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.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Ashkenazi Jewry, Genetics, Jewish history

Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship