Who Are The Jews In Israel Today?


Growing up under Christian Zionist and dis­pen­sa­tion­al­ist teach­ings, I took for grant­ed that the fol­low­ing nar­ra­tive that was pre­sent­ed to me was the cor­rect one:

The Jewish peo­ple in Israel are direct descen­dants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and God restored them to their land as a nation in 1948 in ful­fill­ment of Bible prophe­cy. The Palestinians, on the oth­er hand, are new­ly-arrived Arabs, main­ly from Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, who flood­ed the land when they saw the Jews begin­ning to come back from Russia, Europe, and elsewhere.

Although it’s been a num­ber of years since I learned that this nar­ra­tive is far from cor­rect, more recent­ly I’ve learned some details that, if true, take this dis­tor­tion to the next lev­el. They show the claims of Christian Zionism and dis­pen­sa­tion­al­ism to be even fur­ther off-base, not only Biblically but also in terms of history.

I recent­ly read an arti­cle writ­ten by Schlomo Sand, an Israeli his­to­ry pro­fes­sor at Tel Aviv University, whose par­ents were Polish Jewish sur­vivors of the Holocaust. I don’t agree with Sand’s stance on the Old Testament, but he makes some inter­est­ing state­ments regard­ing the inhab­i­tants of Palestine in the cen­turies pri­or to Israel becom­ing a nation in 1948:

[After Jerusalem’s destruc­tion in 70 AD], apart from enslaved pris­on­ers, the pop­u­la­tion of Judea con­tin­ued to live on their lands, even after the destruc­tion of the sec­ond tem­ple. Some con­vert­ed to Christianity in the 4th cen­tu­ry, while the major­i­ty embraced Islam dur­ing the 7th cen­tu­ry Arab conquest.

Most Zionist thinkers were aware of this: Yitzhak Ben Zvi, lat­er pres­i­dent of Israel, and David Ben Gurion, its first prime min­is­ter, accept­ed it as late as 1929, the year of the great Palestinian revolt. Both stat­ed on sev­er­al occa­sions that the peas­ants of Palestine were the descen­dants of the inhab­i­tants of ancient Judea.“

[See David Ben Gurion and Yitzhak Ben Zvi, Eretz Israel in the past and present, 1918 (in Yiddish), and Jerusalem, 1980 (in Hebrew); Yitzhak Ben Zvi,Our pop­u­la­tion in the coun­try, Executive Committee of the Union for Youth and the Jewish National Fund, Warsaw, 1929 (in Hebrew).]

Sand goes on to talk about the large impact of Jewish pros­e­ly­tiz­ing, espe­cial­ly dur­ing the Middle Ages, when non-Jews, eth­ni­cal­ly speak­ing, con­vert­ed to the Jewish reli­gion. He adds,

The most sig­nif­i­cant mass con­ver­sion occurred in the 8th cen­tu­ry, in the mas­sive Khazar king­dom between the Black and Caspian seas. The expan­sion of Judaism from the Caucasus into mod­ern Ukraine cre­at­ed a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of com­mu­ni­ties, many of which retreat­ed from the 13th cen­tu­ry Mongol inva­sions into east­ern Europe. There, with Jews from the Slavic lands to the south and from what is now mod­ern Germany, they formed the basis of Yiddish culture.”

[Yiddish, spo­ken by the Jews of east­ern Europe, was a Germano-Slavic lan­guage incor­po­rat­ing Hebrew words.]

Sand was an Israeli sol­dier for three years and fought in the Six-Day War of 1967, so it’s inter­est­ing what he says next:

The Israeli forces who seized Jerusalem in 1967 believed them­selves to be the direct descen­dents of the myth­ic king­dom of David* rather than – God for­bid – of Berber war­riors or Khazar horse­men. The Jews claimed to con­sti­tute a spe­cif­ic eth­nic group that had returned to Jerusalem, its cap­i­tal, from 2,000 years of exile and wandering.

…Since the 1970s sup­pos­ed­ly sci­en­tif­ic research, car­ried out in Israel, has des­per­ate­ly striv­en to demon­strate that Jews through­out the world are close­ly genet­i­cal­ly relat­ed… By val­i­dat­ing an essen­tial­ist, eth­no­cen­tric def­i­n­i­tion of Judaism it encour­ages a seg­re­ga­tion that sep­a­rates Jews from non-Jews – whether Arabs, Russian immi­grants or for­eign work­ers… But Jews world­wide have always tend­ed to form reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties, usu­al­ly by con­ver­sion; they can­not be said to share an eth­nic­i­ty derived from a unique ori­gin and dis­placed over 20 cen­turies of wandering.“

*Please note that I dis­agree with Sand when he says that David’s king­dom was mythic.

