Marks: DNA testing companies should indicate diaspora Jewry as Israeli

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New olim from France arrive in Israel. (Flickr)

One people

Diaspora Jews descend directly from Israelite/Judean founder populations. Historical records and genetic sciences reinforce the claim that they are more biologically related with one another than Jews are to their local populations.

In a historical context, Jews were forcefully displaced from their ancestral homeland, the kingdoms of Judea-and-Samaria and Israel, during the Babylonian and Roman exiles and throughout other historical periods (although Jews maintained a continuous presence in the Land of Israel for more than 3,000 years despite at times tremendous hardships under violent foreign colonial occupations).

So why isn’t this fact acknowledged by the major DNA testing companies? Why are Ashkenazi Jews placed in Eastern Europe? Sephardic Jews in Spain? Persian Jews in Iran?

It is a mistake to associate host countries and populations in the Diaspora with the origin of Diaspora Jewish communities. The ethnogenesis of the Jewish people was in the Land of Israel and any non-Jewish admixture picked up in the Diaspora or cultural and religious traditions added to Judaism are irrelevant as they occurred after this seminal event in the Land of Israel that created the Jewish nation.

In reality, a Polish Jew has more in common culturally, religiously, and genetically, with a Syrian Jew than with a Gentile Pole. The reason for this is a common ancestral link to the Land of Israel.

The following examines genetic studies referencing Diaspora Jewish populations and their biological connection to both Israel and each other.

SHARED ANCESTRY

Two genetic studies published in 2010 prove that Jewish communities from Europe, the Middle East and the Caucasus have shared ancestry tracing back to the Land of Israel in the Southern Levant.

One of the surveys conducted a genome-wide analysis of seven Jewish groups (Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, Italian, Turkish, Greek, and Ashkenazi) and compared them with non-Jewish groups. The findings “demonstrated distinctive Jewish population clusters, each with shared Middle Eastern ancestry, proximity to contemporary Middle Eastern populations, and variable degrees of European and North African admixture.”

The other survey compared 14 Jewish Diaspora communities with 69 non-Jewish populations and found that “most Jewish samples form a remarkably tight subcluster that overlies Druze and Cypriot samples but not samples from other Levantine populations or paired Diaspora host populations.” The exceptions were Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel) and Indian Jews (Bene Israel and Cochini) who clustered with their host populations.

Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Moroccan Jews cluster together in this figure from the study “The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people.”

A 2009 study found that Jewish populations share a high level of genetic similarity to each other. The results “support the view that the Jewish populations largely share a common Middle Eastern ancestry and that over their history they have undergone varying degrees of admixture with non-Jewish populations of European descent.”

Ashkenazi, Tunisian, Turkish and Moroccan Jews form their own branch on this neighbor-joining tree from the study “Genomic microsatellites identify shared Jewish ancestry intermediate between Middle Eastern and European populations.”

 

The goal of a 2000 study, tracing the paternal origins of Jews, concluded that “the paternal gene pools of Jewish communities from Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East descended from a common Middle Eastern ancestral population, and suggest that most Jewish communities have remained relatively isolated from neighboring non-Jewish communities during and after the Diaspora.”

Ashkenazi, Roman, Kurdish, North African, Yemenite and Near Eastern Jews cluster with non-Jewish Levantine Middle Eastern populations in this figure from the study “Jewish and Middle Eastern non-Jewish populations share a common pool of Y-chromosome biallelic haplotypes.”

ASHKENAZI JEWS

Modern genetic studies confirm the Middle Eastern origins of Ashkenazi Jews.

One study on the matrilineal descent of Ashkenazi Jews published in 2006 detected four individual female ancestors “likely from a Hebrew/Levantine mtDNA pool.”

Another study published in 2013 contradicted these results, finding that “at least 80% of Ashkenazi maternal ancestry is due to the assimilation of mtDNAs indigenous to Europe, most likely through conversion.” These female conversions would have likely occurred in the Italian peninsula. However, the 2013 case does attribute a predominately Near Eastern source on the Ashkenazi male side to previous Y-chromosome studies.

