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Why Is Sukkot Happier Than Any Other Jewish Holiday?

By Yehuda Shurpin

There is a mitzvah to rejoice on all of the holidays, yet there is special emphasis on being joyful during Sukkot. As the Midrash1 notes, the Torah highlights the command to rejoice on Sukkot three times (as opposed to Shavuot, when we are commanded once, and Passover, when we are not explicitly commanded to rejoice).2

Furthermore, in our holiday prayers, each holiday is given its own descriptive name: Passover is the “Season of Our Liberation,” Shavuot is the “Season of the Giving of Our Torah” and Sukkot is described simply as the “Season of Our Rejoicing!”

Why is Sukkot singled out?

Gathering the Produce From the Field

On the most basic level, the Torah itself gives the answer. We read: “You shall make yourself the festival of Sukkot for seven days, when you gather in [the produce] from your threshing floor and your wine pit. And you shall rejoice in your festival—you, and your son, and your daughter . . .”3 Apparently, this extra shot of joy is due to our stocked storehouses after the harvest.

Based on this, the Midrash4 explains why the Torah does not explicitly command us to rejoice on Passover, and only commands us one time regarding Sukkot. At Passover time, we are judged regarding the grain, but we don’t know yet what the crop will look like, since we only harvest it after Passover; on Shavuot we have gathered the grain and can now rejoice, but we didn’t yet gather the fruits from the trees so rejoicing is only mentioned once. But as the Midrash concludes, “On Sukkot, when the souls have received acquittal . . . and furthermore, we have already gathered not just the grain but the fruit as well, it mentions the imperative to rejoice three times.”

Look closely at the Midrash, and you’ll find that we’re not just happy because we have so much food in reserve—our souls have been acquitted. Viewed through this lens, the celebration of the harvest is much deeper than we originally thought.

Between Grain and Fruit

All that occurs in the natural order of the world is but a reflection of a deeper spiritual truth. Thus, by understanding the significance of the ingathering of the fruit, we can better understand the significance of the holiday of Sukkot.

The Rebbe teaches that we must first appreciate the difference between the gathering of the grain (which is celebrated by the holiday of Shavuot) and the ingathering of the fruit.5

For one, when it comes to grain, it doesn’t take that long—just a matter of weeks or months—from the time of planting until the crops ripen and you can enjoy the bounty. With fruit, however, it can sometimes take many years until you can finally enjoy the “fruits of your labor.” In addition, it takes much less labor to grow a stalk of wheat than it does to nurture a fruit tree to maturity.6

On the other hand, the amount of grain you harvest is commensurate with the number of seeds that were planted. A fruit tree, however, which was planted using a single seed, can produce an abundance of fruit for dozens of years. Thus, the fruit produced is incomparable to what was put into it.

Fruits From the Teshuvah Tree

The difference between grain and fruit can be compared to the difference between the divine service of the tzadik, the righteous individual, and that of the baal teshuvah, one who is repentant.

The righteous person travels on the straight and narrow path without too much concern or effort. Whenever he has a question of what to do, he turns to the Torah and follows it. He is therefore compared to grain, which can be harvested in a relatively short span of time with minimal effort.

The baal teshuvah, however, is compared to a fruit tree. It takes much effort and time, with many obstacles, twists and turns, to ultimately harvest the fruit. But it is precisely because of this that when he does finally harvest, he does so in abundance, and the yield is incomparable to the one single seed that was planted.

The divine service of the holidays of Passover and Shavuot is compared to the service of the righteous tzadik. He too celebrates, but it is with limitations, as whatever grows is only relative to what was planted.

However, shortly after the Giving of the Torah (on Shavuot), the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf, and it was not until the day of Yom Kippur that the Jews fully repented and G‑d forgave them for that sin. Thus, G‑d ordained that Yom Kippur be set aside as the Day of Atonement, a day dedicated to the Divine service of the baal teshuvah.

On Sukkot, which comes right after Yom Kippur, we celebrate the harvest of the baal teshuvah, which is compared to the fruit harvest. It takes lots of work, time and determination to get there, but the harvest of the delicious fruit is incomparable to what has been planted.

Thus, the Midrash tells us that we celebrate Sukkot because not only have “the souls received acquittal,” but we have gathered the fruits as well.

This is why the Torah uses the term “joy” three times. For according to Jewish law, when something is repeated three times, it is a chazakah, the halachic status of permanence. Thus, our job on Sukkot is to take this state of joy and happiness and carry it through the rest of the year!

For more on the Joy of Sukkot, as well as the joy of Simchat Beit Hashoeva, see here.


  1. Yalkut Shimoni, Emor, remez 654.

2. Leviticus 23:40Deuteronomy 16:14-15.

3. Deuteronomy 13-14.

4. Yalkut Shimoni, Emor, remez 654.

5. In a talk on the second day of Sukkot 5714 (1954), printed in Torat Menachem, vol. 10, p. 33.

6. See Likkutei Torah, Bechukotai 49d.

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Posted by on October 6, 2020 in Uncategorized


Why Only Ten Commandments at Sinai?

The Ten Commandments | My Jewish Learning

By Yehuda Shurpin


If there are 613 commandments, why were ten commandments specifically given at Sinai, and in what way are they different from the other 603?


To understand this, we first need to clear up a very common misconception. Although in English (and for clarity’s sake, here as well) they are commonly referred to as the “Ten Commandments,” in Hebrew they are called the Aseret Hadibrot, the “Ten Statements.” Thus, the less common English name “Decalogue,” derived from the Greek words meaning “ten sayings,” is more accurate.

This isn’t mere semantics.

At Mount Sinai, contrary to common misconception, the Jews received the entire Torah, including all of its 613 mitzvahs, not just the Ten Commandments. The Midrash1 and classic commentators of the Torah explain how each of the Ten Commandments is really a general mitzvah, and they describe how each of the 613 mitzvahs is included in one of the ten statements.2

Furthermore, as the Midrash points out, there are 620 letters that make up the Aseret Hadibrot. This corresponds to the 613 mitzvahs plus the seven days of creation,3 seven Noahide Laws4 or the seven rabbinic mitzvahs.5

Even on a more basic level, the Ten Commandments contain more than just ten specific mitzvahs. For example, according to Maimonidies, the second statement actually contains four separate mitzvahs: (1) not to believe in any other god; (2) not to make graven images; (3) not to bow down to idols; and (4) not to worship an idol in the way it is customarily worshiped.

Yet the Torah itself in a number of places explicitly calls them the “Ten Statements.”6 So what is the significance of specifically ten statements?

The Covenant of Ten

When referring to the Ten Commandments, the Torah calls them the words of the covenant: “…and He inscribed upon the Tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.”7 In turn, the Tablets are called Shnei Luchot Habrit, “the Two Tablets of the Covenant.” Thus these Ten Commandments are meant as a covenant between G‑d and the Jewish people.

The Midrash explains that the Ten Commandments correspond to the Ten Utterances with which G‑d created the world (e.g., “Let there be light”), as well as the ten sefirot(Divine attributes or emanations), which are also the source of the corresponding ten faculties (kochot) of the soul.8

Additionally, the Midrash9 explains that the Ten Commandments are connected to the many other things in the Torah that are associated with the number ten: the ten generations from Adam to Noah, the ten generations from Noah’s son Shem to Abraham, the ten tests with which G‑d tested Abraham, the ten blessings our forefathers received, the ten plagues, the ten curtains of the Tabernacle, etc.

The number ten represents wholeness and completeness; thus, all of these ideas are interconnected, reflecting a common purpose.

Purpose of Creation

The Zohar states that “G‑d looked into the Torah and created the world.10” In other words, the Torah is the blueprint for creation.11

The mystics explain that the purpose for creation was that G‑d desired that we make a dwelling place for Him down here in this mundane, materialistic and physical world.12

Thus, our purpose is to refine ourselves and the world around us by using the physical world to serve G‑d, thereby uplifting the mundane and transforming it into something holy.

This is why the number ten is associated with the Torah as well as the creation of the world and the ten sefirot. Through the fulfillment of the Torah and its mitzvahs, we reach the completion of the purpose of creation.13


  1. See, for example, Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15.

2. See, for example, Rabbi Saadia Gaon, Siddur,Azharot; Rashi, Exodus 24:12; Rabbi Avraham ben Harambam, Exodus 20:14; Ibn Ezra, Exodus 20:2; Abarbanel, Exodus 20.

3. See Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15.

4. Baal Haturim, Exodus 20:17.

5. Shalah Hakodosh, Shaar HaosiyotOs Beit.

6. See Exodus 34:28Deuteronomy 4:13, 10:4.

7. Exodus 34:28. See also Deuteronomy 4:13.

8. Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah, Nosso 14.

9. See Midrash, ibid; Midrash Tadshe 10.

10. Zohar 2:161a. See also Yalkut Shimoni, Mishlei 942.

11. Midrash Tanchuma, Bereishit 1.

12. Midrash Tanchuma, Nosso 16.

13. See Torat Menachem, Maamarei Melukat, vol. 2, p. 67.

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Posted by on May 27, 2020 in Uncategorized


What Are the Six Remembrances?

By Yehuda Shurpin

There are a number of significant historical events that the Torah tells us to remember every day.1 Some traditions list only four remembrances and others count as many as ten (more on that below), but the prevalent custom is to recite six remembrances after the morning prayers. The first to formulate the text of the six remembrances, as found in many different prayerbooks, was Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi in his Siddur, based on the Midrash and works of the Arizal.2

In this article:

1. Our Exodus From Egypt

“. . .So that you shall remember the day when you went out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life.” (Deuteronomy 16:3)

The mitzvah is to remember that we were enslaved in Egypt and G‑d took us out. (This is unlike the mitzvah to retell the story of the Exodus on Passover, which includes describing in detail the miracles that took place.)3

Read: 20 Exodus Facts Every Jew Should Know

2. The Revelation at Sinai

“But beware and watch yourself very well, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw, and lest these things depart from your heart, all the days of your life, and you shall make them known to your children and to your children’s children—the day you stood before the L‑rd your G‑d at Horeb.” (Deuteronomy 4:9–10)

The Torah was given with great fanfare, thunder and lightning, as we beheld G‑d’s glory. The drama ensured that we would remember that it was from G‑d Himself that we received the Torah. Thus, the idea behind this mitzvah is to always remember that we received and witnessed the Giving of the Torah, not through a prophet, but from G‑d himself.4

Read: What Happened at Sinai?

3. Amalek’s Attack on Israel

“You shall remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you went out of Egypt, how he happened upon you on the way and cut off all the stragglers at your rear, when you were faint and weary, and did not fear G‑d. [Therefore,] it will be, when the L‑rd your G‑d grants you respite from all your enemies around [you] in the land which the L‑rd, your G‑d, gives to you as an inheritance to possess, that you shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens. You shall not forget!” (Deuteronomy 25:17–19)

The Amalekites were unique in that they were the first to attack the fledgling Jewish nation, despite all the miracles that were performed for the Jews during the Exodus. Thus, not only did they make war with the Jewish people, they showed that they didn’t fear G‑d, setting a precedent for those who would attack in the future. In recalling what they did, we remember that their severe punishment is due to their extreme offense against the Jewish people and G‑d.5

Others explain that the main point of this daily remembrance is not so much the actual attack but the spiritual reason behind the attack: the Jews’ disunity and their laxity in observing the mitzvahs.6

Read: Who Was Amalek?

