Special Topic: East European Admixture in Ashkenazic Jews

by Kevin Alan Brook

Some Ashkenazic Jews have physical features similar to West Slavs or East Slavs, or on rare occasions even resembling Lithuanians. Once again, genetic studies show that these features were inherited from Slavic ancestors. This page will compile evidence related to this matter.

Autosomal DNA

Shamam Waldman, Daniel Backenroth, Éadaoin Harney, Stefan Flohr, Nadia C. Neff, Gina M. Buckley, Hila Fridman, Ali Akbari, Nadin Rohland, Swapan Mallick, Iñigo Olalde, Leo Cooper, Ariel Lomes, Joshua Lipson, Jorge Cano Nistal, Jin Yu, Nir Barzilai, Inga Peter, Gil Atzmon, Harry Ostrer, Todd Lencz, Yosef E. Maruvka, Maike Lämmerhirt, Alexander Beider, Leonard V. Rutgers, Virginie Renson, Keith M. Prufer, Stephan Schiffels, Harald Ringbauer, Karin Sczech, Shai Carmi, and David Reich. "Genome-wide data from medieval German Jews show that the Ashkenazi founder event pre-dated the 14th century" Cell 185:25 (November 30, 2022): pages 4703-4716.e16. In comparison to the Erfurt-ME subpopulation (representing descendants of Rhineland Jews), the Erfurt-EU subpopulation of Jews living in Erfurt in central Germany in the 14th century had elevated Slavic autosomal DNA. Using Russians as a proxy for the East European element, this is shown on "Figure 3. Models for the ancestry of Erfurt Ashkenazi Jews" on page 5. Page 6 states that the Eastern European component "was on average 33% in Erfurt-EU individuals" but in modern Ashkenazim ("MAJ") is only around 13%. Page 47 of Supplemental Data S1 identifies Erfurt-EU as likely associated with the Eastern Jews living in lands that Jews called Knaan, including Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia.

Yambazi Banda, Mark N. Kvale, Thomas J. Hoffmann, Stephanie E. Hesselson, H. Tang, Dilrini Ranatunga, Lawrence Walter, Catherine Schaefer, Pui-Yan Kwok, and Neil J. Risch. "Admixture Estimation in a Founder Population." A paper presented at the annual meeting of The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) in October 22-26, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. These researchers found that about 4.1% of Ashkenazi ancestry is of Slavic origin related to Russians. (Russians were one of the populations they compared Ashkenazim with.)

Eran Elhaik. "The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses." Genome Biology and Evolution 5:1 (2013): 61-74. Among other things, Elhaik assembled data that shows that East European Ashkenazim have an elevated amount of East European (including Slavic) ancestry (12%) compared to Central European Ashkenazim (3%); I confirmed this is generally true in the EUtest evaluations I discuss further down, especially when those Central European Ashkenazim are German Jews from longstanding communities.

The professional geneticist James Xue told an inquirer that Ashkenazim on average have 7%-8% admixture originating from Eastern Europeans.

Adam Levin told me his fully Ashkenazi grandfather is 0.5% "Eastern European" in his results through the company 23andMe. This, he says, is within the typical range of 0.1% to 1% for this element in people of fully Ashkenazic recent ancestry at 23andMe. Many or all of Levin's Jewish ancestors lived in Ukraine and Belarus. But we must note that 23andMe incorporates some Slavic alleles into its Ashkenazic reference population so that most of them are subsumed by the "Ashkenazi" category, hence 0.5% is a figure that doesn't reflect Adam's grandfather's actual total amount of Eastern European DNA, and the same caution must be applied when evaluating the other 23andMe testers I discuss below.

Deb Berger, all of whose recent ancestors were Ashkenazim, tested her personal autosomal DNA through (apparently) 23andMe and found 4% of her ancestry comes from Eastern European peoples other than Ashkenazim, according to her comment to the YouTube.com video "Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)" uploaded by ttkturan.

Sue Zemel, all of whose recent ancestors were Ashkenazim from Russia and Poland, tested through 23andMe and discovered that 3.3% of her ancestry comes from outside of the Ashkenazi ethnic cluster, specifically "a little Southern and Eastern Europe". She didn't tell us how much of her 3.3% is assigned to Eastern European origin by 23andMe.

Joseph M. Cohen, all of whose recent ancestors were Ashkenazim, presented his 23andMe results here including his 0.4% "East European" admixture.

