Iraq Banner Desktop

Store Banner Mobile

Detail of ‘Ashkenazi Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb)

Where are Ashkenazi Jews from? Their Origins May Surprise You


Ashkenazi Jews are a Jewish ethnic group who have their earliest ancestors from the indigenous tribes of Israel…at least on one side of the family tree. A study published in 2013 in Nature Communications has shown their maternal lineage comes from a different, and possibly unexpected, source.

Tracing the Matrilineal Line

The research shows the origins of the matrilineal line for the Ashkenazi Jews comes from Europe. This goes against the common belief that Jewish people first arrived in central Europe after the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628 and only began settling in Germany in the Medieval period.

Ashkenazi Jews is the term used today to describe these Jewish people – individuals who built religiously-based communities centuries later in Central and Eastern Europe. One of the things they are recognized for is the use of Yiddish – a High German language written in the Hebrew alphabet and influenced by classical Hebrew and Aramaic.

The Yiddish calligraphic segment in the Worms Mahzor. (Public Domain)

The Yiddish calligraphic segment in the Worms Mahzor. (Public Domain)

The 2013 study co-author Martin Richards, an archaeogeneticist at the University of Huddersfield in England, said that while Ashkenazi Jews have lived in Europe for many centuries, the results of the study using DNA samples show that most European Jews descend from local people who converted to Judaism, not individuals who left Israel and the Middle East around 2,000 years ago.

Ashkenazi Jews have One Genetic Group

Ashkenazi Jews were declared a clear, homogeneous genetic subgroup following a 2006 study. Ashkenazi Jews come from the same genetic group, no matter if their ancestors were from Poland, Russia, Hungary, Lithuania, or another place with a large historical Jewish population. They are all in the same ethnic group.

How could it be that Ashkenazi Jews are just one genetic group? The answer is a relatively simple one: they didn’t reproduce at a noticeable level with others outside their group (not even with other Jewish people). Researchers have shown Ashkenazi Jews were a reproductively isolated population in Europe for about 1000 years.

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch ben Yaakov Ashkenazi (1714). (Public Domain)

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch ben Yaakov Ashkenazi (1714). (Public Domain)

Previous studies have found that 50-80% of the Ashkenazim DNA from the paternal lineage originated in the Near East. It is not surprising that there was a common belief that Israel and the Near East was their ancient homeland.

The Origins of the Ashkenazim

But the 2013 study showed 80% of Ashkenazi Jews’ maternal line comes from Europe - only a few people had genes originating in the Near East. As Professor Richards said at the time, “This suggests that, even though Jewish men may indeed have migrated into Europe from Palestine around 2000 years ago, they seem to have married European women.”

A Jewish couple from Worms, Germany, with the obligatory yellow badge on their clothes. The man holds a moneybag and bulbs of garlic, both often used in the portrayal of Jews. 16th century. (Public Domain)

A Jewish couple from Worms, Germany, with the obligatory yellow badge on their clothes. The man holds a moneybag and bulbs of garlic, both often used in the portrayal of Jews. 16th century. (Public Domain)

It appears that the majority of the European converts to Judaism during the early years of the Diaspora were women. That helps explain why the Ashkenazim can trace their female lineage to southern and western Europe.

In conclusion, Richards said , “The origins of the Ashkenazim is one of the big questions that people have pursued again and again and never really come to a conclusive view.”

Top Image: Detail of ‘Ashkenazi Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb) Source: Public Domain

By Joanna Gillan

Updated on December 2, 2020.



Pete Wagner's picture

With their fairly distinct Jewish appearance, compared to the fair-haired Gentile, particularly the Semitic nose, they would almost certainly have Sumerian (black-headed people) origins.  Their entry into Europe likely happened via the Roman era, where they served as bankers and merchants.

Nobody gets paid to tell the truth.

Those who research history, know that some of the Israelites left and went to Europe! Even before they left Egypt, some went to Europe. And later many more. And then, some of the 10 lost Tribes went into Europe. So, SHOCK, they are related to Europeans! 

Truth is the bread of freemen, but lies and deceit are the swill of slaves.

Hi MountainGuardian,

Like too wish you Happy Thanksgiving an if you go for Black Friday Shopping all I can say is Be Safe!

I liked what you shared about yourself an the History of your family.

In the Old days their maybe a few who still do this but, I can't speak for everybody on this subject but, a lot of African American's often claimed Indigenous People's Heritage because old school We wanted to be anything but, Black.

Even the famous Supreme Court case of Virginia VS. Loving Mrs. Loving claimed Native American heritage as well.

It also could have been a strategy I think because Virginia's Law Books there was something there that allowed Europeans to marry Indigenous Peoples; but, I thought they had too come from Pocahantas Bloodline through John Rolfe.

Oh before I forget I'm African American. Thought I let you know I liked your dialogue too me. Goodbye for now.

MountainGuardian's picture

According to the bible and oral traditions Abrahams son Isaac is the father of Hebrew people, and Abraham’s first born son Ishmael is the father of the Arab peoples.  According to the bible all people of Jewish descent and Arab descent should be directly descended from Abraham.

I am of Sephardic Jewish descent myself, my great grandmother was a member of the Cherokee tribe.  Aunt Donna had a DNA test done expecting to prove her 33% Cherokee heritage, she was quite surprised when that 33% turned out to be a mixture of North African Berber, Egyptian, Arabic and Jewish instead… Not even 1% Native American DNA…

Interestingly grandpa was always warning about ever being prjudiced against”anyone” but especially the Jewish people after he came back from WWII.  Knowing what I do now I think he was aware that he was Jewish but careful never to publicly state that fact. I believe great grandma Stella Mae Osbourn was a criptic Jew, especially considering my families darker skin tone, black hair and blue eyes.  That never made sense to me with great grandma being Native American.  Now I am of Native American descent on my mothers side and I do have the pretty brown eyes just like my mom had…

Funny the surprises that come up with modern DNA tests..  Fascinating as well...

Hi All,

They weren't willing to say for a Fact on Dr. Henry Gates. Jr's Finding your Root's Team that they found Abraham through Norman Lear. He's A T.V. producer of Social& Political comedies on Television.

Norman Lear is a Levite which happily meant too me that Norman is an ancestor of Levi the 3rd Son of Israel and Leah, grandson of Isaac & Rebekkah, Great-grandson of Abraham & Sarah.

Dr. Gates. Jr did say is that They Think that a certain DNA structure maybe Abraham they aren't sure.

That's all I'm aware of from Dr. Gates. Jr program.

What I do know in his Finding your Root's on PBS in conducting the DNA research of George R. Martin who believed that He was italian but, after the Team did research on George R. Martin's DNA on Finding your Root's turns out that he registered as Ashkenzai Jewish.

It's only through Finding your Root's I learned of Ashkenazi since I'm not as familiar can't comment to much on the topic.

I even took Ethnic Studies in school we eventually got to our College Textbook about Jewish History but, unfortunately I can't remember if my text book even mentioned Ashkenazi.

The only other familiarity I have in learning Jewish History is through The Bible, it remains as my only reference.

I've got to go so until next time Everyone, Goodbye!


Joanna Gillan's picture


Joanna Gillan is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. 

Joanna completed a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) degree in Australia and published research in the field of Educational Psychology. She has a rich and varied career, ranging from teaching... Read More

Next article