Study: Indian community has genetic evidence of Jewish roots

(JTA) – A scientific study has found genetic evidence of claims that the Bene Israel, a community in western India, has Jewish roots.

The Bene Israel live in Konkan, a region on India’s west coast. The community once numbered as much as 20,000, though only a few thousand Bene Israel remain in India today. Many community members have immigrated to Israel since its establishment in 1948.

According to Bene Israel tradition, the community descended from a handful of Jewish shipwreck survivors on the Indian coast up to 2,000 years ago. Now, a study from Tel Aviv University has found that the community has genetic evidence of Jewish ancestry. The study was published in late March in the PLoS One scientific journal.

The study involved analyzing the genomes of 18 Bene Israel community members, and was based on data from the Jewish HapMap project at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, which studies the genetic history of Jewish diaspora communities. The study, which was done in conjunction with Cornell University and the Albert Einstein College, found that Bene Israel had significant Jewish and Indian ancestry.

“Beyond vague oral history and speculations, there has been no independent support for Bene Israel claims of Jewish ancestry, claims that have remained shrouded in legend,” said Yedael Waldman, the study’s first author, according to a press release Tuesday. “We found that while Bene Israel individuals genetically resemble local Indian populations, they constitute a clearly separated and unique population in India.”

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