Does DNA prove that Jews are a race? #dna


"By Jewish law, tradition and practice, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew, whether their nearer relations lived in Ethiopia or China or Brooklyn or Aleppo.  We are all one people (Yes, there are distinctions, divisions, biases and social advantages / disadvantages within the Jewish world but for our purposes I'm just addressing whether someone is or isn't a Jew.) “  
Like everything else in this extended discussion, this is more slippery and less simple than it seems.  Who decides what is Jewish law, tradition and practice? The complexity of this question is well-illustrated by some of the problems encountered by Ethiopian immigrants to Israel, who certainly saw themselves as Jews, but whose claims to this identity were rejected by state religious authorities in many cases.   A good examination of this particular story (as well as a pretty wrenching personal narrative) is a documentary called “400 Miles” ( ).
Erika Gottfried
Teaneck, New Jersey

Sarah L Meyer

Even taking into consideration the fact that we are not a definable subspecies biologically - and neither are Blacks or Latino/as or Asians - a much kinder term than race, the DNA can't bring into consideration conversion INTO Judaism and the halachic considerations.   So we have a AJ mother who marries a Jewish man who went through an Orthodox conversion (or vice-versa), their children are fully Jewish halachically but DNA will show only 50% AJ.   Furthermore some of us are Sephardic or Mizrachi- but many of us do have some evidence in our DNA of something other than AJ.   We are an ethnic minority - and while I answer caucasian for race, I do put Jewish for ethnicity.

Sarah L Meyer
Georgetown TX
BIRGARDOVSKY, EDELBERG, HITE (CHAIT), PERCHIK Russia (southern Ukraine) and some Latvia or Lithuania


Good reply about Genetic Determinism and such with some reservations about tying this to ancient history. 

Bantu, however, refers to the linguistic group rather than any individual ethnic group.  Same as Semitic. The slaves from West Africa came from many ethnic groups, many, if not most, of them at some point at war with each other. Peoples all over Africa including, South Africa, speak Bantu languages.

Jessica Schein

SamPam Hausfather

I would suggest the book "LEGACY: A Genetic History of the Jewish People" by Harry Ostrer, which provides some good insights to various science and neo-science approaches to defining the Jewish people. Much interesting history as well. 

Sam Hausfather
Asheville, NC, USA

Researching HAUSFATHER in Romania, KWEKSILBER in Poland, KRANTZ in Galicia, ZELTZER in Bessarabia


Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors.  Ayn Rand

Lee Jaffe

I found this question more disturbing than I anticipated.  I don't mean to imply anything about the author or her intentions – they could be entirely  innocent – but her question touches on some of the most sensitive and fraught points about Jewish identity I've come across.  Skirting the earlier points about race being a social and/or artificial construct, which should provide a baseline understanding for our discussion, I want to highlight the particularly thorny question of Jewish identity.  By Jewish law, tradition and practice, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew, whether their nearer relations lived in Ethiopia or China or Brooklyn or Aleppo.  We are all one people (Yes, there are distinctions, divisions, biases and social advantages / disadvantages within the Jewish world but for our purposes I'm just addressing whether someone is or isn't a Jew.) 

The notion that Ashkenazi Jews might be a race, and therefore distinct from the rest of the Jewish people is dismaying, to say the least.  And I think that notion goes along with a trend where other people try to determine what defines a Jew.  As already mentioned, these efforts haven't gone that well for us.   Further, I can't think of a time where defining Jews as a race has resulted in any protections: yes, as religious adherents, an ethnic group, a nationality, we have sometimes been considered part of a protected class where those identities could not be used to deny us access to housing, education, employment ...   

And therein lies my main point, that Jewish identity as understood by Jews does not fit neatly into any category(ies) understood by others.  And Jews as a race is the pigeonhole we should avoid most vigorously.  I think this is important to keep in mind at a time when Nazis (nothing "neo" about them) march with signs "Jews won't replace us," and progressive organizations ban "white Jews" from their boards because they see us a privileged, and even some Jewish organizations begin to internalize that view, worrying whether we are diverse enough.  (Representing 1% of the world's people, I bring diversity with me wherever I go.)    We are all one people, sharing a single origin and tradition and I think that's a perspective we need to assert at every turn.  Just because history has forced us into exile for thousands of years, living in every corner of world, where we've taken on different languages, dress, food, customs and even physical characteristics, we shouldn't forget that we are one people.

To put this in the genealogical context, looking at what my family has undergone over the past 2 to 3 centuries, what they have done to survive, hunkering down through oppression and taking enormous risks to escape to a better life – sometimes successfully, sometimes not – and, even after reaching "the land of the free," finding ourselves barred from jobs, housing, education until my generation, I don't and won't accept being relegated to some arbitrary label by someone with a limited understanding of what being Jewish means.


