Portuguese Jews retain genetic identity

Jan. 9, 2010 at 6:07 PM
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BRAGANCA, Portugal, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- Some Jews in Portugal are closer genetically to Middle Eastern Jews than to other Portuguese, despite having lived there 500 years, experts say.

Isolated Jewish communities in Portugal kept their genetic identity for centuries by secret adherence to their once-outlawed faith, Haaretz newspaper reported Saturday.

A study looked at families in towns around Braganca who are descended from Jews who fled the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century. Jews were allowed to remain in Portugal if they converted to Christianity, but whole communities continued their Jewish faith in secret, becoming crypto-Jews, Haaretz said.

American researcher Michael Fruend said this private practice of their faith accounted for their genetic identity.

"They made heroic efforts to sustain their Jewish identity in secret, and many only married among themselves, as the findings of this study indicate," he said.

The study by geneticist Antonio Amorim of the University of Porto appeared in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

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