Below we present three views on the subject


Ethical Framework For SCJS by Seth Kunin
Identity and DNA Testing by Abraham D Lavender
Alleles Have No Religion by Seth Ward

Ethical Framework for SJCS

By Seth D Kunin PhD

Some of the perennial issues that have been raised in many recent conferences and meetings relates to the ethical stances taken by the Society for CryptoJudaic Studies These issues have related to the conduct of our conferences both in respect of the papers chosen for inclusion and the way that members respond to those papers and perhaps even more importantly to the stance taken by the society in relation to particular ways of expressing or developing cryptoJudaic identity In this article I will address some of these issues and suggest a way forward for the society

The ethical issues that impact on the work of the society and the individual researchers who are members of the society can be divided into a number of interrelated categories The first of these covers the relationship of the society and its work to various forms of community both existing and emergent The second covers the impact of the research and the nature of the research upon the specific individuals participating in studies (this may have both direct impact on specific individuals interviewed or observed and indirect impact upon individuals directly descended from people included in genealogical and/or historical research) The third covers the responsibility of academics within the society to their scholarly communities It may be that some would argue for an additional area responsibility of the society to particular religious communities It will be one of the contentions of this article that this final area is precluded by the implications of the first three

In order to establish the basis from which the Society for CryptoJudaic Studies’ ethical position emerges it is important to note from the outset some key issues in relation to the nature and foundation of the society These issues set the fundamental parameters for the ethical positioning of the society in relation to the three categories (and indeed the fourth category) outlined above The summary of the society’s mission statement reads as follows:

The Society for Crypto Judaic Studies serves the following purposes: The fostering of research and networking of information and ideas into the history and contemporary development of crypto Jews of Iberian origins

As indicated in the statement the main purpose of the society is research and the dissemination of knowledge The nature of the research is specified as both historical and contemporary thus broadly including the academic disciplines of history and the social sciences Each of these academic domains implies a set of ethical parameters

In relation to historical research it might be thought that the ethical issues were mostly in relation to academic integrity particularly in relation to the data and the nature of the historical analysis arising from it As indicated however in the 2004 ethics statement of the Royal Historical Society [UK] historians also have responsibilities towards living individuals or communities The RHS ethics document states:

The maintenance of high professional standards includes: taking particular care when evidence is produced by those still living when the anonymity of individuals is required and when research concerns those still living

This statement emphasizes the need to protect the anonymity of living individuals and the need to have concern for how the presentation of the data may reflect on them and communities

This last implication might be seen as potentially being in conflict with the need for historical integrity This might for example be found in the potential conflict between an individual or community’s understanding of its authenticity and the evidence provided by historical data In such cases it is clear that the historian or other scholar cannot and should not ignore or hide the data The scholar however has responsibility towards the individual or community both in respect of indicating the limitations of their data and in how they chose to present the implications of their data respecting the living communities or individuals

It might be thought that the historian has a responsibility for how others might use their data This argument in the social sciences can be used as a means of censorship and limiting academic freedom If we chose to limit our research to the safe areas which could never be used by others in an unethical way social scientific research would in effect become a pawn of the status quo and thus abandon any basis in integrity or the search for knowledge

Social scientists must be responsible for their own ethical choices within the conduct of their research They also bear some responsibility for making sure that their research is properly understood both in terms of its limitations and implications and that their research is not misrepresented and responding as necessary If however taking these provisos into account others chose to use the data for purposes other than research for example as building blocks for constructing their identity or community structures this becomes their own responsibility and must be guided by their own codes of ethics or other means of making ethical decisions

In relation to the Society of CryptoJudaic Studies as opposed to individual researchers and research projects it may be argued that there is an additional level of responsibility that is that the society is responsible for the content of the research and therefore to support communities and or individuals affected by the research conducted by members of the society This view would suggest that the Society had responsibility for the research and its content SCJS however in no sense has this responsibility It does not fund its members’ research nor does it vet the content of their research proposals or the outcomes of that research (qua research its public responsibilities at its annual conference are a separate issue) Researchers (even if members) are independent from the society and are thus solely responsible for the content of their work In general the researchers are bound by the particular ethical positions of their disciplines and/or the institutions within which they work or who fund the projects