Lee David Jaffe

Surnames / Towns:  Jaffe / Suchowola, Poland ; Stein (Sztejnsapir) / Bialystok and Rajgrod, Poland ; Joroff (Jaroff, Zarov) / Chernigov, Ukraine ; Schwartz (Schwarzman?, Schwarzstein?) / ? ;  Rappoport / ? ; Braun / Wizajny, Suwalki, Poland,  Ludwinowski / Wizajny, Suwalki, Poland


Adam Cherson

A few more comments on this important topic, if I may.

Genetic Determinism and Social Darwinism were popular concepts among National Socialists in Germany and elsewhere, including the United States. One result of this perverse thinking was the genocide of European Jewry. The concept that human intelligence is primarily a product of genetic determination should be dismissed whole cloth, especially by Jews, who should know better.
This is not intended to diminish Jewish pride in the slightest, which is legitimate and deserved, but only to highlight the fine line between ethnic pride and invidious discrimination, propelled by supremacists of any ilk.

The brain is not like the nose or the legs. It is a 'plastic' organ capable of being molded by environmental and cultural factors. What we think of today as the Ashkenazic identity is both genetic and cultural in origin, the product of genetic isolation (i.e., endogamy), and of a cultural/intellectual evolution defined by many centuries of life in exile and persecution.

I believe the root causes of the exile, isolation, and persecution are ethnically based and go back to the socio-political history of certain Semitic tribes in the Near East, pre-dating even the formation of the Hebrew People. Genetic differences are I believe the underlying cause for the exile and persecution of Ashkenazim, which in turns has driven the development of certain cultural and intellectual features, adaptive to survival in this harsh environment, and magnified by genetic isolation. Having these demonstrable genetic and cultural characteristics makes it reasonable and, in a society which is governed by identity politics, necessary to consider Ashkenazim as a distinct ethnic group, having Semitic origins. Much as one might say Jamaican is a distinct ethnic group having West African (Bantu?) origins.

I prefer the use of the term ethnicity to race because ethnicity includes a cultural component with mere race does not. Categories such as white, black, asian, hispanic, semitic, etc., are meaninglessly reductionist and over-inclusive. In the future, perhaps only a sci-fi future, multi-cultural societies will I hope define their constituents in terms of genetic admixture and haplogroup rather than by these monolithic misnomers.

Richard Dawkins, a biologist raised in the Church of England, now an avowed atheist (cf. his book "The God Delusion"), is also known for his use of the term 'meme' which refers to cultural evolution, rather than genetic evolution. Stephen Jay Gould, a Jewish biologist, wrote a book called the Mismeasure of Man (which should perhaps be re-titled the Mismeasure of Our Species), in which he traces the history of and proceeds to debunk genetic determinism. E.O. Wilson, a biologist raised in the Southern Baptist tradition, proposes that the social gene is a more evolved and powerful determinant of species survival than the selfish gene.

Thanks for your attention.

Adam Cherson

On Sat, Apr 3, 2021 at 07:07 PM, Eva Lawrence wrote:
The configuration of the brain isn't as easily studied as the length of ones legs or ones nose, but clearly is also inherited in the same way.

Adam Cherson

Eva Lawrence

Like some other people in the discussion group, when asked about my ethnicity on the census, I put 'other' and inserted 'Jewish', because that option wasn't given automatically. In an effort not to hurt any tender feelings, the British govermment is afraid to use the word 'race' at all or to admit that Jews are a race,  like other equally problematic categories which they list,  although we mostly feel that we are.  Most of us if we're honest, have a slightly different attitude to our own ethnic group than to any other.

I think of it as belonging to a family, which is an indefinable feeling, but a primitive animal instinct. Richard Dawkins' memorable title 'The selfish gene' says it all. This family instinct is the result of centuries of Jews marrying only other Jews from a similar background,  which differentiated them from their neighbours and still does. 
Though globalisation and assimilation  our ethnicity was disappearing, but I can see that this 'keeping slightly apart'  is coming back, both for Jews and for other minorities, in England, at least.  Each group is accusing other people of discrimination against them, and the acts of  protest unite them  in confirming their identity as 'other'  and separates them from what they see as the indigenous population. 'Identity' seems to be the word that is at issue today. 
I am of the controversial opinion  that centuries of marrying your own kind can be seen to affect many  characteristics of the group, mental and physical. The configuration of the brain isn't as easily studied as the length of ones legs or ones nose, but clearly is also inherited in the same way. It is no accident that there are musical families and dynasties of actors.   Not that either mental or physical traits  are  the same fot al individuals in a  group, but the mathematical centre of distribution is further to the left or to the right when one plots a population graph for any one trait, mental or physical in different  family groups - call them a race or an ehnicity or what you will.  Whether the left or the right side of the average of the graph is 'better' depends on one's point of view.   Sometimes it is simply a matter of fashion (shape of nose, type of hair) at other times of the 'acceptable' or 'unacceptable' use to which that particular trait is being put ( artistic, verbal, intuitive or mathematical talent). 

