Study: Jews have long genetic history

June 9, 2010 at 9:30 PM
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NEW YORK, June 9 (UPI) -- Jews in Europe and the Middle East share inherited genes going back 3,000 years, two studies indicate, refuting a hypothesis put forward by a historian in 2009.

The genetic surveys, the first to use genome-wide scanning devices comparing Jewish communities around the world, contradict the hypothesis posed last year by Schlomo Sand in his book, "The Invention of the Jewish People." He had suggested Jews have no common origin but are a mix of people in Europe and Central Asia who converted to Judaism at various times, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

One of the surveys, published in the current American Journal of Human Genetics, was conducted by Gil Atzmon of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Harry Ostrer of New York University. The other, led by Doron M. Behar of the Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa and Richard Villems of the University of Tartu in Estonia, is published in Thursday's edition of the journal Nature.

One of the major revelations from both surveys is the apparent genetic closeness of the two Jewish communities of Europe, the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim.

The Ashkenazim survived in North and Eastern Europe until their decimation by the Hitler regime, and now live mostly in the United States and Israel. The Sephardim were exiled from Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1497, moving to the Ottoman Empire, North Africa and the Netherlands.

"I'm constantly impressed by the manner in which the geneticists keep moving ahead with new projects and illuminating what we know of history," said Lawrence H. Schiffman, a professor of Judaic studies at New York University.

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