Let my people go (home) to Spain: a genealogical model of Jewish identities since 1492

Let my people go (home) to Spain: a genealogical model of Jewish identities since 1492
Joshua S. Weitz
(Submitted on 7 Oct 2013)

The Spanish government recently announced an official fast-track path to citizenship for any individual who is Jewish and whose ancestors were expelled from Spain during the inquisition-related dislocation of Spanish Jews in 1492. It would seem that this policy targets a small subset of the global Jewish population, i.e., restricted to individuals who retain cultural practices associated with ancestral origins in Spain. However, the central contribution of this manuscript is to demonstrate how and why the policy is far more likely to apply to a very large fraction (i.e., the vast majority) of Jews. This claim is supported using a series of genealogical models that include transmissable “identities” and preferential intra-group mating. Model analysis reveals that even when intra-group mating is strong and even if only a small subset of a present-day population retains cultural practices typically associated with that of an ancestral group, it is highly likely that nearly all members of that population have direct geneaological links to that ancestral group, given sufficient number of generations have elapsed. The basis for this conclusion is that not having a link to an ancestral group must be a property of all of an individual’s ancestors, the probability of which declines (nearly) superexponentially with each successive generation. These findings highlight unexpected incongruities induced by genealogical dynamics between present-day and ancestral identities.

1 thought on “Let my people go (home) to Spain: a genealogical model of Jewish identities since 1492

  1. There would be many issues to discuss about this paper, among others that it is very theoretical and does not study real people (except for the detail that ever single Jew surveyed has Sephardi ancestors), nor real genetics whatsoever. Modeling alone seems far from enough to demonstrate anything.

    Also one of the premises of the article is that Sephardi Jews originated in the Iberian Peninsula. As far as I know this is not necessarily the case but “Sephardi” is instead a historical religious label on what rites and norms Jews used to adhere to: Mediterranean (“Sephardi” or Spanish) rite, North European (“Ashkenazi” or German rite) or other (some Asian and African groups). Just being Sephardi (i.e. descendant of Jews adhering to the Mediterranean or Spanish rite) does not make you necessarily orignal from the Iberian Peninsula (although of course some ancestor probably was because they had to end somewhere and almost invariably their destination was some other Jewish community).

    As for the law it certainly should raise eyebrows: why Jews and not Muslims, after all most of those expelled (or forced to convert) in the 1490s were not Jews but Muslims. Why does not Spain does things coherently and accept all North Africans (the main destination of the Andalusi diaspora, which no doubt must have contributed to the ancestry of Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians, etc.) as citizens? Obviously there economic and political reasons, rather than reasons of justice behind this decision. One also wonders what’s the point of repairing in such way a crime from half a millennium ago, when there are so many other crimes of genocide with much more recent time stamp that go instead unaddressed.

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