Background of R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites

Introduction
 
The R1a1a Ashkenazi Levite cluster is comprised of men who, as evidenced by their Y-DNA, are descended on their direct male lines from a single Most Recent Common Ancestor (“MRCA”) who likely lived some time between 1,000 and 1,700 years ago.  

Based upon the Short Tandem Repeat (“STR”) marker values and Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms ("SNPs") for the R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites who have done Y-DNA testing to date, it appears that a large proportion of Ashkenazi Jews with a tradition of Levite ancestry may share an MRCA on their direct male line who lived in the 15th century. The Y-DNA evidence and known genealogy suggest that this shared ancestor may be the founder of the Horowitz rabbinical family from Prague, Rabbi Isaiah ben Moshe Asher Halevi Horowitz (@1440 – 1515). 

The Levites, members of a Jewish priestly class that dates back to Biblical times (the Greek name Leviticus, the third of the five books of the Torah, refers to the Levites), bear certain rights and obligations in Jewish ritual not borne by laypeople. Because Levite status, like Y-DNA, passes via patrilineal descent, Y-DNA testing is particularly well suited for tracing the relationship among R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites. 

According to the leading
2003 study by Behar et al.: (1) Levites (i.e., Jews with a family tradition of being Levites) comprise about 4% of the Ashkenazi population; (2) 52% of Levites with an Ashkenazi tradition are R1a1a and share a distinctive pattern of STRs; and (3) only 3.2% of Levites with a Sephardic tradition are R1a1. D. Behar, et al., Multiple Origins of Ashkenazi Levites: Y Chromosome Evidence for Both Near Eastern and European Ancestries, Am. J. Hum. Gen. 73:768-799 (2003)


Wim Penninx has found that R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites (again, Ashkenazi Jewish men with the SNP M582) comprise about 8.7% of the Ashkenazi population, based upon his review of more than 2,200 sets of 67-marker STR test results. 
 
Men who have that distinctive pattern of STRs and the SNPs related thereto belong to the R1a1a Ashkenazi Levite Y-DNA cluster. Because membership in that cluster is strictly genetic, not genealogical, men can belong to that cluster even if they do not have a family tradition of being Levites and, indeed, even if they do not have a family tradition of being Jewish on their direct male line.  

There is a considerably smaller group of R1a1a Ashkenazi men, some of whom have a Levite tradition, who do not share those STRs; those men are not considered “R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites” for purposes of this discussion, even if they are R1a1a, Ashkenazi, and Levite.
 
A 2013 paper by Rootsi & Behar et al., discussed in more detail here, indicates that R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites are likely descended from a man who lived in the Near East more than 2,000 years ago, and that there are some non-Ashkenazi men of Levite descent who are Y-DNA matches for men in the R1a1a Ashkenazi Levite Y-DNA cluster. A January 2014 article by Anatole Klyosov, summarized here, concludes that the ancestor of R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites entered the Jewish population in Abrahamic times, i.e., at the time of the first Jews. 

Thus, as stated on this website prior to the Rootsi & Behar paper, the term "Ashkenazi," as used in the term R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites, is somewhat of a misnomer. The term R1a1a Levite would be more appropriate. Nevertheless, to conform to historic usage, this website will continue to use the term R1a1a Ashkenazi Levite to refer to this Y-DNA cluster.

Genetic Relationship of R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites  

R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites have relatively few deviations from one another in Y-DNA STR markers (and relatively few differences in Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (“SNPs”)), indicating that they share a relatively recent MRCA on their direct male lines.  

Based upon analysis of STR test results to date, it appears that: (1) all R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites are descended on their direct male lines from an MRCA who lived about
800 to 1,500 years ago; and (2) a substantial portion of those men are descended on their direct male lines from an MRCA who lived in about the late 15th century. Preliminary SNP analysis indicates that the MRCA of R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites may have lived about 1,500 to 2,500 years ago.

