Looking for the missing link? Check out popular PhD geneticist, Dr. Eran Elhaik's website, "The Jewish Genome Challenge." The Jewish Genome Challenge is now live. Feel free to share, post, blog, tweet, and of course invite challengers.
It has been suggested in the scientific and popular literature that Jewishness is a genetic trait found in our genes and that worldwide Jews comprise a genetically distinct group with some Jewish communities being described as “population isolates.” You can check out the studies by Atzmon et al. 2010, Behar et al. 2010, or Ostrer 2012. For example, Atzmon et al. (2010) wrote that: "European/Syrian and Middle Eastern Jews represent a series of geographical isolates or clusters woven together by shared IBD genetic threads." See, "Abraham's Children in the Genome Era: Major Jewish Diaspora - Cell."
Behar et al. (2010) wrote: "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." Also see, "Israel Starts Using DNA to Check for "Jewishness of Immigrants."
The cover of the book Legacy says: "Ostrer shows that Jews from different Diaspora groups are linked by the genetic threads that provide a biological basis for Jewishness." However, none of these blury descriptions of "genetic threads" are substantiated by any particular genetic nucleotides, haplotypes, or genetic regions and even after decades of genetic research, these ideas remain controversial among geneticists as well as historians and social scientists. For example, see research by Sand 2009, Elhaik 2013, and Venton 2013. Some people may be proposing that these notions are driven by non-scientific ideologies, for example, the study by Kirsh 2003.
It has been further suggested that traits such as intelligence are more strongly associated with Jews than with non-Jews (Ostrer 2012). Based on these notions, genetic testing companies now offer genetic tests that promise to accurately determine one’s Jewishness. Recently, A.B. Yehoshua an Israeli writer and scholar proposed that "A Jew is a Jew because he chose to be a Jew and not because he was forced - because of biology or by some external social force, to define himself as a Jew" dismisssing any genetic notion of Jewishness. The site therefore proposes to put to test the claims that Jewishness is the genes.
The site proposes to hold the “Jewish Genome Challenge”
In this challenge, we will obtain samples annotated as "Jews" and "non-Jews", genotyped on the Illumine HumanHap650K beadchip retaining only the autosomal data. Markers in linkage disequilibrium would be removed leaving out some 250,000 SNPs. This array and the pruned dataset were previously used to allege that Jews share common origin and thus fit for the test (Atzmon et al. 2010; Behar et al. 2010). If you feel that a particular nucleotide, haplotype, or genetic region necessary for your analyses may be missing, please let the site know and it will reserve them.
The site will create “artificial offspring” from these samples by hybridizing them across random hot-spots and over several generations, determining the gender of that offspring at random, as in real life. In practicality, we will simulate a modern-day Israeli population. The Jewishness of the samples would be set in two ways: according to the Israeli law-of-return—stating that a Jew is anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent—and according to the Orthodox religious law (Halakha)—stating that a Jew is anyone who is born to a Jewish mother.
The Jewishness of the samples would be known to us, but not to you. The final files would be made available in PLINK format and include the genetic sequence, sample identifiers and gender. We will then ask you to identify which of these samples are Jews or non-Jews based on the genetic data and test the accuracy of your predictions against their Jewishness according to either law.
For example, a sample annotated as a "non-Jew" African male may be hybridized with a "Jew" Yemenite female and the male offspring may be hybridized with a "non-Jew" Polish female. The resulting offspring should be reported by you as a "Jew" according to the law-of-return, but as a "non-Jew" according to Halakha.
Please inform the site at email@example.com (eelhaik at jhsph dot edu) by November 1, 2013 if you are interested in participating, and the site will send you a link to the dataset. You have one month to provide your predictions.
You may choose to make your predictions according to either or both laws. On December 1st 2013, the site will end the challenge by publishing the real results along with the dataset, algorithms, and the detailed "family trees" to allow you to evaluate your results and improve your algorithms for future analyses
Two days later (December 3rd 2013), the site will publish the names of the winners whose predictions exceeded the 50% (expected by chance), the accuracy of their predictions, and a brief statement from them. The names of the losers will not be published. The challenge cannot offer monetary awards. However, the site feels that the glory of winning is a reward in itself as failure would imply that reports in the scientific literature regarding "genetic threads" within worldwide Jewish communities or between them and the biblical Hebrews should be dismissed. Moreover, failing the challenge would imply that the necessity for megalomaniac projects like the Jewish HapMap Project should be reevaluated as well as the rational for tests to prove Jewish bloodline.
November 1, 2013 is the last deadline for abstracts submissions. Please do not hesitate to email the site with any questions. Updates about the challenge would be posted in the Facebook groups Khazar DNA Project and The Missing Link of European Jewish Ancestry.
