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Genetic Study on Ashkenazi Jews

Some 3.5 million of today’s Ashkenazi Jews about 40 percent of the total Ashkenazi population are descended from just four women, a genetic study indicates.

 

Those women apparently lived somewhere in Europe within the last 2,000 years, but not necessarily in the same place or even the same century, said lead author Dr. Doron Behar of the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel.

 

He did the work with Karl Skorecki of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and others.

 

Each woman left a genetic signature that shows up in their descendants today, he and colleagues say in a report published online by the American Journal of Human Genetics. Together, their four signatures appear in about 40 percent of Ashkenazi Jews, while being virtually absent in non-Jews and found only rarely in Jews of non-Ashkenazi origin, the researchers said.

 

They said the total Ashkenazi population is estimated at around 8 million people. The estimated world Jewish population is about 13 million.

 

Ashkenazi Jews are a group with mainly central and eastern European ancestry. Ultimately, though, they can be traced back to Jews who migrated from Israel to Italy in the first and second centuries, Behar said. Eventually this group moved to Eastern Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries and expanded greatly, reaching about 10 million just before World War II, he said.

 

The study involved mitochondrial DNA, called mtDNA, which is passed only through the mother. A woman can pass her mtDNA to grandchildren only by having daughters. So mtDNA is “the perfect tool to trace maternal lineages,” Behar said Thursday in a telephone interview.

 

His study involved analyzing mtDNA from more than 11,000 samples representing 67 populations.

 

Mike Hammer, who does similar research at the University of Arizona, said he found the work tracing back to just four ancestors “quite plausible‚Ķ I think they’ve done a really good job of tackling this question.”

 

But he said it’s not clear the women lived in Europe.

Of course, the number four is already significant, in that there are four matriarchs in Judaism: Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah.

5 thoughts on “Genetic Study on Ashkenazi Jews”

  1. Those are the four then.

    Remember that Rivkah was Esau’s mother as well. And Esau has genetic descendants among a large number of Europeans.

    But what would seriously hammer this study home for me is if they found out that all the Sephardi Jews were descendents of the same four women. Otherwise, we’re clearly NOT talking about Rachel, Leah, Bilhah, And Zilpah.

    -ron

  2. Dennis Michael Franco

    Last Oct 2007, my 93 year old aunt told me I was adopted. The state of Illinois dept of Vital records confirmed that I was adopted and said the my birth parents were 39 years (father) and 23 years (mother). Birth records of adopted children in illinois are sealed. I had my y chromosome DNA tested and I was told that my dna 12 marker matches belong to the E3b Jewish F cluster. My father was an Ashkenazi Jew from Easter Europe. I found the posting in a Chicago Law Newspaper saying: petition Anthony Franco and wife to adopt Dennis Michael Berner, McDonald & Rohan attys. Berner is a name found in the records on JewishGen.com from Eastern European countries.

    The only Berner male that would have been 39 years old when I was born on the Illinois Social Security Death index is Peter Berner born 2 jan 1907. His parents immigrated from Austria-Hungary.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Denny

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