4. The Golden Calf and Rebelling in the Desert

Remember, do not forget, how you angered the L‑rd, your G‑d, in the desert; from the day that you went out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebelling against the L‑rd.” (Deuteronomy 9:7)

We remember how we angered G‑d in the desert through constantly rebelling against Him, and how shortly after the giving of the Torah, we made a Golden Calf. We also remember G‑d’s great kindness—despite all we did, He remembered the covenant He made with our forefathers and ultimately spared us.7

Read: What Was the Golden Calf?

5. Miriam’s Negative Speech and Punishment

“Remember what the L‑rd, your G‑d, did to Miriam on the way, when you went out of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 24:9)

With this remembrance, we remind ourselves how careful we must be to refrain from negative speech and lashon hara. If even Miriam, who was a prophetess and sister of Moses, and meant no harm, was nevertheless afflicted for speaking negatively about her brother, how much more so do we need to be careful regarding what we say about others.8

Read: Who Was Miriam?

6. The Sabbath

“Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it.”(Exodus 20:8)

The Shabbat is a testament to the fact that G‑d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Thus, by constantly remembering it, we recall that the world was created by G‑d.9

Read: What Is Shabbat?

Does One Need to Verbalize Them?

According to many opinions, one can technically fulfill this commandment just by thinking about these remembrances. In fact, in his Shulchan Aruch,10 Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi outlines how one should keep in mind each of these remembrances while reciting various parts of the blessing of Ahavat Olam (Rabbah), said before Shema.11

Nevertheless, Rabbi Schneur Zalman chose to place them in the prayerbook so that we can verbally recount these six events as well. Some explain that this was because many would find it difficult or forget to have these remembrances in mind while reciting the blessing before Shema. After all, many find it difficult to have the simple meaning of the prayers in mind, never mind the deeper meaning of the blessings.12

Others entertain the possibility that he formulated the text in deference to the opinion that one needs to actually verbalize these remembrances. However, it seems that Rabbi Schneur Zalman is of the opinion that the remembrances technically need not be verbalized.13

4, 6, 8 or 10 Remembrances?

Although the more prevalent custom is to recite six remembrances, as mentioned, there are some who list as little as four or as many as ten.

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, known as the Arizal, lists four: (1) going out of Egypt; (2) the Giving of the Torah; (3) Amalek; and (4) the incident with Miriam.14

Rabbi Avraham Gombiner (c. 1635–1682), known as the Magen Avraham, in his commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, quoted the above-mentioned four from the Arizal and also quoted in his name the remembrance of Shabbat, as well as the idea from the Midrash15 that one should remember the sin of the Golden Calf.16 This brings the number of remembrances to the above-mentioned six.

Others17 add an additional two: (1) the manna that G‑d sustained us with in the desert; and (2) that G‑d gave us the land of Israel. And yet others18 add (1) remembering what Bilaam and Balak sought to do to the Jewish people and (2) Jerusalem, as the verse in Psalms states, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither.”19

May we merit the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple speedily in our days!Footnotes

1.See Magen Avraham, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 60:2; Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 60:4; In truth, the verses themselves state that “we should remember” or “not forget” these incidents, and the rabbis learn that this is done by making a point to remember them every day.

2.See Siddur.

3.See Likkutei Sichot, vol. 21, p. 71; see also Haggadah Shel Pesach im Likutei Taameim, s.v. Mitzvah Aleinu Lesaper, for a list of differences between the everyday mitzvah of remembering the Exodus and that of Passover eve.

4.See Ramban on Sefer Hamitzvot, Shikchat Halavin 2, and his commentary on Deuteronomy 4:9.

5.See Ramban on Sefer Hamitzvot, Shikchat Haasei Mitzvah 7.

6.See Melachet Shlomah on Mishnah, Megillah 3:7, and Sefer Hasichot 5749, vol. 1, p. 342, gloss at end of fn. 3.

7.Ramban on Sefer Hamitzvot, Shikchat Haasei Mitzvah 7.