The results of the 2013 study, however, were questioned by another published in 2014 that stated that Ashkenazi Jews “display a frequency of haplogroup K similar to the PPNB sample together with low non-significant pairwise Fst values, which taken together suggests an ancient Near Eastern origin. This observation clearly contradicts the results of a recent study, where a detailed phylogeographical analysis of mtDNA lineages has suggested a predominantly European origin for the Ashkenazi communities.” The study added that “the absence of Ashkenazi mtDNA founder clades in the Near East should not be taken as a definitive argument for its absence in the past.”

Studies from 2010 indicate that the results, “support the model of a Middle Eastern origin of the AJ population followed by subsequent admixture with host Europeans or populations more similar to Europeans.”

Ashkenazi Jews cluster in the core Levant region, finds research from 2013 focusing on Levantine populations. While Ashkenazi Jews along with Sephardic Jews cluster near Lebanese Druze and Lebanese Christians in the multidimensional scaling figure, “Ashkenazi Jews are drawn towards the Caucasus and Eastern Europe, reflecting historical admixture events with Europeans.”

Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews cluster in the core Levant region near Lebanese Druze and Lebanese Christians in this figure from the study “Genome-Wide Diversity in the Levant Reveals Recent Structuring by Culture.”

A 2017 study modeled that the majority of European admixture in Ashkenazi Jews is from Southern Europe (35 to 60 percent Southern European and 15 to 25 percent from Eastern Europe) while the Levant is the most likely Middle Eastern source with about 40 to 65 percent of Ashkenazi genes from the Middle East and almost all from the Levant.

This figure from the study “The time and place of European admixture in Ashkenazi Jewish history” models the admixture of Ashkenazi Jews — Middle Eastern, Southern European and Eastern European.

An earlier study published in 2012 did not find that Ashkenazi Jews were in an intermediate position between Europeans and Levantines. The study demonstrated “relative proximity amongst several populations with Mediterranean heritage, including the AJ, Palestinians, and Italians, suggestive of an ancient common deme.”

NORTH AFRICAN JEWS

North African Jews form distinctive clusters separate from host populations according to a 2012 study. The authors state that the results are in alignment with the historical records of Israelites/Judeans settling in North Africa and founding Jewish communities. The results of the study “defines North African Jews as a distinct branch with significant relatedness to European and Middle Eastern Jews, with both being part of a larger Jewish cluster.”

SEPHARDIC JEWS

A 2001 study referencing Sephardic Jews with roots in North Africa, Turkey, the Iberian Peninsula, Iraq and Syria demonstrate that these Jewish populations are closely related and that their Y chromosome pool is distinct from Europeans. The study concludes that “the common genetic Middle Eastern background predates the ethnogenesis in the region. The study demonstrates that the Y chromosome pool of Jews is an integral part of the genetic landscape of the region and, in particular, that Jews exhibit a high degree of genetic affinity to populations living in the north of the Fertile Crescent.”

Jews of northeast Portugal were found to be more closely related to other Jewish groups than non-Jewish Portuguese according to a 2010 study.

Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews cluster together between Southern Europe and the Levantine Middle East in this PCA plot.

YEMENITE JEWS

Research from a 2014 study found that paternally Yemenite Jews are close to other Jewish populations while the mtDNA of Iraqi and Yemenite Jews “form a cluster with Samaritans and Palestinians that also includes Ashkenazi Jews and Europeans, while Libyan and Moroccan Jews cluster with Druze.”

ETHIOPIAN JEWS

The Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel) are an ancient community with very distant genetic links to the Levantine Middle East from possible Israelite founders more than 2,000 years ago who likely married into the local population which is why Ethiopian Jews form their own cluster that is more genetically similar to non-Jewish Ethiopians than to other modern Jewish groups.

INDIAN JEWS

Indian Jews (Bene Israel and Cochin) are like Ethiopian Jews in that they cluster more with their host populations than with other Jewish groups. However, a 2012 study found a “clear paternal link between the Bene Israel and the Levant.”

OTHER DIASPORA JEWS

Modern genetic studies [source: Wikipedia] have shown a Levantine origin and shared ancestry with other Jews for Kurdish Jews, Mountain Jews, Georgian Jews, Roman Jews and other smaller Diaspora Jewish groups.

OTHER STUDIES

An outlier study published in 2010 concluded that Eastern European Jews are likely descended from Roman converts with no genetic connection to other Jews and no shared ancestral connection to Israel. According to the study, Ashkenazi Jews are genetically Italian at the autosomal and mtDNA levels while Y-chromosomal haplogroups are closest to non-Jewish populations of the Eastern Mediterranean.

