Friday, February 15, 2013

Tracing Our Jewish Genealogy Back All the Way

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                 
Could any of the Biblical characters be our direct ancestors?  Almost all historians are in agreement that this is possible.  There are no Jewish families that can be traced in an unbroken line back to biblical times, but Jewish groups moved a lot and can be traced from the fall of the Kingdom of Judah in 586 BCE to the present.  Zedekiah (597-586) was the last King of Judah.  Babylonia had overcome them.

The travels included walking through centuries spent in Persia where Queen Esther, married to King Ahashueros lived.  They then went to Turkey, the Crimea and finally into Europe where they became Ashkenazim.  Others moved across North Africa to Morocco and then into Spain where they became today's Sephardim.  Some also have the oral history of  getting  to Spain with the Romans and Visagoths.  They most likely were captives then.

This same road was traveled later with exiles who returned to  Judah  in the 5th century BCE.   Large numbers of the inhabitants had been  deported but they continued to keep their national and religious ideals so were able to renew their Jewish life after 539 BCE in the area of the former kingdom of Judah.  The descendants of these Jews were Jews who were in Jerusalem at the time of the 2nd Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.

There were 97,000  Jews who survived that slaughter according to Josephus.  They made their way to Europe either by way of Persia (Iran) or North Africa.

We then lost 6 million in the Holocaust of WWII.  Today there are about 14 million Jews in the world .  All of them would fit into at least one of 5 groups. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were our forefathers and Jacob had 12 sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, Dan, Naphtali, Joseph and Benjamin.

 Most are the descendants of the tribes of Judah, the largest tribe, and perhaps also from Benjamin and Simeon.  Jews of the 2nd Temple period who called themselves the:

1. "Kohanim, descended from Aaron, the priest or Kohen (Cohen) 1st to read from Torah in synagogue

2.  Levites, teachers from tribe of Levi, 2nd to read Torah in synagogue

3. Israelites were from the other tribes.   Before that there were 12 tribes but 9 have disappeared and had been thought are no longer Jewish.  Some are now appearing from Muslim and Christian groups and others have actually been practicing Judaism as their ancestors knew it.

4 Khazars had converted in the 8th Century CE and would have no Biblical lineage.  They would then have the possibility of descending from their royal house being it was they who converted.  If anyone in your family was a Kohanim or Levite or had  no roots in Eastern Europe, they were not of Khazar ancestry.  However, an Arab historian in the 9th century traced the Khazars back to the Biblical character Khazar, a 7th son of Togarmah.  He is considered the ancestor of all Turkish tribes and was the grandson of Japhet, the 3rd son of Noah, who was the 8th great grandfather of Abraham, patriarch of Ishmael and Isaac.

5.  Converts to Judaism in the past and present.  It is said that their souls stood with the 600,000 with Moses at Mt. Sinai.  Wasn't this large group a conglomeration including a few other slaves that followed Moses as well?  They all followed Moses's teachings and became Jews that way, regardless of whether or not their ancestor was Jacob.  After all, they had been held as slaves for 400 years in Egypt.  I wouldn't be surprised if some chromosome segments didn't come from Egyptians, too.

Since Judah absorbed the smaller remnants of Benjamin and Simeon, it cannot be proved which one you came from, but the best guess would be Judah, the largest of the tribes.  We can say for sure that we are direct descendants of Jacob, father of all 12 tribes.  The difference would be that Jacob's first wife was Leah, and his 2nd was her sister, Rachel.  He also fathered children by each of their handmaids, Zilpah and Bilhah.

We figure 25 years for a generation, making that there have been more than 150 generations of Jews since Abraham.  Today every Jew can figure that he has chromosomes from Judah, Benjamin, Levi, Aaron, and even perhaps the Khazars as well as gentiles.  We can say that we are certainly descended from Jacob, father of Judah, Benjamin and Levi.  Of coarse then we were descended from his father, Isaac and then back to Abraham, grandfather of Jacob.  That leads us to Abraham's father, Terah and 18 more generations back takes us to Adam.  My dna test has even found a few segments (2.9%) of Neanderthal.

If you are a man and have your DNA tested, you can find out what Haplogroup your male line is.  J1 is the haplogroup called the Cohen gene.  Most male Jews are of this group.  So are many Muslims.  If you have the family finder test, or at least the 67 allele test, the results are finer and more complex, leading to lines of families, such as which J1 is a Jewish line, even as fine as saying if it's Ashkenazi or Sephardi or not.  Since so many of us cannot go back very far in European history, DNA tests can give us lots of answers.

It's a little harder to prove Jewish roots for women.  We women do not have as many haplogroups as men. Bryan Sykes wrote the book, "The Seven Daughters of Eve", finding only 7 haplogroups by 1977.  A few more have been found since then, one of which my Lithuanian grandmother belonged to which was "W."  .   In fact, today it is thought that all Jewish women descended from only 4 Jewish women.   That wouldn't necessarily be our 4 matriarchs of Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel, but somebody at some time in history.

Resource:  Finding Our Fathers-a guidebook to Jewish Genealogy by Dan Rottenberg p. 64-65.
23 and Me DNA company
FamilyTreeDNA company
Update: Ana

1 comment:

  1. By 1492, Spain was home to 70% of the world's Jews. There were so many Jews in Spain, that they constituted 20% of the country's population. These Jews descended from the aristocracy of Judah, which was exiled from Jerusalem to the furthest Roman territory possible: Iberia, known to the Jews as Sefarad. The descendants of these Jews lived in Spain for over a thousand years, adding to their number a great amount of converts, until they became so numerous, and so influential, the zealously Catholic Spanish Crown felt they had no choice but to give the Jews two options: Convert, or leave Spain. Many faithful Jews left, and founded Sephardic communities in the Middle East, Turkey, England, Holland and later, the New World where they established the first synagogues of the western hemisphere, and the first ten synagogues of The United States. Those that remained in Spain and her colonies continued, for the most part, to keep their Jewish faith in secret even after converting
    He is trying to get our people accepted and recognized... Spain has offered to have all descendants of Jews from the Inquisition to return and provide them with citizenship... this caused a lot of fire in the Hispanic and Portuguese communities ...
    from Ana