Throughout the centuries, the Jewish people have always prided themselves on their yichus (lineage, distinguished birth, or pedigree). Yichus was especially important for rabbinical families, and many of them have created genealogy charts or family trees in which they have traced their lineage to King David, Maimonides, and other great Jews of the past.
[Editor’s Note: Due to space limitations, this is an abbreviated, text-only version of the authors’ manuscript. The full article, containing all figures, data tables, maps, family trees, photographs, and 125 footnoted references, can be viewed or downloaded from the Academia.edu website: https://www.academia.edu/26048275/The_Y-DNA_Genetic_Signature_and_Ethnic_Origin_of_the_ Twersky_Chassidic_Dynasty.]
If, as professed by Arthur Kurzweil, the “royal families” of the Jewish people have been those of the illustrious rabbis, then the Twersky Chassidic dynasty of Chernobyl surely merits an exalted place on the royal throne. It is known as a family with an unblemished yichus, as the Twersky Grand Rabbis married only within their immediate family for almost 200 years. Within the rabbinical Chassidic world, a Chernobyler Ainikle, a descendant of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty, is highly sought after for marriage, due to the purity of the blood line. Leaders of virtually every major Chassidic dynasty today (e.g., Belz, Bobov, Lubavitch, Ruzhin, Satmar, Savran-Bendery, Stolin, and Vishnitz) are blood descendants of Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernobyl.
For centuries, Jewish men and women have sought to connect themselves and their descendants to this renowned family, either through marriage, or by paper trail. With recent advances in genetic genealogy, this is now possible to do for more individuals of Jewish descent than ever before, as demonstrated by the authors’ identification of the Y-DNA genetic signatures of some of the world’s most prominent rabbinical lineages. In this study, we identify the Y-DNA genetic signature and ethnic origin of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty.
The Twersky Chassidic Dynasty of Chernobyl
The Twersky Chassidic dynasty was founded by Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky (1730–1797), known by the title of his book, Me’or Einayim (“Light of the Eyes”). Per family lore, the name “Twersky” was chosen to remember the holy city of Tveria (Tiberius) in Israel. The dynasty is named after the Ukrainian town of Chernobyl, where Rabbi Menachem Nachum served as the maggid (preacher).
Grand Rabbi Twersky was a student of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of Chassidism), and later, of his pupil and chief disciple, the Maggid of Mezritch. He lived a life of great piety and asceticism and is considered one of the pioneers of the Chassidic movement. His book, Me’or Einayim, published in Slavuta in 1798, was one of the first scholarly works on Chassidic thought, and it gained widespread acceptance as one of the major works and foundations of Chassidic ideology.
According to rabbinical sources, Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky had two sons and one daughter. Although a rabbi of great scholarship, his eldest son, Moshe (b. circa 1750 – d. before 1792), did not found a rabbinical dynasty. Rabbinical sources and tombstone inscriptions, in addition to Chernobyl censuses, list many of his descendants as being scribes and sextons of the rabbinical Twersky family, as well as rabbis, Talmud teachers, and mohels. Moshe’s descendants were an integral part of the inner workings of the Twersky rabbinical court, although they did not marry among the descendants of the rabbinical family.
Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum’s second son, Mordechai (1770–1837), took over his father’s position in Chernobyl, and unlike his father, he lived a life of great opulence. His thoughts, sermons, and discourses were published in his book, Likutei Torah, which was praised for its holiness by other Chassidic leaders
Grand Rabbi Mordechai Twersky had three daughters and eight sons. The sons carried on the traditions of their father and became Grand Rabbis in towns throughout Ukraine. Each of them established his own branch of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty in the towns of Chernobyl, Korostichev, Cherkasy, Makarov, Trisk, Tolna, Skvira, and Rachmastrivka (see Figure 1 in the full article).
The Twersky Chassidic dynasty produced a long line of distinguished rabbis and notable personalities over the centuries and is tightly interwoven with many of the most renowned Ashkenazi rabbinical families of Europe. There have been 140 Twersky Grand Rabbis between 1730 and the present, more than any other Chassidic dynasty, as sons became Grand Rabbis (Admurs) in their fathers’ lifetimes, and lived in cities and towns around the world.
