Evan Goldstein: Where Do Jews Come From?

Posted by Kendall Harmon

This much is known: In the mid-eighth century, the ruling elite of the Khazars, a Turkic tribe in Eurasia, converted to Judaism. Their impetus was political, not spiritual. By embracing Judaism, the Khazars were able to maintain their independence from rival monotheistic states, the Muslim caliphate and the Christian Byzantine empire. Governed by a version of rabbinical law, the Khazar Jewish kingdom flourished along the Volga basin until the beginning of the second millennium, at which point it dissolved, leaving behind a mystery: Did the Khazar converts to Judaism remain Jews, and, if so, what became of them?

Enter Shlomo Sand. In a new book, "The Invention of the Jewish People," the Tel Aviv University professor of history argues that large numbers of Khazar Jews migrated westward into Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania, where they played a decisive role in the establishment of Eastern European Jewry. The implications are far-reaching: If the bulk of Eastern European Jews are the descendents of Khazars—not the ancient Israelites—then most Jews have no ancestral links to Palestine. Put differently: If most Jews are not Semites, then what justification is there for a Jewish state in the Middle East? By attempting to demonstrate the Khazar origins of Eastern European Jewry, Mr. Sand—a self-described post-Zionist who believes that Israel needs to shed its Jewish identity to become a democracy—aims to undermine the idea of a Jewish state.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchHistoryReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsJudaism

14 Comments
Posted October 30, 2009 at 12:19 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Paula Loughlin wrote:

From the article ““Anti-Semitism in the West, for the moment, is not a problem.”  The man needs to get out more. 

The theory of this book fed and continues to feed the extreme Anti Semitism of such extreme radical movements as the Christian Identity Movement, and Robert Matthews’ The Order.  It feeds the conspiracy rantings of such people as Timothy McVeigh. 

Anti Semitism is alive and well in the West.  From the acceptable
polished anti Semitism of acadamia to the terrorist acts committed by lone crazies or dedicated true believers.  To say otherwise borders on being criminally naive. 

The theory also gives rise to the Two Seed belief of radical anti-Semites and from that the justification for acts of war and terror arise.  You can hardly call bombing a building full of sub humans descended from the seed of Satan a wrong thing, can you?

I am sure the U.N will have some sort of honor to bestow upon this gentleman.  Too bad the peace prize has already been given.

October 30, 12:36 pm | [comment link]
2. sandlapper wrote:

Whether or not the Kazar theory is valid, it is encouraging that Sand and many other Jews have reservations about Zionism. Hardline Zionists, both Jewish and Christian, cite the promise to Abraham as justification for suppression of Palestinians in the occupied areas. On the contrary, St. Paul taught us that the followers of Christ have inherited the promises made to Abraham, and the “land grant” has expended to include all the world. Of course, Christians are not to conquer by force of arms, but by evangelizing people everywhere. Thus will the earth become occupied by Christians. One of the tools of evangelism is advocacy for justice. We do our cause no good when we give the most hard line Zionists a blank check to do with the Palestinians as they wish.

October 30, 1:33 pm | [comment link]
3. Chris Jones wrote:

I am puzzled by the premise of this book (and of the Koestler book).  The idea seems to be that if the Khazars converted to Judaism (rather than having been born as Jews) then they and their descendants are not “real Jews,” and this somehow undermines their claim to a Jewish homeland in Israel.

But that premise is predicated on the idea that what is significant about the Jews (and what forms the basis of their claim to the land or Israel) is that they are a “race” in a genetic sense.  But that is different (subtly, perhaps, but still truly) from being a “people” (an ethnos) in a cultural and political sense, and it is even more different from being “the people of God” (ho ethnos tou Theou) in a spiritual sense.

But if the Jews thought of themselves primarily as a “race” rather than as a “people” and specifically “the people of God” (either now or at the time of the Khazars’ conversion), then there could be no such thing as “conversion to Judaism.”  If conversion to Judaism accomplishes anything, it incorporates the convert into the ethnos that is the Jewish people.  After conversion, the proselyte is just as much a Jew ethnically (i.e. he belongs to “the people”) as any native-born Jew, even though (obviously) his genetic makeup has not changed.  If being a “real Jew” means having Jewish genes in one’s DNA, then conversion to Judaism would be simply impossible.

The reality is that the Khazar-descended Jews are real Jews and the fact that many contemporary Jews fall into that category says nothing one way or the other about the legitimacy of the Jewish state.

October 30, 1:49 pm | [comment link]
4. Dorpsgek wrote:

a) Chris Jones is right

b) DNA analysis of ancestral origins has shown this Khazar theory is just a load of rubbish.

