Spain & Portugal's genetic "Pintele Yid"

Michael Freund msfreund@netvision.net.il

A recent genetic study revealed that one out of every five Spaniards & Portuguese - more than 10 million people! - are of Jewish descent.

This is the biological equivalent of the pintele Yid, the eternal and unbreakable Jewish spark that can never be extinguished.
As I argue in the column below from the Jerusalem Post, if Israel and the Jewish people undertake a concerted outreach effort toward our genetic brethren in Iberia, it could have a profound impact in a variety of fields, ranging from anti-Semitism in Europe to the future of Jewish demography.
If just 5% or even 10% of Spanish and Portuguese descendants of Jews were to return to Judaism, it would mean an additional 500,000 to 1 million Jews in the world.

http://www.jpost. com/servlet/ Satellite? cid=122872812890 5&pagename= JPost%2FJPArticl e%2FShowFull

The Jerusalem Post, December 10, 2008

The genetic "Pintele Yid" in Iberia

By Michael Freund

More than five centuries after the expulsion and forced conversion of Spanish and Portuguese Jewry, the results of a new genetic study might just spur a return of historic proportions to Israel and the Jewish people.

In a paper published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, a team of biologists dropped a DNA bombshell, declaring that 20% of the population of Iberia has Sephardic Jewish ancestry.

Since the combined populations of Spain and Portugal exceed 50 million, that means more than 10 million Spaniards and Portuguese are descendants of Jews.

These are not the wild-eyed speculations of a newspaper columnist, but rather cold, hard results straight out of a petri dish in a laboratory.

The study, led by Mark Jobling of the University of Leicester in England and Francesc Calafell of the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, analyzed the Y chromosomes of Sephardim in communities where Jews had migrated after the expulsion from Spain in 1492. Their chromosomal signatures were then compared with the Y chromosomes of more than 1,000 men living throughout Spain and Portugal.

Since the Y chromosome is passed from father to son, the geneticists were able to measure the two groups up against each other, leading to the remarkable finding that one-fifth of Iberians are of Jewish descent.

THIS RESULT underlines the extent to which our ancestors suffered so long ago in Spain and Portugal.

From the historical record, we know that as early as 1391, a century before the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, widespread anti-Semitic pogroms swept across the country, leaving thousands dead and many communities devastated.

In the decades that followed, there were waves of forced conversions as part of an increasingly hostile and dangerous environment for Jews. This reached a climax in 1492, when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella gave Spain's remaining Jews a dire choice: convert or leave forever.

Large numbers chose exile. American historian Howard Morley Sachar has estimated the number of Spain's Jewish exiles at around 100,000, while Hebrew University's Haim Beinart has put the total at 200,000. Others have spoken of even more.

But untold numbers of forcibly converted Jews, as well as those who voluntarily underwent baptism, remained.

THESE INCLUDE, of course, the Anousim (Hebrew for "those who were coerced"), many of whom bravely continued to cling to Jewish practice, covertly passing down their heritage from generation to generation. In recent years, a growing number of Anousim from across Europe, South America and parts of the US have begun to return to Israel and the Jewish people.

But what makes the findings of the genetic study so important is that they attest to the Spanish monarchs' terrible success in subjugating their Jewish subjects and compelling the bulk of those forced to convert to eventually assimilate into the Catholic majority.

For centuries thereafter, the ruthless arm of the Inquisition hunted down and killed suspected "Judaizers" or "secret Jews," ultimately forcing many to abandon the faith to which they had remained so heroically, and secretly, loyal. According to the late historian Cecil Roth, the Inquisition' s henchmen murdered more than 30,000 "secret Jews." Some were burned alive in front of cheering crowds, while countless others were condemned for preserving Jewish practices.

It is no wonder, then, that many of them eventually succumbed to despair and seemingly disappeared as Jews.

Until now, that is.

THE FINDING that 20% of the population of Iberia is descended from Jews will likely take Spain and Portugal by storm.

The results, as The New York Times put it last Friday, "provide new and explicit evidence of the mass conversions of Sephardic Jews" which took place over 500 years ago on Spanish and Portuguese soil.

It is the biological equivalent of the pintele Yid, the eternal and unbreakable Jewish spark that can never be extinguished.

Indeed, it is as if a large mirror were suddenly being held up in front of every Spanish and Portuguese person, forcing them to look at themselves and see the reality of their national, and individual, history.