Presently, nine of these Twersky Grand Rabbis live in Israel, seven in the United States, two in the United Kingdom, and one in Canada. There are many scions of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty alive today, and the genealogy of the family has been maintained through meticulously kept family records.
The Twersky Chassidic dynasty has many tens of thousands of documented descendants throughout the world. The family has been well-documented due to the numerous genealogies studies that have been published. Thanks to the genealogical research efforts of co-author Yitzchak Meyer Twersky in locating, translating, and compiling abundant source material in his book, Grand Rabbis of the Chernobyl Dynasty, the genealogical information on the Twersky lineage is extensive and highly accessible.
The 1795 census was the first census that was taken after the final partition of Poland, during which the Russian Empire acquired approximately two million Polish Jews, who did not use surnames. Listed in this census, in both Polish and Russian, are Nochim, son of Hirsh, age 66, and his wife Feyga, daughter of Yudko, age 50. Also listed are Morduch (Mordechai), son of Nochim, age 22, and his wife Sora (Sara), daughter of Aharon, age 21. (Both Mordechai’s and Sara’s ages were underestimated by several years in the census; he was born in 1770, and she was born c. 1771.)
The 1795 Chernobyl census is extremely important for several reasons:
- It is the first official document that mentions Nochim (Menachem Nachum) of Chernobyl.
- It mentions him as being a preacher.
- It mentions his father, Gershko (Zvi Hersh).
- It mentions Menachem Nachum’s wife, Feyga, daughter of Yudko. Feyga represents a previously unknown second or third wife of Menachem Nachum, not mentioned in any rabbinical sources.
- It mentions Menachem Nachum’s son, Mordechai of Chernobyl.
- It mentions Mordechai’s wife Sara, the daughter of Aharon [Grand Rabbi Aharon the Great of Karlin (1736–1772), founder of the Karlin-Stolin rabbinical dynasty].
The Twersky Chassidic dynasty is a particularly noteworthy lineage from a genealogical research perspective, due to its distinguished ancestry, its many marriage connections to other iconic rabbinical lineages and dynasties throughout the Russian Empire, its large number of descendants, and its well-documented paper trail.
The Twersky Chassidic dynasty traces its ancestry back to Rashi (1040–1105) through the Katzenellenbogen-Luria and the Shapiro-Treves rabbinical lineages. Members of the family intermarried with other prominent Jewish families and produced many notable rabbis, many of whom founded their own rabbinical dynasties (e.g., the Ruzhin and Savran-Bendery Chassidic dynasties):
- Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky’s daughter Malka married Rabbi Avraham Hirsch of Korostichev. Their daughter, Chava, was the mother of Grand Rabbi Yisrael Friedman (1796–1850), founder of the Ruzhin rabbinical dynasty.
- Malka and Avraham’s other daughter, Leah, married Rabbi Aryeh Leib Wertheim of Bendery (c. 1772–1854), co-founder of the Savran-Bendery rabbinical dynasty. Their daughter, Sima Wertheim, married Rabbi Eliyahu Pinchas Polonsky, Av Beit Din of Ekaterinopol (c. 1803–1855), and a great-grandson of Rabbi Pinchas Shapira of Koretz.
The ancestral links and notable descendants of Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernobyl are summarized in Figure 2 in the full article.
Identifying Pedigreed Descendants of the Twersky Chassidic Dynasty
Genetic tests, including Y-DNA tests, are not a substitute for traditional genealogical research, and a substantial knowledge of the genealogical background is required before Y-DNA tests can make a significant contribution. This is particularly true since Jewish surnames, most of which were adopted in the early 1800s, do not necessarily imply relatedness, and are notoriously unreliable for genealogical surname studies.
The Twersky Chassidic dynasty extends over nearly three centuries, and identifying living paternal descendants, descending solely from father to son, who are willing and able to take a Y-DNA test, presents unique genealogical challenges. Extensive genealogical research of the Twersky family conducted by Yitzchak Meyer Twersky, culminating in the publication of Grand Rabbis of the Chernobyl Dynasty, laid the necessary groundwork for identification of living descendants for this Y-DNA study.
