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Ashkenazi Origins

A fracas among scientists has broken out over whether genomic information has shown that most Jews share a common origin place in the Middle East, a question that has implications over racial and ethnic identity issues, but also may be tied to claims about rights to land, Rita Rubin writes in the Jewish Daily Forward.

The central dispute is about the long-asked question: "Where in the world did Ashkenazi Jews come from?" Rubin explains.

A long-standing hypothesis has been that Ashkenazi Jews have a common Middle Eastern ancestry with most other Jews.

Rubin writes that this explanation "affirms the understanding that many Jews themselves hold of who they are in the world:" one people with an ethnic and racial bond who have scattered over the millennia.

The common Middle Eastern origin explanation is well established, and has genetic evidence to back it up. It asserts the Rhineland hypothesis, which maintains that Jews who fled Palestine in the Seventh Century ended up in Eastern Europe and Germany in the Middle Ages, and is espoused by Harry Ostrer, a professor of pathology and genetics at Yeshiva University's Einstein College of Medicine and author of the book "Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People."

Now a Johns Hopkins University post-doc named Eran Elhaik has proposed that this hypothesis is wrong, and says that he has proven that Ashkenazi Jews are from the Caucusus, and that they are descended from a group called the Khazars.

He says in "The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses," published in Genome Biology and Evolution in December, that the genetic heterogeneity of Ashkenazis is evidence for the Khazarian explanation, and that a common genetic marker found in DNA from Jews may have come from Iran.