Assuming that, as found in the 2003 Behar paper, R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites account for about 2% of the total Ashkenazi population (i.e., about 52% of the 4% of Levites in the population are R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites), it appears that: (1) the R1a1a Ashkenazi Levite progenitor who lived in the 8th through 12th century is the MRCA on the direct male line for about 2% of the total Ashkenazi population (about 200,000 people); and (2) the R1a1a Ashkenazi Levite MRCA who lived in about the late 15th century may be the MRCA on the direct male line for more than 1% of the total Ashkenazi population (about 100,000 people).

The 2013 Rootsi & Behar paper indicates that the percentage of R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites in the Ashkenazi population is 13.3% - a six-fold increase over the percentage found in the 2003 Behar paperPreliminary analysis on this website shows that about 20% of R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites have the STR marker value DYS495=16, which appears to be associated with descent from the Horowitz rabbinical family. Based upon these numbers, the proportion of R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites who are descended from the founder of the Horowitz rabbinical family would be smaller than previously estimated, but the total number of descendants of both the R1a1a Ashkenazi Levite progenitor and the Horowitz family progenitor would be greater, i.e.: (1) the R1a1a Ashkenazi Levite progenitor who lived in the 8th through 12th century would be the MRCA on the direct male line for about 13% of the total Ashkenazi population (about 1.3 million people); and (2) the R1a1a Ashkenazi Levite MRCA who lived in about the late 15th century may be the MRCA on the direct male line for about 2.6% of the total Ashkenazi population (about 260,000 people).   

Although such reproductive success is staggering, it is feasible, assuming that this R1a1a Ashkenazi Levite progenitor had a substantial number of sons who lived to have a substantial number of sons, and so on.

The
April 4, 2014 ISOGG tree for Y-DNA Haplogroup R and its Subclades designates R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites as R1a1a1b2a2b1a. The ISOGG tree identifiess the SNPs Z2124+ Z2122+ F1345+ CTS6+, SNPs that define, in that order, the R1a1a Ashkenazi Levite subclade.

Because the ISOGG designations are lengthy and subject to repeated revisions, Family Tree DNA is moving away from this nomenclature, in favor of nomenclature referring to the most significant SNPs shared by clusters.

As of April 20, 2014, Family Tree DNA’s R1a1a and Subclades Y-DNA Project page described the “‘Ashkenazi Levite’ cluster” as Z93+ Z94+ Z2124+ Z2122+ F1345+ Z2469/CTS6+ (a plus sign means that the SNP is present, while a minus sign means that the SNP is absent). 

R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites are also sometimes referred to as R1a-Z2122-AL or as R1a-CTS6. (Because SNP testing has demonstrated that there are non-R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites who are Z2122+ and CTS6+ and that the SNP Y2619 appears to be characteristic of all R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites but not their closest matches, the designation R1a-Y2619 would likely be more appropriate.

Click here for a detailed analysis of additional SNPs that are currently known to define R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites (i.e., all R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites will have those SNPs, while no other related subcluster will share those SNPs) or distinguish separate branches of the R1a1a Ashkenazi Levite tree.

Historical Roots of R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites  

Because Jewish records were not kept in many parts of Europe until the early 19th century (and even later in some regions) and because many records that were kept have not survived, many Ashkenazi Jews will have difficulty tracing any part of their family trees back before the mid-18th century, at the earliest.  

This difficulty in researching direct paper trail male lineages is exacerbated because many Jewish families in some parts of Europe did not adopt surnames until the 19th century, and surnames remained in flux for some time after adoption, both in Europe and in countries of emigration thereafter.  

However, some Jewish rabbinical families have been able to trace their lineage back through many centuries. One of those families is the Levite Horowitz rabbinical family, which was prominent throughout Central and Eastern Europe from the 15th century onward.  

A substantial number of tested R1a1a Ashkenazi Levite men have very close Y-DNA STR matches with direct male descendants of men surnamed Horowitz (or a derivation thereof), including three men who believe that they are ninth-generation descendants of Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke Horowitz of Tarnow, who lived in the 17th century (and was the great grandfather of the much better known Shmuel Shmelke Horowitz of Nikolsburg (Mikulov) (1726-1771)).  