From the many branches of the Twersky family documented in the book, we identified eight pedigreed descendants as potential study participants and candidates for Y-DNA testing. Two of these study participants descend from Rabbi Moshe, the elder son of Grand Rabbi Menachem Nahum Twersky of Chernobyl, and six of them descend from his younger son, Grand Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobyl.
These latter study participants represent six of the eight Chassidic dynasties that were established by the sons of Grand Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobyl, including the Chernobyl, Makarov, Trisk, Tolna, Skvira, and Rachmastrivka branches (see Figure 3 in the full article).
The paper trail for these eight pedigreed descendants was validated by an extensive search of Chernobyl census and vital records. Each of the eight descendants identified and selected for Y-DNA testing, and the branches of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty from which they descend, are described below.
The Main Branches of the Twersky Chassidic Dynasty (see illustrations in the full article)
The Chernobyl Branch
Yitzchak Meyer Twersky (b. 1965) is an 8th-generation direct paternal descendant of Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernobyl (1730–1797) through his grandson, Grand Rabbi Aharon Twersky of Chernobyl (1784–1871). Yitzchak Meyer Twersky was initially contacted by lead author Dr. Jeffrey Mark Paull, and in addition to taking a Y-DNA test, he was invited to serve as a member of the Twersky Y-DNA research team, and as a co-author of this study.
The Korostichev Branch
Grand Rabbi Moshe Twersky of Korostichev (1789–1866) was the father of Grand Rabbi Mordechai Twersky of Korostichev (1841–1916). His son, Grand Rabbi David Yaakov Twersky of Korostichev-Zhitomir (d. 1940), had a son, Grand Rabbi Yitzchak Avraham Moshe Twersky of Korostichev (d. 1982, Jerusalem), who was the last known male descendant of the Korostichev branch of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty.
The Cherkasy Branch
Grand Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Twerski (1794–1876) had only daughters. His grandson, Grand Rabbi Mordechai Dov Auerbach, adopted his mother’s surname of Twerski. Grand Rabbi Mordechai Dov Twerski of Hornistaiple was the son of Sterna Rachel Auerbach, who was the daughter of Grand Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Twerski of Cherkasy (1794–1876). Hence, like the Korostichev branch, the Cherkasy branch has no son-after-son descendants.
The Makarov Branch
Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Tversky (b. 1975) is an 8th-generation paternal descendant of Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernobyl (1730–1797), through his grandson, Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky of Makarov (1804–1851), whose son was Grand Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Twersky of Makarov (1828–1891).
The Trisk Branch
Rabbi Yitzchak David Twersky (b. 1977) is a 9th-generation paternal descendant of Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernobyl (1730–1797), through his grandson, Grand Rabbi Avraham Twersky of Trisk (1806–1889).
The Tolna Branch
Rabbi Neal (Menachem Nachum) Twersky (b. 1947) is a 7th-generation paternal descendant of Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernobyl (1730–1797), through his grandson, Grand Rabbi David Twersky of Tolna (1808–1882).
The Skvira Branch
Menachem Nachum Twersky (b. 1994) is an 8th-generation paternal descendant of Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernobyl (1730–1797), through his grandson, Grand Rabbi Yitzchak Twersky of Skvira (1812–1885). His son was Grand Rabbi David Twersky of Skvira (1845–1919).
The Rachmastrivka Branch
Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Twersky (b. 1993) is a 9th-generation paternal descendant of Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernobyl (1730–1797), through his grandson, Grand Rabbi Yochanan Twersky of Rachmastrivka (1816–1895).
Rabbi Moshe Twersky of Chernobyl Branc
Until recently, it was thought that the only living son-after-son descendants of Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky were the paternal descendants of his younger son, Grand Rabbi Mordechai Twersky of Chernobyl (1770–1837). While there were known descendants of his elder son, Rabbi Moshe (b. circa 1750 – d. before 1792), they were descendants of one of his daughters.
