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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.



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