mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)

Cracking the Code

One of my co-workers pointed me to the article Cracking the Code in the current issue of Reform Judaism magazine. It's a long article, but worth reading if you're fascinated by either genetics or Jewish history.

I've known for a while about one of the things the article mentions, which is the apparent genetic evidence about the kohanic line. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this concept, in Judaism there is a group called the kohanim, who by tradition are accepted to have all been descended from the priestly class of ancient Israel. (The name "Cohen" tends to indicate someone who is considered part of this group.) Traditionally, kohanic status was determined by the male line, so even though my mother was a daughter of a kohein, I myself am not a kohein.

If you know anything about human genetics, you can see where this is going. The Y chromosome is the only one guaranteed to be passed from father to son, so anyone who claimed to be a kohein ought to have inherited a Y chromosome that went back for generations. (I'm simplifying here.) It turned out that almost 100% of Jewish kohanic males tested in an experiment in 1995 shared a genetic marker for a common ancestor, implying that the tradition was valid.

The article in Reform Judaism magazine discusses more recent experiments that show that the vast majority of Jews all over the world seem to share a common ancestry going back 4,000 years to the middle east. Unfortunately, the article doesn't include references, so I can't verify all the claims within. And there is one place where the writers seem to equate Orthodox Judaism with Lubavitch Chasidism. I suppose from the Reform Jewish perspective, it might be hard to distinguish, but this is the first time I've ever run across the claim that Orthodox Judaism strictly prohibits abortion.

Anyway, it's still a fascinating article.
Tags: jewish, science

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