DNA finds Hungary to have highest percentage of citizens with Jewish ethnicity

DNA testing found that Hungary has the highest percentage of citizens of Ashkenazic Jewish extraction outside of Israel.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A worldwide DNA study has shown that Hungary is the country with the highest percentage of people outside of Israel with Ashkenazic Jewish blood. Over 130,000 have 50 percent Jewish ethnicity.

The study, performed by online genealogy platform MyHeritage, examined anonymous DNA samples sent in voluntarily by 1.8 million people from some 100 countries.

Hungary’s share, 4,981, showed that 7.6 percent were at least 25 percent ethnically Jewish – far more than 3.5 percent of people in the USA and 3 percent in Canada.

The Hungarian sampling included 4.2 percent who were half-Jewish or even more, according to their DNA.

Dr. Daniel Staetsky, director of the European Jewish Demography Unit at the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research, who headed the research team, emphasized that those who do genetic testing are usually from the more educated and wealthier part of the population.

This means that although four percent of the population would result in some 400,000 people being half-Jewish since Hungary has some 9.7 million people, he estimated that the true number was closer to 130,000.

He pointed out that this is still much higher than the official population statistics in the eastern European country.

“According to the National Census of 2013, the number of Jews in Hungary was only 10,965,” Staetsky told Ynet on Wednesday.

“A larger estimate of the population of Jewish origin in Hungary, produced by Professor Anders Kovacs, found that there are between 73,000 and 138,000 people with one Jewish parent or more,” Staetsky said.

“Therefore, the MyHeritage data-based estimate agrees well with some of the high demographic estimates. The research results give credibility to both traditional demographic methods – and to the innovative estimates based on genetic testing. ”

He offered historical reasons for the great gap between the number of those who self-identify as Jews and those with significant, DNA-proven Jewish ethnicity.

“If you go to Eastern Europe and approach people in the Jewish community, they will tell you that many have learned about Judaism at a relatively advanced age,” he said.

“This is, of course, a result of Jewish history in Europe – a place where Jews lived for a long time and were persecuted for a long time. They also assimilated into the local population and in places where being Jewish was not a great honor. They tried to hide it, they didn’t tell the kids – and they found it out from the DNA test.”

Besides its genetic testing service, MyHeritage allows its over 100 million users to create family trees and search through over nine billion historical records for their relatives. It was founded in 2003 in Israel by entrepreneur Gilad Japhet.