But even more compelling than what it says about the past is what it might just say about the future. If Israel and the Jewish people undertake a concerted outreach effort toward our genetic brethren in Iberia, it could have a profound impact in a variety of fields, ranging from anti-Semitism in Europe to the future of Jewish demography.

Imagine if just 5% or even 10% of Spanish and Portuguese descendants of Jews were to return to Judaism. It would mean an additional 500,000 to 1 million Jews in the world.

And even if many or most choose not to return, it still behooves us to reach out to them. The very fact that such large numbers of Spaniards and Portuguese have Jewish ancestry could have a significant impact on their attitudes toward Jews and Israel, possibly dampening their anti-Semitism and anti-Israel slant.

For when someone discovers they are of Jewish descent, it is likely to create a greater sense of kinship for Jewish causes. Hence, we should seek to promote and cultivate their affinity for Israel and the Jewish people.

Moreover, I believe we have a historical responsibility to reach out to the descendants of the victims of the forced conversions and the Inquisition, and to facilitate their return.

Through no fault of their own, their ancestors were cruelly taken from us. Centuries ago, the Catholic Church devoted enormous resources to tearing them away from the Jewish people, and it nearly succeeded.

Our task now should be to show the same level of determination to welcome them back into our midst.

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The writer is the founder and chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei. org), which assists Anousim in Spain, Portugal and South America to return to the Jewish people.


Why Jewish Blood Runs in Modern Spaniards

By Shelomo Alfassa / December 7, 2008

On December 5, 2008, the New York Times reported that 20% of the population
of the Iberian Peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal) had Sephardic Jewish
ancestry and 11% had DNA markers reflecting Islamic ancestors. To those
familiar with the long and dark history of the Jews of Spain and Portugal,
this is not of tremendous surprise. To understand the history of the
Sephardic Jews is to understand why the genetic testing returned such

Jews most likely arrived in what is today Spain, sailing from the holy land
with both the Phoenician sea traders and later with the Greeks. Prior to the
Phoenicians arriving on the shores of Iberia, many different groups
inhabited the peninsula. The Greeks took up sea going trade, much like the
Phoenicians, sometime between 500 and 800 BCE. The potential for the Greeks,
much like the Phoenicians, to have carried along Ioudaios (Jews) on their
sailing vessels is quite plausible. The Greeks set up emporiums (trade
centers) in Iberia and traditional Greek-style colonies in at least one city
as early as 800-700 BCE. Among these Hellenistic city-states, it is known
Jews made up a considerable portion of the population.

Long before the Spanish language came into being or before the Catholic
religion ever came to the Iberian Peninsula, Jews existed there. Jews lived
under oppressive and successive dominant societies, including the Romans,
the Germanic tribes (Vandals, Visigoths and others), the Islamic tribes
consisting of Arabs and Berbers, and eventually under the Catholic Kings,
the ancestors of the modern monarchy of Spain.

The Jews in Spain, prior to the Expulsion of 1492, were a successful people,
many were part of the aristocracy of the country. If we look at a
comparison, the Spanish Jews of 1340, were no less influential and vital to
cities in Spain as were the Jews to New York City in 1940; the same can be
said of the Jews of Baghdad of the same year. They were judicial and
political leaders, heads of government, they held legislative power, and
they either controlled or could at least influence those, which were in
charge of communal infrastructure. Like the Jews of Baghdad and New York
City of 1940, the Jewish community in Spain some 600 years earlier possessed
many wealthy and powerful individuals, both serving in the private sector as
well as for the government.

The events leading up to the final Expulsion of the Jews from Iberia between
1492-1497 are written in the book of the darkest days of the Jewish people;
this period was the worst period for the Jewish people since the destruction
of ancient Jerusalem and prior to the Holocaust. If they did not leave by
threat of expulsion, those Jews which did not straightforwardly welcome
Christianity into their lives (and those that were accused by the Catholic
Church of being heretics) were often sentenced to lifelong punishment and
occasionally sentenced to death by burning or asphyxiation. Burning and
looting Jewish homes, property, stores, community buildings and houses of
prayer were common place for hundreds of years. These attacks were often
brought about by Catholic clergyman which preached fire and brimstone
against the Jewish communities. Not being able to observe their religion,
scores of Jews fled, many others converted to Christianity, ahead of and
during the Spanish and Portuguese Inquistions. Near 50,000 or more were said to
have outright converted in Barcelona alone during the pogroms of
1391-this-in a city which a couple hundred years earlier was the Western
center of all Diaspora Jewry!