As indicated in the society’s mission statement its primary role is as a forum for discussion and dissemination Thus its responsibility is to allow the research to be presented and discussed It does have a responsibility to make sure of the quality of the research presented in either its newsletter (HaLapid) or in its annual conference in terms of both data and analysis but it cannot and should not take on any liabilities in relation to the content or position of the research undertaken and presented Perhaps its only responsibility to the community beyond discussion and dissemination is to provide a locus for communities and individuals to respond to the research and explore for themselves how the research may affect their identity or position within their wider communities

As indicated above some have argued that the society has an obligation or perhaps minimally a role in enabling people to make particular religious choices for example supporting or advocating for crypto Jews to “return” to “normative” Judaism(s) There are two primary reasons for rejecting this position First the cryptoJewish community is composed of individuals who have made or are making a wide range of different religious choices; some choose to move towards ’normative’ Judaism others do not; indeed some choose to remain Christian or indeed to move to particular Messianic groups that they believe allow them to express both aspects of their identity; other individuals reject any particular religious stance and see crypto Judaism as part of their ’cultural’ or ethnic identity Thus there is no one religious tradition or direction of religious journey that would include a majority of those individuals identifying themselves as crypto Jews If the society were to select one tradition or journey as opposed to others it would be marginalizing the validity of the alternative positions and journeys

The second reason for rejecting this view arises from the Society’s emphasis on research as its primary task It is my view that high quality research cannot be motivated by a particular religious stance on the part of the researcher It has long been recognized by the social sciences that an individual researcher’s own points of view or indeed values must be bracketed off for the purpose of research – this is often called methodological relativism This view is also indicated in the RHS’s ethics statement specifically in relation to the past:

The (RHS) Society recognizes the need for academic freedom of speech and writing Since ethical standards are not constant there is a need to eschew anachronistic value judgments when investigating and describing the past

The need to “eschew” one’s own value judgements in the context of research is even more important when one is dealing with living communities the members of which may have very different understandings and values This process of methodological relativism for some ends with the conclusion of the research after which the individual may choose to make judgements and use the research to support some instrumental goal for example supporting the development of a center whose goals are to lead individuals to make a particular religious choice (and the research may give information on how this might be done) The individual may also choose to share the research with a society that has goals in relation to the development of policy or other instrumental ends SCJS however has chosen to place research and open discussion as its primary drivers and thus it is my contention that as a society it needs to maintain a position of methodological relativism and not support any particular religious tradition or instrumental goal

This role as a locus for discussion and dissemination relates to both the annual conference and the quarterly newsletter SCJS does have certain ethical responsibilities in relation to the content of both of these forums The primary responsibilities lie in four areas: (1) the veracity and quality of the content of presentations or articles (2) to insure that the content does not include approaches or that are specifically against the mission statement of the organization (3) to insure that the tone of both presentations and discussion is appropriate to academic debate (4) to ensure that the communities/individuals researched have a voice

The first of these responsibilities seems clear and unambiguous and to an extent it is There are vetting processes within both the conference organization and editing of HaLapid to ensure that these issues are addressed It is important however not to let this criteria be used to silence alternative points of view Thus if an appropriate academic paper were offered that challenged the authenticity of cryptoJewish origins we should allow it to be presented and appropriately debated Equally if a paper which argued for the ’truth’ of something we generally consider ’true’ were offered but was based on a misuse of data that paper should be rejected The society in its publications and conferences has an obligation to make sure that poor academic argumentation is not offered as acceptable or quality research

This responsibility arises from two interrelated areas – responsibility to the various academic communities that interact within the society and the broader academic community and perhaps even more importantly to the wider community to whom the papers (published and presented) are also addressed The first of these demands that papers are judged in terms of the highest standard of academic argumentation so that their findings will be considered sustainable in academic debate and thus form part of an ongoing argument rather than the noise that obscures it The second of these arises from our responsibility to the wider audience in terms of both communication of the nature of the data (and its limitations) as well as educating them in terms of what makes a good and therefore sustainable academic argument If we ignore this responsibility we support the acceptance of books like the Da Vinci Code as scholarly historical products The key point is that we must not censor the data or the conclusions of papers we publish or allow to be presented but we must insure that what ever the conclusions the arguments are academically sustainable rather than delusions or illusions created by poor argumentation

The second of these responsibilities is derived directly from the mission statement and its implications The Society’s role is to research and discuss issues relating to crypto Judaism – which as suggested above includes both arguments for and against the historical authenticity of the phenomena or particular aspects of it As discussed above a key implication of the mission statement is that the society is not and cannot be associated with any particular religious group or stance in relation to religious choices Thus it would be inappropriate for papers to be published or presented that have as their primary purpose the conversion of individuals or communities to any particular religious tradition This however does not preclude papers discussing how different religious traditions have responded to crypto Judaism or the religious journeys of individuals or communities

