A genetic study recently released in the US reveals a fissure in North African Jews between Jews who settled from Spain, and communities that date back 2,000 years. But all Jews basically trace their genes back to the Middle East. In Israel ethnic differences are disappearing fast, and in two generations, we’ll all just be Jews. (With thanks Michelle; Luc)
While it’s easy to be flip about studies on the similarities of Jews in far-flung places, a study recently released by a consortium of colleges in the United States, Israel, France, and Spain, did yield some interesting results:
It turns out that Syrian Jews have more genetic commonality with Ashkenazi (European) Jews than with other oriental Jews (Jews from Asian and African lands).
Also, Yemenite Jews, who have long been thought to have lived in isolation, apparently have genetic connections with people from neighboring states.
Jews of North African origins have greater genetic affinity with Ashkenazi Jews than with non-Jewish residents from North African countries.
What’s most interesting is the data about the North African Jews, which reveals a fissure between two communities, one that escaped Spain and Portugal during the Spanish Inquisition to settle in North Africa and another that dates back over 2,000 years.
The genetic findings corroborate historical accounts of the history of Jews from North African areas. Jewish migrants were apparently among the first people who established the western settlements of North Africa more than 2,000 years ago. Together with Phoenician merchants, they established the historic city of Carthage, today’s Tunis. The most venerable genetic traces uncovered in the study of North African Jews reinforce historical accounts of Jewish settlement under the Ptolemy dynasty in Egypt, in the year 300 BCE.
But ultimately, it seems we all came from the Middle East. And as Moby brays, we are all made of stars.
The Jerusalem Post has this report:
A just-published, “definitive” study of Jews of North African origin has set their place on the genetic map of the Jewish Diasporas. This completes research of contemporary Jewish populations following previous work on Ashkenazim, Sephardim and Mizrahi Jews who originated in Europe and the Middle East.
The study – led by Prof. Harry Ostrer of the departments of pathology, genetics and pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at New York’s Yeshiva University, was just published online in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers analyzed the genetic make-up of 509 Jews from 15 populations compared with genetic data on 114 individuals from seven North African non-Jewish populations.
North African Jews are the second largest Jewish Diaspora group. Until now, how they are related to each other, to other Diaspora groups and to their non-Jewish North African neighbors had not been well defined.
The study also included members of Jewish communities in Ethiopia, Yemen and Georgia.
The findings support the historical record of Middle Eastern Jews settling in North Africa during classical antiquity, converting non-Jews to Judaism and marrying local populations, thereby forming distinct populations that stayed largely intact for more than two millennia.
“Our new findings define North African Jews, complete the overall population structure for the various groups of the Jewish Diaspora and enhance the case for a biological basis for Jewishness,” said Ostrer, an Einstein physician who is director of genetic and genomic testing for the division of clinical pathology at nearby Montefiore Medical Center. Ostrer noted that obtaining a comprehensive genetic fingerprint of various Jewish subpopulations can help reveal genetic links to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other common diseases.
In a previous genetic analysis, the researchers showed that modern-day Sephardi (Greek and Turkish), Ashkenazi (Eastern European) and Mizrahi (Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian) Jews originating in Europe and the Middle East are more related to each other than to their contemporary non-Jewish neighbors, with each group forming its own cluster within the larger Jewish population.
In addition, each group showed Middle-Eastern ancestry and varying degrees of mixing with surrounding populations.
Two of the major Jewish populations – Middle Eastern and European Jews – were found in the Einstein study to have diverged from each other about 2,500 years ago.