The late editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia Judaica, the Oxford historian
Prof. Cecil Roth, said that in Spain, on some occasions, entire Jewish
communities led by their rabbis, converted to Christianity instead of facing
punishment and surrendering everything they possessed. In Portugal, Roth
indicated that Jews made up such a large population, that to be called a
"Portuguese" meant that you were a Jew. Roth made a proclamation in the
1930's indicating that there was probably no one in present Spanish society
of which a tincture of Jewish blood did not run.

In addition of conversion of Jews (and Muslims) to Christianity, centuries
of rape and intermarriage certainly have clouded the gene pool of those
living on Iberia. Genetic research technology is evolving at an exponential
rate. The science of genetics remains a subject which continues to develop
rapidly in both scientific terms as well as societal. In this branch of
biology that deals with heredity, especially the mechanisms of hereditary
transmission and the variation of inherited characteristics among similar or
related organisms, the genetic constitution of an individual, class, or
group (in this case the Sephardim) is being increasingly explored. The
report that 20% of the population of the Iberian Peninsula has Sephardic
Jewish ancestry is not surprising. Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews were
geographically and religiously separate populations, these two populations
often display significant differences in the incidence of genetic diseases
and medical conditions, as well as markers which can be isolated through testing of
their blood groups, chromosomal testing and through the examination of
maternal mitochondrial DNA.

The Sephardic Jews make up the second largest division of the Jewish
population; they have their historic roots in Spain, Portugal, as well as
due to migrations, in North Africa. Sephardic Jews comprise the second
largest group in the worldwide Jewish population after Ashkenazic Jews that
stem from Central and Eastern Europe. They have developed and possess a
shared relationship based upon unique religious traditions, collective
ideals, customs and ethnicity. Today, Sephardic Jews inhabit all corners of
the earth, with large populations living in North and South America as well
as France, Turkey and Israel. Smaller populations exist in The Netherlands,
Britain and the Balkans.

Shelomo Alfassa is a historian and writer concentrating on Sephardic Jewry.

He has written several books, including: "Ethnic Sephardic Jews in the
Medical Literature." www.alfassa. com

This essay is available for syndication

C Shelomo Alfassa

http://www.alfassa. com/dna.html


In an article in Publico, Portugal's premier national newspaper, reporter Ana Gerschenfeld quotes João Lavinha, a co-author of a recent report in the American Journal of Human genetics entitled, The Genetic Legacy of Religious Diversity and Intolerance: Paternal Lineages of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula. Mr. Lavinha of the Centre for Human Genetics in Lisbon, Portugal, was surprised at the percentage of Portuguese men possessing the Sephardic gene, 35% in the south and 25% in the North.

A nossa grande mestiçagem
Ana Gerschenfeld

Se aprendeu na escola que os judeus e os mouros foram expulsos da Península Ibérica pela Inquisição, desengane-se. A população actual da Península Ibérica, e de Portugal em especial, revela uma enorme mestiçagem com estes dois povos, promovida precisamente... pela intolerância religiosa. Os genes contam a história. Por Ana Gerschenfeld