In various rabbinical sources, we found mention of descendants of Rabbi Moshe, including one that was a gabbai of Rabbi Aharon Twersky of Chernobyl (1784–1871), but it was unclear whether he was a descendant of a son or a daughter.
Based on census records obtained from the Chernobyl archives, we discovered that Rabbi Moshe had at least three sons (Mechel, Yisrael Yitzchak, and Yosef Naftali), and a son-in-law (Hirsh) from a previously unknown daughter. We also succeeded in identifying two pedigreed descendants of Rabbi Moshe as potential candidates for Y-DNA testing. These two Twersky descendants, Yisrael Tverskoy and Jonathan Tversky, were previously unaware of their exact line of descent from Rabbi Moshe, or of their connection to one another.
Yisrael Tverskoy (b. 1937, in Kiev) is an 8th-generation paternal descendant of Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernobyl (1730–1797), through his son, Rabbi Moshe Twersky (b. circa 1750 – d. before 1792), his grandson, Rabbi Mechel Twersky (1772–1845), his great-grandson, Rabbi Moshe Twersky (b. 1792), his 2nd-great-grandson, Rabbi Aharon Twersky (1828–1901), and his 3rd-great-grandson, Rabbi Mordechai Yisrael Twersky (1868–1908). Rabbi David Twersky (1859–1915) was the brother of Rabbi Mordechai Yisrael Twersky.
Jonathan Tversky (b. 1956, in Australia) is an 8th-generation paternal descendant of Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernobyl (1730–1797), through his son, Rabbi Moshe Twersky (b. circa 1750 – d. before 1792), his grandson, Rabbi Mechel Twersky (1772–1845), his great-grandson, Rabbi Abraham Twersky (b. 1822), and his 2nd-great grandson, Rabbi Mordechai Twersky (b. 1846).
The Y-DNA results of these two descendants of Rabbi Moshe genetically matched to each other, and they also genetically matched the Y-DNA results of the pedigreed descendants from Grand Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobyl’s branch, thereby proving that they were, indeed, son-after-son descendants of Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernobyl. This was an astounding discovery to the Chassidic world, as expressed in articles which appeared in the Yiddish publications Oros and Yiddishe Zeit, as well as in the English version of the publication Hamodia.
The paternal lines of descent for all eight pedigreed paternal descendants of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty are summarized in Table 1 in the full article.
The Y-DNA tests were conducted by Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) of Houston, Texas. The standard DNA Y-chromosome segment (DYS) markers, also referred to in genetic testing as short-tandem repeat (STR) markers, for the eight pedigreed Twersky paternal descendants are presented in Table 2 in the full article.
The value of testing Y-DNA STR markers comes from creating a Y-DNA signature (haplotype) and comparing that Y-DNA signature to others in a database. They are useful for genetic genealogy because a unique Y-DNA signature distinguishes one paternal lineage from another. They can then be used in conjunction with Family Tree DNA’s Y-DNA comparative database to discover genealogical connections or historical ancestry.
Y-DNA mutates very slowly and passes down from father to son without recombination, except for the rare mutations that occur along the hereditary line; therefore, the Y-DNA genetic signature of a male descendant represents that of his entire paternal lineage. For the purpose of Y-DNA testing, all descendants of the studied lineage must be son-after-son; if there is even one maternal ancestor interposed in the lineage, the Y-DNA results of her descendants will reflect her husband’s lineage, and not the Y-DNA genetic signature of the lineage of interest.
To establish the Y-DNA genetic signature of a given rabbinical lineage, the Y-DNA of pedigreed descendants of that lineage must genetically match one another. Ideally, these pedigreed descendants should be from different branches of the lineage, with each descendant representing a different cousinly paternal line. Matching Y-DNA results from three or more different paternal lines provide additional confirmation and validation of the Y-DNA genetic signature.
Y-DNA tests of the eight pedigreed Twersky paternal descendants were reported at the 37 STR marker level. Because the pedigrees of all eight descendants were well-documented, and the identity of their common ancestor was known, testing at an increased number of markers above the 37 STR marker level (e.g., 67, 111) was considered unnecessary for identifying the haplotype and establishing a genetic match.
