10 October 2007

DNA: Nu? So who's a Q?

New Yorker Uzi Silber's opinion piece, "My Forefathers Were Yurt-Dwelling Siberians" in The Forward focuses on DNA and Jewish genealogy.

The thorny issue of just who belongs to the Chosen People is, in my opinion, likely to remain unresolved forever, or at least until the Messiah arrives with the answer. And to be honest, that’s just fine with me, since this whole issue doesn’t concern me directly. You see, I happen to boast an unassailable Jewish pedigree, so the question of “Who is a Jew?” has no resonance for me, at least on a personal level.

There is, however, another question not entirely unrelated that could potentially render brittle my strictly kosher certification. For me, the real question isn’t “Who is a Jew,” but rather “Who is a Q?”

Silber goes on to say that he was inspired to test after watching a "60 Minutes" segment some time ago about the Kohanim project.

In case you've been out of the genealogical loop for some time, the Kohanim project had its origins when Dr. Karl Skorecki of Haifa, at his regular Shabbat service, realized that the congregation's Ashkenazi and Yemeni Kohens, despite very different appearances, both claimed descent from Aaron (brother of Moses) who lived some 3,000 years ago.

The research focused on Y-DNA of Kohanim, the inherited Jewish priestly class, passed down through history through the male line; about 5% of the world's Jewish population of 12 million. Half the Kohanim carry a distinctive marker tracing their ancestry to a man who lived some 3,000 years ago, when Aaron lived in the Middle East.

Until genetic genealogy developed by connecting biology and anthropology there was no way to prove this. The result is genetic anthropology or genetic genealogy.

Middle Eastern populations were closely related genetically, writes Silber:

Research has shown that a major element of most contemporary Jewish populations worldwide were connected to ancient Middle Eastern Israelite populations, as well as that an ancient familial relationship existed between Jews and Eastern Mediterranean Arabs and that Jews were also closely related to Kurds in southeastern Turkey.

Silber discovered the National Geographic Society Genographic Project which could reveal his deep ancestry of thousands of years ago.

It seemed I’d finally be able to certify my kosher pedigree linking myself inextricably to King David and the prophet Isaiah. And so it came to pass that I sent away for what may be, at $100, the world’s most expensive swab, which I then rubbed inside my cheek and returned to a lab in Texas.

My test results appeared on the Genographic Web site three months later. The result? This glatt Jew was a member of a certain Haplogroup Q.

Nu? So what's a Q?

Q developed about 20,000 years ago in what is today Siberia, and Silber realized:

In other words, I am a direct descendant not of a swarthy Judahite shepherd or Galilean Bronze Age fig farmer, but of a burly yurt-dwelling Siberian sharing tundra turf with herds of still-extant mammoths.

Of course, Q also wandered around a bit, crossed the Bering Strait and became Native Americans.

His branch kept wandering; cousins of ancient ancestry went to Scandinavia and to current-day Poland and Hungary, where Silber's father was born.

He mentions the Khazars - Central Asians who converted to our crowd more than 1,000 years ago. Q is also one of the founding lineages of Ashkenazi Jewry.

Read more here.

This story also gave a head's-up to Family Tree DNA. He didn't mention the company by name, but we all know which DNA genetic genealogy company is in Texas, and that they do the testing for the National Geographic project, right?

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