Sunday, May 25, 2014

Where did Jews come from?

So, leaving ideologues (like Shlomo Sand) or weak science (like Eran Elhaik) aside, the fact remains that our genetic heritage is murky.

Also, the question of where the explosion of the Ashkenazi Jewish population came from is a valid one. Without a strong outside influx, the late medieval appearance of Ashkenazim on the scene in extremely large numbers is highly improbable.

Unfortunately, exploration of these questions is deeply tied to politics these days. Proponents of the Palestinian cause use Sand's theories to claim that Zionists are just European interlopers. And supporters of Israel counter with genetic studies that bolster the ancestral claims of today's Jews, while ignoring other studies that cloud the issue.

The fact is, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew, whether by birth or by choice. The claim to Eretz Yisrael is based on a combination of ancestral heritage and of a grand journey of millennia through the diaspora, in which that ancestral land was never forgotten, and never abandoned. When people, either individually, or en masse, willingly joined that journey, they joined in the claim of an ancient dream.

So whether Jews around the world have an 80% or a 20% share in the genetic material of ancient Jews, or whether they are Jews by choice today, they share an equal part and an equal right in that dream of shivat tzion.

All that being said, the question "where did we come from" is still a fascinating one that in a perfect world would be open to exploration without any greater ramifications. Are we Ashkenazim the descendants of Khazars? Or did our Jewish male ancestors spread out by way of Italy and marry (and convert) local Eurpoean women? Orthodox Jewish children running around with red hair, fair skin, and freckles clearly have ancestors that didn't come from the Ancient Near East. And what about the Palestinians? Many studies show a genetic connection between them and many Jewish populations. Are they descended from ancient Jews? Or from the same mass of ancient populations in the area who also produced the Jewish people.

My guess is that the answers to all of these questions are "all of the above". We have a long a complicated history. I just wish it was easier to explore it in an intellectually objective manner.

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