The third responsibility presents a clear statement of the responsibilities of the society to ensure that its meetings (and publications) are conducted in a way that is respectful to all of the participants both those who present papers and those who respond to them This does not mean that questions and responses should not be challenging this indeed is a key part of all academic debates does however mean that the tone of discussion should remain within the confines of accepted academic decorum

The final area of responsibility relates to the obligation of the society to allow the community that it researches to speak in its own voice and to address issues of concern to it Historically academic societies tended to privilege the academic voice as the only authoritative voice in relation to the individuals or communities being studied Increasingly there is the recognition that this approach turned these communities into passive objects of study with no right to challenge or respond to the authoritative academics Societies like the SCJS need to balance the academic analysis and discussion by allowing individuals from within the communities being studied to speak both of their own concerns and in response to the issues raised by the academics The society therefore has a responsibility to give something back to the community being studied; by making the conference and publications a locus for expression from within the community and a place from which crypto Jews (and others) can draw on high quality research the society is able to make an important contribution to both individuals and communities

Identity and DNA Testing

by Abraham D Lavender PhD

Genetic testing has become a major form of research in the last few decades Reactions have ranged from those who view it as the definitive answer to longsought questions to those who view it as a resurgence of the racism of the early 1900s eugenics movement There also is some concern that “Big Brother” either in the form of a governmental entity (eg a police force) or a private entity (eg an insurance company) will use genetic information in an illegal and unethical manner Despite these concerns genetic testing including for genealogical purposes has been growing rapidly Jewish families have been a part of this increasing interest and for people searching for a secret cryptoJudaic heritage DNA has also been of special importance

What are the potential benefits problems and ethical issues involved with DNA research especially when researching possible cryptoJewish ancestry? From an ethical perspective anyone advising someone to undergo testing should answer several questions before research begins The adviser should make sure that the person being tested knows which questions about potential Jewish ancestry can and cannot be answered by DNA testing and should advise the person of potential embarrassing or disappointing results Some specific medical problems are found more frequently in individuals with Jewish ancestries and the advisor must also be sensitive to this situation

The most frequent question concerning possible cryptoJewish identity and genetic research is: Can I prove my Jewish heritage using DNA tests? This question is based on another question: Is there a Jewish gene that differs from nonJewish genes?

In 1994 Luigi Luca CavalliSforza published his The History and Geography of Human Genes a book and atlas showing DNA relationships between scores of national and ethnic groups throughout the world CavalliSforza born in Genoa Italy in 1922 became a professor of genetics at Stanford University Palo Alto California in 1970 and is the founder of genetic anthropology For our purposes here his major contribution is his explanation and demonstration that groups genetically overlap and/or merge with each other on a continuum that has few dividing points (Lavender 2006) Many other researchers have now added to his conclusions in more detail including researches who have analyzed Jewish genetics

We now can answer the question asked earlier: Is there a Jewish gene that differs from nonJewish genes which potentially can prove Jewish heritage? The simple answer to this question is no although we will see that this simple statement will be modified One reason for this negative answer is that Jews did not originate as a distinct genetic group Historically Jews were part of the Middle East and their major genetic pattern is a Middle Eastern genetic pattern that is shared with other Middle Eastern groups A second reason is that Jews historically have intermixed genetically with other groups Millions of Jews have become Christians (and to a lesser but significant degree Muslims) either through force social pressure or choice Jewish “genes” thus have become a noticeable part of some nonJewish communities After the crushing defeat of Israel in 135 CE many of the seven million Jews in the world “disappeared” into the Gentile world In modern history the Inquisitions in Spain and Portugal are the major examples of largescale conversions to Christianity and it is from these conversions that most cryptoJews descend Hence this point is of major importance to this paper

Jewish writers usually have emphasized the loss of Jews throughout history but usually have overlooked the numerous individuals who converted to Judaism and joined Jewish communities But the mixing has gone both ways Particularly in the early centuries of Judaism there were many nonJewish individuals who merged into the “Hebrew tribe” (Patai 1971) There also are special situations such as the Khazars in the area of Georgia who converted to Judaism in the seventh century CE The number of Khazars involved is still debated but clearly some nonSemitic genetic patterns entered Ashkenazi communities (Brook 1999) Numerous other examples of both outflow and inflow are found in the literature (see Lavender 2005 for a more details)

