In search of the origin of Sephardic (Spanish) Jews

Following the publication of our study on the origin of Yiddish and its speakers it was only a matter of time until I would be swarmed with queries as to “what about Sephardic Jews” and to a lesser degree “What about Ladino (the native language of Sephardic Jews)?”

I have a few problems with this type of research:

  1. The population in question is poorly defined. No one has seen a Sephardic Jew in over 500 years. The people who consider themselves Sephardic Jews, are not truly Spanish Jews, but are rather adheres to the religious practices of Sephardic Jews. This is a completely different thing than being an “authentic” Spanish Jew.
  2. The population in question is mixed. After the expulsion from Spain (1492) and Portugal (1497), the Spanish Jews who did not convert to Christianity joined existing Jewish communities around the Mediterranean or fled to the New World. They then mixed with the native Jewish and non-Jewish communities whose genetic background probably differed from theirs. In other words, the genomic signature of Sephardic Jews had decayed over time and will not be easy to find. Dealing with a mixed population requires much more powerful tools than those used in our Yiddish study.
  3. Ladino is on the verge of extinction. Ladino speakers are elders and did not pass the language on to their children. Ladino may go extinct in couple of decades. Yiddish is also in danger but it has a larger speaker base. Applying the methodology developed in our Yiddish study requires a cohort of native speakers.

These problems are not unique to genetics and are common to all research fields aiming to study Sephardic Jews.

The good news is that I think these problems are solvable and have already outlined a generic grant proposal. The more practical question is where to submit it to?

All suggestions are welcome.

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