Answers to Quora Questions by Yair Davidiy
Is there any truth to claims that Ashkenazi Jews are Khazars?
(13 March, 2018, 26 Adar, 5778)
Source of map:
Ashkenazi Jews are not on the whole descended from the Khazars. The Khazars however did exist and did make some contribution to the Jewish Genetic stock. This however does not mean much since the Khazars were (at least in part) of Israelite Ancestry the same as the Jews are. It follows that even if there are descendants of the Khazars among the Jews it may not be noticeable.
And what evidence of Khazar admixture do we have?
Are there Khazars among the Jews today?
Rufosity, i.e. red hair, among Jews increases as one moves eastward. The Red Jews were also described as red-haired. According to legend they were part of the Lost Tribes and are probably to be identified with the Khazars. In Poland there were Jewish villages whose names recall the Khazars. The actual significance of this and the etymology of the names has been contested but the phenomenon existed. In more recent times, there was a movement among Christians in Eastern Europe and Russia to adopt Jewish customs. They were known as 'Subbotnicks' or Sabbath-keepers. Some of them converted to Judaism and moved to Israel. These groups had often appeared in areas that were once Khazar centers. They had a tradition that they were descended from Khazars. Physically many Jews in Europe look somewhat like Europeans. This could be due to common environmental influences or racial mixing or a combination of the two. The Khazars may have been one of the sources of this admixture.
Were the Khazars Israelites or Gentiles?
Records of the Khazars are found in Jewish and non-Jewish sources. They testify to the Khazars keeping the Jewish Religion. The Khazars are referred to in Old Russian as "Hebrews" which is how the Russians referred to Jews. The Khazars at times fought against the Muslim Arabs and at other times were on neighboring terms with them. One of the names in Arabic for the Khazars means "Yishai" i.e. Jesse, the father of David. An offshoot from the House of David may have reached Khazaria and come to rule there. Both Jewish and non-Jewish sources are divided as to the physical source of the Khazars. Some say they were originally Gentiles descendants of Gomer or Magog who converted to Judaism. Others state that the Khazars were descended from Jews or from the Lost Ten Tribes. One Jewish source says that the Khazars descended mainly from the Tribe of Simeon with leaders from the Tribe of Manasseh. They moved to the region of Kurdistan and Armenia. After that they went further northwards into southern Russia. They intermixed with non-Jews from the offspring of Gomer son of Japhet. Later numerous Jews fleeing persecutions in Mesopotamia and Persia also came to Khazaria. The Jewish influx caused a religious revival among the people in general. They passed through a short intermediate stage of adopting Jewish practices and then converted, or renewed their covenant, to Orthodox Judaism.
The Khazars in History
The Khazars at one stage had a far-ranging Empire possibly reaching as far as Austria in the west and China in the east. It may have been far less than that but it was still quite a power for a while. Eventually they suffered a series of defeats at the hands of Varangian (of Scandinavian origin) Russians and Mongols. They disappeared and assumedly were absorbed among Jewish populations. A few families among the Jews had traditions that they were descended from Jews but not very many of them. There are no customs, family names, or linguistic remnants among the Jews that may with certainty be ascribed to Khazar influence. All claims to the contrary are doubtful.
Archaeological finds indicate small enclaves of the Khazars having settled in Scandinavia. This was apparently before their formal complete conversion to Judaism. In Ancient Times the Khazars in southeast Europe, southern Russia, and the Baltic area in the north were named Agathyrsi. The Picts of Scotland were also identified in part as Agathrysi. The Picts were also in Northern Ireland. Jewish customs were to be found in both Ancient Scotland and Ireland. In Scotland this included food taboos similar to those found in the Mosaic Code. There may be some connection. Jews are actually quite generous on the whole. Nevertheless for some reason the image of penny-pinching Shylock has been attached to them. A lot of jokes about the Scottish being overduly thrifty impart a similar impression.
Avraham Polock in 1949 wrote a work 'Kazaria. The Histroy of a European Jewish Kingdom" ' (in Hebrew) which in our opinion is one of the best books on the subject. It should be translated. We disagree with Polock on several points but his sources are invaluable. Polock considered the Khazars to be an offshoot of the Goths who had been in the same area.