9.See commentary of Ramban, Exodus 20:8.

10.Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim, 60:4.

11.In the words of the Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 60:4: “When one says U’Vanu vacharta (“and You chose us”), he should recall the Giving of the Torah; VeKeiravtanu (“and You drew us close”) alludes to Mount Sinai; Leshimcha hagadol (“to Your great name”) — this alludes to the attack by Amalek, for the Divine name will not be complete until the seed [of Amalek] is obliterated; LeHodos Lecha (“to thankfully acknowledge You”) — this alludes to the incident involving Miriam, for the mouth was created to give thanks [to G‑d] and not to gossip. The phrase U’zechartem et kol mitzvot A‑donai (“and you shall recall all the commandments of G‑d”) alludes to Shabbat, which is equivalent to all the mitzvahs.

There is an authority who says that one should recall the Golden Calf while saying (LeYachedcha) BeAhavah (“to proclaim Your unity with love”), i.e., in contrast to those who made the Golden Calf at that time who did not [act] with love towards the Holy One, blessed be He.

12.Noheg Katzon Yosef, p. 77; Ketzot haShulchan 19:10, and Badei Hashulchan ad loc.

13.See Badei Hashulchan, ibid.; indeed, it is pointed out that ordinarily one is not allowed to quote and recite partial verses, and yet, in the text, some of the remembrances are only half of a verse. The reason this is permitted in this instance is that the point isn’t really to recite the verse, but to remember the concepts behind the verse (see Igrot Kodesh, vol. 12, p. 3, quoting responsum Maharam Shik, Orach Chaim 124).

14.Pri Eitz Chaim, Shaar Kriat Shema 3; Shaar Hakevanot, p. 119.

15.Yalkut Shimoni, Bechukotai 671.

16.Magen Avraham, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 60:2.

17.Sefer Chareidim, Mitzvot Asei Hateluyot B’lev 1:23, and Mitzvot Asei Hateluyot B’kaneh 4:51; Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev in Kuntres Sefer Hazechirot (printed in the back of some editions of Kedushat Levi).

18.Rabbi Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai (the Chida), Avodat Hakodesh, Kaf Achat, 25; Siddur Yaavetz.

19.Psalms 137:5.

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Posted by on September 12, 2019 in Uncategorized


Why Did Moses Go Up on Mt. Sinai for Forty Days?

Why Did Moses Go Up on Mt. Sinai for Forty Days? – The significance of the number forty – Questions & Answers By Yehuda Shurpin


After the Giving of the Torah, Moses went up Mount Sinai for 40 days. After the Golden Calf, he went up another 40 days, and then he went up the final time for yet another 40 days to secure complete forgiveness from G‑d. What’s up with the number 40?


The number 40 is actually highly symbolic in the Torah, but since you ask specifically about why Moses had to go up the mountain for 40 days and nights, I’ll address that first.

Forty Days for a Baby to Form

The Talmud explains that it takes an embryo 40 days to form in its mother’s womb.1 Thus, just as it takes 40 days of preparation for a new being to emerge, so, too, it generally takes 40 days for a new spiritual entity to come into being.2

Forty Years to Comprehend

The Talmud tells us that “one does not come to fully comprehend the knowledge of his teacher until 40 years [of study].”3 Since a day “up on high” is certainly equal to a year down below, Moses learned Torah from G‑d atop the mountain for 40 days so that he could fully comprehend the Torah.4

Other Forties: Something Deeper

If we look in the Torah, we find many other things that are associated specifically with the number 40:

  • In the episode of Noah and the Flood, we learn that it rained for 40 days and 40 nights.
  • A mikvah needs to have 40 se’ah (a measurement) of water in order to be able to purify someone. In fact, this is one of the explanations as to why, during the Flood, it rained for 40 days, corresponding to the 40 se’ah of a mikvah.
  • Regarding the maximum amount of lashes one could get, the Torah describes the amount as 40 (albeit in practice, one could get a maximum of 39).
  • According to the Talmud, it took “40 minus one”5 types of creative work to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

What is the common thread here? What is the symbolism of the number 40?


