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There is an obvious ethnic subdivision within Jews, between the Sephardic and the Ashkenazi. In several vaguely antisemitic websites (see for instance, here, here, and here ), but also in a completely un-anti-Semitic book The Thirteenth Tribe: The Khazar Empire and Its Heritage, (Arthur Koestler 1976), there is this claim that the Ashkenazi Jews are largely descended from the Khazars, who converted to Judaism in the 7-8th century. The medieval conversion of the Khazars to Judaism is well accepted, and among other places, it is described in Yehudah Ha-Levi's famous 12th century classic, The Kuzari.

There is some political baggage floating with this idea, since it tends to get interpreted as denying modern Jews a Biblically derived right to settle in Israel. This makes it difficult to get a straight answer from googling around. I would prefer to avoid politics, and I also would prefer to avoid anti-Semitism, just to settle the geneological question with unbiased research. I think that modern genetic tools should be able to easily trace the ancestors of Ashkenazi Jews, and determine the percentage of admixture of the central Asian, European, and Semitic elements, and tell us exactly what their genetic history was.

So to what extent are Ashkenazi Jews descended from Khazars? Can it be determined, or has the interbreeding diluted the genetic markers beyond any hope of reconstruction of those long ago migrations?

Just to disclose my biases: my father is Sephardi, my mother Ashkenazi, and I don't think any person has any claim to any land other than a deed.

  • Related: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/7919/… (Not a duplicate, more "if you like this question, you might also like...") – Oddthinking Oct 27 '12 at 0:19
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    Related (on History): Who are the modern descendants of the Khazar people? – yannis Nov 28 '12 at 20:30
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    A ScienceDaily summary, suggests that this paper supports the assertion that Khazars, along with Europeans and Semites contributed to the modern Ashkenazi gene pool : E. Elhaik. The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses. Genome Biology and Evolution, 2012; 5 (1): 61 DOI: 10.1093/gbe/evs119 – David LeBauer Oct 10 '14 at 5:39
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    Please post as an answer, I am glad someone is doing what superficially looks like unbiased research on this. – Ron Maimon Oct 11 '14 at 6:25
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    For political reasons its hard to imagine this question getting resolved. My own observation is that the capital of the Khazars was Odessa and later Odessa was capital of the Jews in Russia, and that hardly seems coincidental. Also, the city of Kiev was greatly expanded by the Khazars, and may have been founded by them. Likewise, after Odessa, Kiev was the #2 Jewish capital in Russia. – Tyler Durden Mar 10 '16 at 17:19
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No. There has been significant research into the genetics of Jewish populations over the past 20 years and "no evidence of a hypothetical Khazars' contribution to the Ashkenazi gene pool has ever been found." (Marina Faerman, Population Genetics of the Ashkenazim)

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    I have no confidence. Khazar ancestry for some Turkic Jews looks likely, and there are idiotic claims in the scientific literature, like four middle-eastern mothers. I would have liked to see a critical evaluation of the results, and a real sequence comparison done afresh here with original statistics to central asian and middle-eastern lineages, so as to get a straight answer, because I don't trust the peer reviewed literature to get it right, because there are ethically bigoted researchers out there, who are drawn to this stuff. Unfortunately the original research ban here forbids this. – Ron Maimon Mar 8 '13 at 2:20
  • @Ron In addition to the peer-reviewed genetic studies, there is also the fact that many Ashkenazi Jews are Kohanim and possess the Kohanic gene, and that many have oral histories and lineages tracing their families back to Middle Eastern origins. While the possibility of bias always exists, the overwhelming preponderance of available evidence points to the conclusion that Ashkenazi Jews are not largely descended from the Khazars. Proof in questions of this nature cannot be more conclusive. – Boric Mar 8 '13 at 16:21
  • I've deleted a chit-chat. According to our Privileges section, you should only use comments to request clarification from the author or leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving this post. Please review the When shouldn't I comment? section and act appropriately in the future. – Sklivvz Mar 12 '13 at 17:23
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    This "genetic evidence" is bunk, it doesn't withstand scrutiny. There is no "Kohanic" gene, it's an allele distribution, it doesn't support the story it is made to support. – Ron Maimon Mar 13 '13 at 13:05

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