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Can DNA prove Jewish-ness?

by Mrs. Dinka Kumer

  

Library » Jewish Identity » Who/What is a Jew? | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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Question:

Is there a reliable DNA test for the Jewish race?

The Short Answer:

No, because Jews are not a race.

The Askmoses Answer:

Even a 100% accurate DNA familial match won't necessarily clarify someone's Jewish identity. For example, some people are 'Jewish DNA' positive but not Jewish; because for someone to be born Jewish, his or her mother must be Jewish. So a person can have three Jewish grandparents (and subsequently 'Jewish DNA') yet still not be Jewish, if the maternal grandmother wasn't.

On the other hand some Jewish people are 'Jewish DNA' negative, yet Jewish due to conversion. They were born of a completely non Jewish genetic background and later chose to become Jewish - a spiritual transformation that has not been proven to alter DNA in any manner.

So a genetic screening may indicate biological relation to Jewish people, or the absence of this. It cannot, however, prove whether a person is Jewish or not.1

Footnotes

  • 1. Many members of the Lemba tribe in Africa have the 'Kohen gene' common among Jewish Kohens that is passed from father to son. However, as explained, this gene cannot be proof of Jewishness. Geneticists may have used this to conjecture about a Jewish and Kohen male ancestor of the tribe hundreds of years ago.

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COMMENTS

The Science of DNA

Posted by: Anonymous on Jan 21, 2009

DNA comes in several types. One type is mitochondrial DNA. It is passed specifically from mother to child and father has no contribution to it. Theoretically, it is conceivable that part of it could be unique in Jewish people. However, no DNA will ever ultimately determine whether you are Jewish - that is your decision alone.

Editor's Comment

Mitochondrial DNA testing is not valid in a Jewish Court of Law for proof of Jewish identity. This is because there is no Torah based precedent for this type of evidence. Another reason is that as of now, medical data cannot guarantee without any margin of error that this gene is 100% Jewish, as defined by the Torah.