Wednesday, August 15, 2018


by Ronald W. Fox

Thank you, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, for allaying my fears that I cannot, based on having been descended from “real” Jewish people living in the promised land two to three millennia ago, emigrate to Israel and move into a residence vacated by, really, no one 70 years ago.

In this article in the Washington Post, How to Tell When Criticism of Israel is Actually Anti-Semitism,  she warns about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas resurrecting the old canard that today’s Jews descend from Khazar converts in a this recent and much-criticized speech, Palestinian Leader Incites Uproar with Speech Condemned as Anti-Semitic “citing a widely discredited book from the 1970s by Arthur Koestler called ‘The Thirteenth Tribe,’ he posited that Ashkenazi Jews were descended not from the biblical Israelites but from the Khazars, a Turkic people who converted to Judaism in the eighth century.”

When my mother-in-law passed away, we saved some books from her library including “The Thirteenth Tribe”. One day I picked it up and began to read Chapter 1 “About the time when Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the West, the eastern confines of Europe between the Caucus and the Volga were ruled by a Jewish state, known as the Khazar Empire.  … (about) AD 740, the King, his court and the military ruling class embraced the Jewish faith, and Judaism became the state religion of the Khazars.” And the beginning of Chapter II “‘The religion of the Hebrews’, writes Bury ‘had exercised a profound influence on the creed of Islam and it had been a basis for Christianity; it had won scattered proselytes; but the conversion of the Khazars to the undiluted religion of Jehova is unique in history.’”

Clearly this is a work of fiction from the author of Darkness at Noon, right?

Easy enough to confirm. I went to another set of saved books, the Encyclopaedia Judaica and opened Volume 10 -Jes-Lei.  There I found, to my dismay, nearly six full pages (incredibly small type) in the section on “KHAZARS” including subsections entitled “Date of the Khazar Conversion to Judaism” and “The Extent of Khazar Judaism” where it says “While the Khazars were generally known to their neighbors as Jews .. they seem to have had little or no contact with the central Jewish organization in Iraq.” (In terms we can understand, they did not send a delegate to the World Jewish Congress).

But I took heart reading this entry in Wikipedia on Khazar Hypothesis of Ashkenazi Ancestry from which I have excerpted this:

The Khazar hypothesis of Ashkenazi ancestry, often called the "Khazar myth" by its critics, is the hypothesis that Ashkenazi Jews are descended from the Khazars, a multi-ethnic conglomerate of Turkic peoples who formed a semi-nomadic Khanate in the area extending from Eastern Europe to Central Asia. The hypothesis draws on some medieval sources such as the Khazar Correspondence, according to which at some point in the 8th–9th centuries, the ruling elite of the Khazars was said by Judah Halevi and Abraham ibn Daud to have converted to Rabbinic Judaism ... In the late 19th century, Ernest Renan and other scholars speculated that the Ashkenazi Jews of Europe originated among Turkic refugees who had migrated from the collapsed Khazarian Khanate westward into Europe, and exchanged their native Khazar language for Yiddish while continuing to practice Judaism. Though intermittently evoked by several scholars since that time, the Khazar-Ashkenazi hypothesis came to the attention of a much wider public with the publication of Arthur Koestler’s The Thirteenth Tribe in 1976. It has been revived recently by Eran Elhaik, who in 2012 conducted a study aiming to vindicate it. Despite skepticism, he reformulated the concept in 2016 by developing a novel method of genetic analysis that uses the fringe linguistic theories of the Yiddish expert Paul Wexler. Genetic studies on Jews have found no substantive evidence of a Khazar origin among Ashkenazi Jews, as opposed to evidence they have mixed Near Eastern/Mediterranean and Southern European origins.

What a relief that there is no genetic evidence that I may be of Khazar origin. For years I have been proudly proclaiming to all that would listen that I am a Kohane. I have even written a proposal that we give up on Rabbis who seem not have been able to get the job done and return to the reign of the High Priests. With my expertise on the grill, I would be able to hit the yearly Yom Kippur sacrifice running.

But then, why did 23andMe tell some users with Ashkenazi heritage that they may be descended from an extinct tribe from the Caucasus known as the Khazars?

Just a short term glitch.

While I have no proof, I think, and I thank, the alliance that worked to create a massive PR campaign to insure that the American public never got unreasonably upset about Israel’s violations of international law and possible charges of war crimes, gently informed 23andMe that any hint that Israelis are descended from converts would be a gross act of anti-Semitism and could lead to a boycott of the business (certainly more warranted than those true anti-Semites who are supporting the BDS movement). 