Also see: Eran Elhaik Publications, and please check out the studies referenced at the site: such as: Atzmon G, et al. 2010. Abraham's children in the genome era: major Jewish diaspora populations comprise distinct genetic clusters with shared Middle Eastern Ancestry. Am. J. Hum. Genet. 86:850-859, Behar DM, et al. 2010. The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people. Nature. 466:238-242, Elhaik E. 2013. The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses. Genome Biology and Evolution. 5:61-74, Kirsh N. 2003. Population genetics in Israel in the 1950s. The unconscious internalization of ideology. Isis. 94:631-655, Ostrer H. 2012. Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People. OUP USA, Venton D. 2013, Highlight: Out of Khazaria—Evidence for “Jewish Genome” Lacking. Genome Biology and Evolution. 5:75-76, and Sand S. 2009. The invention of the Jewish people. London: Verso.
A January 16, 2013 press release also notes how through a new study, science is trying to find out more about DNA links to a medieval Exodus from the Caucasus Mountains through autosomal DNA genetic testing
Check out the January 16, 2013 news release, "New study sheds light on the origin of the European Jewish population." Research is continuing on the Caucasus mountains origin of Eastern European Jewry, according to a January 16, 2013 news release, "New study sheds light on the origin of the European Jewish Population." Also see the sites, The Khazar DNA Project | RocketHub and the Khazar DNA Project | Facebook.
Despite being one of the most genetically analyzed groups, the origin of European Jews has remained obscure. However, a new study published online on January 16, 2013 in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution by Dr. Eran Elhaik, a geneticist at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, argues that the European Jewish genome is a mosaic of Caucasus, European, and Semitic ancestries, setting to rest previous contradictory reports of Jewish ancestry.
Elhaik's findings strongly support the Khazarian Hypothesis, as opposed to the Rhineland Hypothesis, of European Jewish origins. This could have a major impact on the ways in which scientists study genetic disorders within the population.
The Rhineland Hypothesis has been the favored explanation for the origins of present-day European Jews, until now. In this scenario Jews descended from Israelite-Canaanite tribes left the Holy Land for Europe in the 7th century, following the Muslim conquest of Palestine.
Then, in the beginning of the 15th century, a group of approximately 50,000 left Germany, the Rhineland, for the east. There they maintained high endogamy, and despite wars, persecution, disease, plagues, and economic hardships, their population expanded rapidly to around 8 million in the 20th century.
Due to the implausibility of such an event, this rapid expansion was explained by Professor Harry Ostrer, M.D., Dr. Gil Atzmon, and colleagues as a miracle. Under the Rhineland Hypothesis, European Jews would be very similar to each other and would have a predominant Middle Eastern ancestry.
The rival explanation, the Khazarian Hypothesis, states that the Jewish-convert Khazars – a confederation of Turkic, Iranian, and Mongol tribes who lived in what is now Southern Russia, north of Georgia and east of Ukraine, and who converted to Judaism between the 7th and 9th centuries – along with groups of Mesopotamian (Iraqi) and Greco-Roman Jews, formed the basis of eastern Europe's Jewish population when they fled in various directions, following the collapse of their empire between the 10th and the 13th centuries.
European Jews are thus expected to exhibit heterogeneity between different communities. While there is no doubt that the Judeo-Khazars fled into Eastern Europe and contributed to the establishment of Eastern European Jewry, argument has revolved around the magnitude of that contribution.
Dr Elhaik's paper, "The missing link of Jewish European ancestry: contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses," examined a comprehensive dataset of 1,287 unrelated individuals of 8 Jewish and 74 non-Jewish populations genotyped over 531,315 autosomal single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs).
This was data published by Doron Behar and colleagues in 2010, which Elhaik used to calculate seven measures of ancestry, relatedness, admixture, allele sharing distances, geographical origins, and migration patterns. These identified the Caucasus-Near Eastern and European ancestral signatures in the European Jews' genome along with a smaller, but substantial Middle Eastern genome.
DNA results were consistent depicting a Caucasus Mountains ancestry
The results were consistent in depicting a Caucasus Mountains ancestry for all European Jews. The analysis showed a tight genetic relationship between European Jews and Caucasus Mountains populations and pinpointed the biogeographic origin of the European Jews to the south of Khazaria, 560 kilometers from Samandar –Khazaria's capital city. Further analyses yielded a complex multi-ethnical ancestry with a slightly dominant Caucasus -Near Eastern, large South European and Middle Eastern ancestries, and a minor Eastern European contribution.
Where is Samandar?
The location as explained on the Wikipedia site for Samandar, can be found on the western shore of the Caspian Sea, south of the city of Atil, in the North Caucasus. Most likely the capital city had been built alongside the Terek river near the present-day city of Kizlyar.
