Origins of R1a-Y2619 Ashkenazi Levites

The R1a1 haplogroup is very common throughout Europe and Western Asia. For this reason, and because the R1a1 haplogroup is found among what have been historically referred to as R1a1a Ashkenazi Levites (but are now referred to on this website as R1a-Y2619 Ashkenazi Levites) but is not commonly found in other Jewish populations and because the R1a-Y2619 Ashkenazi Levite progenitor was once believed to have lived about 1,000 years ago, researchers have theorized that the progenitor may have been a Jewish convert from Khazaria or Adiabene. Other researchers, believing it unlikely that a convert to Judaism could have assumed Levite status, have suggested that R1a-Y2619 Ashkenazi Levites could be descended from (1) Nethinim of Iranian origin who returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Exile or (2) a member of a Levite tribe in Arabia who came to Spain with the Moors.

Prior to December 2013, the SNP data were arguably consistent with each of these theories, as well as with a belief that R1a-Y2619 Ashkenazi Levites could be descended on their direct male line from a man who was part of the Jewish population three millennia ago.

In December 2013, Rootsi & Behar et al. published a paper that studied SNP data for R1a-Y2619 Ashkenazi Levites and other R1a1a men. S. Rootsi & D. Behar, et al., Phylogenetic Applications of Whole Y-Chromosome Sequences and the Near Eastern Origin of Ashkenazi Levites, Nature Communications 4, Article No. 2928 (2013). As discussed in more detail here, this paper established that R1a-Y2619 Ashkenazi Levites likely originate in the Near East, rather than Khazaria or Europe.

In January 2014, Anatole Klyosov posted an article, originally in Russian, translated to English on this site, and summarized here, that concluded, based upon analysis of STR data, that the ancestor of R1a-Y2619 Ashkenazi Levites was likely a Jew who lived in Abrahamic times, when Judaism began.

Dr. Doron Behar’s November 2017 paper on R1a-Y2619 Ashkenazi Levites, D. Behar et al., The genetic variation in the R1a clade among the Ashkenazi Levites’ Y chromosome, SREP-17-37687 (2017), of which the webmaster of this website is a co-author, found that: (1) the R1a-Y2619 Ashkenazi Levite cluster was Jewish (and Levite) as of about 1,743 years ago; and (2) such cluster originated in the Middle East about 3,143 years ago, as is shown by the fact that the closest Y-DNA matches for R1a-Y2619 Ashkenazi Levites are from the Middle East (mostly Iran). This website posts a summary of that paper.

Thus, the current Y-DNA evidence appears to rule out any theory under which the R1a-Y2619 line entered Judaism after about the 3rd century CE. This would rule out potential origins in Khazaria; the remaining theories are plausible, with varying degrees of likelihood.

Izrael Weksler (Isadore Wexler) (1891-1954)

Photograph taken in Lodz, Poland in 1912