Anusim (Spanish Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism).
The Mizo people of northeastern India, the self-styled "B'nei
Menashe", have no proven genetic connection to the Israelites.
This section related to the ancestry of the Karaite
Jews of Eastern Europe (Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland), East Turkistan,
Azerbaijan, Iraq, and Egypt includes original content.
The East European Karaite have dominant Middle Eastern (Southwest
Asian) elements and frequently match Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardi Jews,
Mizrahi Jews, Egyptian Karaites, and non-Jewish peoples of Southwest Asia
(the Middle East) and the Caucasus (especially the South Caucasus, but
occasionally the North Caucasus). They
also sometimes matched Europeans.
Karaite Cohens are sometimes related to Ashkenazi Cohens.
The presence of the Y-DNA haplogroup Q1b1a (Q-L245) in Ashkenazi and
Karaite samples is not indicative of Khazar ancestry but rather of
Southwest Asian ancestry.
Afghan Jews sometimes simultaneously match Crimean Karaites, Ashkenazi
Jews, Sephardi Jews, and Kurdish Jews paternally.
Egyptian Karaites sometimes match Ashkenazi Jews.
Azerbaijani Karaites sometimes match Ashkenazi Jews.
Avenues for further exploration
There are known skeletons of Khazars from the Don-valley (Sarkel,
Semikarakovskoye, etc.) and from the Crimea (e.g., Sudak).
It is important to note that Khazarian skeletons and North Caucasian Turks
have not yet been used to compare Jewish genes with likely traces of the
Khazars. Thus, the Khazar theory has not really been put to the genetic
test yet. Some historians and scientists recognized the
need for specifically testing the Khazar theory, rather than generalizing
based on studies of other non-Khazar populations:
"Still more, it has been resolved to put bones found in those sites
through genetic testing. DNA studies... will reveal the mystery of the
ghost ancestor..." - "El fantasma de los jázaros" by Alicia Dujovne
Ortiz, in La Nación (Buenos Aires, Argentina), August 14,
1999 issue, Opinion section.
"Certain scholars in addition appear much to await genetic tests of the
DNA of the bones taken for the study of the migrations and the
authentication of the sites." - "L'histoire retrouvée des Khazars"
by Nicolas Weill, in Le Monde (France), July 9, 1999 issue, page
Unfortunately, as Bennett Greenspan pointed out, Y-DNA doesn't usually
last more than 100 years in the remains of a dead person whose body isn't
well-preserved (such as frozen or mummified), so direct testing of Khazar
bones may be impossible, but on the other hand some advances have
recently made possible the testing of ancient DNA from bones, teeth, hair,
etc. For instance, LL. Kang et al. studied the remains of ancient Huns for
their 2013 paper "Y chromosomes of ancient Hunnu people and its
implication on the phylogeny of East Asian linguistic families" in which
they managed to identify these Y-DNA haplogroups found among them: Q-M242,
Q-M3, N-Tat, C-M130, and R1a1.
The DNA of the Egyptian Karaites remains to be studied on a large-scale
basis. We report on our handful of data related to that branch of
Karaites at our Karaites page.
We have no samples from Turkish Karaites or Y-DNA or mtDNA lineages from
The DNA of the Crimean Karaites has been studied more thoroughly.
Small-scale testing of Lithuanian-Polish and Crimean Karaites
occurred during the years 2005 and 2006 and the results were published
in the 2nd edition of The
Jews of Khazaria in October 2006. More Crimean Karaite samples
were tested later. The tests were upgraded to 37 markers in 2009-2010 and
yielded more precise results, and more matches were located as well.
Five tests were upgraded to 67 markers in 2011.
As of August 16, 2011 we have 28 total participants in our
Lithuanian-Polish and Crimean Karaite Y-DNA and mtDNA projects.
analysis is published here.
Bennett Greenspan, a
colleague of geneticist Dr. Michael Hammer, has established
Tree DNA Genealogy by Genetics, Ltd.
to investigate the roots of European Jews and family
genealogies. Visit his site to see if you may benefit from their services.
This site is an affiliate.
The website Genetics and
Human Migration Patterns was recommended to me.
exposes the myth of a separate Jewish race: "Jews are not a race.
Anyone can become a Jew - and members of every race, creed and color in
the world have done so at one time or another. There is no distinguishing
racial physical feature common only to Jews."
Rabbi Harold M.
Schulweis explains the nature of Judaism: "One of the unique aspects
of Judaism is its rejection of Judaism as a biological entity, an
inherited spiritual DNA, racial or ethnic. The point is that being a Jew
is not a matter of genes and chromosomes. To the contrary,
Judaism is the first religion to recognize the 'ger', the stranger who
chooses to identify himself with Judaism. Judaism is not rooted in race or
clan or in a genetic matter but a religious tradition of choice."
In Rabbi Jonathan Sacks's book Future
Tense: Jews, Judaism, and Israel
in the Twenty-First Century (2009) on page 62 briefly mentioned
(and almost endorsed)
Arthur Koestler's theory of Khazar origins for Ashkenazim and wrote: "Judaism
is not an ethnicity and Jews are not an ethnic group. Go to the Western Wall
in Jerusalem and you will see Jews of every colour and culture under the
sun, the Beta Israel from Ethiopia, the Bene Israel from India, Bukharan
Jews from central Asia, Iraqi, Berber, Egyptian, Kurdish and Libyan, the
Temamim from Yemen, alongside American Jews from Russia, South African
Jews from Lithuania, and British Jews from German-speaking Poland. Their
food, music, dress, customs, and conventions are all different. Jewishness
is not an ethnicity but a living lexicon of ethnicities."
The answer is that Jews are a religion and a civilization, but not a race
or singular ethnic group (the latter two definitions marginalize
proselytes). As Rabbi Rami Shapiro said: "There is only one response to
Who is a Jew? that works: A Jew is one who takes Judaism seriously. One
who takes Judaism seriously studies it, argues with it, and lives it."
The proper name of the separate ethnic group that most Jews descend from
For historical and archaeological perspectives on these issues, visit
our companion pages Are Russian Jews
Descended from the Khazars? and Are Russian Jews Descended
from German and Bohemian Jews?.
Family History Collection - searchable databases