I read with some interest a blog post by David Sarna in which he proposes that his ancestors were not descended from “liberal” Ashkenazi Jews (possibly said with tongue in cheek). I am unable to comment on any articles on this website, as I do not have Facebook, Hotmail or Yahoo. But I thought an explanation was called for, hence this post.
The short version of Sarna’s thesis is that he is right, in more ways than one. Sarna’s Y chromosome haplogroup is J2, which he explained is less common among Ashkenazim and more common among Sephardim. The Y chromosome is passed from father to son, suggesting that Sephardim are more patrilineal than Ashkenazim. J2 is an eastern semitic haplotype having its origins in Mesopotamia, later called Chaldea. J2’s distribution shows it as having descended from our forefather Abraham, the evidence of which I will skip over for now to get to Sarna’s point.
Yesterday’s science news included
this little DNA tidbit. The synopsis of the discovery is that the Y chromosome is primarily concerned with ensuring its own survival by asserting despotic control over the rest of the genome. Scientific American says “Y is a bastion of elite genes” explaining that the Y chromosome had been assumed to be shrinking away to nothingness but this latest discovery contradicts the theory that the shrinkage must end with the extinction of all males. In fact, this new evidence shows that the Y chromosome has eliminated every piece of itself that does not contribute to its own survival, and this elimination has been occurring for a very long time. It may even be stated that the Y chromosome is the avant-garde of evolution and forcibly taking the rest of the genome with it. If you believe that God is eugenically directing human evolution, the Y chromosome is the main focus of “His” interest.
Ashkenazi Jews are largely descended patrilineally from non-semitic haplotypes. One article Sarna referenced (Coffman) explains about the influx of Khazar genes into the Jewish gene pool as the Khazar empire was overrun by the spread of the new religion of Islam, which the Khazars despised. This explanation makes sense because the newly converted Khazar royalty exploited a loophole in Jewish law to achieve high penetration (genetically speaking!). A man could marry the daughter of a famous rabbi for instant status, and so the rabbinical dynasties were the favored target of Khazar royalty. Compare this genetic promiscuity to laws regarding the Kohanim, which forbade marriage of a Kohenet to a convert. But the marriage of a Khazar male to a rabbi’s daughter was halachically legal, and so Khazar genes entered the Jewish gene pool at the highest level. Rabbis typically moved around easily, had social resources and many children. Because of these advantages, Khazar Y haplotypes propagated rapidly over a wide region of Europe.
The result of this non-semitic Y chromosome influx is that many generations later Ashkenazi Jews are different. More assimilated, more liberal and more strident in their politics. Sephardim had the Catholic church to deal with and would only convert if forced to, while Ashkenazim happily embraced the haskalah. A good example is the early 1800s when Napoleon declared the Jews emancipated. Jews entered academia en masse and that generation took Germany in such a politically liberal direction that a crackdown by the old school occurred and Germany swung to the far right. No such political takeover was ever attempted in Sephardic land, it would be unthinkable. The Sephardim, having more of the semitic J2 haplotype, were not really interested in a political takeover.
Sarna and myself are really treading on thin ice here, but the DNA evidence pretty much explains why Ashkenazi Jews are so liberal. And the evidence suggests that Ashkenazi Jews are patrilineally descended from Khazar royalty, in agreement with Sarna’s anecdotal musings. But any time you invoke Khazars, genetic predisposition or question the collective Jewishness of a group you are asking for trouble. So hopefully there won’t be any trouble, nobody will read this and I am just writing to myself.