The origins of Ashkenaz, Ashkenazic Jews, and Yiddish

Ranajit Das, Paul Wexler, Mehdi Pirooznia, Eran Elhaik*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recently, the geographical origins of Ashkenazic Jews (AJs) and their native language Yiddish were investigated by applying the Geographic Population Structure (GPS) to a cohort of exclusively Yiddish-speaking and multilingual AJs. GPS localized most AJs along major ancient trade routes in northeastern Turkey adjacent to primeval villages with names that resemble the word "Ashkenaz." These findings were compatible with the hypothesis of an Irano-Turko-Slavic origin for AJs and a Slavic origin for Yiddish and at odds with the Rhineland hypothesis advocating a Levantine origin for AJs and German origins for Yiddish. We discuss how these findings advance three ongoing debates concerning (1) the historical meaning of the term "Ashkenaz;" (2) the genetic structure of AJs and their geographical origins as inferred from multiple studies employing both modern and ancient DNA and original ancient DNA analyses; and (3) the development of Yiddish. We provide additional validation to the non-Levantine origin of AJs using ancient DNA from the Near East and the Levant. Due to the rising popularity of geo-localization tools to address questions of origin, we briefly discuss the advantages and limitations of popular tools with focus on the GPS approach. Our results reinforce the non-Levantine origins of AJs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number87
JournalFrontiers in Genetics
Issue numberJUN
StatePublished - 2017


  • Ancient DNA
  • Archaeogenetics
  • Ashkenaz
  • Ashkenazic Jews
  • Geographic population structure (GPS)
  • Rhineland hypothesis
  • Yiddish


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