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Home genetics kits could identify millions with Jewish roots
By SAM SOKOL
08/31/2014
JPPI president says genetic tests tests could foster an "expanded circle of individuals" who feel an affinity for Jews and Israel.
 
Millions of people around the world may discover Jewish roots with the increasing availability of home genetics tests and concurrent growth in popularity of genealogical websites, according to a Jerusalem think tank.

The Jewish People Policy Institute, an independent body founded by the Jewish Agency in 2002, focused on Jewish continuity that conducted research regarding this issue, announced on Wednesday that earlier this summer it had recommended to the government, as well as Diaspora communities that they work to connect with people discovering that they have Jewish ties.

“Millions of people around the world may discover they have Jewish roots as a result of direct-to-consumer DNA Testing,” JPPI said in a statement, adding that it endorsed the provision of “information and points of connection for individuals who have discovered some Jewish ancestry through direct-to-consumer DNA testing.”

According to JPPI president Avinoam Bar-Yosef, such efforts would not focus on proselytization but rather on creating an “expanded circle of individuals with some Jewish roots who feel an affinity and identification with the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”

Such efforts, a spokeswoman for the think tank told The Jerusalem Post, could serve to buttress Israel’s standing abroad and help build bridges between Jewish communities and their neighbors abroad.

Furthermore, the JPPI said that the ability to determine prior familial links to the Jewish people could “offer opportunities for connecting, engaging and strengthening the bonds of the Jewish people.”

Citing a New York Times report from 2005 regarding American Hispanics embracing aspects of Jewish culture due to indications that they were descended from Spanish Jews forcibly converted to Catholicism, the think tank stated that the results of genetic tests “have the potential to deeply affect one’s self-conception of belonging to the Jewish people” and could “lead to other forms of Jewish engagement.”

“Just as the State of Israel has invested resources into the study and promotion of archeology, in part to demonstrate and strengthen the connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, by investing in the fields of genetic research and molecular anthropology, Israeli scientists could be at the forefront of this growing field not only to demonstrate the historical connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, but to help refute studies that manipulate data in order to undermine that connection,” said Noah Slepkov, author of the JPPI study.

Slepkov was likely referring to some who claim that the Jews of today are unrelated to the Israelites of the Bible such as Israeli academic Shlomo Sand, whose book The Invention of the Jewish People, which claimed that contemporary Jews are the descendants of the Khazars, Berbers and other groups. Sand’s book became a bestseller in France leading to a significant backlash by Jewish groups.
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