Multiple American personalities whose recent ancestors were all East European Ashkenazim were genetically tested by 23andMe for the episode "Our People, Our Traditions" in season 2 of the PBS television series "Finding Your Roots" with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. One of them, the singer-songwriter Carole King (Carol Joan Klein), has ancestors from the Russian Empire including Poland and was found to have 0.4% Eastern European admixture.

On the episode "Visionaries" in season 3 of "Finding Your Roots", Frank Gehry (Goldberg), an architect whose recent ancestors were all East European Ashkenazim (from the Poland and Belarus regions of the Russian Empire), was estimated to have 0.5% Eastern European admixture by 23andMe.

Jason Greenberg, all of whose recent ancestors were Ashkenazim, hailing from Romania, Belarus, Poland, and the Austrian Empire, was informed by 23andMe's speculative mode that he's possibly 96.3% Ashkenazi and 0.4% "East European". Family Tree DNA estimated that he's only 84% Ashkenazi and 1% "Eastern European" with the remainder of his genetics being Southern European and Middle Eastern.

The member of anthrogenica.com's message board who uses the handle "Goldschlager" lists his ethnicity as Ashkenazi, says all of his ancestors in the 19th century were eastern European Jews living in places like Moldova, and says his myOrigins DNA estimates from Family Tree DNA show him to be "87 % Ashk Diasp, 7% - Asia Minor, 6% - East Europe". He wrote here that all 6% of his component identified as European is also called "Trans-Ural Peneplain" (later renamed "Eastern Europe") by myOrigins which refers to the region of the central and southern Ural Mountains and is a component also found in Slavs. The service's non-Jewish reference populations from east-central and eastern Europe are Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Slovaks, and Lithuanians.

Peter B. Golden told me he has a "Volga Finnic-Udmurt" trace in his AncestryDNA results. Volga Finns include the Mordvin and Mari peoples of Russia. Udmurts are a people living in far-eastern Europe in the upper Volga region. Peter's recent ancestors and relatives were Ashkenazim who lived in Belarus and Russia proper.

My name is Kevin A. Brook. My recent ancestors in the past 4-6 generations in every branch of my family tree were Ashkenazim from Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, and Poland. Family Tree DNA estimates my Ashkenazi ethnic component to be 92%, later revised to 98%, while DNA.LAND estimated it to be 99.53% in the first version of its ethnicity estimates, and 23andMe estimates it to be 99.1%. Eurogenes's EUtest estimates I have 5.31% East European ancestry, while Eurogenes's Jtest estimates 3.75% for the same component (because some of it got absorbed by its "ASHKENAZI" category whose reference samples are Polish Jews and Austrian Jews). Eurogenes's K36 estimates for me are 5.01% East Central European (reference sample consists of Lithuanians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians), 0.71% Eastern European (reference sample consists of ethnic Russians and Mokshas), and 0.39% Volga-Ural (reference sample consists of Chuvash). Jtest's oracle's Mixed Mode Population Sharing for my genetic profile thinks I'm a good fit (among other guesses) for a person who's 93.2% Ashkenazic plus 6.8% Polish, which is relevant for the continuation of this discussion of my results further below in the context of my ethnic Polish genetic matches. EUtest's oracle, on the other hand, thinks I fit a person who's 94.5% Ashkenazic plus only 5.5% Polish. Eurogenes K13's Oracle-4's 3-way rough fit shows "South_Polish" as a suggested element and the 4-way rough fit shows "South_Polish" four times and "Ukrainian_Lviv" (the region neighboring southeastern Poland) once. Eurogenes K13's oracle's Mixed Mode Population Sharing suggests my father fits a person who's 95.2% Ashkenazi + 4.8% Belorussian or 94.9% Ashkenazi + 5.1% Ukrainian from Belgorod. Family Tree DNA's MyOrigins 2.0 estimates that my father is 95% Ashkenazic + less than 2% West Middle Eastern + 4% East European. It isn't common for Ashkenazim to show Slavic elements in these tests, although I found some others who do. Note that it is more significant when a Slavic element is shown separately in addition to an Ashkenazic base, rather than a Sephardic or Italian Jewish or Moroccan Jewish base.