One of the reviewers was highly critical of the methodology and conclusions, writing in his report on the paper that the evidence from two major studies on Jewish populations “clearly demonstrate a common genetic thread linking the diverse Mizrahi, Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jewish populations with the populations from the Levant and Middle East. The Ashkenazi show a European component but this is shared with many Eastern and Southern European populations. These studies contradict the author’s conclusion and demonstrate the power of using unbiased markers and host populations in corresponding geographic regions to address issues such as genetic relatedness among Jewish and non-Jewish populations.”

2013 research put forward the controversial Khazarian ancestry theory of Ashkenazi Jews over the more widely accepted Rhineland theory of Greco-Roman Jews coming from Judea to Italy then up the boot of Italy to Germanic lands. The author concludes that “the genome of European Jews is a tapestry of ancient populations including Judaized Khazars, Greco–Roman Jews, Mesopotamian Jews, and Judeans and that their population structure was formed in the Caucasus and the banks of the Volga with roots stretching to Canaan and the banks of the Jordan.”

On the other hand, another 2013 study found no evidence of a Khazar origin for Ashkenazi Jews, concluding that “Ashkenazi Jews derive their ancestry primarily from populations of the Middle East and Europe, that they possess considerable shared ancestry with other Jewish populations, and that there is no indication of a significant genetic contribution either from within or from north of the Caucasus region.”

CONCLUSION

The shared Middle Eastern origins of most Diaspora Jewish populations and high rates of endogamy over many generations has resulted in Jews around the world genetically sharing more in common with each other than with their host populations. The common link is the Levant. The Land of Israel. That is where the ethnogenesis of the Jewish people took place and multiple dispersions to the far corners of the globe can never change that. Thus, it would be more appropriate for the major DNA testing companies to place Diaspora Jews in Israel.

Resources:

Abraham’s Children in the Genome Era: Major Jewish Diaspora Populations Comprise Distinct Genetic Clusters with Shared Middle Eastern Ancestry

https://www.cell.com/ajhg/fulltext/S0002-9297(10)00246-6#secd12399717e1391

The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people

https://www.nature.com/articles/nature09103

Genomic microsatellites identify shared Jewish ancestry intermediate between Middle Eastern and European populations

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19995433

Jewish and Middle Eastern non-Jewish populations share a common pool of Y-chromosome biallelic haplotypes

https://www.pnas.org/content/97/12/6769

The Matrilineal Ancestry of Ashkenazi Jewry: Portrait of a Recent Founder Event

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1380291/

A substantial prehistoric European ancestry amongst Ashkenazi maternal lineages

https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms3543#ref22

Ancient DNA Analysis of 8000 B.C. Near Eastern Farmers Supports an Early Neolithic Pioneer Maritime Colonization of Mainland Europe through Cyprus and the Aegean Islands

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4046922/

Signatures of founder effects, admixture, and selection in the Ashkenazi Jewish population

https://www.pnas.org/content/107/37/16222

Genome-Wide Diversity in the Levant Reveals Recent Structuring by Culture

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3585000/#pgen.1003316.s002

The time and place of European admixture in Ashkenazi Jewish history

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5380316/

Implications for health and disease in the genetic signature of the Ashkenazi Jewish population

https://genomebiology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/gb-2012-13-1-r2

North African Jewish and non-Jewish populations form distinctive, orthogonal clusters

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3427049/

The Y Chromosome Pool of Jews as Part of the Genetic Landscape of the Middle East

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1274378/

Phylogeographic analysis of paternal lineages in NE Portuguese Jewish communities.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19918998

Reconstruction of Patrilineages and Matrilineages of Samaritans and Other Israeli Populations From Y-Chromosome and Mitochondrial DNA Sequence Variation

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4911/e8bc07b4e4d347d7e13c7234de963dfaa9b2.pdf

Genetic studies on Jews

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_studies_on_Jews

The origin of Eastern European Jews revealed by autosomal, sex chromosomal and mtDNA polymorphisms

https://biologydirect.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1745-6150-5-57#Sec7

The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses

https://academic.oup.com/gbe/article/5/1/61/728117

No Evidence from Genome-Wide Data of a Khazar Origin for the Ashkenazi Jews

https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/humbiol_preprints/41/