What does it mean to be genetically Jewish? | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED X-Frame-Options: SAMEORIGIN

What does it mean to be genetically Jewish?

When my parents sent their saliva away to a genetic testing company late last year and were informed via email a few weeks later that they are both “100% Ashkenazi Jewish”, it struck me as slightly odd. Most people I know who have done DNA tests received ancestry results that correspond to geographical areas – Chinese, British, West African. Jewish, by comparison, is typically parsed as a religious or cultural identity. I wondered how this was traceable in my parents’ DNA.

After arriving in eastern Europe around a millennium ago, the company’s website explained, Jewish communities remained segregated, by force and by custom, mixing only occasionally with local populations. Isolation slowly narrowed the gene pool, which now gives modern Jews of European descent, like my family, a set of identifiable genetic variations that set them apart from other European populations at a microscopic level.

This genetic explanation of my Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry came as no surprise. According to family lore, my forebears lived in small towns and villages in eastern Europe for at least a few hundred years, where they kept their traditions and married within the community, up until the Holocaust, when they were either murdered or dispersed.

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