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The Race of Sephardic Jews March 4, 2009

Posted by ethnicgenome in Genetics (General), Jews.
Tags: , , , , , ,

There are a lot of people interested in race issues who suggest that Sephardic Jews are not-white. They do so without any understanding of Sephardic DNA. In fact, it is this kind of talk that leads Noel Ignatiev to write books about the Irish becoming white and that being white has nothing to do with biology, but is instead a political category of people we like and people we dislike. Either a race is to be defined based on genetic information or race is a social construct that doesn’t exist. Inadvertently, these “race realists” are actually promoting the idea that race is nothing more than a political classification.

There is simply no genetic basis for their claim. There is just an emotional desire to classify those we like at the moment as an “in-group” and others as an “out-group”.

Race is determined by genetic clusters.

Looking at haplogroups, we find the same mtDNA (materinal) haplogroups in both Europe and the Middle East with similar distribution patterns. H is most common haplogroup in Europe. It’s a less common in the Near East, but is still the most common one there as well. When it appears in lesser numbers, it is “replaced” by a higher distribution of other haplogroups which are also very common in Europe and not found anywhere else outside Europe and the Middle East.

The exception here are the Arabs because 38% of their mtDNA comes from haplogroups outside those common among whites, so they should be classified as mixed race people. But let me repeat it once more: this is done not because of the slight variations within Caucasian haplogroups, but because of such a significant outside gene flow into Arab communities.

In Y-DNA, the haplogroups do tend to bunch up in certain parts of Europe, but again, southern Europe (J2) is more like the Near East (J1) than to I and R haplogroups in other parts of Europe. (additionally, the mostly East European I is closer to the mostly Mediterranean J than to the mostly West European R.)

Were the Near East something other than white, then so too should be the Roman Empire and Ancient Greece (both known to be J2), as well as parts of Portugal, Spain, France, Serbia, Bulgaria, and so on. Needless to say that would be revolutionary conclusion.

Those Middle Easterners, therefore, who do not have significant amounts of DNA outside the Caucasian haplogroups should be classified together with other whites.

It is only a completely uneducated person who is governed by his emotions and not by facts who would classify two people with, for instance, H1 haplogroup mtDNA and R1b haplogroup Y-DNA, as members of separate races. Even if H haplogroup in Europe and in the Near East have slight variations, and they do, these variations pale in comparison to the differences with haplogroups common among blacks, Orientals, Amerindians, native Australians.

An ethnicity is classified within a particular race based on which haplogroups they belong to.

When it comes to the Y-DNA, the profile of most Sephardic Jews is very similar to that of Ashkenazi Jews and other Mediterranean Europeans.

Depending on a study, 30%-40% of Sephardim are in haplogroup J (according to Wikipedia, 12% J1 and 29% J2) and another 30% in haplogroup R1b (most common in Portugal and Spain). About 11.5% are haplogroup I, a northern European group. And a small amount is the mostly East European and Scandinavian R1a.

Another 19% is haplogroup E1b1b which is observed in significant frequencies in Europe and western Asia. It is particularly common in southern Europe and the Balkans. We find it in both northern and southern Italy, all of Spain and Greece, and southern France, as well as in smaller amounts all throughout Europe as far north as the Scandinavia.

Haplogroup E probably originated in the Near East, but most of it migrated back into Africa, both north and south of Sahara. E1b1b, however, stayed in the Near East or migrated into Europe. Rather than being an African influence onto the Middle East, it is the opposite: E is the Middle Eastern influence on Africa.

According to Wikipedia, “Most Sub-Saharan Africans belong to subclades of E other than E1b1b, while most non-Africans who belong to haplogroup E belong to its E1b1b subclade.” (Citing Fulvio Cruciani et al, Phylogeographic Analysis of Haplogroup E1b1b (E-M215) Y Chromosomes Reveals Multiple Migratory Events Within and Out Of Africa, Am. J. Hum. Genet, p. 74)

We therefore see the Sephardic Y-DNA profile to be very similar to Europeans along the Mediterranean, as well as to the Ashkenazim. The only major difference with the Ashkenazim is that rather than having about a third of their Y-DNA in haplogroup R1b (Western Europe), the Ashkenazim are about evenly split between R1b and R1a (Eastern Europe and Scandinavia).

This difference hardly seems significant enough to classify Sephardim and Ashkenazim as different races. Most West Europeans would presumably be very surprised if they were told that having more of their (R1b) than East European (R1a) Y-DNA makes someone non-white.

But what about the mtDNA.

Here the differences between Sephardim and Europeans are even less stark.

The primary Caucasoid mtDNA haplogroups are H, J, K, T, V and U (all of which derived from haplogroup R), as well as I, W and X. These are relatively evenly split throughout Europe and the Near East. Though some haplogroups are more (or less) common among certain ethnicities, the differences are merely in proportion of the same mtDNA haplogroups.

Studies of Sephardic mtDNA conducted among several communities revealed that most to have Caucasian mtDNA. We may discuss the proportions of various haplogroups, but that they are the same haplogroups is an established fact.

