TEL AVIV (JTA) — A scientific study has found genetic evidence of claims that the Bene Israel, a community in western India, has Jewish roots.
The study from Tel Aviv University, which was published in late March in the PLoS One scientific journal, analyzed the genomes of 18 Bene Israel community members. It found that the Bene Israel had significant Jewish and Indian ancestry.
According to Bene Israel tradition, the community descended from a handful of Jewish shipwreck survivors on the Indian coast up to 2,000 years ago.
The Bene Israel live in Konkan, a region on India’s west coast. Only a few thousand remain in India today from a community that once numbered as many as 20,000. Many community members have immigrated to Israel since its establishment in 1948.
“Beyond vague oral history and speculations, there has been no independent support for Bene Israel claims of Jewish ancestry, claims that have remained shrouded in legend,” said Yedael Waldman, the study’s first author, according to a news release Tuesday. “We found that while Bene Israel individuals genetically resemble local Indian populations, they constitute a clearly separated and unique population in India.”
The study was based on data from the Jewish HapMap project at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, which studies the genetic history of Jewish Diaspora communities. It was done in conjunction with Cornell University and Albert Einstein College.