The Horowitz rabbinical family’s direct male line has been traced back nearly 1,000 years, with a gap of two or three generations (and Horowitz family tradition traces the family’s roots back to Samuel Halevi, the prophet and judge who anointed Kings Saul and David).  

According to the Horowitz family’s genealogical tradition, the family’s direct male ancestor is Shem Tov Halevi of Girona, who lived in the 11th century, and over the next four centuries the family’s direct male ancestors moved between Provence (now in France) and Aragon (now in Spain).  

In the 1470s, the family moved to the shtetl of Horovice, Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic) (the name Horowitz designates an origin in Horovice), near Prague; soon thereafter, the family moved to Prague.

The incipient Levite Horowitz family’s move to Horovice in the mid-15th century coincides with the estimate, based upon STRs and SNPs, that a substantial proportion of R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites share a common ancestor who lived about 550 years ago. That common ancestor may be
Rabbi Isaiah ben Moshe Asher Halevi Horowitz, also known as Zalman Horowitz (@1440 – 1515), who lived in the village of Horovice and, later, in Prague and had seven sons.  

Within a century or two, members of the Levite Horowitz rabbinical family had moved to Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire, serving as rabbis in, inter alia, Prague, Cracow, Vienna, Hamburg, Nikolsberg, Tikocin, and Brody. See generally S. Gurevich, 
Gurevich, Gurovich, Gurvich, Gorvich, Gurvitz, Horowitz and Others: History of a Great Family (Haifa, 1999, ISBN 965-222-971-7)

Some direct male descendants of the Horowitz rabbinical family retained the Horowitz surname through the centuries. Based upon personal genealogical records, as supported by Y-DNA evidence, it appears that many direct male descendants of the Horowitz rabbinical family adopted (either by choice or coercion) other surnames, either immediately adopting another surname or going through a period when the family used only patronymics. 

Conversely, it was not uncommon for men who were not direct male descendants of the Horowitz rabbinical family (such as sons-in-law of a Horowitz) to adopt the Horowitz surname; this practice is reflected by the fact that there are many Horowitzes who are not R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites. Similarly, men from Horovice who were not members of the Horowitz rabbinical family may have adopted the surname Horowitz, as a reference to their geographical origins.

Use of Y-DNA to Tie R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites to the Horowitz Family Tree 

Y-DNA analysis, coupled with paper genealogy, may allow us to tie some closely related groups of R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites to the lines of the sons of
Rabbi Isaiah ben Moshe Asher Halevi Horowitz (@1440 – 1515), the founder of the Horowitz rabbinical family. 

As discussed above, the analysis to date suggests that at least some of the known Horowitzes with test results are descended from Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke Horowitz (? – 1694), a descendant of Rabbi Isaiah ben Moshe Asher Halevi Horowitz through his son Aharon Meshullam Zalman Horowitz, also known as Zalman Munka (1470 – 1545); the R1a1a Ashkenazi Levite men whose test results are close to the R1a1a Ashkenazi Levite mode (especially those with the STR marker value of DYS495=16) are more likely to share an MRCA with these members of the Horowitz family in, perhaps, the 16th or 17th centuries. 

There are other clusters of R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites who are close to the R1a1a Ashkenazi Levite mode but have the modal STR marker value of DYS495=17. With SNP tests for those men or comparing those men's STR marker values to 67-marker or 111-marker test results for men who have traced their direct male lineage to other sons of Rabbi Isaiah ben Moshe Asher Halevi Horowitz, we may well be able to show that men belonging to some of these other clusters are likely to be descended from these other sons.

Other men, whose marker values are more distant from the R1a1a Ashkenazi Levite mode (often with the STR marker values of DYS537=11 and DYS650<20, will share an ancestor with the Horowitzes who pre-dates the family's move to Horovice in the 1470s. For some of those men, the shared ancestor may date back 1,000 years or more.











Louis Vodovoz and Max Vozoff
   Mendel Vodovoz (Max Vozoff) (1893-1964) (sitting) and
   Leib (Louis) Vodovoz (1900-1966) (standing)
   Photograph taken in Akkerman, Ukraine in @1920