The initial haplogroup for the eight descendants was predicted by FTDNA based upon their haplotype. Additional single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genotyping was conducted for all eight pedigreed descendants to further refine the initial haplogroup classification.
Y-DNA Test Results
The Twersky Haplotype
Table 2 in the full article presents the Y-DNA test results for the eight pedigreed Twersky paternal descendants. The Y-DNA results showed a close genetic match among all eight descendants. The allele values of one of the pedigreed descendants (Rabbi Neal Twersky) represented modal values at all 37 STR marker locations, indicating that he had no mutations; his allele values therefore most likely represent ancestral values, or the modal haplotype. This also makes genetic sense, as he had the fewest number of generations back to the common ancestor and founder of the lineage, Grand Rabbi Menachem Nahum Twersky, of any of the descendants (see Table 1 in the full article).
All six pedigreed descendants of Grand Rabbi Mordechai Twersky matched each other quite closely, matching the modal haplotype on either 35/37 or 36/37 STR marker locations. Non-matching allele values, representing possible mutations at the STR marker locations tested, are indicated by the blue-shaded cells in Table 2 in the full article.
The two pedigreed descendants of Rabbi Moshe Twersky matched each other’s allele values at 34/37 STR marker locations. They also matched the allele values of the pedigreed descendants of Moshe’s brother, Grand Rabbi Mordechai Twersky, quite closely, with Yisrael Tverskoy matching the modal haplotype at 35/37 STR marker locations and Jonathan Tversky matching it at 36/37 STR marker locations.
An interesting finding was the uniqueness of the Twersky haplotype, as indicated by the relatively small number of Y-DNA matches on the Twersky descendants’ genetic match lists. Yitzchak Meyer Twersky and Yisrael Tverskoy had only the other seven pedigreed Twersky descendants on their Y-DNA37 match lists. Including these seven pedigreed descendants, Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Twersky had eight genetic matches; Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Twersky and Rabbi Neal Twersky had twenty, Menachem Nachum Twersky had twenty-one, and Jonathan Tversky and Rabbi Yitzchak David Twersky had thirty-nine (see Table 3 in the full article).
Based on their haplotype, all eight pedigreed descendants were initially classified as belonging to the R1b-M173 haplogroup. Additional SNP testing of all eight pedigreed descendants’ Y-DNA revealed that they belong to the R-V88 subclade of the R1b-M173 haplogroup. This haplogroup/subclade designation, together with the lineage-specific haplotype, comprises the Y-DNA genetic signature for the Twersky Chassidic dynasty.
The close Y-DNA genetic match among all eight pedigreed Twersky descendants, representing two different ancestral lines, validates their pedigree back to their common ancestor and founder of the lineage, Grand Rabbi Menachem Nahum Twersky of Chernobyl.
A possible explanation for the larger number of genetic matches for Jonathan Tversky and Rabbi Yitzchak David Twersky is a back-mutation of the Y-GATA-H4 STR marker allele value from 13 to 12 that occurred twice separately in the Twersky line (see Table 2 in full article). An allele value of 13 for this marker represents a mutation that is distinctive of the Twersky lineage; an allele value of 12 represents a R1b-V88 modal ancestral value.
Time-to-Most Recent Common Ancestor (TMRCA) Predictions
In this Y-DNA study of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty, as in our previous studies of rabbinical lineages, the common ancestor of all pedigreed descendants is known, and therefore, each descendant’s generation or place in the lineage does not need to be estimated. However, conducting Y-DNA testing of pedigreed descendants with well-documented paper trails provides the opportunity to evaluate and assess the accuracy of current predictive models for estimating the time-to-most recent common ancestor (TMRCA).
FTDNA’s time predictor (TiP) model was used to predict the TMRCA probabilities for the eight pedigreed Twersky descendants. In comparing Y-DNA results for estimating the probability of the TMRCA, each pedigreed Twersky descendant’s Y-DNA results, at 37 STR markers, were compared to those of the modal haplotype, represented by Rabbi Neal Twersky, because: (1) He represents the closest descendant to the common ancestor (see Table 1 in full article), and because: (2) His modal allele values most likely represent ancestral values (see Table 2 in full article). These probability predictions are presented numerically in Table 4 and graphically in Figure 4 in the full article.
The most recent common ancestor (MRCA) for all pedigreed Twersky descendants is Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky (1730–1797). He preceded 7th-generation descendant Rabbi Neal Twersky in the lineage by six generations, 8th-generation descendants Yisrael Tverskoy, Jonathan Tversky, Yitzchak Meyer Twersky, Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Tversky, and Menachem Nachum Twersky by seven generations, and 9th-generation descendants Rabbis Yitzchak David Twersky and Moshe Yehuda Twersky by eight generations (see Table 1 in the full article). These are known, documented TMRCAs.
As shown by the mean probability values in Table 4 (see the full article), the known TMRCAs fell between the 75.3 and the 86.2 percent probability predictions for this study. These probability predictions were most accurate for the 9th-generation descendants (86.2%), less accurate for the 8th-generation descendants (81.4%), and least accurate for the 7th-generation descendant (75.3%).
These results are consistent with those of our previous Y-DNA studies of rabbinical lineages, which showed that the FTDNA time predictor model consistently overestimates the TMRCA in the range of 4 to 46 percent using the FTDNA time predictor model, and that the degree of overestimation is inversely related to the distance to the MRCA (i.e., the closer to the MRCA, the less accurate the TiP model predictions are, and the further from the MRCA, the more accurate they are).
To say this another way, the known TMRCAs in these rabbinical lineage studies generally fall between the 54 percent and 96 percent probability predictions, depending on the distance to the most recent common ancestor, with a mean value of about 75 percent. Similar findings were reported by Unkefer, who indicated that the actual documented TMRCA generally falls between the 50 percent and the 95 percent probability predictions.
The Twersky Haplogroup
A haplogroup is a group of similar haplotypes that share a common ancestor having the same single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) mutation in all haplotypes. Simply put, a haplogroup is a genetic population group of people who share a common ancestor on the patrilineal or matrilineal line. Because a haplogroup consists of similar haplotypes, it is possible to predict a haplogroup from the haplotype, but a SNP test is required to confirm the haplogroup prediction.
Y-chromosome DNA (Y-DNA) haplogroups are determined by SNP tests. SNPs are locations on the DNA where one nucleotide has mutated to a different nucleotide. Haplogroup classifications and the SNPs within them are organized within branches on the Y-chromosome phylogenetic tree. The defining SNP for a haplogroup is generally the furthest downstream SNP that has been identified on the phylogenic tree. This defining SNP of the latest subclade known by current research is referred to as the terminal SNP.
The International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), Family Tree DNA (FTDNA), and YFull maintain phylogenetic or Y-SNP trees. These trees are generally updated as new branch-defining SNPs are discovered, with the YFull tree currently being relied upon as the most up-to-date version. Other regularly updated haplogroup-specific trees, such as the R1b Basal Subclades Phylogenetic Trees, are also available.
Based on their Y-DNA37 STR markers, all eight pedigreed descendants of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty were initially classified as belonging to the R-M173 haplogroup. Men from this lineage share a common paternal ancestor, which is defined by the presence of the SNP mutation referred to as M173, also known as R1. The R1 haplogroup is very common throughout Europe and western Eurasia. Its main subgroups are R1a (M420) and R1b (M343).
Haplogroup R1b, also known as haplogroup R-M343, is an offshoot of M173. It is the most frequently occurring Y chromosome haplogroup in Western Europe, as well as some parts of Russia, Central Asia, and Central Africa. It is also present at lower frequencies throughout Eastern Europe, Western Asia, as well as parts of North Africa and South Asia.
To further delineate the haplogroup of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty, we ordered FTDNA’s R1b-M343 “Backbone SNP Pack,” which tests for 140 SNPs downstream of M343. The Y-DNA of pedigreed descendant Rabbi Neal Twersky was the first to be tested; he was found to belong to the R1b-V88 subclade of the R1b-M343 haplogroup. Following receipt of these results, the R1b-V88 SNP marker was tested for and confirmed for the other seven pedigreed Twersky descendants.
