The Largest-Ever Study of Medieval Jewish Genetics Shows a Population More Diverse Than Expected

By studying the DNA of 37 13th- and 14th-century Jews buried in the German city of Erfurt, and comparing it to modern information about Ashkenazi genetics, a group of scientists have found some groundbreaking results. Among much else, they found that one woman had the same BRCA-1 gene—which can cause breast or ovarian cancer—carried by many Ashkenazi women today. Amanda Borschel-Dan reports:

According to research being hailed as “the largest ancient Jewish DNA study so far,” published Wednesday in the prestigious Cell science journal, by the 14th century Ashkenazi Jews had already received most of their main sources of genetic ancestry. When compared with the DNA markers of modern Ashkenazi Jews, there have been few changes to the genome in the centuries that have followed.

Through careful analysis, . . . an international team of over 30 interdisciplinary researchers found that the Jews of Erfut “were noticeably more genetically diverse than modern Ashkenazi Jews,” according to the co-author Shai Carmi. “An even closer inspection revealed that the Erfurt population was divided into two groups: one with more European ancestry compared to modern Ashkenazi Jews, and one with more Middle Eastern ancestry,” said Carmi. . . . [T]he results also indicated that the “founder event” or “bottleneck” that is evident in modern Ashkenazi Jewry’s DNA predated the establishment of the Erfut community, potentially by a millennium.

The central German city was a thriving Jewish center in the Middle Ages and boasts one of the oldest still-standing synagogues in Europe. The Jewish community settled there in the 11th century; a massacre decimated the community in 1349 but Jews lived in the area until a final expulsion in 1454. At this time, a granary was constructed on top of the graveyard, sealing in the remains of thousands of Jews.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Ashkenazi Jewry, Genetics, Jewish history

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy