Jewish Genetic History

I have long assumed that the reason I am pasty-white today is because somewhere along the long journey from my people’s birth at Sinai to my own birth on Staten Island, there was intermarriage in my family — and it wasn’t that we simply lost our tans. My assumptions, according to an article in the Forward, seem to be right.

On the one hand, research indicates that Jews from Europe “have a genetic makeup more similar to Near Eastern populations” than others from the same region. This generic marker, a particular Y-chromosome, helps connect European Jews to the Jews who emerged from the Middle East thousands of years ago. This seems to show that the line of Jewish heritage – both historically and spiritually – has never been broken. At the same time:

…individual Jews today tend to look markedly different from one another in terms of their physical appearance, depending upon which part of the world their ancestors resided in during recent centuries. Clearly, this diversity of physical appearance is the result of a degree of intermingling with the populations among which Jews have lived. But we don’t know precisely when or how this intermingling took place. Did large numbers of gentiles join the Jewish population through mass conversion in the ancient world? Was there a steady trickle of intermarriage? Was there some combination of these? We can’t say for certain what accounts for the present-day diversity in Jewish physical appearance.

For those Jews who continue to maintain the decades-long panic about the high rates of Jewish intermarriage in the U.S. today, I recommend you look at your hands. You’ve got intermarriage in your own family, whether you know it or not, yet you’re still Jewish. It’s not our pure blood or even our special Y-chromosomes that make us who we are as a people; our message and mission is strong enough to absorb large numbers of newcomers if only we can move past the fear.


  1. Guess that is why my Russian born mother had blonde hair and blue eyes.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — August 25, 2009 @ 2:05 pm

  2. Er, um, a little knowledge of Ashkenazi Jewish history here. Read the poem ‘City of Slaughter’.

    I certaintly wouldn’t call what the Crusaders, Cossacki and other pogromists did over the centuries to Jewish women ‘a steady trickle of intermarriages’. I’d call it something else. And its sad for the memories of the victims to have forgotten it all.

    You might also try and find out the origin of the term ‘Joy division’ also (not the band).

    Blonde hair and blue eyes and from Russia? Hmmmm

    Comment by Dave — August 30, 2009 @ 12:20 pm

  3. Okay Dave, let’s talk history. It would have required a tremendous amount of rape to change the way an entire people looked. What percentage of Jewish births in the Pale of Settlement do you attribute to rape? How many years out of the near-millennium that Jews were there do you believe were filled with attacks and upheaval? Yes, there were periods, but I do not believe that’s what caused the Ashkenazi to look like their neighbors. More importantly, I don’t recall reading much history of mass rapes against the Sephardim, who also look like their neighbors, or the Ethiopian Jews, who also look like their neighbors, or Iraqi Jews, Roman Jews, Jews from India, and so on, and so on, and so on. Of course, if you are so uncomfortable with the obvious intermarriage that took place within your own lineage that you have to instead attribute it to rape over love, feel free. The theory of mass rape doesn’t hold up when you look at global Judaism.

    Comment by Paul Golin — August 30, 2009 @ 2:28 pm

  4. And if you want to look at Jewish history, Dave, try researching some of the names. You will find that not all of them were raped and plundered. Some people actually welcomed others into their family.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — August 30, 2009 @ 7:39 pm

  5. 1/ Ethiopian Jews

    Black skin is a dominant trait, White skin a recessive trait. That is why Barack Obama, like virtually all offspring of black-white relationships is Black. You would not need a lot of Black ancestors for all Ethiopian Jews to be Black. How this happened will never be known but as I said it would not require a lot of mixing.

    2/ Sephardim/Mizrahim

    Since Jews began as an Eastern Mediterranean people would take nothing to make them look like, well, Eastern Mediterranean people. That’s how Jews can look like Italians, Greeks, lighter skinned Arabs, Iranians, etc. Looking Sephardic/Mizrahi is the default look of Jews.

    3/ Ashkenazim

    To the extent that Ashkenazim look Slavic/Teutonic (and not all Ashkenazi Jews do) it can come as result of 4 sources:


    Illicit consensual relationships



    I defy you to name a single instance of conversion to Judaism in Tsarist Russia. Similarly I defy you to name a single instance of intermarriage in Tsarist Russia where the couple did not marry in a church.

    That leaves either rapes or illicit consensual relationships.

    Since Jews and Gentiles lived separately that leaves…

    PS As to myself. I am 100% Ashkenazi with dark brown eyes and dark brown hair (okay it is getting a little whiter over the years)

    Comment by Dave — August 30, 2009 @ 10:59 pm

  6. Well, I’m sure you know better than the director of the Center for Population Genomics and Pharmacogenetics at the Duke Institute for Genome Policy and Sciences, considering he doesn’t mention rape at all in his article. And if you think you’re “100%” of anything, why not go have a DNA test? I bet you find some really interesting heritages in your background.

    Comment by Paul Golin — August 31, 2009 @ 10:22 am

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