Saturday, March 6, 2021

Are We All Khazars Now?

 From The Jewish Review of Books:

Most historians have assumed that the Jews of Eastern Europe are the descendants of Central European Jews who moved eastward in the Middle Ages or shortly thereafter. In 1976, Arthur Koestler popularized an alternative hypothesis. In The Thirteenth Tribe, he argued that most Ashkenazi Jews are descended from the Khazars, a Central Asian people who ruled a large kingdom on the Black Sea and apparently converted to Judaism in the 8th century. This hypothesis has been taken up more recently by Shlomo Sand in a book called The Invention of the Jewish People. Koestler, one of the oddest and most extraordinary public intellectuals of the 20th century, wanted to weaken anti-Semitism by demonstrating that many Jews weren’t Semites at all. Sand, a self-avowed post-Zionist who teaches at Tel Aviv University, is apparently driven by the desire to prove that Ashkenazi Israelis are interlopers in the Middle East. 

The Khazars certainly existed, though not much is known about them. However, the story (or myth) of their conversion to Judaism has seized the imagination of generations of writers, from Judah Halevi, whose 12th-century classic The Kuzari is a philosophical dialogue between a Khazar king and the rabbi who convinces him of the truth of Judaism, to Michael Chabon, who considered calling his 2007 novel Gentlemen of the Road “Jews with Swords.”

Neither Arthur Koestler nor Shlomo Sand based their iconoclastic, politically driven conclusions on serious research. Eran Elhaik, however, is an accomplished scientist who has apparently come to the same conclusion through sophisticated statistical analysis of the salient genetic data. In his view, this proves that most contemporary Jews are descendants of the Khazars. He also thinks that it solves a demographic puzzle. How, he asks, are we to explain “the vast population expansion of Eastern European Jews from fifty thousand (15th century) to eight million (20th century),” particularly given “the severe economic restrictions, slavery, assimilation, the Black Death and other plagues, forced and voluntary conversions, persecutions, kidnappings, rapes, exiles, wars, massacres, and pogroms” to which they were subjected? I shall return to this puzzle, but first let us examine Elhaik’s solution. (Read more.)


More HERE. And HERE.


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