What is the genetic composition of Jewish communities today? The extent of genetic intermixing of Jews and nonJews has been the topic of a number of recent genetic studies with the majority of researchers suggesting little interaction during nearly 2000 years in the diaspora Space prohibits discussion of all of the genetic studies on this topic but to give an idea of the overall findings results of some of the major studies follow

Considering DNA patterns of Jewish women Tikochenski et al (1991) concluded that Jewish women descended from a diversity of maternal lineages that had been distinct for four to five thousand years Thomas et al in 2002 concluded that contrary to nonJews there was greater differentiation for mtDNA than for the male Ychromosome and concluded that the cultural practice of femaledefined ethnicity has had a pronounced effect on patterns of genetic variation (p 1417)

Considering DNA patterns for Jewish men Nebel et al (2000) found a large genetic relationship between Jews and Palestinians but in a 2001 study (with different groups in the sample) they found an even higher relationship of Jews with Iraquis and Kurds These authors conclude that the common genetic background shared by Jews and other Middle Eastern groups predates the division of Middle Easterners into different ethnic groups (p 1106) and that Sephardim and Ashkenazim have close (but not exact) genetic patterns

While Nebel and others have shown a genetic relationship between Jewish and nonJewish men in the Middle East other researchers have shown the strong degree to which Jewish men in various parts of the world have maintained a basically Middle East DNA pattern even after two thousand or more years in diaspora (eg Livshits et al 1991) In 2000 Hammer et al also concluded that most Jewish groups were similar to each other had experienced little genetic admixture with nonJewish groups and still overall had a strong genetic similarity with Middle Eastern nonJews But even a small pergeneration intermixture can add up over about 2000 years and sixty generations Santachiara et al (1993 p 63) conclude that Ashkenazim have about 25% nonJewish Y (male) chromosomes representing about one half of one percent of admixture per generation during centuries in the diaspora (p 63) In 2004 Behar et al came to the same general conclusions although they suggested a much lower admixture rate (p 362) These results also are discussed in more detail in Lavender (2005) Results are similar for Sephardim

Specifically looking at descendants of Jews and cryptoJews of Iberia a Middle Eastern genetic pattern is suggestive of Jewish ancestry However there also were Arabs in Spain who also might have had a Middle East genetic pattern This possibility must be considered although there were many more Jews than Arabs in Spain by the time of the Inquisition and most Arabs went south or east to Arab regions rather than to Europe and the Americas

A second question is: But if I have the Cohen Gene doesn’t that prove my Jewish heritage? Since 1998 when Thomas et al published their “Origins of Old Testament Priests” specific attention has been given to the socalled “Cohen Gene” or the Cohen Modal Haplotype (CMH) Analyzing a specific DNA pattern that was found among men who claimed to be descended from ancient priests (Cohanim) of Israel the researchers found that this specific pattern was routinely found among Cohanim but very seldom found among other Jewish men Using mutations among Cohenim today and going backwards they suggested that this pattern could have been originated in the time of Aaron the first High Priest

A descendant of cryptoJews who has the Cohen Modal Haplotype probably does have Jewish ancestors However one problem with using the CMH is that only about five percent of Jewish men have this haplotype thus drastically reducing its usefulness Another problem is that the CMH is also found among a small percentage of nonJewish men of Middle Eastern heritage Nebel et al (2001) found that the CMH was found among 101% of Kurdish Jews 76% of Ashkenazim and 64% of Sephardim but that it also was found among 21% of Palestinian Arabs and 11% of Muslim Kurds The CMH and the most frequent Muslim Kurdish haplotype (MKH) are the same on five markers (out of six) and very close on the other marker The MKH is shared by 95% of Muslim Kurds and 14% of Palestinian Arabs but it is also found among 26% of Sephardim 20% of Kurdish Jews and 13% of Ashkenazim The general conclusion is that these similarities result mostly from the sharing of ancient genetic patterns and not from more recent admixture between the groups (p 1099) As Rabbi Yaakov Kleiman has worded it the CMH is “likely the marker of the Jews’ and Arabs’ shared Patriarch Abraham” (2004: 20) Undoubtedly some Palestinian Muslims and Christians are descendants of Jews who converted under centuries of occupation further complicating this issue It also must be noted that about one fourth to one third of men who claim Cohen status do not have the Cohen Modal Haplotype another factor that can cause disappointment and frustration to cryptoJewish descendants who have surnames suggesting Cohen ancestry

