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Ashkenazi Dreams

December 4, 2012
Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (...

Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yiddish developed among the Ashkenazi, one of the three branches of Judaism. The other two being the Sephardim (primarily originating on the Iberian peninsula) and the Mizrahim comprising most of the others. They all more or less can trace their patrimonial heritage through the male Y chromosome to a single individual living somewhere in the middle east about 5000 years ago, about the time when Abraham was reputed to have lived. A recent study of the Cohen, the traditional priestly class descended from Aaron, Moses’ brother using DNA from males with that surname world-wide indicates that most of them are descended from a middle eastern male alive about 3000 years ago about the time the bible indicated that Moses and Aaron lived. Given that several hundred years of the most intensive archeological investigation in history while turning up scads of evidence of the other Peoples and nations mentioned in the Bible has failed to turn up much evidence at all of Jewish history older than somewhere between 200 to 600 BC, it is remarkable that modern genetics has been able to confirm at least this part of the story.

The Ashkenazi male line descends primarily from southern Italian and Sicilian Jews who migrated into Northern Europe about 400-600 AD to escape persecution by the newly dominant Christians. Genetically Southern Italians and Sicilians and the Ashkenazi seem to be closer related to each other than to most of the rest of trans-montain Europe. Unlike the other branches of Judaism, the Ashkenazi seem to have picked up a small but strong Central-Asian component primarily from the Caucuses and the area around the Caspian Sea, the ancestral home of the Khazar’s, the almost legendary medieval Jewish empire.

On the matrilineal side DNA testing shows that although there is strong evidence of middle eastern origins among the women, there is significantly more evidence of non-middle eastern origins then among the men.

Among the Ashkenazi there is a high incidence of Tay Sachs an inherited and inevitably fatal disease. The Sephardim and the Mizrahim have no greater incidence of the disease than the general population, an indication that the effects of natural selection and genetic drift happen quite rapidly and not the eons that mutations take to be reflected in a population. The Tay Sachs’ discovery may have revealed another startling fact, that the genes causing Tay Sachs may be related to those controlling for intelligence. Based on standard IQ testing as much as 20% of the Ashkenazi score 120 or higher, scoring higher in verbal and mathematical elements and lower in spatial than the general population (in other words they’re great scientists and writers but lousy athletes). In the general population the average is about 4-5% including for the Sephardim and Mizrahim. It is not so hard to guess why that is the case. The Christian pogroms and prohibitions against land owning for the Jews and against charging interest for the Christians coupled with high literate demands of the rabbinate made those excelling in abstract thought high quality breeders so to speak.

On the other hand, among the Christian West, strangely enough, those who were most literate were prohibited from breeding. From the fall or the Roman empire until the success of the Protestant revolt for the most part the most literate of the western Christians were forced into the clergy who were discouraged from breeding.

Instead we placed our genetic basket on the shoulders of homicidal maniacs whose claim to fame was the preternatural ability to take someone else’s technology and turn it into a more highly efficient means of slaughter.

As luck would have it, due to the plague almost wiping us out, and our short time tendency to compensate by breeding like rabbits, coupled with our forced procreation of priecent psychopaths equipped with proficient killing machines and a resistance to disease we in the West were able to conquer the world. Hooray for us.

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