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Monday, June 6, 2016

In 2013, a geneticist named Eran Elhaik published a study that claimed that, based on his interpretation of existing genetic studies, Ashkenazic Jews were descended from Khazars.

The media ran with this story without doing a modicum of fact checking, and I showed at the time that Elhaik had set out to prove this theory before he even did the research - the exact opposite of what a real scientist should do. His paper was sloppy and the actual researchers who created the data that he misused wrote a later paper debunking his theory.

Elhaik wasn't finished yet. He suddenly changed from a genetics expert into a linguistics expert and in April put out a paper and video claiming that Yiddish is actually derived from Slavic languages and not from German. This was a new attempt to buttress his debunked theory, and to gain maximum publicity he invoked Yoda from Star Wars.

Again, the media jumped on this, and it took a couple of weeks before this cockamamie theory was also shown to also be junk science.  (By the way, "cockamamie" is not a Yiddish word.)

This weekend an interesting story came out about a community of over a hundred people in Madagascar who converted to Judaism.
A nascent Jewish community was officially born in Madagascar last month when 121 men, women and children underwent Orthodox conversions on the remote Indian Ocean island nation better known for lemurs, chameleons, dense rain forests and vanilla.

The conversions, which took place over a 10-day period, were the climax of a process that arose organically five to six years ago when followers of various messianic Christian sects became disillusioned with their churches and began to study Torah.

Through self-study and with guidance from Jewish internet sources and correspondence with rabbis in Israel, they now pray in Sephardic-accented Hebrew and strictly observe the Sabbath and holidays.

The conversions were facilitated by Kulanu, a New York-based nonprofit that specializes in supporting isolated and emerging Jewish communities, but were initiated by the residents.

“Now that we’ve re-established the State of Israel, it is time to re-establish the Jewish people, especially in the Diaspora,” said Bonita Nathan Sussman, vice president of Kulanu.

Her husband, Rabbi Gerald Sussman of Temple Emanuel on Staten Island in New York, added: “We are in the process of reconstituting the Jewish people, which would have been more numerous had it not been decimated by the Holocaust and had we not lost millions of Jews in Arab lands.”

Beginning on May 9, members of the community came before a beit din, or rabbinical court, convened for the occasion at the Le Pave Hotel here, the Madagascar capital. The court comprised three rabbis with Orthodox ordinations: Rabbi Oizer Neumann of Brooklyn, Rabbi Achiya Delouya of Montreal and Rabbi Pinchas Klein of Philadelphia. All three belong to a group of rabbis who serve far-flung Jewish communities and support converting emergent Jewish groups.

Delouya, whose background is Moroccan, spoke with the converts in their second official language, French, and also provided Sephardic influences for which the Madagascar community feel an affinity.

The conversion process included periods of intensive Torah study, interviews by the beit din and full body immersions in a river located a 90-minute drive from Antananarivo. A privacy tent was hastily erected beside the river for the occasion, and a festive atmosphere ensued as men, women and children, ranging in age from 3 to 85, lined up to take the ritual plunge.
What this story highlights is that it takes years of intense effort, education and desire to become a Jew according to Jewish law. The Khazar story of the king who forced his people to "convert" en masse may or may not be true (most evidence is that only some leaders and aristocrats converted), but large numbers of converts would not have been accepted as Jews by the existing Jewish communities in Europe without a lot of controversy - controversy that has not been recorded anywhere in rabbinic or responsa literature.

The old Yiddish expression is "es iz shver tsu zayn a Yid," it is hard to be a Jew. Well, it is even harder to become a Jew. That simple fact is simply never addressed by the academic frauds with an agenda like Eran Elhaik.

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