From Judaism and Science.com (edited)
In 1994-95, three men independently came up with the same idea of testing the Y
chromosomes of a limited subset of Jews.
In late 1994, in England, Robert Bradman
was pursuing a graduate degree in genetics and was looking for a
research project in Israel where his girlfriend lived.
Bradman is a Levite by tradition -- a theoretical
descendant of the Biblical Levi, third son of the patriarch, Jacob.
He and his father, Neil, a retired businessman with a background in science, decided to test the story of the Jewish priests.
In January 1995, clinical nephrologist and university professor Karl
Skorecki was attending Shabbas service in Toronto.
The rabbi was looking for a Kohen to say the blessing before the reading from the Torah.
according to Jewish tradition, is a descendant of the priests who
served in the Temples in Jerusalem.
The Bible sets the
inception of the Jewish priesthood to a date several months after the
Exodus from Egypt, or, by some accounts, just over 3300
years ago, when Moses presided over the investiture of Aaron as the first Kohen Gadol, or high priest, and his sons as Kohanim (plural for priests). (Exodus. 29:9.)
The rabbi’s search was answered by a Moroccan Sephardic Jew.
Skorecki, of Polish descent, was a Kohen too and he wondered if two people who looked so different were really descended from the same man.
If they were, they should
share common genetic markers, which are changes or mutations in a gene.
Bradman and Skorecki independently contacted Batsheva
Bonne-Tamir, a professor of genetics at Tel Aviv University, to inquire
about the possibility of locating distinguishing markers in the genes of
Bonne-Tamir encouraged them to contact Professor
Michael Hammer, a genetic anthropologist and an expert on the Y
chromosome, at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Bradman-Skorecki-Hammer team was formed and a study plan adopted. The
purpose of the exercise was not to prove the historical truth of the
biblical account of the priesthood, but rather to see whether there was
any genetic basis for the Kohen narrative of common ancestry extending
back to Aharon.
Later in 1995, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,
Bradman’s son Robert collected almost 200 vials containing the saliva
of Jewish males, split evenly between those of Ashkenazi (Central and
Eastern European) descent and Sephardi (Iberian) descent. About
one-third of these men also claimed to be Kohanim.
When the data was analyzed, the researchers discovered an
amazing fact: regardless of the national origin of each of the
participants, regardless of their designation as Ashkenazi or Sephardi,
they almost all (98.5%) had a relatively unique mutation, called a
haplotype, one shared with only 3-5% of the world Jewish population.
This result suggested at least two important things: First,
there was a high correlation between the cultural and genetic records
and, second, the original possessor of the haplotype pre-dated the
millennia old separation of Jews into Ashkenazim and Sephardim.
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