A Genetic Trace is Found Linking Kohanim Worldwide

Report by Grant Jeffrey

A newspaper report from Jerusalem dated January 3, 1997 indicates that scientists have found a unique genetic chromosome linking Jews of the priestly tribe (Kohanim) worldwide. The researchers found these Jewish Kohanim, whether from the Ashkenazi (European) or the Sephardi (Spanish and Middle Eastern) branches share a variation of the Y chromosome. This is a very strong evidence that these individuals are descendants of one man, Aaron the High Priest, who lived 3,500 years ago. Prof. Karl Skorecki, a senior nephrologist (blood specialist) at Rambam Hospital in Haifa is the head of molecular medicine at Israel's Technion's medical school. He and his colleagues published their findings in Nature, a British science journal.

The scientists obtained genetic samples from the inside of the cheeks of unrelated Jewish men who lived in three nations. They asked in they were Kohanim, related to the priestly tribe. The genetic phenotypes of 188 Jews who believed they were descended from the Kohanim were different genetically from those Jews in the sample who were not kohanim. The researchers found a preponderance of the YAP, DYS19B haplotype in the priestly kohanim This Y chromosome is carried only by men and is passed down father to son patrilineally. Mitichondrial DNA, on the other hand, is transmitted by the mother's X chromosomes. Professor Skorecki explained that it was impressive how the characteristic Y chromosome was passed down the generations despite centuries of assimilation over the last two thousand years. Professor Skorecki did not choose kohanim based on their names (Cohen, Rappaport, or Shapiro, etc.). Rather, they asked if their family tradition claimed they were kohanim.

The professor is himself a kohen. He noticed another kohen in a synagogue and wondered if they could be genetically linked since the Bible claimed they were all descended from Aaron. "I wanted to know if it were possible to find a genetic connection." It is estimated that approximately 5 percent (350,000 men) of the 7 million male Jews worldwide are descended from the priestly tribe. The priests led Israel in its worship in the Temple and Tabernacle from the time of Aaron. God commanded that they would not be given a tribal territory like the other tribes. Instead the Levites would receive tithes from the sacrifices in the Temple. Since the Roman army burned the Temple in A.D. 70 the kohanim priesthood required its members to keep ritually pure by not touching a corpse or marrying a divorcee.

Dr. Skorecki and his fellow researchers discovered a preponderance of the YAP, DYS19B haplotype in the priestly kohanim but they did not find this in Jews that were not descended from the kohanim. This genetic evidence was found in kohanim from both the Ashkenazi (European) and the Sephardi (Spanish and Middle Eastern) branches of the worldwide Jewish population. This is a strong proof that the Aaronic priesthood existed in the distant past as the Bible relates. This provides fascinating evidence that the Jewish priesthood predated the division of the Jewish people into the Ashkenazi and the Sephardi branches, these two major ethnic groups, which occurred approximately a 1,000 years ago during the Middle Ages.