A third question is: What if I don’t have a Middle Eastern genetic pattern? Indications are that about onethird of Jewish men do not have a Middle East genetic pattern In most cases this probably results from a nonJewish male ancestor at some point in history either before or after the diaspora It is safe to assume that most of the descendants of these men have been practicing Jews for centuries with no question about their membership in a Jewish community Nevertheless this presents another hurdle in trying to convince others of one’s Jewish ancestry Of course this possibility is shared by “born Jews” as well as by cryptoJewish descendants and might be one reason why many “born Jews” are hesitant to have their DNA tested Some people would rather not know

A fourth Question is: What if my DNA doesn’t match other members of my family? This question raises serious ethical issues and requires delicate explanations Again this situation happens among all groups of people who have DNA tests and is certainly not unique to those with cryptoJudaic heritage This might also be a major reason that some people refuse to have their DNA tested The assumption usually is that there was an outofwedlock birth at some point in the past either in recent or distant history There is no question that such situations have occurred either in a nonmarital situation or in an extramarital situation In a recent study in England for example Baker (2002) has suggested that about 10% of people do not have the genetic father which they think they have This varies tremendously dependent on some variables especially social class Nevertheless this situation is part of reality and must be faced In fact some authors conclude that Judaism changed from a paternalbased identity to a femalebased identity because of the large number of rapes which could result when Jews were attacked in antiSemitic settings On the other hand throughout history there have been informal adoptions In recent centuries in Europe for example large numbers of children were orphaned and raised by people other than their genetic parents and frequently ended up with a surname other than that of their genetic father Formal adoptions when unknown also present problems

A fifth question is: If I have indications of Jewish genetic ancestry does that mean I am Jewish? The answer to this question is based on religious and personal attitudes From an Halachic perspective one’s Jewish ancestry does not count if one is not born Jewish On the other hand if one is born Jewish and does not explicitly reject Judaism one is presumed to be Jewish even if one is an atheist This is an emotional issue viewed as a double standard for those descendants of cryptoJews who consider themselves Jewish and practice Judaism and who object to being required to undergo a conversion rather than a return ceremony Rabbi Marc Angel an Orthodox rabbi of Sephardic heritage writes that some descendants of cryptoJews “feel that their Jewish ’blood’ – their genetic tie to Jewish ancestors – was somehow a driving force in their decision to ’come back home to the religion of their ancestors” (p 93) But he also requires a halakhic conversion even while writing that “these individuals do have a claim to Jewishness that must not be ignored” (p 97) Complexity also arises when considering a descendant of an ancestor with the Cohen Modal Haplotype For example John Kerry the Democratic candidate for President in 2004 is the paternal grandson of Fritz Kohn of Austria who was (presumably based on his name) a Cohen who converted to Catholicism and changed the surname to Kerry because of virulent antiSemitism John Kerry’s brother Cameron Kerry converted “back” to Judaism when he married a Jewish woman Is he a Cohen? While not discussing the Kerry family see Rabbi Yaakov Kleiman (2004) for a discussion of the Cohen issue Also see wwwCohenLeviorg for detailed information

DNA has tremendous potentials to help crypto Jews and others learn more about their Jewish origins But as we have seen there also are complex questions which frequently raise complex ethical issues


Angel Rabbi Marc D Choosing to Be Jewish: The Orthodox Road to Conversion Jersey City: KTAV Publishing House 2005

Baker Robin Sperm Wars: Infidelity Sexual Conflict and the Bedroom Battles London: Trafalgar Square 2002

Behar Doron et al “Contrasting Patterns of Y Chromosome Variation in Ashkenazi Jewish and Host NonJewish European Populations” Human Genetics Volume 114 2004 pp 354365

Brook Kevin Alan The Jews of Khazaria Northvale NJ: Jason Aronson Inc 1999

CavalliSforza Luigi Luca The History and Geography of Human Genes (1994) Princeton: Princeton University Press 1994

Cohen Shaye The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries Varieties Uncertainties Berkeley: University of California Press 1999

Hammer Michael F et al “Jewish and Middle Eastern nonJewish Populations Share a Common Pool of YChromosome Biallelic Haplotypes” PNAS Volume 97 Number 12 June 6 2000 pp 67696774