The mystics explain that any preparation for a transformative change is associated with the number 40. Thus, whether it is the flood water of Noah, which cleansed and purified the world, going to the mikvah, which purifies the person, lashes, which atone for one’s sins, or receiving the Torah, each is essentially a catalyst for transformation6 and is therefore associated with the number 40.7

Why is that?

10 x 4

Kabbalah explains that all of reality can be divided into four worlds: Atzilut (Emanation), Beriah (Creation), Yetzirah (Formation), and Asiyah (Action.) These four worlds, in turn, emanate from and are rooted in the four letters of the holiest name of G‑d.

The Chassidic masters teach that the microcosm emanates from and reflects the macrocosm. Thus, there are many other sets of fours reflected in nature and creation. (For example, there are four categories of being in the natural world: domem, the inanimate; tzomeach, the vegetative; chai, the animal; and medaber, the “speaking,” i.e., human. Similarly, each individual creation is made up of four elements: earth, water, air and fire).8

Each of the four higher spiritual worlds possesses the entire spectrum of the ten sefirot, G‑d’s creative attributes, which are reflected in all existence, including the human soul.9 Now, 4 x 10 = 40, so a complete category of “being” or “world” has 40 aspects. In other words, 40 represents the completion of a whole mode or way of being.10

The Ultimate Forty

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that just as the first time the Jews went into the Land of Israel, it was after a “preparation” of 40 years in the desert, so, too, the number 40 is associated with the final redemption.11

In the Talmud, Rabbi Eliezer says: “The messianic era will be 40 years, as it is stated: ‘Forty years will I strive with the generation.’”12 The commentaries explain that Rabbi Eliezer was not limiting the time of the messianic era. On the contrary, what he is referring to are 40 years of the “messianic era” that will precede and prepare for the Resurrection of the Dead.13 Indeed, the Zohar states that there will be “40 years” until the Resurrection of the Dead 14 (or to be more precise, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains, it will take 40 years until the resurrection process is completed 15).

May it be speedily in our days!


1. Talmud, Bechorot 21b; see also Talmud, Menachot 99b and Nidah 30a.

2.  See, for example, Sforno on Exodus 24:18; Abrabanel on Exodus 24:17 and others.

3.  Talmud, Avodah Zarah 5b.

4.  Tzemach Tzedek, Ohr HaTorah, Devorim, vol. 1 p. 18.

5.  For an explanation of why we say “40 minus one” instead of “39,” see The 40th Labor.

6.  See Likutei Sichot, vol. 39, pp. 185-190, where the Rebbe explains how each set of 40 days are connected with transformation: the first 40 are connected to Torah, the second 40 are connected to prayer, and the last 40 are connected to teshuvah.

7.  See for example Torat Menachem, vol. 12, p. 157.

8. A person’s intellect itself also has four levels, chochmah, binah and daat, which is split into chessed and gevurah.
9.  For more on this see Worlds and Emanations.

10. For more on this, see Fortysomething.
11.  See Torat Menachem 5744, vol. 4, p. 2402.

12.  Talmud, Sanhedrin 99a.

13.  See commentary of Rabbeinu Nissim on Talmud, Sanhedrin 99a.

14.  Zohar 1:139a.

15.  Hamelech Bemesibo, vol. 2, p. 247.

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Posted by on February 8, 2019 in Uncategorized


Can a DNA Test Determine Jewish Status?

By Yehuda Shurpin

According to Jewish law, tribal affiliation (including whether one is a kohen) follows the direct paternal line, while the question of Jewishness follows the maternal line. Does this mean that genetic testing is a valid way of ascertaining whether one is Jewish or a kohen?

