Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Genetic Testing Kits Can Locate Millions of Jews, and Strengthen Jewish Identity

The Jewish People Policy Institute suggests Israel invest in genetic testing in order to further establish "the bonds of the Jewish people"

By: Daniel Koren

Published: September 3rd, 2014 in Health » Israel

The Jewish People Policy Institute, an independent Jerusalem-based think tank and policy planning group founded by the Jewish Agency in 2002, is encouraging that Israel invest in home genetic testing kits as a way for individuals who, unbeknownst to them, have Jewish lineage, which in turn, they argue, will strengthen their ties to the State of Israel.

Publishing a report called “Crowd Sourced Genealogy and Direct-to-Consumer DNA Testing: Implications for the Jewish People” authored by Noah Slepkov, the JPPI argue that providing the trending direct-to-consumer DNA test kits to Israeli residents will be a formidable method of “connecting, engaging, and strengthening the bonds of the Jewish people.”

“Just as the State of Israel has invested resources into the study and promotion of archaeology, in part to demonstrate and strengthen the connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, by investing in the fields of genetic research and molecular anthropology, Israeli scientists could be at the forefront of this growing field not only to demonstrate the historical connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, but to help refute studies that manipulate data in order to undermine that connection,” said Slepkov.

The report, published in August, states that “Millions of people around the world may discover they have Jewish roots as a result of direct-to-consumer DNA testing,” and that “DTC DNA testing has the potential to inform one’s sense of identity, despite the controversial questions with political implications that may arise.”

While the report claims that Jews have always been open to genetic testing, it’s usually to determine what diseases and ailments they are most vulnerable to. In the wake of growing anti-Semitism, however, by using genetic testing as a means to discover one’s heritage, there is no limit to those who will learn that they are in fact Jewish.

According to JPPI President Avinoam Bar-Yosef during an interview with the Jerusalem Post, by promoting genetic testing Israel will be able to expand the “circle of individuals with some Jewish roots who feel an affinity and identification with the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”

Of course, the report does see many complications arising for those who do indeed discover they are Jewish. After all, rabbis and synagogues won’t just open their doors to anyone because they took a home genetic testing kit. “To learn from a test perceived to be scientific that you have Jewish heritage and to be told by a Jewish community that you are not really Jewish could be confusing and disheartening. Leaders of the Jewish community especially should not be dismissive of individuals who approach them claiming to be a distant relative; rather, they should use it as an opportunity for engagement,” said Bar-Yosef.

In an effort to further understand the matter, Breaking Israel News spoke to Michael Freund, Director of Shavei Israel, an organization which connects Jews to Judaism, about the current role of technology in discovering one’s heritage.

“In recent years, advances in technology have opened new horizons for people looking to dig deeper into their pasts and uncover more about their ancestry,” said Freund. The growing popularity of genetic testing kits is now making it possible for individuals and families to connect with their forefathers and learn more about their origins. Via these kits, many people are discovering that they have Jewish roots. This is an exciting development, as technology is being deployed to reconnect “lost Jews” with the people of Israel.”

“At Shavei Israel, we are receiving large numbers of inquiries from people across the globe who have taken DNA tests and suddenly realize that they have a ‘Jewish connection’. This could prove to be a very powerful tool, because it will connect people in a very tangible way to the State of Israel and the Jewish people – not only emotionally and spiritually, but biologically too,” he explained.

Freund added that Shavei is “currently researching how DNA findings might impact a person’s Jewish status as well as open up the possibility of their immigration to Israel.”

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