03 March 2009

DNA: Jaffe family study seeks participants

If you are a Jaffe (or variation), there's a FamilyTreeDNA.com project with your name on it.

Searching for Jaffe descendants of various origins is Bill Yoffee, administrator of the Jaffe DNA project, who's encouraging many more Jaffe families to be Y-DNA tested to learn more.

"I am trying to assist members of the project, after they have exhausted the use of available documentary records, to surmount their dead-end genealogical research efforts by means of DNA genealogy testing and to establish some families' connections with notable ancestors," says Bill.

One famous Jaffe is Rabbi Mordechai Jaffe, known as ba'alei haLibushim, codifier of rabbinical law, author of the book Libushim. Born in Prague around 1530, he died in Posen in 1612.

The genealogy of a rabbinical and scholarly family named Jaffe/Joffe is documented as far back as 15th-century Bologna, Italy (online Jewish Encyclopedia 1901-1906). References are also found in 13th, 14th and 15th-century Spanish records.

In Pere Bonnin's book, "Sangre Judia," the following variations appear (with date of document and city where the document was found):

JAFA - 1212, Lleida city
JAFE - 1365, Estella Navarra
JAFFA - 1400, Santa Columa de Queralt Tarragona region
JAFFE - 1311, Girona
JOFA - 1237, Valencia
JOFE - 1404, Estella Navarra
JAFFIA - 1352, Falset Tarragona
JAFIA - 1175, Barcelona

There are other variations that begin with E, I, J, Y and Z. All derive from the Hebrew root word yafeh (yud, peh, heh), meaning pretty. The Israeli port city of Jaffa has a history going back thousands of years, and is mentioned in the Torah.

In Yemen, there is both a Yafa city and province; some Arab families claim the surname is derived from those geographic localities. Families named IOFE (transliterated from Cyrillic) were common in the Russian Empire in various geographic areas, such as Lithuania and Belarus - my own Jaffe connection was centered in Mogilev.

The name is found in Turkey, Island of Rhodes, Egypt and Mesopotamia, and both YAFFE and JAFFE families are today in Israel.

The JAFFE-JOFFE spelling, according to Bill, originated in Central Europe's German-speaking lands where the character J is voiced as Y.

The DNA project has 13 members, not large enough to draw firm conclusions about the families' origins. However, the results include the following:

- Seven members carry the name or a variation, and are determined or predicted to be Haplogroup E1b1b1, common among both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews.

- Two members are determined or predicted to be Haplogroup R (R1a1 and R2). According to Bill, these have Central Asian origins, but R2 appears in a cluster of Ashkenazi Jews and is suspected to have a connection with the Khazars. The R2 member is a third-generation descendant of a famous 19th-century rabbi.

- One member is Haplogroup G, which appears to have Anatolian origins, but does appear among a significant number of Ashkenazi Jews.

- Two members are Haplogroup J1e, with origins in the Southern Levant (the Arabian Peninsula, the Sinai and the Negev) and is frequent among Arabs (Bedouins, Yemeni, Palestinians) and Jews (particularly Cohanim). One does not carry the surname. One member who does not carry the surname but is a descendant of a family that does, is Haplogroup I2b1, closely related to Haplogroup J.

A conclusion from this small sample is that not all Jaffe or variations are directly descended from a common Jewish male ancestor. Some ancestors might have adopted it, perhaps in the early 19th century, are products of those who converted to Judaism, or acquired the name through a matrilineal connection or marriage.

"Some of the mysteries may never be solved," he says. "However, the larger the sample the better are the chances of accumulating useful evidence and drawing reasonable conclusions."

Bill urges any male who has inherited the JAFFE-JOFFE surname or variation to join the Y-DNA project and provide as much family history as possible. Data is confidential and not useful for any other purpose. Project membership carries a substantial discount on the price of testing.

For more information, write to Bill Yoffee.

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