I compared my EUtest estimates and those of my parents for the "SOUTH_BALTIC" and "EAST_EURO" categories against the EUtest estimates of 120 other Ashkenazim whose overall genetic profiles suggest they have 4 Ashkenazic grandparents. I included some people whose oracle guesses suggest they have extra doses of Slavic as well as some who don't have such indications. Results: Combined scores for those two elements in the range of 7-12% are common among Eastern European Jews, while Central European Jews sometimes have combined scores only in the 2-4% range. My father's 6.47% "SOUTH_BALTIC" combined with 7.24% "EAST_EURO" totals 13.71% and that is one of the highest totals I found. Other outliers among the samples include 13.14%, 13.19%, 13.31%, 13.44%, 13.59%, 14.89%, 14.96%, and 15.70%. More representative of a typical Eastern European Ashkenazi is the sample with 5.47% "SOUTH_BALTIC" + 5.06% "EAST_EURO" = 10.53% combined in EUtest; his Jtest scores are very close to the Ashkenazi averages collected by the calculator's creator, David Wesolowski.

Cyndi Norwitz is "100% Ashkenazi" whose mother's roots lie in Slovakia and father's roots lie in Poland and Belarus. AncestryDNA, 23andMe, and Family Tree DNA all estimate her Ashkenazi ethnic component to be nearly 100%. She posted here that EUtest estimates her to have 4.84% East European ancestry, while Jtest estimates 2.98%. I looked up her K36 results and they show 4.26% East Central Europe, zero Eastern Europe, and 0.33% Volga-Ural.

"John Doe" a.k.a. Guy J. Jacks provided his Eurogenes results here. The Jtest interpreted him to be 1.41% East European, less than half of his 3.27% East European estimate from Eurogenes's EUtest. His Eurogenes K15 results here contend that he's 1.99% East European. His Eurogenes K36 results detect 1.11% of affinities with the East Central European reference samples. He does not show any affinity to the Eastern European or Volga-Ural samples. His ancestors were Ashkenazim who lived in Poland, the Galician region of western Ukraine, Germany, and the Posnen region of eastern Prussia. 23andMe estimates his Ashkenazi ethnic component to be 95.1%.

Seth Rogoff stated here that Jtest estimates he has 0.48% East European ancestry. His recent ancestors were Ashkenazim from Ukraine (including the Galician region), Poland, and Lithuania and his "Ashkenazi Diaspora" ethnic component level in Family Tree DNA's myOrigins screen is 100%.

Undocumented relationships in the past between Jews and Poles are revealed by 23andMe's use of autosomal samples to find genetic relatives of individuals. In some cases it's because of a distant common Polish ancestor, in other cases because of a distant common Ashkenazic ancestor. As an illustration of this phenomenon, "Wojewoda", an ethnic Pole, wrote here ''I have like 70 Jewish "cousins" at 23adnMe''. 23andMe estimates that his "Ashkenazi Jewish" DNA amounts to 1.5%.

Similarly, the Family Tree DNA customer "Illumina" wrote here that "Me and my mother got our autosomal DNA tested by FTDNA and we have some matches who are Ashkenazim. Most of them descend from places where our Polish ancestors lived. [...] We have an extended family tree going far back until 1690 and all our ancestors were Polish and Roman Catholic. The results don't give us any % as of Jewish Diaspora descent. Our Ashkenazi matches share with us longest blocks no more than 20cM [...] On 23andMe I have a similar situation. I show up as 0,1% Ashkenazi Jewish (which means nothing) but I do have a lot of Ashkenazi matches."

Edek Menartowicz wrote here that "I have my family tree well documented until 1750. Both sides of my family were Roman Catholic. Now comes the paradox. FTDNA [in its old Population Finder reporting ancient DNA affiliations many millennia ago but also containing inaccuracies] says that I'm almost 40% Middle Eastern Jewish and 1/4 of my genetical cousins (4th-5th cousins) on FTDNA are Ashkenazim. Ironically, 2 of them have ancestors who were from the same village where some of my Polish ancestors used to live. But, when I uploaded my FTDNA raw data file to GEDmatch and ran the tests, I have no % of Ashkenazi ancestry. On 23andme my results also confirm that I do not have any Ashkenazi ancestry, but on the other hand I do have lots of Ashkenazi genetic cousins (4th-5th)."

