The Theory That Ashkenazi Jews Are Descended from Khazars Is Junk Science

Sept. 26 2017

At some point in the 19th century, a number of scholars tried to trace the lineage of East European Jewry not to German Jews who settled there in the late medieval period but to the survivors of the Khazar empire, which ruled over a large area in what is now eastern Ukraine and southwest Russia in the 8th through 10th centuries CE. This hypothesis, popularized by the Hungarian-British writer Arthur Koestler in the 1970s, claims that the Turkic-speaking Khazars converted to Judaism en masse and, after their empire was destroyed, settled throughout Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus, where their descendants came to constitute the bulk of the Jewish population. From this it allegedly follows that most modern Ashkenazim are unrelated to biblical Israelites, and that the historical Jewish connection to the land of Israel is attenuated if not false. Long discredited, the theory has recently been revived by a handful of academics. But the evidence against it is greater than ever, as the linguist and onomastician Alexander Beider explains:

[A]rchaeological evidence about the widespread existence of Jews in Khazaria is almost nonexistent. While a series of independent sources does testify to the existence in the 10th century of Jews in the kingdom of Khazaria, and while some of these sources also indicate that the ruling elite of Khazaria embraced Judaism, . . . we can be confident that Judaism was not particularly widespread in that kingdom.

The next historical record of Jews [in the region]—in a few cities that today belong to western Ukraine and western Belarus—shows up in the 14th century, when Jews are regularly referred to in numerous documents. And yet, no direct historiographical data are available to connect the Jews who lived in Eastern Europe in the 14th century with their coreligionists from 10th-century Khazaria. . . .

Looking at names, both first names and surnames, gives us a sense of how a community would see itself, its language, and its origins. And in the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe over the past six centuries, not a single Turkic name can be found in documents listing Jewish names. Even documents from the 15th and 16th centuries dealing with Jews who lived in the territories of modern Ukraine and Belarus have no such names.

In the corpus of given names used by Jews of Eastern Europe during the last centuries, we find the same linguistic layers as in the lexicon of Yiddish. There are numerous Germanic and Hebrew names and some Aramaic names. There are also Greek names (Todros from Theodoros, Kalmen from Kalonymos), Old French names (Beyle, Bunem, Yentl), Old Czech names (Khlavne, Slave, Zlate), and Polish names (Basye, Tsile), and very few East Slavic [i.e., Belarusian, Ukrainian, or Russian] names (Badane, Vikhne). There are no Turkic names. . . .

Globally speaking, all arguments suggested by proponents of the Khazarian theory are either highly speculative or simply wrong. They cannot be taken seriously. This has never stopped the theory from being popular. The ideological reasons for this are material for another occasion.

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More about: Arthur Koestler, East European Jewry, History & Ideas, Khazars, Linguistics, Names

European Aid to the Middle East Is Shaped by a Political Agenda

Feb. 18 2019

The EU’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Unit dispenses millions of dollars in economic and humanitarian assistance to dozens of countries every year. Although it claims to operate on principles of strict neutrality, independent of any political motivation and giving priority to the neediest cases, a look at its activities in the Middle East suggests an entirely different approach, as Hillel Frisch writes:

[T]he Middle East is the overwhelming beneficiary of EU humanitarian aid—nearly 1 billion of just over 1.4 billion euros. . . . The bulk of the funds goes toward meeting the costs of assistance to Syrian refugees, followed by smaller sums to Iraq, Yemen, “Palestine,” and North Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, receives less than one-third of that amount. The problem with such allocations is that the overwhelming majority of people living in dire poverty reside in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Bangladesh. . . . The Palestinians, who are richer on average than those living in the poorest states of the world, . . . receive over six euros per capita, while the populations of the poorest states receive less than one-eighth of that amount. . . .

Even less defensible is the EU’s claim to political neutrality. Its favoritism toward the Palestinians on this score is visible as soon as one enters terms into the general search function on the European Commission’s website. Enter “Palestine” and you get 20,737 results. Enter “Ethiopia” and you get almost the same figure, despite massive differences in population size (Ethiopia’s 100 million versus fewer than 5 million Palestinians), geographic expanse (Ethiopia is 50 times the size of “Palestine”), and degree of sheer suffering. The Syrian crisis, which is said to have led to the loss of a half-million lives, merits not many more site results than “Palestine.”

One of the foci of the website’s reports [on the Palestinians] is the plight of 35,000 Bedouin whom the EU assists, often in clear violation of the law, in Area C—the part of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control. The hundreds of thousands of Bedouin in Sinai, however, the plight of whom is readily acknowledged even by Egyptian officials, gets no mention, even though Egypt is a recipient of EU aid. . . .

Clearly, the EU’s approach to aid allocation has nothing to do with impartiality, true social-welfare needs, or humanitarian considerations. [Instead], it favors allocations to Syrian refugees above Yemeni refugees because of the higher probability that Syrian refugees will find their way to Europe. . . . The recipients of European largesse who are next in line [to Syrians], in relative terms, are the Palestinians. [This particular policy] can be attributed primarily to the EU’s hostility toward Israel, its rightful historical claims, and its security needs.

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More about: Europe and Israel, European Union, Israel & Zionism, Palestinians