If you look at the modern city of Kizlyar today, similar in crops today as when in medieval times to Samandar, Kizlyar is noted for its vineyards. According to the archaeologist Mikhail Artamonov, remains of a large town have been found deep in the woods along the lower Terek river. You can check out any modern archaeological digs in the area at the site, "Interesting active archaeological digs in Kizlyar | World Reviewer." Also see the site, "Learn and talk about Derbent, Archaeological sites in Dagestan."
If you're interested in languages of the area, also see the site,"Judæo-Tat." And check out the site, "Judaeo-Georgian (Georgian: ყივრული ენა) (also known as Kivruli and Gruzinic) is the traditional dialect of Georgian language spoken by the Georgian Jews, the ancient Jewish community of the Caucasus nation of Georgia." And see, "Khazar language - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia."
Findings on Eastern European Jewish DNA-driven ancestry research
Dr Elhaik writes, according to the news release, "The most parsimonious explanation for our findings is that Eastern European Jews are of Judeo-Khazarian ancestry forged over many centuries in the Caucasus. Jewish presence in the Caucasus and later Khazaria was recorded as early as the late centuries BCE and reinforced due to the increase in trade along the Silk Road, the decline of Judah (1st-7th centuries), and the rise of Christianity and Islam.
Greco-Roman and Mesopotamian Jews gravitating toward Khazaria were also common in the early centuries and their migrations were intensified following the Khazars' conversion to Judaism… The religious conversion of the Khazars encompassed most of the Empire's citizens and subordinate tribes and lasted for the next 400 years until the invasion of the Mongols. At the final collapse of their empire in the 13th century, many of the Judeo-Khazars fled to Eastern Europe and later migrated to Central Europe and admixed with the neighbouring populations."
Dr Elhaik's findings consolidate, otherwise conflicting results describing high heterogeneity among Jewish communities and relatedness to Middle Eastern, Southern European, and Caucasus populations that are not explained under the Rhineland Hypothesis. Although Dr Elhaik's study linked European Jews to the Khazars, there are still questions to be answered. How substantial is the Iranian ancestry in modern day Jews?
Since Eastern European Jews arrived from the Caucasus, where did Central and Western European Jews come from? If there was no mass migration out of Palestine to Western Europe during the 7th century, what happened to the ancient Judeans?
And crucially for Dr Elhaik, how would these new findings affect disease studies on Jews and Eurasian populations?
"Epidemiologists studying genetic disorders are constantly struggling with questions regarding ancestry, heterogeneity, and how to account for them," he says. "I hope this work will open up a new era in genetic studies where population stratification will be used more correctly." Check out, Oxford University Press. Check out the original article, "The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry - Eran Elhaik. The full title is "The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses' by Eran Elhaik, Genome Biology and Evolution." There's also a video, The Khazar DNA Project - YouTube.
Also see the article, "New study sheds light on the origin of the European Jewish population." And please watch for new articles forthcoming based on further genetic studies from Dr. ElHaik.
Would you also be interested adventure historical novels and stories on similar topics: Check out the sites, "Two holidays coming up, and does new study link DNA origins?" and "The legend of the Tengri shaman from rural North Georgia."
Also see geneticist, Dr. Elhaik's Facebook site: The Khazar DNA Project. The Khazar DNA Project's Facebook page says, "If you are of a Khazarian ancestry and interested to learn more about your ancestry, please contact me -- The Khazars are one of the most mysterious populations of the Old World whose abrupt disappearance from the history pages has tantalized scientists for years. Who were these Eurasian warriors?"
The DNA testing is from autosomal DNA that you would get tested at the various companies testing autosomal DNA such as the Genochip 2.0 project from the National Geographic Project, 23 and Me, FamilyTree DNA, and other similar companies. Then you'd get a raw score of your autosomal DNA of the parts tested, and you'd email those results to the project for analysis of the raw autosomal DNA score that's usually online as part of your DNA test results. Those scores usually are posted online under results or raw autosomal DNA score for you to download as a file.
One of the questions that many people ask is whether ancient populations from the same part of the world are similar, for example, if the Caucasus and Central Asia as well as southern Europe and most of Northern Europe are all mixed with similar populations in different percentages of admixtures, what the percentages signify? Most people want in DNA testing a precise geographic location of their recent and ancient DNA/genetic human origins such as names of areas of the world, countries, or even geographic latitude and longitude locations so they can get a handle on where their genes came from.
It's a fascinating adventure on tracking your roots where paper trails stop by using DNA-driven research into your genealogy, origins, and population genetics. To which populations do you belong, where are they located, and in what percentages do you belong to them? That's the idea of some of the answers people want to know. Also, it give you a chance to discover a culture or a second culture so you can explore the food, music, art, history, literature, and perhaps travel adventures in person or by watching geographic videos of those places. It's like genetic archaeology (archaeogenetics) in a sense but using modern DNA testing techniques to get a genetic picture of your ancestry where it is now.