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A friend asks, “Who is a Jew?”

Jew Koestler

Greetings Stephen! I have a quick question. I was interacting with a Professor of the Ancient Near East in Toronto recently. We were discussing the middle east, ancient history etc. He made an off the cuff statement, namely, “I think today it’s almost impossible to tell who is actually Jewish because of intermarriage and such.” Q: What would be your response to this? Is he off base? Can we genetically determine who is Jewish etc? Does the storyline of history indicate the Jewish people have stuck together enough to more or less tell who is Jewish etc? Any thoughts?

Great to hear from you.  Jewish identity is especially important to me today,  On  the day after Yom Kippur,  I am in the midst of a terrible fight where an effort is being made by my own famly to destroy  apart of our family’s Jewish heritage.  

So, I hope it is OK to answer you on THE-Ave.  This way any discussion we have can be in public.

My first response is a question:   Who this is this professor?  Her or his question itself seems racist and ignorant of genetics.

 Here are the facts with NO bias,

1. modern genetics can trace anyone’s descent.
2. The Jews are a people, like the French, the Japanese or … the Americans.  Peoples, even ancient peoples like the Jews,  may or may not have a genetic origin.  E.g. The recent Premier of France was Hungarian (I think) in origin.  I doubt anyone thinks Sarkozy is not “French.”  Dumas was African in origin.  Is the “Three Musketeers” not French?  Milbank recently ran for Prime Minister in England .. is a he a Brit?
3. The Jewish people do claim a root in the Judean people of roughly 3500 BCE to 70 CE.  Those people were apparently a tribe, one of the tribes we now call Canaanite. Hebrew and Arabic are the only surviving Canaani languages.

Whoever was a member of that tribe, and wherever the tribe began, the Jews even in ancient Judea, like many modern peoples (e.g. the French, the Kwakiutl of BC or the Lakota of the US, and even the Japanese) had a process for accepting others into our people. Notable examples include  Tziporah (wife of Moses) and Ruth … mother of David, Akiba … rabbinic leader of bar Kochba revolt, Hillel … grandson of converts and the source of much that Christians consider words of Jesus.   Outside of hard fact or the legends of the Tanach,  genetic and historical data suggest that the real Moses may have been an Egyptian or a Hyksos convert. Capers Funnye (cousin of Michelle Obama), is certainly a Jew.  He is also a spokesperson for African Jews. Funnye, a Conservative Rabbi,   is obviously a convert and works with Igbo people in Nigeria who wish to become Jews,
4. Genetic data shows a surprisingly consistent and long origin for many but not all individual Jews.  My own genome shows the issue. Though on my Dad’s side I am Sephardic, 23&me showed that I  share paternal ancestry with the Basque people rather than the ancients of  Judea.

Those are facts.  The question then is why would anyone raise the issue? 

Koestler, a person I call a CWL (condescending white liberal) tried to invalidate our claim to be a people by asserting that the Ashkenazim were “really” Kazakhs.  Somehow he saw it important that history suggests that a Kazakh King once converted his people to become Jews. (The history is actually not convincing.)
Koestler‘s anti Semitic implication was that “good people” should support the Arabs in their right to “Palestine.”  Factual genetics have proven that he was wrong … though some individual  Jews do have Slavic ancestors, the Ashkenazim as a group can trace descent to the middle east.

The real problem is that this question only has meaning if the Jews are a “race” .. a genetically defined set of individuals.  Crudely put, Koestler  and his ilk see the Jews rather more like a dog breed than a human people.  Who makes such a claim?  … the Japanese, Hindu fundamentalists, some tribal groups in the Americas, Africa, and New Guinea.  Not even the most fundamentalist Israeli rabbi would make such a claim. Farrakhan, Hitler, and their ilk are the worst examples of the horror such racism creates.

Hope this helps!


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