Kleiman Rabbi Yaakov DNA & Tradition: The Genetic Link to the Ancient Hebrews Israel: Devora Publishing 2004

Lavender Abraham D “CavalliSforza Luigi Luca : Geneticist” The Encyclopedia of Anthropology Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications 2006 Volume 2 pp 451452

Lavender Abraham D “Comparing DNA Patterns of Sephardi Ashkenazi and Kurdish Jews” HaLapid Volume 12 Issue 2 Spring 2005 pp 1 6 7

Livshits Gregory Robert R Sokal and Eugene Kobyliansky “Genetic Affinities of Jewish Populations” American Journal of Human Genetics Volume 49 1991 pp 131146

Nebel Almut et al “HighResolution Y Chromosome Haplotypes of Israeli and Palestinian Arabs Reveal Geographic Substructure and Substantial Overlap With Haplotypes of Jews” Human Genetics Volume 107 2000 pp 630641

Nebel Almut et al “The Y Chromosome Pool of Jews as Part of the Genetic Landscape of the Middle East “American Journal of Human Genetics Volume 69 2001 pp 10951112

Patai Raphael Tents of Jacob: The Diaspora – Yesterday and Today Englewood Cliffs NJ Prentice Hall 1971

Santachiara AS et al “The Common NearEastern Origin of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews Supported by YChromosome Similarity” Annals of Human Genetics Volume 57 1993 pp 5564

Thomas Mark G et al “Founding Mothers of Jewish Communities: Geographically Separated Jewish Groups Were Independently Founded by Very Few Female Ancestors” American Journal of Human Genetics Volume 70 2002 pp 14111420

Thomas Mark G Skorecki BenAmi Parfitt N Bradman “Origins of Old Testament Priests” Nature Vol 394 July 9 1998 pp 138139 306 male Jews from Israel Canada United Kingdom

Tikochinski Y et al “mtDNA Polymorphism in Two Communities of Jews” American Journal of Human Genetics Volume 48 1991 pp 129136

Alleles Have No Religion

by Seth Ward PhD

The science of genetics is a recent one It dates only from 1900 when a paper by Gregor Mendel was presented using what we now call genetics to explain heredity Watson and Crick’s discovery of DNA is only half a century old and advances in science in only the past two decades have allowed for substantial application of genetics to explaining the history of human demography This is a science very much still in its infancy Genetic inheritance has the potential to tell us much about the ancestry of groups of individuals including how closely related a particular population is possibly to track movements between populations and so forth

Complex issues of scientific discipline treatment of human subjects and medical and counseling applications are raised by genetic research having to do with inherited traits particularly when genetic inheritance causes disease or disability or leads to a heightened susceptibility These have been much discussed by scientists and professional protocols govern how they can proceed So too forensic DNA analysis is now available to identify perpetrators rule out suspects free those improperly convicted and determine the identity of corpses and skeletal remains where there were no fingerprints available; and professional standards must necessarily ensure that such evidence stands up to the demands of our system of justice

Much less has been done on the ethical and scientific issues raised by the demographic analyses which have only recently become possible Genetic research is already shedding significant light on relevant issues of historic demography and it is an important tool for those interested in knowing whether various populations or communities have a hereditary link to the Jewish people The Society must promote and disseminate it But we must also be part of the discussion of the ethical and interpretational boundaries of this research

Various genetic surveys indicate a highly coherent Jewish genepool especially among Ashkenazi Jews and suggest the degree to which Jews are similar genetically to populations of the Middle East and other locations Research focusing on genetic material passed down only through a single sex is of particular interest The Ychromosome found only in males and thus passed along from biological father to son; or mitochondrial DNA inherited only from the mother Genetics have in some cases appeared to confirm some traditional suppositions for example that Jewish communities on the whole have a high degree of endogamy over past centuries Studies seem to confirm that many Jews who selfidentify as kohanim share a common male ancestor possibly living during first or second Temple times or even earlier Other studies suggest that there were a limited number of female ancestors in many Jewish communities; they suggest a high degree of female endogamy although the founding women may or may not have had Jewish ancestry themselves Such genetic demography is hardly unique to Judaism; a recent study of African Americans found that many had genetic traits consistent with a high percentage of European ancestors Such studies provide a scientific platform to address a number of a religious historical community and personal identity issues Theories suggested by this data are often thought provoking and useful but they are not always completely substantiated by research; indeed the field is young as are disciplinary standards for determining the meaning of findings and discussing them within the context of more traditional disciplines