The smaller the intermarrying population the more marked the effect.  This may not be true in the future,  since it has been a declining trend but it is still in evidence  today.  We all turn into our mothers, but our granddaughters are unlikely (in the statistical sense) to be as similar to their grandmothers as was the case  before the industrial revolution replaced shank's pony with the railway,  unless, of course the epidemic shuts down easy travel permanently.

Eva Lawrence
St Albans, UK.

June Genis

Whenever I am asked to supply my race on a survey I always select Other and write in Human.
June Genis, 650--851-5224
Hemet, CA
Researching: GENIS, OKUN, SUSMAN, ETTINGER, KESSLER/CHESLER (Russian/Polish Empires)

Robert Hanna

I am 100% Ashkenazi.  On any form that asks for race, I check other and write in "Semitic."  This is probably going to start a whole new discussion on this topic but, what the heck.

Robert Hanna


Adam Cherson

The Ancestry DNA results show that there is a sub-population of Jews (Ashkenazim) who share certain identifiable genotypical patterns. I would go one step further to say that these genotypical patterns include a commonly shared Near Eastern ancestry (however, it is important to note that this Near Eastern ancestry is not the only phylogeographic ancestry shared by Ashkenazim). Since no population is 100% homogeneous genetically, the facts presented by DNA evidence don't mesh well with socio-political concepts such as race, nationality, and minority status-- when speaking about genetic genealogy I avoid any of these terms.

--Adam Cherson


Protections? I am not clear on what those might be.
Given the history of the 20th century, I am not about to fill in a box marked "race" on any form.
I have always lived in the US and have felt fairly safe here, but I understand so did our people in Germany once.

Robert Roth
Kingston, NY

Steven Usdansky

My response to the race question is "Human"

Steven Usdansky
researching Usdansky, Turetzky, Sinienski, Sigler, Namenwirth

JoAnne Goldberg

Race is an artificial construct, though obviously many people have a
strong ethnic identity.

Vis a vis our endogamous population: you can search "are Jews white?" to
get a whole range of opinions. My own observation/experience as a
lifelong resident of the United States: POC see most Jews as white;
white people with origins in northern Europe/UK -- ie most "white"
Americans -- see Jews are "other" -- not quite white, not POC. I'd be
interested to know if Jews living in other countries have had similar

When I got my census form a year ago, I didn't hesitate to mark my race
as "other" and write in "Jewish." I was fascinated to learn that most of
my Jewish friends -- without any of us discussing it -- had done
something similar! No one seemed to feel comfortable checking any of the
standard race boxes.

JoAnne Goldberg - Menlo Park, California; GEDmatch M131535


Adam Turner

There is no definition of a "race" that is accepted by 21st-century biologists, so the question "Does DNA prove that Jews are a race?" makes no sense. It's a little like asking "does the fact that my spaghetti bolognese contains high levels of terpenes prove that it is delicious?" (The criteria that we all consciously use and understand for deciding whether something is "delicious" have nothing to do with its objectively measurable levels of this or that molecule; deliciousness isn't a concept that can be "proven" by biochemical analysis, but rather by our own messy and subjective senses of taste.)

While people of Ashkenazi descent tend to share particular markers in their DNA that suggest they are all likely descended from a single, small, distinct founder population that lived in Central Europe about a thousand years ago, race is a social construct, not a biological fact. The US government has never attempted to use DNA to establish who falls into what racial category, and given that the idea of race is incoherent from a scientific perspective*, it's hard to imagine why it would want to start applying such a principle now.

*For just one example of how various popular ideas (both current and past) about who belongs to what "race" don't map at all to the actual facts of genetics, populations from 21st-century Africa are more genetically different from one another than they are from other populations in Europe, South Asia, and East Asia. That is, the DNA of a Yoruba person from Nigeria tends to be more different from that of a Zulu person from South Africa than it is from the DNA of an Ashkenazi Jew or a Vietnamese person: 

There's an interesting discussion of the history of classification of Jews as a race in this article by Emory professor Eric Goldstein:

Adam Turner

Linda Lang

Ancestry DNA shows that I am 100% Ashkenazi. It does not say I am Polish or Russian, etc. The US government used to list Jews as a minority race with protections that such a classification afforded. It then changed the classification to a religion so that racial protections were removed. Would love to hear from people that better understand this.
Linda Lang
Researching Broude, Ginsburg, Frankel, Friend