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.

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 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.

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 April Holloway


Raymond Nolan Scott's picture

Elan Elhaik's 2013 Genetic study on Ashkenazi Jews made use of part of data set (Behar and others, 2010), focused specifically on the Khazar hypothesis, arguing that it has strong genetic support.
This claim was built on a series of analyses similar to those performed in Behar and other's original study that initially reported the data. The reanalysis relied on the assumption that the Armenians and Georgians of the South Caucasus region could serve as appropriate proxies for Khazar descendants (Elhaik, 2013). This assumption is problematic for a number of reasons.
First, because of the great variety of populations in the Caucasus region and the fact that no specific population in the region is known to represent Khazar descendants, evidence for ancestry among Caucasus populations need not reflect Khazar ancestry.  Second, even if it were allowed that Caucasus affinities could represent Khazar ancestry, the use of the Armenians and Georgians as Khazar proxies is particularly poor, as they represent the southern part of the Caucasus region, while the Khazar Khaganate was centered in the North Caucasus and further to the north. Furthermore, among populations of the Caucasus, Armenians and Georgians are geographically the closest to the Middle East, and are therefore expected a priori to show the greatest genetic similarity to Middle Eastern populations. Indeed, a rather high similarity of South Caucasus populations to Middle Eastern groups was observed at the level of the whole genome in a recent study (Yunusbayev and others, 2012). 
Thus, any genetic similarity between Ashkenazi Jews and Armenians and Georgians might merely reflect a common shared Middle Eastern ancestry component, actually providing further support to a Middle Eastern origin of Ashkenazi Jews, rather than a hint for a Khazar origin.

A large study made by Wayne State University in 2013 contains genome-wide single-nucleotide polymorphisms in 1,774 samples from 106 Jewish and non Jewish populations that span the possible regions of potential Ashkenazi ancestry: Europe, the Middle East, and the region historically associated with the Khazar Khaganate. The data set includes 261 samples from 15 populations from the Caucasus region and the region directly to its north, samples that have not previously been included alongside Ashkenazi Jewish samples in genomic studies. Employing a variety of standard techniques for the analysis of populationgenetic structure, we find that Ashkenazi Jews share the greatest genetic ancestry with other Jewish populations, and among non-Jewish populations, with groups from Europe and the Middle East. No particular similarity of Ashkenazi Jews with populations from the Caucasus is evident, particularly with the populations that most closely represent the Khazar region. ” (2013, Wayne State University)