    1. Genetic screening as a model for demographic reconstruction

      There are a number of protocols for genetic screening; like many scientific procedures performed on human populations universities or hospitals have established parameters that must be analyzed before ordering a genetic test Typical considerations include:

      · Screening has real benefit in preventing or treating illness

      · Cost is justifiable

      · Results are reliable

      · Adequate followup is provided: medical psychological social educational and other support measures are available for those people found to be carriers of the tested gene

      Geneticists also debate the degree to which detailed technical information is useful to the patient or the family including what types of information should be provided and how much information is useful Clearly many patients and their families cannot adequately respond to specialized medical or scientific information in the same way that researchers or physicians with years of specialized training and experience can and in some cases the learning curve to understand this information is inconsistent with and less useful than discussion of the ramifications of the information

      At first glance this “illness” model for demographic genetics would seem to be totally irrelevant to demographic genetics Yet many individuals evidence strong reactions when they find that the ancestry suggested by genetic testing is quite different from what they had previously supposed no less so then when anthropologists or folklorists challenge their previous assumptions We rightly raise such issues in anthropological research insisting on professional approaches so that researchers to conduct themselves in ways respectful of the potential reactions of human subjects to conclusions drawn about them; so too a professional attitude towards sharing medical and scientific results with patients and families is an important part of medical practice

      The “Reliability of results” parameter often is rated in terms of the percentages of “false positives” or “false negatives” and much testing seeks to balance reliability cost and relative ease Thus urinalysis is routine for drug testing due to ease and low cost and the reliability of the negative result But a positive result for poppy derivatives is not reliable at all as it can be triggered by poppyseed bagels or even hamantaschen; one source estimated “that 70% of DOT opiates positives are due to poppy seeds” The meaning of this statistic is clear: the test is quite reliable for poppy derivatives but this source estimates that only 30% of those who test positive use heroin or other poppybased drugs Similarly demographic genetic studies test for shared ancestry and genetic similarity but this model suggests that the degree to which a given ancestry correlates with current religious ethnic or racial identity (absent decisions made on the basis of genetic results alone) should be taken into account in assessing the meaning of the data


    1. Public health vs demography

      Research suggests that certain genetic traits linked to diseases found in Ashkenazi populations are also present in populations with Hispano backgrounds In some of these cases genetic testing has shown highly specific genetic variations It is statistically unreasonable to assume multiple “founders” – ie an original ancestor held in common by all who posses a unique genetic pattern But it is usually impossible to determine whether the founder in a given population was Ashkenazi a Spanishspeaking “CryptoJew” or indeed some person with no actual link to either community who happened to passed on the gene Wide incidence in unrelated Southwestern US communities with known Jewish heritage might be significant; presence of the genetic variant in isolated communities may reflect bottleneck/founder situations in which the variant occurred among the first settlers and disappeared in some communities and was magnified in others; or that it was introduced later only within specific communities In any case the fact that the public health significance is clear does not mean that the demographic significance is as well


  1. Genes and Jewish Identity

    As we have seen unique genetic markers may determine that two individuals are likely to share a common ancestor but the signficance of such findings is by no means clear

    Alleles have no religion Judaism does not have alleles as it is open to anyone to join People inherit their genes but they construct their religious identity in various ways some of which reflect their birth or bringing and some reflect choice Where ascribed and biological parentage differ (ie in cases of adoption) we usually expect ascriptive parentage to correlates much more strongly with religion than the biological one

    Conversion into Judaism has always been possible; indeed it has been common in some periods Genetic studies all present the Jewish population as being quite coherent but of course some ancestors of Jews were not Jews Some may even have been enemies of the Jewish people Archaeological evidence suggests that coherent Israelite communities emerged only in the 11th or 12th prechristian century which means that genetic correspondences older than about 3000 years are irrelevant The Talmud asserts that among those studying and teaching Torah were descendants of Sisera Sennacherib Nebuchadnezzar and Haman (Sanhedrin 96b) all enemies of Israel from much earlier days whose latterday descendants joined Judaism Significantly the Talmudic version of the passage does not name names except for Shemaiah and Abtalion (teachers of Hillel) who openly admitted they were converts: the Rabbis protected the identity of those who did not make such statements public Conversion to Judaism included the conversion en masse of Idumeans in the 1st preChristian century and documentary evidence suggests significant conversion to Judaism from the first century and perhaps up until Christianity achieved protected status in the 4th century Many Khazars became Jews in the 8th or 9th Christian century While it could be argued that their genetic effect is much greater in the Ashkenazi world presumably their descendants also came to places such as Bulgaria the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East where they mixed in with Sephardic populations as well Throughout history too there have been individuals who have left the Jewish community; their descendants would carry their ancestors genes but not their religious identity All in all while Jews in general appear to have a high degree of shared genetic heritage to be sure but it is also important to note that Jews share common ancestors with nonJews; there is no “Jewish gene” found in all Jews and lacking in all nonJews