a Não é raro ouvir um português dizer, falando com algum orgulho das suas hipotéticas mas exóticas raízes, que "tem um avô judeu" - e isso, apesar de não haver, oficialmente, muitos judeus a residir em Portugal desde há uns 500 anos. Mas a acreditar num estudo genético dos homens da Península Ibérica agora publicado, esta afirmação, que até aqui era mais uma boutade do que outra coisa, revela-se muito mais certeira do que se pensava. O estudo sugere que o tetra-tetra-tetra-avô de muitos portugueses terá sido um judeu sefardita - ou um muçulmano do Norte de África - que, para escapar à morte e à deportação, à "limpeza étnica", para usar um termo moderno, promovida pela Inquisição, se terá convertido ao cristianismo, forçado ou por vontade própria. Fundiu-se na população geral e abandonou a sua fé e cultura originais, para depois acabar por esquecê-las.
O estudo, ontem publicado on-line no American Journal of Human Genetics, tem por título O Legado Genético da Diversidade Religiosa e da Intolerância: Linhagens paternas dos cristãos, judeus e muçulmanos na Península Ibérica e abrange a totalidade do que são hoje Espanha, Portugal e as ilhas Baleares. Mostra que a mestiçagem dos povos ibéricos ancestrais com os judeus e com populações do Magrebe deixou marcas detectáveis nos genes das populações ibéricas actuais. E, neste contexto, Portugal surge como o campeão: é por cá, especialmente no Sul do país, que a presença de genes "não-ibéricos" atinge os seus máximos - máximos que se revelam, aliás, inesperadamente elevados.
Em linhas gerais, os judeus chegaram à Península Ibérica no início da era cristã, no tempo do Império Romano, vindos do Médio Oriente, e permaneceram até ao final do século XV: esses judeus são os chamados judeus sefarditas (Sefarad, em hebreu, significa Espanha). Os povos berberes do Norte de África, por seu lado, vieram para a península no século VIII e permaneceram até ao século XV-XVI. Tanto os sefarditas como os magrebinos foram expulsos ou obrigados a converter-se ao cristianismo pela Inquisição, num processo que na realidade demorou séculos e foi marcado por várias ondas de intolerância religiosa.
A equipa internacional de cientistas que fez o estudo - e que inclui investigadores portugueses - analisou a genealogia genética de mais de mil homens da Península Ibérica através da evolução do seu cromossoma Y (o cromossoma do sexo masculino). Como este cromossoma é transmitido, ao longo das gerações, de pai para filho, é muito útil nos estudos deste tipo (embora só nos homens, claro). O ADN do cromossoma vai sofrendo mutações ao longo do tempo e essas mutações constituem "marcadores" que permitem reconstituir as linhagens paternas. Dois tipos de marcadores no cromossoma Y serviram neste estudo. Os primeiros, ditos STR (short tandem repeats), são feitos da repetição de um mesmo pequeno fragmento de ADN. São alterações genéticas que surgem com muita frequência aquando da transmissão do cromossoma Y de pai para filho, e como a taxa dessas mutações, que é relativamente constante, é conhecida, funcionam como um "relógio" molecular. Como uma "escala do tempo", disse ao P2 João Lavinha, responsável pela unidade de investigação do Departamento de Genética do Instituto de Saúde Ricardo Jorge, em Lisboa - e um dos co-autores do estudo: "Permitem saber há quantos anos aqueles Y cá estão." O segundo tipo de marcadores, ditos binários, são mutações muito menos frequentes que consistem quer em alterações pontuais do ADN (numa só "letra" desta imensa molécula), quer em fragmentos que são apagados ou acrescentados. "São detalhes na sequência [neste caso, do cromossoma Y] que, pela sua presença ou ausência, informam sobre a origem geográfica desse Y", acrescenta João Lavinha. "No estudo, utilizámos 28 marcadores binários."
Populações parentais
Os cientistas, liderados por Mark Jobling, da Universidade de Leicester, no Reino Unido, partiram de três populações ancestrais ou "parentais" de referência: a dos "ibéricos" (constituída pelos cromossomas Y de 116 bascos, considerados como os mais próximos parentes das populações ibéricas mais antigas); a dos magrebinos (os cromossomas Y de 361 homens do Sara Ocidental, Marrocos, Argélia, Tunísia); e a dos judeus sefarditas (174 homens que se autodesignam como tal, entre os quais 16 de Belmonte e o resto da Bulgária, Grécia, Espanha, Turquia e da ilha de Djerba).
Em cada uma destas populações, existe uma combinação predominante de marcadores binários - isto é, de presenças/ausências ou alterações pontuais no ADN -, o que faz com que seja fácil "diagnosticar" a ascendência de um cromossoma Y escolhido ao acaso. "Há quatro tipos de combinações de marcadores binários do cromossoma Y com valor de diagnóstico", confirma João Lavinha. "O resto é ruído." Desses quatro, três são mesmo característicos de apenas uma das três populações consideradas, pois não existem em nenhuma das duas outras. Têm nomes de código que parecem sopas de letras: a dos "ibéricos" chama-se R1b3, a dos magrebinos E3b2 e a dos judeus J2. São estas combinações de marcadores que serviram de base para a comparação com as populações actuais, permitindo determinar a contribuição de cada um dos três "antepassados" aos descendentes de hoje em dia.
Quem foram os "descendentes" utilizados no estudo? Foram 1140 homens da Península Ibérica e das ilhas Baleares - ou melhor, o seu cromossoma Y. Em Portugal, a amostra consistia em 62 cromossomas Y de homens do "Norte" (definido, para o efeito, como a região a norte do sistema montanhoso Montejunto-Estrela) e 78 de homens do "Sul", explica João Lavinha. "Considerámos que esse sistema montanhoso é uma barreira geográfica que terá feito com que as respectivas populações se cruzassem menos", frisa. O material genético oriundo de Portugal fora recolhido em inícios dos anos 90 e o critério de selecção para o actual estudo foi que os homens tivessem um avô paterno nascido na mesma região que eles (Norte/Sul). "Isso significa que estas linhagens estão no mesmo sítio desde o ano 1900", faz notar João Lavinha.
A última fase consistiu em calcular as contribuições das três populações parentais ao cromossoma Y dos homens actuais. "Essas proporções são uma medida da mestiçagem", diz ainda o geneticista.
Conclusão: em média, os homens ibéricos actuais tem 20 por cento de ascendência judia sefardita e 11 por cento de ascendência magrebina. E para Portugal, em particular, os números são impressionantes. Os cromossomas Y analisados apresentam, em média, 15 por cento de ascendência norte-africana no Sul e 10 por cento no Norte. "É mais do que se esperaria", reflecte João Lavinha. Mas é em relação aos judeus sefarditas que as proporções são "enormes", salienta: em média, 35 por cento dos homens no Sul têm genes sefarditas e, no Norte, 25 por cento. "Os cristãos-novos são uma realidade", reflecte João Lavinha. "Muita gente não fugiu nem foi expulsa; misturou-se. Nós não temos essa noção, mas eles sobreviveram à intolerância religiosa."