First, some basics. Females have XX chromosomes and males have XY. All females carry one X chromosome from their mother and one X chromosome from their father. Males, on the other hand, get their X chromosome from their mother and their Y chromosome from father. Since these chromosomes are passed from one generation to the next, it is theoretically possible to identify one’s ancestors through genetic testing.

Jewish Ancestry and Mitochondrial DNA

As mentioned, Jewish identity follows the maternal line. If your mother is Jewish, you’re Jewish. However, there is no such thing as a “Jewish gene,” so genetic testing cannot conclusively state whether a person is Jewish.

However, there does seem to be at least one way in which genetics may be used to help determine a person’s Jewishness. This involves using what is called mitochondrial DNA (or mtDNA), which is passed exclusively from the mother through the female line.

In a fascinating study published in 2006, it was shown that 40% of all Ashkenazi Jews are descended from just four Jewish women who lived more than 1,000 years ago. The study concluded that if someone bears specific mitochondrial DNA markers, there is a 90-99% chance that he or she is descended from one of these Jewish women.1

Of course, there are the other 60% of Ashkenazi Jews who do not come from these four women, as well as Sephardic Jews and converts.

Nevertheless, although still a matter of debate, there are some who hold that in a case where there is some evidence of Jewishness but no iron-clad proof, having this marker in conjunction with other supporting evidence can be used to conclude that the person is indeed Jewish.2

(As a disclaimer, this article is for informational purposes only. All practical questions regarding one’s Jewish identity should be directed to a qualified rabbi.)

The Kohen Gene

We can now turn to the question of kohanim (Jewish priests).

All kohanim are directly descended—on their father’s side—from Aaron the High Priest (Moses’ brother). Knowing that a copy of the Y chromosome is passed from father to son, Dr. Karl Skorecki, together with other colleagues, conducted a study in the 1990s to analyze and compare the Y chromosomes of kohanim with those of the non-kohen Jewish population.

In addition to the genes in the Y chromosome that determine if a person is male, the chromosome mostly consists of non-coding DNA, which tends to accumulate mutations. Based on the fact that the Y chromosome is passed down the paternal line without recombination, the genetic information on a Y chromosome of a man living today is basically the same as that of his ancient male ancestors, except for the rare mutations that occur along the hereditary line. A combination of these neutral mutations, known as a haplotype, can serve as a genetic signature of a man’s male ancestry.

Looking at six kinds of the YAP haplotype of the Y chromosome and comparing their frequency in kohanim and Jewish non-kohanim, Dr. Skorecki found that the majority of self-identified kohanim, both those of Sephardic as well as Ashkenazi descent, are all descended from the same person who lived roughly 3,000 years ago.

It should be noted that this marker was found in a much lower frequency among Jews who had no tradition of being kohanim, and in an even lower rate among non-Jews (although interestingly, it was found in a higher rate among the Lemba tribe in Africa, who have a tradition of being descendants of Jews).3

However, kohen status is dependent not only upon being the biological descendant of Aaron, but upon numerous other factors as well. For example, if a kohen marries a divorcée (or certain other women), their offspring would not be kohanim. So if one carries the genetic marker of kohanim, then perhaps he had a kohen in his ancestry, but he himself may not be a kohen or even Jewish, since that is dependent upon the mother.

Our sages tell us that when Moshiach comes, he will clarify our lineage and determine who in fact is a kohen, Levite or Israelite.4 May we merit the messianic era speedily in our time!


1.See Doron M. Behar, et al. “The Matrilineal Ancestry of Ashkenazi Jewry: Portrait of a

AsRecent Founder Event,American Journal of Human Genetics 78, no. 3 (March 2006): 487–497.

2.  See responsum B’Mareh HaBazak 9:30.

3.  See Karl Skorecki, et al. “Y chromosomes of Jewish priests,” Nature 385 (1997), and subsequent study, Mark G. Thomas, et al. “Origins of Old Testament priests,” Nature 394 (July 1998) 138-139.

4.  See Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 12:3.

As taken from,

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