The origin of the Ashkenazi Jews, who come most recently from Europe, has largely been shrouded in mystery. But a new study suggests that at least their maternal lineage may derive largely from Europe.
It hereby contradicts the notion that European Jews mostly descend from people who left Israel and the Middle East around 2,000 years ago.
Little is known about the nomadic Khazars before they were expelled from Asia and settled in what is now Poland around the 12th century.
The Khazars invaded Europe over the land route between the north end of the Caspian Sea and the south end of the Ural mountains, and ended up in Germany, Crimea, Hungary, Austria and Lithuania.
On average, all Ashkenazi Jews are genetically as closely related to each other as fourth or fifth cousins, said Dr. Harry Ostrer, a pathology, pediatrics and genetics professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
But depending on whether the lineage gets traced through maternal or paternal DNA or through the rest of the genome, researchers got very different answers for whether Ashkenazi originally came from Europe or the Near East.
Past research found that 50% to 80% of DNA from the Ashkenazi Y chromosome, which is used to trace the male lineage, originated in the Near East Asia. But historical documents tell a slightly different tale?
By the time of the destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70, as many as 6 million Jews were living in the Roman Empire, but outside Israel, mainly in Italy and Southern Europe. In contrast, only about 500,000 lived in Judea.
Analyzed mitochondrial DNA, which is contained in the cytoplasm of the egg and passed down only from the mother, from more than 3,500 people throughout the Near East, the Caucasus, including Ashkenazi Jews.
All told, the maternal lineages of Ashkenazi Jews could be traced to Europe, with only a few lineages originating in the Near East.
After the fall of the Khazarian kingdom the people were known as “Yiddish” in Russia and Eastern Europe. They still to this day, refer to themselves as “Yiddish”.
Jews of our era fall into two main categories the Ashkenazim Jew (common), whom in 1960 numbered around 11 million.
The term Ashkenazim Jew is associated with Germany, Hungary and Poland which shared culture and borders with the Khazarian empire.
The Sephardim Jews who numbered about 500,000 in 1960 and are the descendants of the Spanish Jews that were expelled from Spain by the Moslems in 1492.
Live Science / ABC Flash Point News 2019.