There has been a lot going on lately, and anyone who has perused anti-Zionist websites and Facebook groups for an extended period of time has probably seen this argument come up every now and then. This is an argument that is, at best, pure conjecture, and an outdated excuse for antisemitism at worst. Most people would reasonably say to not give this any attention, but with the frequency that I have seen it abusively perpetuated by both Jews and Gentiles, I must address it directly.
For those who may not know, the Khazar hypothesis is the idea that modern Jews, specifically European/Ashkenazim, are descended from a Turkish tribe that converted en masse to Judaism in the 9th century, and are not related to the ancient Israelites of biblical times. Therefore, they are not actually Jews, but Turks who have no connection to the land of Israel. This idea is only relevant to Ashkenazi Jews, though many comments will conveniently fail to specify this crucial detail, leaving laymen to assume that this hypothesis also applies to Sephardim. I suppose it’s just inconceivable that anyone other than Arabs would have a connection to the land of Israel.
First, we must note that the Khazar hypothesis is exactly that, an hypothesis. To date, even with modern technology, there is no scientific confirmation on this matter and for good reason, every study has either been heavily criticized, or just debunked completely within the scientific community. This idea keeps being resurrected since its popularization in the beginning of 20th century, and drastically modified from its original intent in medieval rabbinical literature.
The most popular literature on this matter, and most used by anti-Semites, is Arthur Koestler’s The Thirteenth Tribe. In it, Koestler makes sweeping generalizations about Jews and Khazars and makes stunning leaps in logic based on manufactured information. Ironically, he aimed to alleviate the racial basis for antisemitism itself, but instead has been used to delegitimize both Ashkenazim and all Jews living in the state of Israel. It’s heavily lacking in anthropological evidence to support his theory, and is further undermined by modern genetic research.
Having mentioned genetic research, there are studies that accusers will use to conclude the Khazar origins of the Ashkenazim, but the studies they use are either flawed or misrepresented in an attempt to push an agenda. The most recent research in this matter, is by Rootsi, Behar et al. which does indicate some genetic connection of Ashkenazi Levites to Eastern Europe and the Caucus regions. And well…to anyone who is not a scientist, this just seem to be it.
Except there is one problem, and it’s a common problem in all these studies used in their antisemitic arguments. They are only looking at DNA that would be common between Ashkenazim and Eastern European ancestry. When Ashkenazi DNA is tested against a broad range of subjects, Ashkenazim are most closely related to their Sephardi Jewish counterparts from the Middle East, pointing to common lineage in both. This was further confirmed in the 2005 Nebel et al. study, which found that Ashkenazim are more closely related to other Jewish and Middle Eastern groups than to the populations among whom they lived in Europe.
The anti-Semitic opposition is literally writing their own conclusions and cherry-picking evidence while suppressing everything else; a cut and dry case of abuse, and it is this abuse that prompted the researchers of the Behar study to write against this Khazar myth being pushed, generally, by Arab media.
But the purpose of the Khazar hypothesis actually his little to do with genetics. Someone who uses this mistaken argument is rhetorically trying to pull the rug out from under their victims, but Jews who are familiar with their own history and religion do not need to know genetics to avoid this trap, for they can see anyone using this line of argument is only exposing one’s own hypocrisy.
The religion of Judaism has not only allowed converts, but has endowed leadership upon them on countless occasions throughout history, regardless of whatever DNA they may carry. With all the blessings given to the tribes in the Torah, does the anti-Semite truly expect converts to be treated differently inside the religion? What sort of racism would permit the born Israelite to settle Canaan, but force the convert to stay in Egypt, merely because “his blood isn’t pure enough”? How ironic that, while he accuses Ashkenazim of not having the the right DNA, it is only he that is demanding racial purity to begin with! This demand for pure, middle-eastern DNA, is a requirement that far exceeds the bounds of commandments in the Torah, either written or oral.
The largest contributions to our history is given by converts and descendants of converts, such as Onkelos and Rabbi Akiba and Ruth, mother of King David, all of whom predate the Khazarian myth. The myth also has a critical flaw within itself, creating a circular argument; how does a king and his people convert to Judaism without Jews already being present at the time? Jewish communities far north of the Rhine had already been wide spread at this point, and they never disappeared amid the pogroms and forced conversions.
Which brings us to the greatest hypocrisy of all; Christianity and Islam have a large history of force converting entire nations and then flaunting them like trophies, and yet we are to be shamed of our northern converts? How many entire communities of Jews were converted by the sword during the Arab conquests, and have now long forgotten their Jewish faith? They’ve killed and proselytized, and they dare tell us our DNA is impure; have they no shame?
Most of what we read about the Khazars comes from the writings of our sacred singer, Rabbi Judah Halevi, who wrote the “Kuzari” describing, in detail, the conversations between the Khazar king and representatives of the 3 major faiths at the time. It was written at least a century after the fact and is ambiguous as to whether it is real or fiction. Converts aside, I do not personally believe in any mass conversion at the time, diluting our “genetics”, which is a shame. With the high regard our God holds his converts, how fortunate would it be for us to all be descended from such! It would truly have been a beautiful story in our history books, if it had it happened.
The Khazar hypothesis is hopelessly flawed and disproved by modern studies of genetics. We’re not descendants of converts…we’re simply not fortunate enough to be so.