Raymond Nolan Scott's picture

Genetic studies revealed that Ashkenazi Jews originate from an ancient (2000 BCE – 700 BCE) population of the Middle East who had spread to Europe. Ashkenazic Jews display the homogeneity of a genetic bottleneck, meaning they descend from a larger population whose numbers were greatly reduced but recovered through a few founding individuals. Although the Jewish people, in general, were present across a wide geographical area as described, genetic research done by Gil Atzmon of the Longevity Genes Project at Albert Einstein College of Medicine suggests "that Ashkenazim branched off from other Jews around the time of the destruction of the First Temple, 2,500 years ago ... flourished during the Roman Empire but then went through a 'severe bottleneck' as they dispersed, reducing a population of several million to just 400 families who left Northern Italy around the year 1000 for Central and eventually Eastern Europe."
Various studies have arrived at diverging conclusions regarding both the degree and the sources of the non-Levantine admixture in Ashkenazim,[36] particularly with respect to the extent of the non-Levantine genetic origin observed in Ashkenazi maternal lineages, which is in contrast to the predominant Levantine genetic origin observed in Ashkenazi paternal lineages. All studies nevertheless agree that genetic overlap with the Fertile Crescent exists in both lineages, albeit at differing rates. Collectively, Ashkenazi Jews are less genetically diverse than other Jewish ethnic divisions, due to their genetic bottleneck.
The majority of Y DNA genetic findings to date concerning Ashkenazi Jews conclude that the male line was founded by ancestors from the Middle East.
A study of haplotypes of the Y-chromosome, published in 2000, addressed the paternal origins of Ashkenazi Jews. Hammer et al. found that the Y-chromosome of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews contained mutations that are also common among other Middle Eastern peoples, but uncommon in the autochthonous European population. This suggested that the male ancestors of the Ashkenazi Jews could be traced mostly to the Middle East. The proportion of male genetic admixture in Ashkenazi Jews amounts to less than 0.5% per generation over an estimated 80 generations, with "relatively minor contribution of European Y chromosomes to the Ashkenazim," and a total admixture estimate "very similar to Motulsky's average estimate of 12.5%." This supported the finding that "Diaspora Jews from Europe, Northwest Africa, and the Near East resemble each other more closely than they resemble their non-Jewish neighbors." "Past research found that 50–80 percent of DNA from the Ashkenazi Y chromosome, which is used to trace the male lineage, originated in the Near East," Richards said. The population has subsequently spread out.
In 2004, Behar el al found that approximately 32% of Ashkenazi Jews belong to the mitochondrial Haplogroup K, which points to a genetic bottleneck having taken place some 100 generations prior.[61] Haplogroup K itself is thought to have originated in Western Asia some 12,000 years ago. A 2006 study by Behar et al.,[27] based on high-resolution analysis of Haplogroup K (mtDNA), suggested that about 40% of the current Ashkenazi population is descended matrilineally from just four women, or "founder lineages", likely of mixed European and Middle Eastern origin. In 2013, there was a study of Ashkenazi mitochondrial DNA by a team led by Martin B. Richards of the University of Huddersfield in England. Testing was performed on the full 16,600 DNA units composing mitochondrial DNA in all their subjects, and the study found that the four main female Ashkenazi founders had descent lines that were established in Europe 10,000 to 20,000 years in the past while most of the remaining minor founders also have a deep European ancestry. The study argued that the great majority of Ashkenazi maternal lineages were not brought from the Near East or the Caucasus, but instead assimilated within Europe, primarily of Italian and Old French origins. The Richards study estimated that more than 80 percent of Ashkenazi maternal ancestry comes from women indigenous to Europe, and only 8 percent from the Near East, while the origin of the remainder is undetermined.
A 2006 study by Seldin et al. used over five thousand autosomal SNPs to demonstrate European genetic substructure. The results showed "a consistent and reproducible distinction between 'northern' and 'southern' European population groups". Most northern, central, and eastern Europeans (Finns, Swedes, English, Irish, Germans, and Ukrainians) showed >90% in the "northern" population group, while most individual participants with southern European ancestry (Italians, Greeks, Portuguese, Spaniards) showed >85% in the "southern" group. Both Ashkenazi Jews as well as Sephardic Jews showed >85% membership in the "southern" group. Referring to the Jews clustering with southern Europeans, the authors state the results were "consistent with a later Mediterranean origin of these ethnic groups". A 2007 study by Bauchet et al. found that Ashkenazi Jews were most closely clustered with Arabic North African populations when compared to Global population, and in the European structure analysis, they share similarities only with Greeks and Southern Italians, reflecting their east Mediterranean origins.
A 2010 study on Jewish ancestry by Atzmon-Ostrer et al. stated "Two major groups were identified by principal component, phylogenetic, and identity by descent (IBD) analysis: Middle Eastern Jews and European/Syrian Jews. The IBD segment sharing and the proximity of European Jews to each other and to southern European populations suggested similar origins for European Jewry and refuted large-scale genetic contributions of Central and Eastern European and Slavic populations to the formation of Ashkenazi Jewry", as both groups – the Middle Eastern Jews and European/Syrian Jews – shared common ancestors in the Middle East about 2500 years ago. The study examines genetic markers spread across the entire genome and shows that the Jewish groups (Ashkenazi and non Ashkenazi) share large swaths of DNA, indicating close relationships and that each of the Jewish groups in the study (Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, Italian, Turkish, Greek and Ashkenazi) has its own genetic signature but is more closely related to the other Jewish groups than to their fellow non-Jewish countrymen. The study also found that with respect to non-Jewish European groups, the population most closely related to Ashkenazi Jews are modern-day Italians. The study speculated that the genetic-similarity between Ashkenazi Jews and Italians may be due to inter-marriage and conversions in the time of the Roman Empire. It was also found that any two Ashkenazi Jewish participants in the study shared about as much DNA as fourth or fifth cousins.
A 2010 study by Bray et al., using SNP microarray techniques and linkage analysis found that when assuming Druze and Palestinian Arab populations to represent the reference to world Jewry ancestor genome, between 35 and 55 percent of the modern Ashkenazi genome can possibly be of European origin, and that European "admixture is considerably higher than previous estimates by studies that used the Y chromosome" with this reference point. On the Bray et al. tree, Ashkenazi Jews were found to be a genetically more divergent population than Russians, Orcadians, French, Basques, Sardinians, Italians and Tuscans. The study also observed that Ashkenazim are more diverse than their Middle Eastern relatives, which was counterintuitive because Ashkenazim are supposed to be a subset, not a superset, of their assumed geographical source population. Ashkenazim distinctiveness as found in the Bray et al. study, therefore, may come from their ethnic endogamy (ethnic inbreeding), which allowed them to "mine" their ancestral gene pool in the context of relative reproductive isolation from European neighbors, and not from clan endogamy (clan inbreeding). Consequently, their higher diversity compared to Middle Easterners stems from the latter's marriage practices, not necessarily from the former's admixture with Europeans.
The genome-wide genetic study carried out in 2010 by Behar et al. examined the genetic relationships among all major Jewish groups, including Ashkenazim, as well as the genetic relationship between these Jewish groups and non-Jewish ethnic populations. The study found that contemporary Jews (excluding Indian and Ethiopian Jews) have a close genetic relationship with people from the Levant. The authors explained that "the most parsimonious explanation for these observations is a common genetic origin, which is consistent with an historical formulation of the Jewish people as descending from ancient Hebrew and Israelite residents of the Levant" .
In the late 19th century, it was proposed that the core of today's Ashkenazi Jewry are genetically descended from a hypothetical Khazarian Jewish diaspora who had migrated westward from modern Russia and Ukraine into modern France and Germany (as opposed to the currently held theory that Jews migrated from France and Germany into Eastern Europe). The hypothesis is not corroborated by historical sources, and is unsubstantiated by genetics, but it is still occasionally supported by scholars who have had some success in keeping the theory in the academic consciousness. A 2013 trans-genome study carried out by 30 geneticists, from 13 universities and academies, from 9 countries, assembling the largest data set available to date, for assessment of Ashkenazi Jewish genetic origins found no evidence of Khazar origin among Ashkenazi Jews. "Thus, analysis of Ashkenazi Jews together with a large sample from the region of the Khazar Khaganate corroborates the earlier results that Ashkenazi Jews derive their ancestry primarily from populations of the Middle East and Europe, that they possess considerable shared ancestry with other Jewish populations, and that there is no indication of a significant genetic contribution either from within or from north of the Caucasus region", the authors concluded.
A striking finding from a study is the consistent detection of 3–5% sub-Saharan African ancestry in the 8 diverse Jewish groups studied, Ashkenazis (from northern Europe), Sephardis (from Italy, Turkey and Greece), and Mizrahis (from Syria, Iran and Iraq). This pattern has not been detected in previous analyses of mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome data, and although it can be seen when re-examining published results of STRUCTURE-like analyses of autosomal data, it was not highlighted in those studies, or shown to unambiguously reflect sub-Saharan African admixture,. The estimate of the average date of the mixture of 72 generations (∼2,000 years assuming 29 years per generation ) is older than that in Southern Europeans or other Levantines. The point estimates over all 8 populations are between 1,600–3,400 years ago, but with largely overlapping confidence intervals. It is intriguing that the Mizrahi Irani and Iraqi Jews—who are thought to descend at least in part from Jews who were exiled to Babylon about 2,600 years ago , Share the signal of African admixture. (An important caveat is that there is significant heterogeneity in the dates of African mixture in various Jewish populations.) A parsimonious explanation for these observations is that they reflect a history in which many of the Jewish groups descend from a common ancestral population which was itself admixed with Africans, prior to the beginning of the Jewish diaspora that occurred in 8th to 6th century BC. The dates that emerge from our ROLLOFF analysis in the non-Mizrahi Jews could also reflect events in the Greek and Roman periods, when there were large communities of Jews in North Africa, particularly Alexandria. A similar African mixture proportion in the non-Jewish Druze (4.4±0.4%) was detected. although the date is more recent (54±7 generations; 44±7 after the bias correction). Algorithms such as PCA and STRUCTURE show that various Jewish populations cluster with Druze, which coupled with the similarity in mixture proportions, is consistent with descent from a common ancestral population. Importantly, the other Levantine populations (Bedouins and Palestinians) do not share this similarity in the African mixture pattern with Jews and Druze, making them distinct in their admixture history.

