And citing a widely discredited book from the 1970s by Arthur Koestler called “The Thirteenth Tribe,” he posited that Ashkenazi Jews were descended not from the biblical Israelites but from the Khazars, a Turkic people who converted to Judaism in the eighth century.

Oh, so it’s not true? I thought it was because that’s what I was taught in college. Which is why I thought I couldn’t be Ashkenazi. My ancestors moved East from Western Europe. And my Ukrainian ancestors did the same, moved to the East. Because we are so smart.

9 thoughts on “Ashkenazi”

  1. I thought there was joint descent from biblical Israelites and the Khazars. At least that’s my very-Ashkenazi family myth. Although, granted, much of that is apparently based on the fact that my father and uncles looked sufficiently ‘Indian’ back in the day to be refused service in the American southwest.


    1. Yeah, I thought so, too. Khazars were real, so why is it a faux pas to mention them?

      The rest of the speech was clearly anti-Semitic. I’m obviously not going to dispute that.


  2. There’s 0 evidence either in the Ashkenazi genome (which is incredibly well-documented) or in the historical record to support the Khazar descent hypothesis. Ashkenazi Jews are about evenly descended from ancient Levantines and Southern Europeans, having expanded from a small community of Jews in the Rhineland about 1000 years ago that had migrated northward from Italy.


    1. I don’t much care either way, but now I wonder why I was taught this in grad school if it wasn’t true. I’m inclined to believe you and not the people who taught me that.


  3. From what I have seen so far, every antisemite and / or advocate for Palestinians claiming Jews have no right to be in the Middle East in their own nation state cites this theory. This alone makes me view it and you being taught it was the single truth with utmost suspicion.

    I have an opportunity to ask an academic specialist on the concept of races and racism through the ages about this theory and will update you.


    1. Do ask. We all know how I feel about the discussions of who had the right to live where based on the events of 2,000 years ago but I do wonder why I was taught this.


  4. As Nicholas said, we now know that Khazars did not contribute any DNA to Ashkenazic Jews. This wasn’t known decades ago when respected rabbis and historians like Salo Wittmayer Baron and Abba Eban thought there could be a Khazarian contribution.

    The third edition of my book “The Jews of Khazaria” (2018) examines new genetic evidence from 2006-2017 related to Turkic, Hungarian, and Jewish populations and concludes that the Khazars are not among the ancestors of any modern Jewish population. The new genetic data also suggest that the Karachay and Balkar peoples of southern Russia are living descendants of the Khazars.

    But there is an eastern influence on Ashkenazim, and surprisingly it came from three East Asian women, at least one of whom was Chinese. I also assembled the evidence for that.

    My book’s third edition also enhances discussions of the ancestry of Ashkenazim in general, including expanded coverage of Sephardic Jewish migrations to Eastern Europe, Slavic Polish DNA in Ashkenazim, and the eastward migrations of Jews from Germany and Czechia in the Middle Ages. Arthur Koestler got much of his narrative wrong in denying the importance of German Jews and Italian Jews to Ashkenazic ancestral history.


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