Priestly paternity tests RENA ROSENBLUM, THE JERUSALEM POST
Nov. 15, 2004
DNA & Tradition: The Genetic Link to the
By Rabbi Yaakov Kleiman
Devora Publishers ISBN: 1930143893
Whether or not genetics is your forte, DNA & Tradition: The Genetic Link to the Ancient Hebrews has an element of interest for everyone. Professor Karl Skorecki says as much in the book's preface, when he quotes Albert Einstein: "If you can't explain something to your grandmother, then you probably don't really understand it."
With DNA and Tradition, Rabbi Yaakov Kleiman has written a book, if not for his grandmother, then for the scientifically challenged, like myself.
The premise is simple enough. If all kohanim
descended from Aaron, the first high priest of
From there it becomes more technical. A sampling of Jewish
In a second study, scientists collected more DNA samples and expanded their selection of Y-chromosome markers. Confirming their hypothesis, they discovered that a particular array of six chromosome markers was found in 97 of 106 kohanim tested. The odds against this happening by chance are less than 1 in 10,000.
This set of markers is now known as the Cohen Modal Haplotype (CMH). In Skorecki's words, "the simplest, most straightforward explanation is that these men have the Y-chromosome of Aaron. The study suggests that a 3,000-year-old tradition is correct and has a biological counterpart."
Motivated by the findings, more scientists got on board. By analyzing the Y-chromosome, which is passed virtually unchanged from father to son, they sought to ascertain whether "the scattered groups of modern Jews are actually the modified descendants of the ancient Hebrews of the Bible."
The samplings were expanded to include 29 different population groups (seven of which were Jewish). These populations were divided into five groups: Jews, Middle-Eastern non-Jews, Europeans, North Africans, and sub-Saharan Africans. The findings proved that Sephardi (from the Near East) and Ashkenazi (from Europe) Jews have nearly identical genetic profiles.
This profile, they subsequently discovered, is of Middle Eastern origin. Among other factors, this discovery is attributable to a low rate of intermarriage between Diaspora Jews and local gentiles.
"Since the Jews first settled in Europe more than 50 generations ago, the intermarriage rate was estimated to be only about 0.5%... Ashkenazi Jews are still closer genetically to Sephardic and Kurdish Jews than to any other population."
Interestingly, among the Jewish communities sampled, North Africans are thought to be the closest genetically to the Jewish/Hebrew population of the First Temple period around 2,500 years ago.
WHILE THESE discoveries may not impinge on Halacha, the implications are no less salient. Dr. Harry Ostrer, chairman of the Human Genetics Program at New York University, sums it up: "Recent work from genetics labs has validated the biblical record of a Semitic people who chose a Jewish way of life several thousand years ago. These observations are the biological equivalent to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls."
Kleiman furthers the significance when he quotes the famous sage, the Hafetz Haim: "We will immediately need kohanim [when the Temple is rebuilt] who are knowledgeable in the Service. Without kohanim there is no purpose to the building of the Temple."
Peppered throughout the book are biblical references to various
prophecies and promises. One example is the ingathering of the exiles - something
One example is the community of Djerba,
off the coast of
Kleiman also dedicates parts of the book to the history of kohanim, the history of the Jewish Exile, and various accounts of Lost Tribes. He provides many interesting tidbits about the origins of some Jewish names.
For instance, the common Sephardi
last name Mazeh is an acronym of the Hebrew words
mizera aharon hakohen
- from the seed of Aaron the Priest. Similarly, the popular Ashkenazi last
name Katz is often an abbreviation of kohen-tzedek,
or righteous priest. Another common name, Rappaport,
is said to have come with the family of 16th century Rabbi Avraham
Menahem Hakohen Rapa, of Porto,
One of the more compelling quotes I came across was from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: "The kabbalists actually maintained that everything that exists is the result of tzerufim - various permutations of the letters of an alphabet. It now turns out that this is not a metaphor at all. It is actually, literally true... the DNA string of those characters is all a series of letters - A, C, G, and T - which, as it were, extend to perform this huge language that is the DNA."
The reviewer is a teacher of Jewish mysticism
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Info and to order: DNA & Tradition – the Genetic Link
to the Ancient Hebrews