The discovery of the R1b-V88 SNP marker was announced in 2010 by Cruciani et al. Apart from individuals in southern Europe and Western Asia, the preponderance of R1b-V88 was found in northern and central Africa. Small percentages (1 to 4%) of R1b-V88 were also found in the Levant, among the Lebanese, the Druze, and the Jews, and in almost every country in Africa north of the equator.
The YFull tree shows that the ancestral R1b-V88 haplogroup has many branches, of which two large branches are known. One branch is the Arab-African branch; the other branch has a split at 3400 years-before-present (ybp), before the start of Judaism. One sub-branch at 3400 ybp leads to a person from Saudi Arabia and the other sub-branch leads to another split at 900 ybp into the Jewish Ashkenazi branch.
This last split fits the idea that a Jewish group left the Middle East and lived in Iberia as part of the Sephardic Jewish community there. One of the Ashkenazi descendants, after living in Iberia, migrated to the Ashkenazi countries, where the population grew.
Penninx and Akaha (2016) analyzed the STR values among five different groups belonging to different branches of the R1b-V88 haplogroup in their FTDNA project. From this analysis, they reported that: “The Spanish group and the Ashkenazi group share a relatively recent common ancestor, with a TMRCA distance of 450–2100 ybp” (see the footnotes in the full article for complete source citations).
Based on their findings, the authors concluded that: “The scenario that best fits the observation with the historic knowledge is a migration of a Jewish person from the Middle East to Iberia, and a later migration from Iberia to the Ashkenazi countries in the early Middle Ages and later migrations to the Ottoman Empire and the New World.”
Their conclusions are supported by the results of recent research studies which make a strong case for the Iberian origins of R1b-V88 and its parent SNP, R1b-L278. Maglio (2014) used biogeographical analysis to determine origins and migration patterns of a data set of individuals who tested positive for the R1b-V88 SNP marker. The author concluded: “The resulting phylogenetic relationships for R1b-V88 support an Iberian origin, a Mediterranean expansion, and a Europe to Africa back migration.”
In addition to the phylogenetic evidence supporting Iberian ancestry based upon the R1b-V88 haplogroup marker, the STR results for the pedigreed Twersky descendants provide additional supporting evidence of Iberian ancestry. Five pedigreed Twersky descendants – Jonathan Tversky, Zvi Hirsch Tversky, Menachem Nachum Twersky, Rabbi Neal Twersky, and Rabbi Yitzchak David Twersky – have an individual with the surname “Zamora” on their genetic match lists. He matches them on 33 to 34 of 37 STR markers.
Recorded in the spellings of Zamora, Zamorrann, and Zamorrano, this famous Spanish surname derives from the ancient city of Zamora in Northwest Spain, a city founded by the invading Moors in the 12th century. The Zamora surname also appears on several different lists of Sephardic Jewish surnames.
According to Professor Avraham Gross of Ben-Gurion University, Zamora, the capital of the northwestern province of the same name, was the most important center of Jewish learning in Spain during the 15th century. He discussed the Yeshiva of Zamora’s founder, Rabbi and Gaon of Castile Isaac Campantón (1360–1463), and emphasized Zamora’s position at the peak of Jewish learning right before the Expulsion.
These intriguing research findings suggest that the Twersky Chassidic dynasty most likely descends from a common Sephardic Iberian ancestor. Current research suggests that this Iberian ancestor lived approximately 450–2100 years ago, and that he most likely migrated to Iberia from Africa or the Middle East. During the early Middle Ages, this Iberian ancestor migrated from Iberia to the Ashkenazi countries, in which the Twersky Chassidic dynasty arose.
The Iberian ethnic origin of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty, while intriguing, is not entirely unexpected, or without historical precedent. Sephardic Jewry, having been expelled from Spain, found different homes throughout Europe.
With the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, as well as expulsion from Austria, Hungary, and Germany, Poland became the recognized haven for exiles from the rest of Europe, and the resulting accession to the ranks of Polish Jewry made it the cultural and spiritual center of the Jewish people in Europe until the 1600s.