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Gene Test Shows Spain’s Jewish and Muslim Mix


Published: December 4, 2008

The genetic signatures of people in Spain and Portugal provide new and explicit evidence of the mass conversions of Sephardic Jews and Muslims to Catholicism in the 15th and 16th centuries after Christian armies wrested Spain back from Muslim control, a team of geneticists reports.

Twenty percent of the population of the Iberian Peninsula has Sephardic Jewish ancestry and 11 percent have DNA reflecting Moorish ancestors, the geneticists have found. Historians have debated how many Jews converted and how many chose exile. “One wing grossly underestimates the number of conversions,” said Jane S. Gerber, an expert on Sephardic history at the City University of New York.

The finding bears on two different views of Spanish history, said Jonathan S. Ray, a professor of Jewish studies at Georgetown University. One, proposed by the 20th-century historian Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz, holds that Spanish civilization is Catholic and other influences are foreign; the other sees Spain as having been enriched by drawing from all three of its historical cultures, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim.

The study, based on an analysis of Y chromosomes, was conducted by biologists led by Mark A. Jobling of the University of Leicester in England and Francesc Calafell of the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. They developed a Y chromosome signature for Sephardic men by studying Sephardic Jewish communities in places where Jews migrated after being expelled from Spain in 1492 to 1496. They also characterized the Y chromosomes of the Arab and Berber army that invaded Spain in A.D. 711 from data on people living in Morocco and Western Sahara.

After a period of forbearance under the Arab Umayyad dynasty, Spain entered a period of religious intolerance, with its Muslim Berber dynasties forcing Christians and Jews to convert to Islam, and the victorious Christians then expelling Jews and Muslims or forcing them to convert. The new genetic study, reported online on Thursday in the American Journal of Human Genetics, indicates there was a high level of conversion among Jews.

Because most of the Y chromosome remains unchanged from father to son, the proportions of Sephardic and Moorish ancestry detected in the present population are probably the same as those just after the 1492 expulsions. A high proportion of people with Sephardic ancestry was to be expected, Dr. Ray said. “Jews formed a very large part of the urban population up until the great conversions,” he said.

Dr. Ray raised the question of what the DNA evidence might mean personally. “If four generations on I have no knowledge of my genetic past, how does that affect my understanding of my own religious association?”

The issue is one that has confronted Dr. Calafell, an author of the study. His own Y chromosome may be of Sephardic ancestry — the test is not definitive for individuals — and his surname is from a town in Catalonia; Jews undergoing conversion often took surnames from place names. But he does not regard his Y chromosome as a strong link to the Sephardic heritage. Assuming no in-breeding, he would have had more than one million living ancestors in A.D. 1500. “My full ancestry is made of many different individuals, and my Y chromosome tells me just about one of them,” he said.