Family Tree DNA founder: data proves Jews came from Mideast

DNA molecule. The founder DNA genealogy company Family Tree DNA says that most Jewish people descend from Mideast ancestors. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The founder and president of Family Tree DNA, one of the top U.S. genealogical genetic testing companies, said genetics prove that the Jewish people's ancestors originated in the Middle East. 

“We’re not interlopers who came here from Eastern Europe, and we’re not Serbs or Kazars,” Bennett Greenspan said during a guest lecture on Wednesday at the Netanya Academic College in Israel, Haaretz reported.

Greenspan refuted the idea stipulated in a book written by Tel Aviv University historian Shlomo Sand that modern Jews are not descendants of people who migrated from the Middle East, but of people who lived elsewhere and converted to Judaism. Yet another study published in 2012 by Harry Ostrer, a medical geneticist from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, showed that many Jews today do have distinctive genetic traits that can be pinpointed back to the Middle East.

“You can use whatever polemic you want to discredit the Jews or discredit the nation, but saying that we weren’t here is a lie," Greenspan said. Among “no less than 75 percent of Ashekanzi, Sephardi or Mizrahi Jews, their ancestors came from what we call the general Middle East” based on Family Tree DNA database data, he added.

Jews from Worms, Germany, during the Middle Ages. The majority of Ashkenazi Jews descent from a very small group of ancestors composed of both Middle Easter and European individuals. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Another study, recently conducted at Columbia University based on the genetic sequencing of 128 Ashkenazi Jews and published in the Nature Communications journal, showed that modern Ashkenazi Jews descend from a small group of about 350 individuals who lived between 600 and 800 years ago.

The ancestors of current Ashkenazi Jews were both European and Middle Eastern, according to the study, likely due to the fact that Middle Eastern Jews had settled in Europe and mixed with the local population.

Today’s approximate population of 10 million Ashkenazi Jews descends from a very small group of ancestors due a “bottleneck” effect, a drastic reduction in population size that occurred for unknown reasons about 25-30 generations ago, according to the study.

"[Among Ashkenazi Jews] everyone is a 30th cousin… They have a stretch of the genome that is identical,” Itsik Pe'er, an associate professor of computer science and systems biology at Columbia University, told Live Science.

Interestingly, one test conducted by Family Tree DNA on a Saudi Arabian man showed that 7 percent of his ancestors were Jewish.

“I told him the difference between him and me is that he’s a Muslim Arab and I’m a Jewish Arab. Period. Just like there are Christian Arabs. But the majority of us men, whether we’re Saudi, Palestinian, Syrian or Jews—the majority of us came from the Middle East a long, long time ago. Some of us left. Some of us didn’t. DNA shows that," Greenspan said.

Posted on November 13, 2014 .