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Tracing the Roots of Jewishness


Tracing the Roots of Jewishness

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Who are the Jews? For more than a century, historians and linguists have debated whether the Jewish people are a racial group, a cultural and religious entity, or something else. More recently, scientists have been weighing in on the question with genetic data.

The latest such study, published today in the American Journal of Human Genetics, shows a genetic connection among all Jews, despite widespread migrations and intermarriage with non-Jews. It also apparently refutes repeated claims that most Ashkenazi Jews are descended from Central Europeans who converted to Judaism 1000 years ago.
Historians divide the world’s 13 million living Jews into three groups: Middle Eastern, or Oriental, Jews; Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal; and Ashkenazi Jews from Europe. Although the Bible traces Jewish roots back to the time of Abraham some 4000 years ago, most historians have concluded that the actual Jewish identity dates to only a little over 2000 years ago.
The origins of today’s Jews have been less clear, especially those of the Ashkenazis, who make up 90% of American Jews and nearly 50% of Israeli Jews. Ashkenazi Jews settled in Germany in the 9th century C.E. and developed their own language, Yiddish. Some writers, notably Arthur Koestler in his 1976 book The Thirteenth Tribe, have argued that the Ashkenazis stem from a Turkic tribe in Central Asia called the Khazars, who converted to Judaism in the 8th century. And historian Shlomo Sand of Tel Aviv University in Israel argues in his book The Invention of the Jewish People, translated into English last year, that most modern Jews do not descend from the ancient Land of Israel but from groups that took on Jewish identities long afterward.
Such notions, however, clash with several recent studies suggesting that Jewishness, including the Ashkenazi version, has deep genetic roots.  >>>MORE<<<

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