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August 19, 2004

Who is a Levite?

The Jewish magazine Forward has an article up titled A Skeleton in the Jewish Family Closet?. The genetic angle, the possible non-Levantine origin of the Levite male lineage (the article points to a Slavic source) is somewhat old news. Over the past few years several researchers have suggested a non-trivial level of intermarriage occurred between Jews and non-Jews in the areas in which they settled, while others, including Greg & Henry reject that position (here is a post where the study referenced in the article is linked to as well as a bunch of other Judaic-genetics) [1]. My personal opinion is that after the rise of Christianity the intogression of indigenous genes was the result of one generation of intermarriage with local women by immigrant Jewish men, but we all really have to wait and see, after all, a one-dimensional picture from only one lineage (NRY, mtDNA) tells us only so much.

The bigger point is that all these "Who is a Jew" arguments based on blood (the maternal descent rule), rather than the sum total of belief, experience, culture and yes, ancestry, is highly simplistic. When one makes faslifiable assertions one must be prepared to stumble upon evidence to the contrary. In the short term these genetic studies are grist for the mill of half Jews who take umbrage at the often patronizing attitude that "full Jews" display toward them. After all, who has more to lose, a half Jew demoted to a "quarter Jew" or a full Jew demoted to a half Jew? Whose the mischlinge now?

(thanks to "Xguy" for the link)

[1] Michael Hammer referred to in the article, posits that the Y lineage is actually Middle Eastern, and just happens to be of the same haplotype as the Eastern European line. This sounds like a weird assertion, until you realize that Hammer has argued for relatively minor introgression of "non-Jewish" ancestry in the modern Ashkenazi population, that is, his position must be viewed in light of his model.

Posted by razib at 10:24 AM