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Genes Set Jews Apart, Study Finds

from the Los Angeles Times (Registration Required)

Jews of European descent living on opposite sides of the globe are more closely related to one another than they are to their fellow countrymen, according to the largest study ever conducted of what it means genetically to be Jewish. Ashkenazis, the primary group descended from European Jews, are all as closely related as fourth or fifth cousins would be, the study found.

"Jews really are different from their non-Jewish neighbors," said Dr. Harry Ostrer, a geneticist at the New York University Langone Medical Center, coauthor of the study appearing in the American Journal of Human Genetics. They are not different enough to be considered a separate race, as some experts have argued, he added, but definitely are a "distinct population"--the result, presumably, of cultural separation down through thousands of years.

The study, which was conducted primarily to further medical knowledge of genetic diseases, rejected a highly controversial idea that Ashkenazi Jews are descended from Khazars in Eastern Europe who converted to Judaism--an idea that has recently been used in an attempt to discredit the idea that Jews belong in Israel because it is their historic homeland.

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