The genomics company 23andMe has retracted a statement made on the profiles of some users with Ashkenazi heritage that they may be descended from an extinct tribe from the Caucasus known as the Khazars, inadvertently wading into a political-genetic debate with far-reaching implications for Jewish identity and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The company said in a statement that it will remove any reference to the theory from its site.
23andMe, which offers direct-to-consumer genome testing services, sent out an email last week to customers, announcing updates to the genetic reports corresponding to different haplotypes, or genetic groups defined by certain DNA variations. The email promised that “a major update” of the company’s genetic history reports would help its customers “gain insights into fascinating and unusual details about your genome, details that set your story apart.”

One of the details in question? That a large portion of Jews may be descended from the Khazars, a semi-nomadic tribe in the Caucasus that was largely destroyed in 10th-century C.E. — and not from the Israelites of the Israel/Palestine area from several thousand years ago. This theory, known as the “Khazar theory,” has been discredited by geneticists all over the world.

“The origin of the Ashkenazi Jews has been traced back to a population of Jewish people living between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea before the Roman exile,” the report on the 23andMe website read. “However, research suggests that Ashkenazi Jews who belong to your haplogroup may descend from a single male who… may have been a member of the Khazars, an enigmatic Turkic tribe that lived in Central Asia, and that converted to Judaism in the eighth century A.D.”

Now, in response to inquiries from the Forward, 23andMe is saying the inclusion of the Khazar theory in the company’s latest genetic report — one of many released to customers on Friday — for some Ashkenazi Jews was “an error”.

Works for me!!

But then, following up to see where the Khazar Empire (Khazaria) was located geographically, I found a helpful map which can be found in this article, Khazaria: A Forgotten Jewish Empire. And a long review of “Are We All Khazars Now?” by Shaul Stampfer (which I am definitely not going to read).


I thought I could take a stab at writing a frightening account of the consequences that would result if, indeed, it was true that a high percentage (80%?) of all those who claim they were Jews were indeed, descendants of some converts from the Caucasus but I was too late.

Israel seems finally to have thrown in the towel. A blue-ribbon team of scholars from leading research institutions and museums has just issued a secret report to the government, acknowledging that European Jews are in fact Khazars. (Whether this would result in yet another proposal to revise the words to “Hatikvah” remains to be seen.) At first sight, this would seem to be the worst possible news, given the Prime Minister’s relentless insistence on the need for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” and the stagnation of the peace talks. But others have underestimated him at their peril. An aide quipped, when life hands you an etrog, you build a sukkah.

Speaking off the record, he explained, “We first thought that admitting we are really Khazars was one way to get around Abbas’s insistence that no Jew can remain in a Palestinian state. Maybe we were grasping at straws. But when he refused to accept that, it forced us to think about more creative solutions. The Ukrainian invitation for the Jews to return was a godsend. Relocating all the settlers within Israel in a short time would be difficult for reasons of logistics and economics. We certainly don’t want another fashlan like the expulsion of the settlers in the Gaza Hitnatkut [disengagement].

Speaking on deep background, a well-placed source in intelligence circles said: “We’re not talking about all the Ashkenazi Jews going back to Ukraine. Obviously that is not practical. The press as usual exaggerates and sensationalizes; this is why we need military censorship.”

Khazaria 2.0?
All Jews who wish to return would be welcomed back without condition as citizens, the more so if they take part in the promised infusion of massive Israeli military assistance, including troops, equipment, and construction of new bases. If the initial transfer works, other West Bank settlers would be encouraged to relocate to Ukraine, as well. After Ukraine, bolstered by this support, reestablishes control over all its territory, the current Autonomous Republic of Crimea would once again become an autonomous Jewish domain. The small-scale successor to the medieval empire of Khazaria (as the peninsula, too, was once known) would be called, in Yiddish, Chazerai.

I have already ordered the kit from 23andMe and feel more comfortable going ahead with this but I do have one concern.

I have been told that my mother’s family came from a village a short distance from Kiev, Russia. When they tell me that, should I think that something has been omitted? Should I ask for “further review”?

As we spiral further into authoritarianism here under a corrupt, immoral, ignorant President, do I run the risk I will find out I am a convert and can no longer emigrate to Israel? Does Ukraine have a Law of Return for Khazarians?

PS I did get back my results from 23andMe and, fortunately, while it did uncover some Asian Indian connection, there was none for the Caucasus. HOWEVER, my wife's did show a 2% connection to that region. I always thought that were a mixed marriage. 

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