    There is continuing tension between “genetic essentialists” who believe that Judaism is entirely heredity and those who believe it is entirely commitment to God and Torah ultimately not a hereditary entity at all My friend Professor Daniel J Lasker is deservedly famous in some circles for comparing the two attitudes as seeing Judaism as “software” vs “hardware” Maimonides is associated with the “software” position; Judah Halevy with the Hardware position Maimonides however stresses the importance of community and of the training one receives in one’s birth environment and even HaLevy accepts that the descendants of converts who are born to parents who were born as Jews are indistinguishable from those who have four Jewishborn grandparents After the Nazi racial program it seems to me that it is difficult to support a position that emphasizes Judaism as a matter of biological ancestry even if it is proud of that ancestry rather than committed to stamping it out

    When contemplating marriage or determining priestly or levitical status Judaism is in fact usually a matter of biology The rule is that “offspring from a legitimate marriage follow the father” whereas “any [woman] who does not have Jewish marriage (Hebrew: kiddushin) not with [her husband] and not with others the offspring is like her” Since a nonJewish woman never has the possibility of kiddushin and a Jewish one generally always does in traditional Jewish law the child of a nonJewish mother is not Jewish and the child of a Jewish mother is On the other hand the hereditary Priestly and Levitical status (Hebrew: Kohen and Levi) follow the father So too do “Sephardic” or “Ashkenazic” status to the extent that these have implications in Jewish law and ritual This rule seems to protect against the possibility that mothers of persons asserting they were Jews were in fact not; no such degree of “protection” seems to have been necessary regarding fathers

    Jewish observance would not seem to play any role in this at all but traditionally except for marriage and certain aspects of Israeli law observance and lifestyle rather than lineage determine in practice whether someone is considered Jewish including such items as calling them to the Torah or offering them charitable contributions designated for Jews Historically up to the 1700s this almost always meant appearing to follow minimal standards of Sabbath and dietary observances In the past two centuries this has been complicated somewhat due to a falloff in observance and Jewish training a more mobile society greater intermarriage and conversion both into and out of Judaism

    The Reform movement endorsed “patrilineal descent” meaning that the child of a Jewish father or a Jewish mother is considered Jewish Yet here as well Jewish genes alone do not make someone Jewish Reform doctrine also requires an explicit affirmation of Jewishness in order to be considered Jewish a concept also embodied in traditional formulations about the rejection of idolatry or Sabbath desecration Madeleine Albright is a famous case: most people do not consider her Jewish at all although she now knows that she had four Jewish grandparents

    In most surveys and many research studies Judaism is selfdetermined Persons who answer affirmatively to the question “Are you Jewish” or who select Judaism ass a response to a question about religious affiliation are considered Jewish without further determination of parentage

    In the State of Israel and historically in many European countries Judaism is also a matter of public determination subject to political considerations The frequent vehemence of debates about “who is a Jew” with respect to the Israeli population registry indicate that this is no simple matter and Israeli law has determined that a person cannot claim to be Jewish by “nationality” (what we would probably call ethnicity in the US) but not by religion

    It is usually assumed that throughout history Judaism has been overwhelmingly a hereditary affair Nevertheless conversion adoption exogamy political considerations and other factors led to a complicated situation that must be considered when attempting genetic demographics

    Genetic testing can add much to our knowledge of Jewish demography I am not arguing that it is unreliable On the contrary it offers a tool of enormous power to confirm or reject various propositions about Jewish migration patterns community coherence and endogamy and ancestry Nevertheless it must be used carefully and with regard to its limitations both with respect to the kind of information it offers and to the vagaries of the demographics of the Jewish community And to return to the considerations noted in the discussion of genetic screening considerations about reliability (and the meaning of reliability) interpretation of the results and counseling based on the results of demographic genealogy merit far more care when we remember that individuals apply the results of such research findings to their own lives
    Alleles: Different versions of the same gene