Genetics, History, and the Mystery of Jewish Resilience

Nov. 11 2021

In recent years, comparative DNA studies have shed some partial light on how Jews spread to the four corners of the earth, and the possible connections of the most distant communities in Africa, India, and China to the rest of the Jewish people. Razib Khan, a geneticist, surveys some of these data, and their implications. Take, for instance, the Bene Israel Jews of Western India, who today number about 60,000, most of whom live in Israel. Unlike India’s Baghdadi Jews, whose ancestors came from the Middle East in modern times, the Bene Israel have far murkier origins, even if they are far less mysterious than those of the B’nei Menashe of the northeastern part of the country. Khan writes:

The Bene Israel clearly descend from a fusion of a Near Eastern population and local Indians. Judging by the Judaic practices in the community, and the fact that Bene Israel in genomic analyses yield some fraction of identifiable “Jewish” heritage, that Near Eastern population was surely Jewish. What’s more, the Bene Israel Y chromosomes, their paternal lineages, have a particularly strong Jewish imprint, sharing lineages found among European and Middle Eastern Jews. In contrast, their maternal lineages are overwhelmingly Indian. Overall, on the order of 20 to 30 percent of their total ancestry seems to derive from a Middle Eastern population quite similar to Iraqi and Iranian Jews.

From these questions, Khan turns to broader ones:

[Traditionally], Jews see themselves as descendants of Jacob, and to a great extent, this conviction has been validated, insofar as deep and common Near Eastern ancestry is evident in Jewish groups from Germany to Kerala. But Jewish endogamy has limits, and the assimilation of Gentile women has been commonplace from Europe to Asia and into North Africa. . . . The foremothers of many Jewish populations were clearly converts, just like the biblical Ruth, who told her mother-in-law that “your people will be my people and your God my God.”

And yet the examples of the Jews of India and China hint at the possibility that the unique role of Judaism and the Jewish people in Christianity and Islam may have been an important factor in Ashkenazi and Sephardi persistence and flourishing over the last 3,000 years. . . . If the glittering cultural, artistic, and intellectual achievements that members of the Jewish Diaspora have shared with all humanity are a diamond, created by the vice-like pressure of Christian and Muslim domination, you have to wonder . . . what unique contributions we all lost when less enduring minorities, Jewish or otherwise, were culturally and genetically subsumed into their surrounding societies.

Read more at Razib Khan’s Unsupervised Learning

More about: Bnei Menashe, Diaspora, Genetics, Indian Jewry, Jewish history

How Israel Can Break the Cycle of Wars in Gaza

Last month saw yet another round of fighting between the Jewish state and Gaza-based terrorist groups. This time, it was Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that began the conflict; in other cases, it was Hamas, which rules the territory. Such outbreaks have been numerous in the years since 2009, and although the details have varied somewhat, Israel has not yet found a way to stop them, or to save the residents of the southwestern part of the country from the constant threat of rocket fire. Yossi Kuperwasser argues that a combination of military, economic, and diplomatic pressure might present an alternative solution:

In Gaza, Jerusalem plays a key role in developing the rules that determine what the parties can and cannot do. Such rules are designed to give the Israelis the ability to deter attacks, defend territory, maintain intelligence dominance, and win decisively. These rules assure Hamas that its rule over Gaza will not be challenged and that, in between the rounds of escalation, it will be allowed to continue its military buildup, as the Israelis seldom strike first, and the government’s responses to Hamas’s limited attacks are always measured and proportionate.

The flaws in such an approach are clear: it grants Hamas the ability to develop its offensive capabilities, increase its political power, and condemn Israelis—especially those living within range of the Gaza Strip—to persistent threats from Hamas terrorists.

A far more effective [goal] would be to rid Israel of Hamas’s threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively that threatening Israel is indisputably against its interests. Achieving this goal will not be easy, but with proper preparation, it may be feasible at the appropriate time.

Revisiting the rule according to which Jerusalem remains tacitly committed to not ending Hamas rule in Gaza is key for changing the dynamics of this conflict. So long as Hamas knows that the Israelis will not attempt to uproot it from Gaza, it can continue arming itself and conducting periodic attacks knowing the price it will pay may be heavy—especially if Jerusalem changes the other rules mentioned—but not existential.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israeli Security, Palestinian Islamic Jihad