The Jewish Diaspora and Genetic Mapping–Ron

As a Biology Major at Brooklyn College and a self-professed nerd, I could not help but to approach the fascinating subject of the Jewish Diaspora-the migration of Jews around the world- from a scientific perspective. I was elated to stumble upon a August, 2012 article on the topic on the live science.com website (one of my favorites) and I decided to attempt to summarize both the article, which was written by by Stephanie Pappas (Live Science Contributor), and the research.

This conclusive research, conducted by Harry Ostrer of the Albert Einstein College School of Medicine in New York, provided the data needed to trace the migration if the Jews from the sixth century BCE. this was when Nebuchadnezzar initiated the Jewish captivity, sparking the first major dispersion of the Hebrew nation. While it is well documented that many Jews were carried off to Babylon, only to return decades later, little or no attention is placed on the Jews who fled to the Middle East at the time of the invasion. Not much emphasis was placed on Jews who for some reason or another evaded captivity and remained in Jerusalem, or those who chose not to return from Babylon for whatever reason. This study provided crucial data needed to be able to conduct an in-depth analysis of the diaspora.

One vital revelation from this study was the close genetic relationship between the North African Jews and the European Jews. Also discovered in North Africa were two distinct genetic segments: The Tunisian and Libyan Jews form one group, and the Algerians and Moroccan Jews from another. Yet these two groups demonstrated a closer relationship than Jews found anywhere else.

According to Ostrer:

“I like to think of Jewishness as a tapestry with these DNA segments representing the threads that weave the tapestry together. Non-Jews can convert to Judaism, but membership in the group is also passed down along a matrilineal line, meaning Jewishness straddles the line between religion, ethnicity and culture.”

The study acknowledges evidence which shows that some non-jewish genes were mixed into the pool, demonstrating that after the eighth century, a small group of Jews married non-Jews. The Study also shows that during the periods when Greece and Rome ruled the world, many Jews emigrated from the Middle East into Europe and Northern Africa, all the while converting and intermarrying locals they encountered in their travels.

In the 1400’s, Jews were ordered by the Spanish authorities to abandon their beliefs and to become Catholics or or face banishment from Spain. This became the Second Major Migration. The most recent Migration is still taking place today. Beginning in the 1800’s, immigration into the United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and Israel has been significant.

In the U.S. and Latin America however, an interesting pattern has emerged. Roughly 50-60 percent of Jews in America will marry someone of a different race or religion. In Europe and North Africa, however, most Jews marry within their communities.

The link for the livescience.com article is http://www.livescience.com/22137-genetics-jewish-diaspora.html

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