Jewish Genetic Distinctiveness

By Glayde Whitney

 

From American Renaissance - 8 - December 2000

The Galton Report A sampling of recent scientific literature by Glayde Whitney

Jewish Y-Chromo- somes are Semitic An international team of scientists from Israel, the United States, Italy, En-gland, and South Africa, has investi-gated Y-chromosome markers to see if they shed light on the origins and ge-netic relationships of Diaspora Jewry. They do. Studies of Y-chromosome markers (transmitted from father-to-son) show that “religious affiliation is a bet-ter predictor of the genetic affinity among most Jewish populations in our survey than their present-day geographic locations. . . . [D]espite their high de-gree of geographic dispersion, Jewish populations from Europe, North Africa, and the Near East were less diverged genetically from each other than from any other group of populations in this study.” In other words, Y-chromosome markers indicate that Jews throughout Europe, North Africa and the Near East constitute a single genetically-related group that has bred endogamously de-spite wide dispersion. Among the seven Jewish populations tested (Ashkenazi, Roman, North Afri-can, Near Eastern, Kurdish, Yemenite, Ethiopian), only the Black Ethiopian Jews were not a part of the Jewish ge-netic cluster. Instead, Ethiopian Jews were very similar to non-Jewish Ethio-pians, and both populations were clearly distinct from Jews. Not surprisingly, Ethiopian Jews in Israel have encoun-tered many problems, just as blacks have in other Western societies. The Lemba tribe of southern African blacks, who speak a Bantu dialect and claim Jewish ancestry, were remotely related to other Jewish groups, with about 40 percent of their Y chromo-somes coming from African blacks. It is thought that they are descended from Jewish traders who established a trad-ing outpost on the African coast. Complex statistics, including multi-dimensional scaling, show that non-Jew-ish sub-Saharan Africans, North Afri-cans, and Europeans form three distinct genetic clusters. As in other genetic studies, the sub-Saharan cluster differed most from all other population groups or, as the authors put it, “sub-Saharan African populations were characterized by an almost completely different set of [markers].” The Jewish populations (excluding the Ethiopian Jews) formed a tight group located at a point between the North African and European genetic clusters. In the center of the Jewish group (and indistinguishable from the Jews) were non-Jewish Palestinians and Syrians, while other non-Jewish Middle-Eastern-ers (Saudi Arabians, Lebanese, and Druze) were on the periphery of the Jew-ish group. Further genetic tests con-firmed a “close genetic affinity of Jew-ish and Middle-Eastern non-Jewish Populations.” These findings are con-sistent with Jewish history and folklore, according to which modern Diaspora Jews are descended from Middle-East-ern Semites and have remained geneti-cally distinct from host populations. The results appear to disprove Arthur Koestler’s theory in The Thirteenth Tribe, according to which Ashkenazi Jews are descended from the Asian Khazar tribe that converted to Judaism in the eighth century. However, the re-sults of this study are entirely from male-line Y-chromosomes. In the unlikely event that the Khazars were converted by the method described in Deuter-onomy in which the men were killed and the women taken as prizes, analysis of mtDNA transmitted in the maternal line might tell a different story. The authors point out that “comprehensive compari-sons of mtDNA variation in Jewish and neighboring non-Jewish populations are not yet available.” [Hammer, M. F., and 11 co-authors, (Communicated to NAS March 15, 2000), “Jewish and Middle Eastern non-Jewish populations share a common pool of Y-chromosome bial-lelic haplotypes.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, published on-line before print at www. pnas.org.]

Contributing Editor Glayde Whitney is professor in psychology, psychobiol-ogy and neuroscience at Florida State University.

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