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Thread: What does it mean to be genetically Jewish?

  1. #1
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    What does it mean to be genetically Jewish?

    What does it mean to be genetically Jewish? (The Guardian Thu 13 Jun 2019)
    DNA tests have been used in Israel to verify a person’s Jewishness. This brings a bigger question: what does it mean to be genetically Jewish? And can you prove religious identity scientifically?

    ...

    In February of this year, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, reported that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the peak religious authority in the country, had been requesting DNA tests to confirm Jewishness before issuing some marriage licenses.

    ...

    But according to Yosef Carmel, an Orthodox rabbi and co-head of Eretz Hemdah, a Jerusalem-based institute that trains rabbinical judges for the Rabbinate, this is a misunderstanding of how the DNA testing is being used. He explained that the Rabbinate are not using a generalized Jewish ancestry test, but one that screens for a specific variant on the mitochondrial DNA – DNA that is passed down through the mother – that can be found almost exclusively in Ashkenazi Jews.

    A number of years ago Carmel consulted genetic experts who informed him that if someone bears this specific mitochondrial DNA marker, there is a 90 to 99% chance that this person is of Ashkenazi ancestry. This was enough to convince him to pass a religious ruling in 2017 that states that this specific DNA test can be used to confirm Jewishness if all other avenues have been exhausted, which now constitutes the theological justification for the genetic testing.

    For David Goldstein, professor of medical research in genetics at Columbia University whose 2008 book, Jacob’s Legacy: A Genetic View of Jewish History, outlines a decade’s worth of research into Jewish population genetics, translating scientific insights about small genetic variants in the DNA to normative judgments about religious or ethnic identity is not only problematic, but misunderstands what the science actually signals.

    “When we say that there is a signal of Jewish ancestry, it’s a highly specific statistical analysis done over a population,” he said. “To think that you can use these type of analyses to make any substantive claims about politics or religion or questions of identity, I think that it’s frankly ridiculous.”

    But others would disagree. As DNA sequencing becomes more sophisticated, the ability to identify genetic differences between human populations has improved. Geneticists can now locate variations in the DNA so acutely as to differentiate populations living on opposite sides of a mountain range.
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  3. #2
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    I believe this might be the Haaretz article mentioned in the Guardian article.
    Israeli Rabbinate Accused of Using DNA Testing to Prove Jewishness (Haaretz Feb 04, 2019)
    A 2006 study showed that 40 percent of all Ashkenazi Jews are descended from just four Jewish women who lived more than 1,000 years ago. That study concluded that if someone bears specific mitochondrial DNA markers, there is a 90 to 99 percent chance he or she is descended from one of those women.

    This seems to be the original study which is the basis of the Ashkenazi mitochondrial DNA test mentioned in Haaretz.

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

    Abstract
    Both the extent and location of the maternal ancestral deme from which the Ashkenazi Jewry arose remain obscure. Here, using complete sequences of the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), we show that close to one-half of Ashkenazi Jews, estimated at 8,000,000 people, can be traced back to only 4 women carrying distinct mtDNAs that are virtually absent in other populations, with the important exception of low frequencies among non-Ashkenazi Jews. We conclude that four founding mtDNAs, likely of Near Eastern ancestry, underwent major expansion(s) in Europe within the past millennium.
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  5. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by pmokeefe View Post
    This seems to be the original study which is the basis of the Ashkenazi mitochondrial DNA test mentioned in Haaretz.

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

    Abstract
    Both the extent and location of the maternal ancestral deme from which the Ashkenazi Jewry arose remain obscure. Here, using complete sequences of the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), we show that close to one-half of Ashkenazi Jews, estimated at 8,000,000 people, can be traced back to only 4 women carrying distinct mtDNAs that are virtually absent in other populations, with the important exception of low frequencies among non-Ashkenazi Jews. We conclude that four founding mtDNAs, likely of Near Eastern ancestry, underwent major expansion(s) in Europe within the past millennium.
    I can't give an explanation why, but call me a skeptic on this one.

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    The ultra-Orthodox want a monopoly on deciding who is Jewish or who is not.

    It's always been fluid. In the time of the Bible it went down the paternal line, and since the 19th century children have been born to one Jewish and one unconverted gentile parent who have been raised Jewish. The Reform movement both here and in the US accept patrilineal descent, so do the Karaites, whereas the Orthodox go by the maternal line.

    Take Adam Levine. He was raised Jewish by two parents who identified themselves as Jewish. However, his mother's mother was a Christian of Anglo-Scottish background. The other three grandparents were Ashkenazi with some Sephardic way back. The Orthodox would not consider him a Jew even though he identifies as such and is 75% Ashkenazi.

    My father, as far as I can ascertain, is matrilineally Jewish. However, he was raised secular (albeit christened for cultural reasons) and does not consider himself Jewish. Most seculars and Reform Jews would argue that Adam Levine has more of a case for calling himself Jewish, whereas the Orthodox would say that my father is a full-blown Jew and ought to start observing the commandments.

    It's ridiculous.
    Ethnogene (most accurate so far IMO): Frisian 2.8%, Scottish 19.2%, Welsh 2.4%, English 29.0%, Irish 31.7%, Cornish 1.9%, Irish Traveller 4.0%, French 2.6%, Dutch 1.0%, German 1.8%, Western Indian 1.1%, Central/Southern Ashkenazi 1.0%, Norwegian 1.5%

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  8. #5
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    I do not know the details of how this test is used.

    Rules of using genetic test to confirm or not confirm jewishness is a hot political question in Israel.

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