Can DNA Testing Tell Me If I’m Jewish?

Posted on January 26, 2011 by Kevin in Jewish Identity   |   Print Print

 

This article was originally posted as a response to a comment on the post “Am I Really a Gentile?”

The tricky thing about DNA testing is that, like any kind of medical testing, interpretation of the results is not an exact science. Have you ever had a medical diagnostic procedure performed, then read the pathologist’s report? They often look something like this: “Well, it looks like Mr. Cohen could have such-and-such disease, but it could also be this other disease, or it may be nothing at all.” In other words, the doctors are taking their best guess as to what might be wrong with you, based on the conditions other people with similar test results have had in the past. Sometimes the doctors are right—sometimes they’re wrong. Sometimes you need more testing, and sometimes the tests never help your doctor devise a treatment. Way to go, science!

This is essentially the way DNA testing works as well: the laboratory processes your DNA swab, runs the data through a computer, then sends you a report with an investigator’s analysis (the investigator is the one who interpreted the results of your test). The interpretation is necessarily subjective, based partially on the “latest thinking” in genetics, partly on the investigator’s knowledge and experience, partly on his intuition, and partly on the information he already knows about you (for example, your family name). Certain haplotypes indicate the likely geographic location of your ancestors, which then informs the investigator’s analysis of possible lineages. If you have a concentration of these from certain parts of the world (i.e., Poland) that favor a certain lineage (i.e., Jewish), the investigator will suggest this in his report.

Unfortunately, what many people expect from their DNA results but will never get from the lab is a certificate that says something like, “Congratulations, you’re Jewish!” At best, for someone of, say, Mexican/American descent, the report will imply, “Compared to other people with your haplotypes who are certain of their lineage, the subject (that’s you!) might be Mexican/American. In addition, it appears that the subject (you, again!) had a Jewish ancestor who lived in the Middle-East sometime between eighty and 4,000 years ago.” (Of course, I’m oversimplifying and exaggerating to make a point. In fact, the reports aren’t nearly as understandable as what I just wrote.)

So, the long and the short of it is that just because you get a Jewish “hit” on your DNA test doesn’t make you Jewish—it only suggests that you may have a Jewish ancestor (remember, Yeshua had Gentile ancestors—Rahab and Ruth—but that doesn’t make Him Gentile!). Projects like the R1b and YDNA Haplogroup projects are designed to collect data in the hopes that they will be able to be more definitive in their findings (because they compare your data with others who already know they’re Jewish). Certainly, no one can wipe Jewish blood out of one’s body, but it seems, from a Scriptural perspective, that it can be watered-down to the point of insignificance—what we might also call, “lost.”

Is there a specific portion of Scripture that states that a person needs at least one Jewish grandparent to be Jewish (as I state in my article)? No, there’s not. The Scriptures from which I draw this conclusion speak to the lineage of David, which I discuss at http://www.perfect-word.org/2010/08/24/who-is-a-jew-and-why-does-it-matter/

I am 100% in favor of Jewish people whose lineage has been veiled from them to be restored to their full and rightful identity. However, for those who seek it through DNA tests, I have to ask the question: why? If you have not heard rumors from your cousins, or had a grandparent confess their Jewishness on their deathbeds, or some similar experience, what is really motivating you to seek out even a hint of Jewish DNA? Being Jewish or not being Jewish only informs your responsibility to the Jewish people and the nations—it does not change your status with Messiah, or the way the Master loves you one single bit! If you find some ancient trace of Jewish lineage and, because of it, assert that you are now a Jew, are you not then thumbing your nose at God by forsaking your Gentile lineage which He gave you? Just because the Jew has an “advantage” (Ro.3:1) it’s really no grounds for envy. Indeed, there may be “salvation… glory, and honor, and peace to… [the] Jew first” (Ro.1:16, Ro.2:10), but we’re also first in line for “rage and wrath, tribulation and distress” (Ro.2:9). Yay, Jews!

Adonai is pleased with you, and made you exactly as he intended; whether Jew or Gentile, we are all members of the Household of God (Ep.2:19). Please take all this to prayer, and consider if by leaning so heavily on DNA testing, you might be barking up the wrong (family) tree.