Arthur Koestler (1905 – 1983) was a Jewish author and jour­nal­ist from Hungary (lat­er a British cit­i­zen) who wrote a book in 1976 titled, “The Thirteenth Tribe: The Khazar Empire and Its Heritage” (avail­able in PDF form here). Koestler’s the­sis was that a major­i­ty of Jews today have ances­tral roots in the ancient Khazar region (cor­re­spond­ing to mod­ern SW Russia, Eastern Ukraine, and Western Kazakhstan), where many mem­bers of the Khazar roy­al­ty and also of the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion con­vert­ed to Talmudic Judaism in the 8th cen­tu­ry AD and adopt­ed the Yiddish lan­guage, which is based on the Hebrew alpha­bet. Toward the end of Koestler’s book, he sum­ma­rized its con­tents with these words:

In Part One of this book I have attempt­ed to trace the his­to­ry of the Khazar Empire based on the scant exist­ing sources. In Part Two, Chapters V‑VII, I have com­piled the his­tor­i­cal evi­dence which indi­cates that the bulk of Eastern Jewry — and hence of world Jewry — is of Khazar-Turkish, rather than Semitic, ori­gin. In the last chap­ter I have tried to show that the evi­dence from anthro­pol­o­gy con­curs with his­to­ry in refut­ing the pop­u­lar belief in a Jewish race descend­ed from the bib­li­cal tribe.”

Koestler stat­ed that his research under­mined many accu­sa­tions of anti-Semitism, since many Jews are not even Semitic. His work was under­stand­ably con­sid­ered to be con­tro­ver­sial. Some DNA experts were crit­i­cal or skep­ti­cal of it, while oth­ers agreed. Dr. Eran Elhalk and Dr. Avshalom Zoossmann-Diskin are two geneti­cists who agree with Koestler’s hypoth­e­sis. They con­duct­ed a 2012 study at John Hopkins University, find­ing that the European Jewish pop­u­la­tion fea­tured a mix of Caucasus, European, and Semitic ances­tries. Their work is summed up in this abstract pub­lished by Oxford University Press:

The ques­tion of Jewish ances­try has been the sub­ject of con­tro­ver­sy for over two cen­turies and has yet to be resolved. The “Rhineland hypoth­e­sis” depicts Eastern European Jews as a “pop­u­la­tion iso­late” that emerged from a small group of German Jews who migrat­ed east­ward and expand­ed rapid­ly. Alternatively, the “Khazarian hypoth­e­sis” sug­gests that Eastern European Jews descend­ed from the Khazars, an amal­gam of Turkic clans that set­tled the Caucasus in the ear­ly cen­turies CE and con­vert­ed to Judaism in the 8th cen­tu­ry. Mesopotamian and Greco – Roman Jews con­tin­u­ous­ly rein­forced the Judaized empire until the 13th cen­tu­ry. Following the col­lapse of their empire, the Judeo – Khazars fled to Eastern Europe. The rise of European Jewry is there­fore explained by the con­tri­bu­tion of the Judeo – Khazars. Thus far, how­ev­er, the Khazars’ con­tri­bu­tion has been esti­mat­ed only empir­i­cal­ly, as the absence of genome-wide data from Caucasus pop­u­la­tions pre­clud­ed test­ing the Khazarian hypoth­e­sis. Recent sequenc­ing of mod­ern Caucasus pop­u­la­tions prompt­ed us to revis­it the Khazarian hypoth­e­sis and com­pare it with the Rhineland hypoth­e­sis. We applied a wide range of pop­u­la­tion genet­ic analy­ses to com­pare these two hypothe­ses. Our find­ings sup­port the Khazarian hypoth­e­sis and por­tray the European Jewish genome as a mosa­ic of Near Eastern-Caucasus, European, and Semitic ances­tries, there­by con­sol­i­dat­ing pre­vi­ous con­tra­dic­to­ry reports of Jewish ances­try. We fur­ther describe a major dif­fer­ence among Caucasus pop­u­la­tions explained by the ear­ly pres­ence of Judeans in the Southern and Central Caucasus. Our results have impor­tant impli­ca­tions for the demo­graph­ic forces that shaped the genet­ic diver­si­ty in the Caucasus and for med­ical studies.
Read more here : Who Are the Jews in Israel Today?

Khazaria in 850 AD, Map Source

Khazaria in 850 AD, Map Source