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certainty," the researchers observe._

Levites, according to their genetics, have a more complicated story. Levites are a junior priesthood to the cohanim, with fewer duties and obligations. By tradition, levites consist of all male descendants of Levi who are not also cohanim. The exclusion arises because Levi, the third son of the patriarch Jacob, was also an ancestor of Aaron. About 4% of Jewish men are levites, the same proportion as are cohanim.

The Y chromosomes of Ashkenazic and Sephardic levites show no particular similarity. So, unlike the case with the cohanim, there is no identifiable male levite lineage that precedes the Ashkenazi-Sephardi split. There is, however, a strong genetic signature common to 52% of Ashkenazic levites. It is a set of genetic variations belonging to a branch of the world Y chromosome tree known as Rial. To judge by the amount of variation on these levite Rial chromosomes, the original ancestor seems to have entered the Jewish community about 1,000 years ago, roughly the time when Jewish settlement in northwest Europe began, in other words at the founding of the Ashkenazic community.320

The geneticists who discovered the Rial signature among the levites, a team that included Skorecki, Hammer and Goldstein, note that outside the Jewish community the R1a1 chromosome is relatively common in the region north of Georgia, in the Caucasus, that was once occupied by the Khazar kingdom. The Khazars were a Turkic tribe whose king converted to Judaism in the eighth or ninth century AD.

The geneticists propose that one or more of the Khazar converts may have become levites, accounting for the Rial signature among today's Ashkenazic levites. But Shaye Cohen, an expert on Jewish religious history, believes it unlikely that converts would become levites, let alone founding members of the levite community in Europe. The Khazar connection is "all hypothesis," in his view.

The genetic findings about cohen and levite ancestry are just genetics; they have no bearing on who is or is not considered to be a cohen or a levite. "Genetics is

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