11 Responses to “Can DNA Testing Tell Me If I’m Jewish?”

  1. Chris

    27. Jan, 2011

    My grandfather, Samuel Hymanson, married a Gentile, and they had a son, William. They divorced soon after, and my father, from what I’ve been told, chose not to identify himself with the Jewish people or their customs. He also married my mother, a gentile. He was tragically killed, drowned, just before I was born. My widowed mother remarried a gentile, and so I have no real connection anymore to Judaism. While it doesn’t bother me terribly, some Christian teachers are gravitating to celebrating the Jewish feasts, and teaching from the Old Testament scriptures that the feasts of Israel should be restored in the Church. I’m not sure about this, since the cross did bring about freedom from judgment under the Law (though I love the OT). I still refer to myself as a Gentile, saved by the grace of God, though one grandparent is Jewish – and not present in my life at all. Sometimes I would however, like to explore Judaism, because it is so very fascinating and rich, and the world we live in has become increasingly fragmented on many levels, culturally, spiritually, and relationally. Christ is still my Anchor, but Judaism offers a kind of unified oneness from what I have observed that is desirable to my spirit. It’s like longing for my father, yet never being able to connect with him, because he’s gone.

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    • Lisa Jones

      14. Dec, 2011

      To One Quarter Jew To Another!

      Hi Chris! All I can say is Wow! Boy are you lucky! Before I can tell you why your so lucky let me tell you that I am also a 1/4 jew. However, I had my grandfather “Rosenberg” around with me for most of my adult life. I am 42 and he died when I was 33 just before I graduated law school. Anyway, unlike the problem I have where my grandfather married a scottish-irish women, “my grandmother,” they had 4 children; 2 boys and 2 girls respectively, BUT I am a decendent of one of the GIRL children! From what I understand is that because my grandmother wasn’t jewish, I won’t beable to trace my judiasm. In a way, it could be “washed out.” Not sure. But, you my friend are in a very fortunate position. Jewish heritage can be traced through DNA either through a direct male line or a direct female line. Because your grandfather, had your father, and you are a male, you can get a test that can show your lineage as good as a person that 100% jewish! Lucky you! Anyway, I had always wondered how my grandfather got away with marrying a gentile back in the the 1930′s when jewish rules were strict. Well, come to find out on my grandfather’s death bed he told my Uncle that my grandmother got pregnant with his child first. Worse yet, my grandmother was already married to another irishman from the applachian mountains, where she was also from. Consequently, my grandfather was one of the few jews that was born and raised in Ronoake, VA. Anyway, as I said you are in a very forunate position! Mostly because what most people don’t know is that the jewish blood just recently in the last half a centry started to become “diluted.” Before this time, jews had remained a STAGERING 98% DNA intacked since the “Diaspora”- (forced migration out of Israel)!!! This is more intacked then any nation of people in the world!!!!! What makes this so staggering is that for the last 2000+ years there was only 2% of DNA that is recogizably different!!! That means the Jews only married and procreated with other jews! In fact, more than 60% of all Ashkanazi Jews came from 1 of 4 women! Isn’t that staggering too? That means that out of all the blood jews today, no matter how diluted (not including converts or ethiopian jews, sephardic jews, etc.) you have a possible 60% chance that 1 of these 4 women were your great-great-great…ancesteral grandmother. Well, Chris, if I were you I would DEFINITELY take the DNA test! Yours will reveal as much as if you were 100% jewish! The best I can do is some how coerce my favorite male cousin from my Uncle to do one of the DNA swabs to find out my ancestory. LOL. Good luck! Please let me know what you find out. P.S. In my opinion it doesn’t matter how diluted a person’s blood is as long as there is a DIRECT lineage that can be traced back to one of the 12 lost tribes. You have all the right conditions that you can also find out this info as well. Again, Good luck, and please contact me if you decide to do it. I would be more than delighted to coorespond with you over the results. Your truly, Lisa….To one quarter jew to another.

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  2. ruth pinto

    31. Jan, 2011

    Thanks Kevin, you’ve reminded me of what I already knew, and what my father has been trying to tell me. He made me, put me where I am, marked me as his own, I dont need to know anything more then that, he loves and knows me.
    Thanks again for reminding me.
    May Yeshua bless you.

