My company — FamilyTreeDNA — pioneered an entire industry. Back in 2000, it was the first company in the world to start offering the direct-to-consumer DNA tests that allow people to learn about their ancestry.
As the COO and General Partner of the company, I can say that our position has always been clear: DNA should not be used as a discriminatory tool.
DNA tests can have many good uses, and can often lead to fundamental and positive changes in lives. For instance: since our founding and until today, we repeatedly receive requests from people of Hispanic, Brazilian and Portuguese origin, who often carry a tradition of having Jewish ancestors and were forcefully converted to Catholicism during the Inquisition. Known as the Bnei Anusim, they are eager to demonstrate through a DNA test they indeed have some Jewish ancestry. If we can help in proving that claim, we feel that we are doing a mitzvah. The results don’t always meet their expectations, but when they do, we witness joy. Usually, their next step is to ask if this would allow them to make aliyah, and we explain that unfortunately not. Many of them have a strong feeling of identity with the Jewish people and practice Judaism, and some even partake in a halachic conversion. Others, while proud of their Jewish ancestry, do not want to adopt Judaism, but still, feel a strong connection to Israel.
This kind of use of DNA tests should be supported by the Israeli Rabbinate, the Israeli government, and all those who wish to strengthen the Jewish people and Israel.
I’ll illustrate what I am saying with one case among many that we have come across:
A few years ago, I received an email from someone in Brazil who took a DNA test. He asked me if it could be possible that his result showed that his background was of Arab ancestry. In looking at his results, I e-mailed him back saying that his DNA showed a close association with people of Jewish ancestry.
That evening when I got home, I told the story to my wife, and she jokingly said: “Are you nuts? He’s asking if he’s Arab, and you tell him he is Jewish?” Well, the next morning, as I arrive to my office and open my emails, here’s what he replied to me: “Thank you so much. This is the answer I’ve been waiting for all my life! Shalom!”
Using a DNA test to validate Bnei Anusim claims of Jewish ancestry is different from using DNA to prove the Jewishness of children of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, or Ethiopian Jews who want to register for marriage among other things. Their Jewish and Israeli identity should not be challenged by a DNA test.
The many hundreds of thousands who want to use a DNA test to prove that they have Jewish ancestry should be encouraged to do so, and upon confirmation, should be recognized as having Jewish ancestry.