The obvious exceptions are Ethiopian and Indian Jews, who are almost definitely just converts to Judaism. Ethiopian Jews have the same profile as other Ethiopians. Indian Jews have a small amount of H and U haplogroups, which may be from the original Jews who converted these Indians to Judaism.

Yemenites also seem to be a mix of various groups, including Negroids. Over 8% are part of the predominantly African L haplogroup, which explains their darker skin and often times curly hair.

While the Yemenites are recognized as Sephardic Jews, neither Indians nor Ethiopians would normally be classified as such, except by the people who use the term Sephardic to mean any non-Ashkenazi Jew.

The other traditionally Sephardic-Mizrahi groups belong to the same haplogroups as do the Europeans (with no more than usual non-Caucasian gene flow).

Azerbaijani Jews are predominantly (59%) haplogroup J, which is evenly spread in same numbers in both Europe (12%) and the Near East (11%).

Georgian Jews are predominantly (58%) part of haplogroup HV, which originated in southern Italy and now common in Western Europe. It is the ancestor haplogroup of H (and also V), which is the most common one among Europeans.

Iranian Jews are more diverse in their genetic makeup, but it is still Caucasian, with H, J, U and T being the most common groups.

Iraqi Jews are similar, but have 7.4% of their population in the W haplogroup. This is not uncommon for Europeans either, however, despite the fact that this haplogroup is more common in South Asia.

Libyan and Turkish Jews are mostly H and X haplogroups. X is present in Europe so much that Bryan Sykes included it as one of the 7 Daughters of Eve for the white race. It is not a strictly white haplogroup, however, and is found in Asia as well as in the Americas. The founders of the group were likely Israeli Druze.

Moroccan Jews show high frequency of H, just as Europeans, though in slightly lower numbers.

Of course all of these haplogroups could be further subdivided and people belonging to the same haplogroup could look somewhat different.

But if race is to be defined as by genetic clusters, then it would only make sense that people in the same haplogroups are part of the same race. After all, if I and R Y-DNA haplogroups are part of the same race, it’s hard to argue that J1 and J2 are different races.

Sephardim are not the same kind of “white” as Hungarians or Irishmen. But Hungarians and Irishmen themselves aren’t identical either.

The lack of significant non-Caucasian haplogroups makes people white. By that standard, Sephardim are white.



1. latte island - March 4, 2009

Some Indian Jews actually are distant relatives of the regular Jews. Here’s a quote I found at khazaria.com, and I’ve seen this point of view in a lot of places: “More than 2,000 years after they first claimed to have set foot in India, the mystery of the world’s most obscure Jewish community – the Marathi-speaking Bene Israel – may finally have been solved with genetic carbon-dating revealing they carry the unusual Moses gene that would make them, literally, the original children of Israel. Four years of DNA tests on the 4,000-strong Bene Israel, now mainly based in Mumbai, Pune, Thane and Ahmedabad, indicates they are probable descendants of a small group of hereditary Israelite priests or Cohanim, according to new results exclusively made available to the Sunday Times of India…. [Tudor] Parfitt, who initiated and led the research, says this is the first concrete proof that ‘exiles from Palestine made it as far as India and managed to maintain Judaism in the sea of Hinduism and Islam’.

BTW, there’s probably a great deal of overlap between Ashkenazic and Sephardic. For instance, the great Greek Rembetiko singer, Roza Eskanazi, was thought of as Sephardic, because she was born in Turkey. But her name indicates that some ancestor was from farther west.

2. ethnicgenome - March 4, 2009

I wrote: “Indian Jews have a small amount of H and U haplogroups, which may be from the original Jews who converted these Indians to Judaism.”

It’s possible that some Indian people have more ethnically Jewish alleles than others. For example, in Spain, about 20% of the population have a significant amount of Jewish genes. But all in all, the Indian Jews are a community of converts.

As for the last name Eskanazi, it’s actually Sephardic. Sephardim would refer to light people in their community as “Ashkenazi” and the name would stick. An example of a Sephard with that name is General Gabi Ashkenazi.

Ashkenazi Jews never have such names. Ironically, many are named Deutsch.

3. latte island - March 5, 2009

That business about names makes sense. But there are exceptions, I thought right away of that Russian pianist, Vladimir Ashkenazi. Jews moved around a lot, so a lot of families don’t even know much beyond 2 or 3 generations.

4. luis - June 13, 2009

“The lack of significant non-Caucasian haplogroups makes people white”
I would say that even a substantial % of non-Caucasian haplogroups does not make people non-white neither.
For example according to many mtDna studies, south Portuguese have > 10-12% of sub-saharan haplogroups which is even more than some Berber ethnic groups (3% in Riffians or Kabyles – 45% in Saharan Berbers).

5. Billy Gambela - June 22, 2009

I am Billy Gamb’ela .. I am a Nubian-Egyptian American..

My father belongs to Haplogroup M2/E3a ..

M2 has frequencies of 7.9% amongst the Sepahrdic Jews Of North Africa’s Tunisia/Carthage.

see blog:


6. wanda - July 17, 2009

billy, your E3a results are the standard result for close to 90% of all sub-saharan africans, particularly among bantus.

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