Links to genetic studies findings

As I have probably said before: There is no secular, verifiable, documentation that the Jewish people existed in Palestine in any great numbers to qualify or claim that the land is their ancient homeland. The word 'Israel' is a made up word from ancient Egyptian belief system of the planets, including the Sun and Moon being deities, or actually Lords or Rulers. To suggest that they were considered Gods is untrue.
Is = Isis = Moon, Ra = Sun, El = on high, or in the heavens.

Bedtime, they have shut off the electricity yet again, with little warning, just yet, another milestone in the total collapse of South African society.

Marybeth Rosen's picture

Yet another misinformed article about the Jewish people. Jews never sought out converts, frounded upon mixed marriages. In fact you'd be thrown out of your community for such a indiscretion. The so called DNA actually is mitochondrial(from  the mother) and has shown that of the several thousand subjects who participated all could be traced to the small group of Jewish women in the first century in Jerusalem. During the diaspora Jews were forced into North Africa, Turkey, Greece, the caucuses, italy, Spain. During the Middle Ages began moving into Eastern Europe and Europe. Aside from historical documentation to sink this ridiculous attempt at once again delegitimizing the Jewish peoples right to their homeland. I defy every so called Palestinian to stand up and get a dNA test. I know what they'll find. We had them and it placed my husband squarely in israel not Europe.

an interesting hypothesis is raised by NASA that the law of Jew is torah and the old land, the hill of torah in the moon was where the law was proclaimed. You can find some similariteies if you are jew.


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