Q: Are most of today’s Jews converts from Khazaria?
The idea that Ashkenazi Jews are descended from the Khazars is a myth. It’s widely held within anti-semitic circles, but it has been discredited by scholars.
The topic has come up in discussion lately because of a recent article that suggests Yiddish, the language of Ashkenazi Jews, may have originated in Turkey. However, this theory is problematic and not widely accepted. The Forward recently published an article providing evidence against the claim.
The theory of the Khazars as Jews first became widely know through Arthur Koesterl’s “The Thirteenth Tribe.” He claimed that the Khazars converted to Judaism around the year 800 and forced everyone in their kingdom to convert. The theory is that this large group of people then migrated from Russia and the Ukraine into Hungary. The idea is that all Ashkenazi Jews are descended from them. Modern scientists and historians have found no truth to these claims. Some historians report some members of the Khazar royal family converted to Judaism. There is, however, no evidence of a mass conversion nor is there evidence Jews converted from the people of Khazaria. Recent research on the genetics of Ashkenazi Jews doesn’t find genetic similarities with people of the region of Khazaria, but instead finds Ashkenazi Jews share genetic ancestry with groups from Europe and the Middle East, consistent with other Jews. Based on the genetic evidence, the majority of Ashkenazi Jews and Jews all over the world share common ancestors. Ashkenazi Jews are descended not from the Khazars, but from common Jewish ancestors.
Bernard Lewis, a British American historian specializing in “oriental studies,” has said of the myth of the Ashkenazi Jews originating from the Khazars, “This theory is supported by no evidence whatsoever. It has long since been abandoned by all serious scholars in the field, including those in Arab countries, where the Khazar theory is little used except in occasional political polemics.”
Dorothy-Ann Parent (better known as Hyphen) is a writer, a traditional Jew, a seeker of justice, a lover of stories, the self-proclaimed Jewish Molly Weasley, hobbit-sized, and best not left unattended in a bookshop or animal shelter.