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  3. Lauren

    13. May, 2011

    My Father’s parents immigrated from Germany post-WWI and pre WWII. They spoke fluent German, but rarely used the language — it was only used when they wished to speak without the children (my father and his siblings) or the grandchildren (us) to know what they were saying. But I seem to recall some words that seemed more, well, yiddish, tho my grandparents were “Lutheran.”

    Years later I found out my grandfather was actually my step-grandfather, my grandmother having divorced my father’s father when my father was quite young. His birth surname is one that could have been considered a Jewish family name. My father discovered this “other” name when he had to matriculate into college and legally changed his surname to his step-father’s last name, not wanting to have to explain to his friends the change (since he had always used his step-father’s name).

    I have heard that many Jewish people who lived in Germany during the time after WWI and into the Holocaust, converted to Christianity so they could “immigrate” and that many, converted to Lutheranism, because it is/was probably closest (although nothing’s probably really close) to their birthright faith.

    My grandparents died many years ago, as did my father. The absent biological grandfather was never spoken of, because it wasn’t well accepted at the time to have divorced. The only surviving sibling to my father was his younger brother by 10 years (and a half-brother) and in my conversations with him I’ve gotten the sense that his mother’s life and experiences before she married his father, or when she lived in Germany are a mystery to him.

    It’s not that I want to be Jew or not… it’s that I’ve always had the sense that there are pieces missing and I’d be very curious to find out the answers. If my heritage was one of the lost Jews, it wouldn’t bother me a bit and perhaps would compel me to find out even more about the responsibilities and significances of that heritage. If I were to find out I were not, and were to find out some other lineage, then I guess I would know much more than I do now.

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  4. Silvia

    04. Jul, 2012

    Sorry, you guys are confused! The Law of Return and the rules for making aliyah to the State of Israel are just regular immigration laws and have nothing to do with the Torah or halachah, which is the religious law of the Jewish people.
    According to halacha, a Jew is a person born to a Jewish mother or someone who has converted to Judaism.
    It’s not someone who has a Jewish grandparent! That is just the Law of Return – a secular and not a religious law!
    Oh, shoot, I just realized you are very confused…didn’t know this was a Messianic website, well, in any case, the comment is valid to clarify halacha!
    Since you are messianics though, it’s worth noting that although in religious law a Jew is always a Jew and may return to the Jewish faith even if he/she has abandoned it, according to the Law of Return which you initially cite, however, you can only claim Jewish status if you have not converted to another religion – so, you cannot be a practicing Christian, follower of Jesus or Yeshua, however you wish to call him, and also be considered Jewish for the Law of Return.

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  5. Shoshanna

    29. Dec, 2012

    Thanks for all this information. I just learned my great grandmother was a Stern from Hebric German background so says the ancestry .com.
    However I am living in Israel and told by several sources that if you were raised Christian this is not conversion that this falls back to parents efforts and therefor with proof I am entitled to right of return.

    Reply to this comment
    • Kevin

      29. Dec, 2012

      Shalom Shoshanna, while it would be true that the test for conversion would not apply when one is raised in a non-Jewish faith, I’m pretty sure the Law of Return only applies to those with a Jewish grandparent — great-grandparent is too far removed as far as the law is concerned. My understanding is that it’s too far removed for determining Jewishness according to Scripture as well. See http://www.perfect-word.org/2010/08/24/who-is-a-jew-and-why-does-it-matter/

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  6. Novosad

    19. Mar, 2013

    I have a PhD in Microbiology/immunology. DNA testing is definitive. It answers heritage questions in absolutes. That being said I have recently discovered I’m Jewish of the Cohen lineage.

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    • Kevin

      19. Mar, 2013

      Novosad — thank you for your reply to this. Since you are an expert, could you please explain for us (or point us to others’ explanations) in what way “DNA testing is definitive” and how it “answers heritage questions in absolutes”? Also, if you feel at liberty to share, I would be interested in knowing how far back your closest Jewish descendant is, and how you were able to determine your kohanite lineage. Thanks! -KG

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  7. Arie Stein

    30. Aug, 2013

    I am a female. My father’s mother was Jewish. My father married a gentile. All my cousins, from my father’s sisters, are practicing Jews. Because my Jewish father married a gentile I am not considered a Jew . I feel cheated. What DNA test would reveal my Jewish heritage?

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