My father and I match two Roman Catholic Poles who are first cousins of each other and both score 0% Ashkenazi in Family Tree DNA (in both MyOrigins 1.0 and 2.0, and also 0% Sephardi in MyOrigins 2.0) and have no Ashkenazic ancestors in their genealogical trees, which trace back to the Galician region of the Austrian Empire including modern southeastern Poland (Subcarpathian region). We also match a sibling of one of them. On chromosome 6, I share a half-segment with all three of them, with one at the length 14.4 cM, another at 14.5 cM, and another at 14.6 cM, according to GEDmatch's measuring method and 16.88 cM with two of them and 15.71 cM with one of them according to Family Tree DNA's. When I evaluated the ethnic composition of our shared half-segment using the admixture utilities Eurogenes's Jtest, Eurogenes V2 K15, MDLP K=12, Dodecad K12b, and HarappaWorld, I saw that the dominant elements are East European/Northeast European/North European, Baltic/South Baltic, Uralic-Permic, Altaic-Turkic, and Siberian. The half-segment is entirely lacking in the Ashkenazi element per Jtest, unlike on the opposite side of those areas of the chromosome where I do share Ashkenazi and East Mediterranean elements with some Ashkenazim, Syrian Jews, and Latin Americans including a Mexican and a Dominican Republican. This half-segment includes, but is far from limited to, the HLA region which is known to often preserve half-segments over longer-than-usual numbers of generations.

My father and I also have a half-segment on chromosome 9 that is painted South Baltic and East European and Gedmatch measures our sharing of it up to 10.8 cM with a triangulating group that includes three Catholic Poles, a Carpatho-Rusyn, a person of mixed Rusyn and Hungarian heritage, three ethnic Russians (one with partial Volga Tatar ancestry), a Macedonian, and a person with German Lutheran, Scottish, English, and Irish ancestors. Most of their genetics show no evidence of any Ashkenazic ancestry. For example, [at least] six of them have zero scores for the East Mediterranean, Near Eastern, Armenian, and Arabian ethnic affinities per Eurogenes K36 while a seventh has zero scores for all except East Mediterranean at 0.25% which is in noise territory. The Eurogenes K13 and Jtest oracles suggest shared Slavic ancestry for all members of the block, with Polish offered as a guess for most. All members have significant East Central Europe scores in K36. Most members have significant Eastern Europe scores in K36 but my father and I don't (his is only 0.12%). However, K36's "East Central Europe" element actually uses these reference populations located in geographical Eastern Europe: Belarusians, Lithuanians, Russians, and Ukrainians, while the "Eastern Europe" element's samples come from Russians, Eryza, and Moksha. The latter part of this half-segment crosses the centromere of chromosome 9 and that's a region that's known to often preserve half-segments over longer-than-usual numbers of generations.

My father and I also have a half-segment on chromosome 7 that is painted South Baltic and Gedmatch measures our sharing of it up to 14.1 cM with a triangulating group that includes one non-Jewish Pole and many Ashkenazim. The Pole's genetics show no evidence of any Ashkenazic ancestry, with zero scores for the East Mediterranean, Near Eastern, Armenian, Arabian, and Italian ethnic affinities in Eurogenes K36, and no suggestions of Ashkenazic ancestry in any guess in Jtest's oracle, whereas he is genetically close to Lithuanians, Belarusians, and Russians.

My father additionally has a half-segment on chromosome 2 that he shares with two people with Christian ancestors from Poland and Polish surnames who score 100% European and 0% Jewish Diaspora in Family Tree DNA's MyOrigins 2.0. The segment lengths are 19.58 cM to one of them and 20.21 cM to the other. I also found 3 Ashkenazim sharing the segment, which paints as North-Central European and South Baltic.

In August 2016, I examined the DNA of a person whose known ancestry is all Central European Christian, including half Polish Catholic. This person shares two half-segments with clusters of Ashkenazic Jews, yet MyOrigins 2.0 doesn't estimate the presence of any Jewish percentage (neither Ashkenazic nor Sephardic) nor any amount in its West Middle East category. Eurogenes' Jtest's mixed mode similarly doesn't suggest "AJ" (Ashkenazic) ancestry on any line. Eurogenes K36 shows 0 percent for this person in the Arabian, Armenian, East Mediterranean, Near Eastern, and North African categories. On chromosome 4 there's a segment shared between this person plus two additional Central European Christians and some Ashkenazim. The other Christian segment-carriers aren't estimated to have any "AJ" in Jtest's mixed mode either. That segment paints as East European in Eurogenes' EUtest.

Paternal haplogroups

A small proportion of Ashkenazic men belong to the Y-DNA haplogroup R-M458, which is defined by the M458 marker and also known as R1a1a1b1a1, formerly R1a1a7. This branch of R1a is predominantly found among West Slavs, with frequencies peaking among the Polish people, and also found in considerable frequencies among Czechs, Slovaks, and Western Belarusians. Most Ashkenazic R1a holders, including Levites, belong to Asian branches of R1a instead of European ones.

The small proportion of Ashkenazic haplogroups of any kind that originate in Eastern Europe is indicative of the lack of much genetic input from Slavic men. This leads us to the conclusion that most of the Slavic admixture in Ashkenazim came from Slavic women.

