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The Biggest Family Reunion Ever Based on Genetic Genealogy?

Yesterday The Jewish Press announced the “Kohen and Levi Conference: A Gathering of the Tribe.” The conference, to be held on July 15-19, 2007, is hosted in Jerusalem by The Center for Kohanim. The Center was founded in 1985 to “promote identity and knowledge among Kohanim the world over, and increase their feelings of awareness and commitment to their heritage as Kohanim.” The conference has a main page, a press release, and a brochure (pdf). According to the press release:

Recent scientific research and DNA testing has proven that today’s descendents of the biblical Kohanim are genetically related. Molecular geneticists have discovered the “Cohen Modal Haplotype” which is a Y- chromosome DNA lineage signature shared by a majority of both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Kohanim. This indicates a direct patrilineal descent of present-day Kohanim from a single ancient ancestor, genetically dated to have lived approximately 3,300 years ago, a time corresponding to the Exodus from Egypt.

Now, the members of this “extended family” are being invited to participate in a ‘family” reunion that will take place in Jerusalem, July 15-19, 2007. These dates coincide with the biblically noted date of the passing of Aharon, the High Priest, on the first day of the Hebrew month of Av.

“This is not only the first family reunion of the Jewish priestly dynasty in nearly 2,000 years, it is an important conference which will inform, inspire and motivate,” stated conference organizer Rabbi Yaakov Kleiman, director of The Center for Kohanim in Jerusalem and author of the book, DNA & Tradition. “The research and information we will share will play an important role in appreciating and maintaining our unique and precious heritage.”

Genetic Genealogy has always been somewhat controversial because it raises issues of social science. For instance, what is race and how is race defined?  How does science define any group of people?  Should genetics be part of that definition? The topic of a “Jewish gene” is no exception, and there has been a great deal of controversy related to these studies.  Family Tree DNA addresses the Cohanim gene on their FAQ page.  Learn more at NOVA and at Wikipedia.

Blaine Bettinger

Intellectual property attorney, genealogist, and author of The Genetic Genealogist since 2007