Brief follow-up to yesterday’s post on Ethiopian Jewry

Regarding Pfeffer’s claim in the Haaretz article I cited yesterday:

There are different theories and opinions regarding the actual historical connection of the Beta Israel to the Jewish people. From what I have read and seen, I think this was tenuous at best. After covering this issue closely, I don’t think the Falashmura still in Ethiopia have any claim to Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.

I am reminded of a year and a half-old article by Nicholas Wade that appeared in the New York Times describing a series of genetic studies on Jewish populations:

A major surprise from both surveys is the genetic closeness of the two Jewish communities of Europe, the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim… Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews have roughly 30 percent European ancestry, with most of the rest from the Middle East, the two surveys find. The two communities seem very similar to each other genetically, which is unexpected because they have been separated for so long.

More relevant to the issue at hand, Wade writes that

The shared genetic elements suggest that members of any Jewish community are related to one another as closely as are fourth or fifth cousins in a large population, which is about 10 times higher than the relationship between two people chosen at random off the streets of New York City.

I would be interested in whether that study included Ethiopian Jews, and if not – would that be racist? or just good science? – how that data might change the results. The danger, of course, is that if the results do not show a heightened level of genetic similarity between Ethiopian and other Jewish communities, they could be used to further exacerbate existing tensions in Israel.

But I sure am curious.


3 thoughts on “Brief follow-up to yesterday’s post on Ethiopian Jewry”

  1. I’ve seen similar studies involving Ethiopian Jews, and no, they do not have an especially close genetic relationship with other Jews. I haven’t seen anyone trying to draw practical conclusions based on that data.


  2. Shlomo is correct: some genetic studies have concluded that Ethiopian Jews are not descended from the people of ancient Israel, except *possibly* for a tiny amount in common with Yemenite Jews (there was gene flow of multiple populations between Ethiopia and Yemen so this is not surprising). I gathered these studies on my website and in my book “The Jews of Khazaria, Second Edition” (2006) I included a subchapter on “Converts in Ethiopia”.

    I don’t believe in the idea of ethnic purity so I say if more Ethiopians want to convert to Judaism they should be allowed to do so. However, if they subsequently claim to be Israel’s tribe of Dan that is a deception, and I don’t see why there can’t be more indigenous Judaistic communities staying in Africa itself – as there is in Uganda for example with the Abayudaya who converted. If they want to move to Israel they have to follow Israeli law and it wouldn’t be my place to say they can’t do that either, but if they do it on false pretenses I’d be against it.


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