Maternal haplogroups

Research continues to analyze which mtDNA haplogroups found among Ashkenazim may have derived from Slavic women. Multiple candidates have been proposed.

A small proportion of Ashkenazim belong to the Balto-Slavic mtDNA haplogroup H11, including the subclade H11a2a2 that peaks in frequency in Poland and is also found in nearby countries like Ukraine and Belarus as well as in Slovenia, Greece, Romania, etc.

Some Ashkenazim carry the mtDNA haplogroup W3a1a1. According to Mark Wade, W3a1a1 "emerged in the Ukraine around 8,500 years ago. One distinct branch, with the 16291 mutation, appeared around 1000 years ago and is today found only among Ashkenazi descendants." Its parent haplogroup, W3a1a, is found among non-Jews in Eastern Europe, East-Central Europe, and Northeastern Europe including Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and Finland. W3a1a was present among the Yamnaya population that lived in the Sok river region of southwestern Russia circa 3300-2700 B.C.E. according to Extended Data Table 2 in the article "Massive migration from the steppe was a source for Indo-European languages in Europe" by Wolfgang Haak, Iosif Lazaridis, et al. in Nature 522(7555) (June 11, 2015): pages 207-211.

Kevin Alan Brook. The Maternal Genetic Lineages of Ashkenazic Jews. Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2022. Proposes that some Ashkenazic Jewish mtDNA haplogroups, including H11a2a2, H11b1, V7a, V7b, and W3a1a1, have Polish or Czech origins.

HLA haplotypes

William Klitz, Loren Gragert, Martin Maiers, Marcelo Fernandez-Viña, Y. Ben-Naeh, Gil Benedek, Chaim Brautbar, and Shoshana Israel. "Admixture between Ashkenazi Jews and Central Europeans." A paper presented at the annual meeting of The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) in October 20-24, 2009 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Published in Human Immunology 70, Supplement 1 (November 2009) on page S125. The researchers detected a small amount (0.6%) of probable "Polish origin" ancestry in Ashkenazim through their analysis of high resolution HLA A-B-DRB1 haplotyping from bone marrow donors from Israel, Poland, and Germany. Going in the other direction, they found that non-Jewish Poles have 1.8% of haplotypes that "may be of Ashkenazi origin."

Disease mutations

Nancy Hamel, Bing-Jian Feng, Lenka Foretova, Dominique Stoppa-Lyonnet, Steven A. Narod, Evgeny Imyanitov, Olga Sinilnikova, Laima Tihomirova, Jan Lubinski, Jacek Gronwald, Bohdan Gorski, Thomas van Overeem Hansen, Finn C. Nielsen, Mads Thomassen, Drakoulis Yannoukakos, Irene Konstantopoulou, Vladimir Zajac, Sona Ciernikova, Fergus J. Couch, Celia M. T. Greenwood, David E. Goldgar, and William D. Foulkes. "On the origin and diffusion of BRCA1 c.5266dupC (5382insC) in European populations." European Journal of Human Genetics 19 (March 2011): 300-306. After evaluating the data on the evolution of the BRCA1 (breast cancer gene 1) mutation called c.5266dupC and its distribution patterns in multiple European populations, these researchers believe c.5266dupC came into the Ashkenazi population from a relationship between an Ashkenazi person and one Polish person around the 16th or 17th century.

SUMMARY: Genetic testing reveals a small Slavic element in Ashkenazic Jews from Eastern Europe. This element is much reduced in German Jews and absent in Spanish Sephardic Jews. It didn't come from rapes of Jewish women by Polish/Ukrainian men because the very prevalent Slavic variety of the Y-DNA haplogroup R1a1 is nearly absent among Ashkenazim (except a few have R1a-M458 which is European and most commonly West Slavic), who instead mainly have a variety of R1a1 from Asia/the Middle East. This is reinforced by David Wesolowski's September 2016 experiments with autosomal DNA data from populations collected by the Estonian Biocentre Human Genome Diversity Panel for Pagani et al's 2016 paper. Wesolowski consistently found that Ashkenazim don't have any affinity to Cossacks but do to Poles. Most of the Slavic admixture in Ashkenazim probably came from Slavic women, not men.
  • East/Northeast Asian Admixture in Ashkenazic Jews
  • Sub-Saharan African Admixture in Ashkenazic Jews
  • Studies of the Genetics of Jewish Populations (Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Mizrahim, Yemenite, Ethiopian)
  • Studies of Cohens and Levites
  • Are Russian Jews Descended from the Khazars?