October 30, 2:04 pm | [comment link]
5. azusa wrote:

[Comment deleted by Elf]

October 30, 2:39 pm | [comment link]
6. ericfromnewyork wrote:

Sam Dargan,
Zionism - a political movement - does not make a religious claim but a perfectly reasonable historic one. It is inadmissible to refute an historic claim with a religious one, especially one sourced in a religion they do not share. Many Jews and many Christians are motivated to lend support to the historical claim on religious grounds, but that is another matter. The claim itself, and its recognition by international protocols in 1948, is a secular, historic claim . Sam, you ask us to deny the historical claim, not on historical grounds but religious ones. Your religious reasons are irrelevant to Jews and unpersuasive to me and many Christians.
It is thoroughly immaterial to Jews, living in their own inalienable Jewish land, under the government of their own Jewish state structures, what the Christian self understanding is of the Christian mission to the many lands of the world.
Chris Jones is also right about the main thesis. Claims of literal, genetic, descent from Abraham may have a place in the religion of Judaism, but are irrelevant to the Zionist historical claim of a continuing, identifiable, ethnos which has an indisputable connection to recognized historic territory.
It is obvious to all the world who a Jew is - their killers around the world and throughout history don’t seem top have any difficulty finding and knowing them. There is no real debate outside of the Jewish nation, and a circumscribed and managable debate within, about who is a Jew. This book would be only a curiosity if it were not going to be employed in the ongoing anti-semetic enterprise of denying nationhood (I do not say “statehood”) to a people that are clearly recognized, and by their sworn enemies, as a nation (an ethnos).
We will kill them all, and, oh yes, they don’t even exist.

October 30, 4:17 pm | [comment link]
7. LumenChristie wrote:

What does he mean by saying that Israel should become a democracy?  Last time anyone looked, Israel is and has been since its modern inception—a democracy.

Apparently this guy needs to take a better look at the newspapers

October 30, 5:10 pm | [comment link]
8. Chris Jones wrote:

Whether Israel is or is not a democracy depends on how strictly one defines “democracy.”  Certainly Israel is governed by leaders chosen by her citizens in popular elections; but the notion of full equality before the law is also, on most reckonings, constitutive of democracy.  It is not so obvious that a state which explicitly privileges one ethnic group among its citizenry truly has full equality before the law.

Note that the question of whether, and to what extent, Israel is a democracy is an entirely separate question from the question of her legitimacy as a state (aka the “right to exist”).  Israel under King David and his descendants was anything but a democracy but was nevertheless a fully legitimate state.  Modern Israel is likewise fully legitimate whether she is fully a democracy or not.

October 30, 5:26 pm | [comment link]
9. Br_er Rabbit wrote:

a) I agree with Chris Jones (#3)
b) I didn’t know about the DNA vs. the Khazars (#4)
c) I have often wondered about the difference in appearance between the Ashkenazi and the Sephardim Jews, and have often thought that Jesus was most likely someone who looked like a Sephardim, i.e. a man of color.
d) DNA evidence has shown that the black-race Jews of Ethiopia are related by blood to all other Jews. Specifically, there is a particular “Cohen” gene that occurs much more prevalently among descendants of the priestly class than the general populaton, and this is also true for the Ethiopian Jews.
e) What amazes me is that after 3,000 years plus, most Jews can tell you whether they are a “Cohen” or not.

October 30, 7:17 pm | [comment link]
10. sandlapper wrote:

ericfromnewyork: I recognize that Israel has a valid claim to what was granted in 1948, but I have heard Christian Zionists say that Israel should have all of the land promised to Abraham. Pat Robertson said Sharon’s stroke was punishment by God, because Sharon was willing to give the “holy land” of Gaza to the Palestinians. My Biblical argument was against Robertson and others like him.

October 30, 9:37 pm | [comment link]
11. azusa wrote:

[Comment deleted by Elf]

October 31, 3:19 am | [comment link]
12. azusa wrote:

Wow, not my day. & I always thought Leo Rosten such a funny writer.

October 31, 8:11 am | [comment link]
13. Matthew A (formerly mousestalker) wrote:

DNA analysis for teh win. The Jews are (shock) mostly Jewish in origin (but not Origen, that’s a whole ‘nother can o’ Worms).

October 31, 8:26 am | [comment link]
14. ericfromnewyork wrote:

Sam (#10),
Fair enough.
Chris (#8)
You raise two interesting points.
The second is a challenge to recent (misguided?) notions of intervention and “nation building.”
The first, however, is the most serious crisis issue facing the West today. Do nations (ethnoi) have the right to operate states for themselves?
The often heard claim that Zionism equals racism amounts to a claim that states are not legitimate if they exist for the benefit of their nation (ethnos).
This is a big shift from the more traditional view that an enlightened state should be humane to minorities, but not to the point of giving away the store. This is a standard that Israel seems to meet, especially when contrasted to its “Juden-frei” and Christian-persecuting neighbors who meet NO standard of humanity or tolerance by any measure or system.
The only western European state that seems firmly committed to national identity is France. France is welcoming and tolerant of foreigners, provided they do not ask France to stop being French. Recent U.K. governments seem, in contrast, to be absolutely hostile to any notion of “British” as a nationality.
I suspect there will still be a recognizable France in a hundred years. I begin to doubt that in the case of the United Kingdom, which may end up as some sort of caliphate. Other European states will fall into two camps primarily on the basis of how they answer the question: “Who is a Swede, Dutchman, Dane, Italian, Spaniard, German, etc.”  This is an extremely awkward and unfashionable question these days, but the question is going to get an answer, one way or the other.

October 31, 1:09 pm | [comment link]
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