Tuesday, 18 March 2008
Rabbi William Kloner's Message
Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi at the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, Israel with the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in distant background
The Truth, January 5, 2007, Vol. XCV, No. 2787
The scientific discovery of DNA in establishing beyond doubt the identity of an individual has revolutionized the solving of criminal cases. Criminals have been convicted who would have escaped the consequence of their evil deeds. DNA has come to the rescue of innocent victims of the law, even escaping capitol punishment. Yes, we rejoice that DNA has become a major player in the cause of justice.
DNA has been introduced into the long standing discussion and debate, “Who is a Jew”. Defining Jewishness has been critical in determining who has the right to become a citizen of Israel. The rabbinical establishment in Israel still holds sway in defining Jewishness according to their religious criteria. Long standing rabbinic communal contentions will be saved for a future message.
Novel claims of Jewishness have been brought to the fore by the introduction of DNA. About six years ago, a Mr. Haedrich, a Christian, while plodding through the Auschwitz Concentration Camp Memorial was struck, as he put it, by the “serendipitous feeling” that he might be Jewish. To satisfy this urge, this “epiphany” bordering apparently on obsession, he resorted to a DNA testing procedure. It confirmed he did indeed conform genetically to a “pedigree of Ashkenazi Polish Jews”. On the basis of his DNA report, Mr. Haedrich, a 44 year old successful nursing home director, applied for citizenship in the state of Israel under the Law of Return. Pleading his cause, Mr. Haedrich took out ads in Israeli and United States papers. He established “The Jewish by DNA Research Institute” to help others claiming to be Jewish on biological grounds. Though one might marvel that Mr. Haedrich would claim his “DNA biological Jewishness” in seeking Israeli citizenship, one would think he could resolve the issue and achieve his “Jewish goal” by simply converting. “As a matter of principle,” replied Mr. Haedrich, he will not convert because “he is already Jewish”.
Not surprisingly, the Israeli government denied his petition on the grounds that DNA does not prove Jewish identity. Nevertheless, Mr. Haedrich remains undeterred in his battle for “DNA Jewishness”.
Apparently, the DNA Jewish “epiphany” has not been restricted to a Christian from California, Mr. Haedrich. As far away as northern India, there has arisen the genetic link proposed by Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi. He has researched a link between Muslim Aafreedi Pathans and one of the 10 lost Tribes of Israel. Dr. Aafreedi has pursued this improbable genetic link in a scientific manner as a PhD researcher at the Tel Aviv University. He has pursued the possible Israelite decent among certain Indian Muslim groups. Dr. Aafreedi’s published work proposes that 650 out of 1500 members of his tribe may possess genetic material shared by 40 percent of Jews worldwide. How dramatic is the academic claim based on genetic DNA, that an Indian Moslem clan, no less, is the possible lost tribe of Ephraim?
Whereas the Christian Mr. Haedrich from California found his Jewish “epiphany” in Auschwitz, Dr. Aafreedi, a PhD historian, was introduced to his “Jewishness” by an uncle who told him as a child of their family and tribal connection to the Israelites. Tribal descendants, after settling in a hostile Muslim environment, lost their traditions. Surely, Dr. Aafreedi has aroused a Jewish DNA hornet’s nest, the stinging emissions of which he must surely have anticipated. Muslims being told they are really, Israelites, Jewish? Stinging remarks from “Moslem Jews” were ready at hand. “There were those who looked at my research as a Zionist conspiracy against Islam, said Dr. Aafreedi. “They felt I was trying to deprive Islam of its bravest followers by converting them to Judaism, attempting to convince them their Jewish heritage was just another forum of conversion”.
This “DNA Jewish” factor is an irony touched with humor, but the more serious aspects of “Who is a Jew” and the genetic factor will be explored further in a later Truth issue. In the meantime, some Jewish humor makes a subtle but significant point. A Jewish business executive on a trip to Japan, as was his practice in New York, sought out a Japanese synagogue for his Sabbath observance. Happily, he found a wonderful Sabbath service, the Hebrew and the ritual just like his service at home with one exception. All the worshippers were oriental in appearance with excellent Hebrew recitation and participation. Wishing to introduce himself as a Jew from New York City, he approached the rabbi. The rabbi gladly wished him a “good Shabos” and remarked, “Strange you don’t look Jewish.”