North Africa’s Jews originated in biblical-era Israel and are more closely related to Jews from other parts of the world than they are to non-Jewish North Africans, according to a new genetics study.
The study “strengthens the case for a biological basis for Jewishness,” said medical geneticist Harry Ostrer of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, who led the study. However, his research also found that Ethiopian Jews are so distantly related to other Jews that their community must have been founded by only a few itinerants, who converted local people to Judaism.
The latest research builds on an earlier study that found significant genetic similarity between European and Middle Eastern Jews. Among the new findings: Jews from Morocco and Algeria are more closely related to Jews from Europe, while Jews from Tunisia and Libya are more closely related to those in the Middle East.
That DNA evidence lends credence to accounts that in 312 B.C., Egypt’s king settled Jews in what is now Tunisia. The traditional belief, now bolstered, is that after the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70, 30,000 Jews were deported to Carthage, in what is now Tunisia.
One surprising finding: Georgian Jews are closely related to those of the Middle East, including those in Iraq and Iran.
“That shows there was significant migration of Jewish populations along the Silk Road beginning in the Persian Empire,” Ostrer said.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.