It is also well-known that many major rabbinical families have a long-standing tradition that they descend from pre-Inquisition Spain and Portugal. The prominent Ashkenazi rabbinical Epstein family, for instance, claims descent from Spain. In this regard, the results of our previous Y-DNA study of the Katzenellenbogen rabbinical dynasty provided compelling genetic evidence that it, too, was most likely Sephardic in origin.
The Twersky Y-DNA Genetic Signature
As previously stated, the lineage-specific haplotype, together with the haplogroup/subclade designation, comprises the Y-DNA genetic signature for the Twersky Chassidic dynasty; both are essential and complementary components of the Y-DNA genetic signature of a paternal lineage. We have utilized this approach in our previous Y-DNA studies of rabbinical lineages, the benefits of which have recently been summarized.
For the lineage descending from the Twersky Chassidic dynasty, the allele values at the 37 STR marker locations presented in “Y-DNA Test Results for Pedigreed Descendants of the Twersky Chassidic Dynasty” (see Table 2 in full article) represent the haplotype of the lineage. The modal allele values, which correspond to the allele values for Rabbi Neal Twersky, are most likely to represent ancestral values.
This distinctive pattern of allele values distinguishes the Twersky lineage from other paternal lineages; even those that belong to the same parent haplogroup and subclade. This is also evidenced by the fact that there are so few genetic matches to pedigreed Twersky descendants in the FTDNA database; two of the pedigreed Twersky descendants match only the other seven pedigreed descendants, and a third has only one other non-Twersky genetic match (see Table 3 in full article).
The parent haplogroup to which the Twersky lineage belongs is the R1b-M343 haplogroup, which is an offshoot of R1-M173. Following identification of the R-V88 SNP marker in all eight pedigreed descendants, we tested Rabbi Neal Twersky’s Y-DNA for three additional SNPs downstream of R-V88: PF6289, FGC20973, and FGC21049. His Y-DNA tested positive for all three SNPs. The TMRCA for the terminal FGC21049 SNP is approximately 100–650 ybp, with an average of about 350 ybp. This mean TMRCA (350 ybp) is in the range of the actual TMRCA for the founder of Twersky Chassidic dynasty (287 ybp).
Based on their positive R-V88 SNP marker results, and closely matching STR allele values, it can be safely presumed that the other seven pedigreed Twersky descendants would test positive for the three downstream SNPs as well. Hence, the full phylogenetic path for the Twersky haplogroup is:
R-M173 > P25, M343 > V88 > FGC21015 > FGC21027 > FGC20970 > FGC20973 > FGC20980 > FGC21049
Taken together, these STR haplotype and SNP haplogroup results define the Y-DNA genetic signature for the Twersky Chassidic dynasty.
Recommendations for Future Study
The identification of the Twersky Y-DNA genetic signature is a significant research finding with many implications for the field of genetic genealogy, particularly for individuals of Jewish descent. Like most pioneering genetic genealogy studies, the Twersky Y-DNA study raises many new research questions and opens many new promising research avenues to exploration.
Based upon the matching Y-DNA results of eight pedigreed paternal descendants of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty, we have succeeded in identifying the haplotype and haplogroup that characterize the Y-DNA signature of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty, back to their most recent common ancestor and founder of the dynasty, Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky (1730–1797).
There are tens of thousands of Twersky descendants widely dispersed throughout the world. Many of them are patrilineal descendants of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty, but many may have independently acquired the Twersky surname and bear no genetic relationship to descendants of the Twersky rabbinical family.
We are currently conducting a worldwide surname-lineage study to compare the Y-DNA test results of Twersky descendants from all families having the Twersky surname to the Y-DNA genetic signature of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty to either confirm or disprove paternal descent from the Twersky rabbinical family.
For those descendants who do not match the Twersky Y-DNA genetic signature, we are attempting to identify their haplotype and haplogroup, determine how they may relate to the Twersky Chassidic dynasty (e.g., such as by descent through a son-in-law who adopted the Twersky surname), and investigate possible sources of errors in the paper trail.
The haplotype classification for the eight pedigreed Twersky descendants was based on the testing of 37 STR markers. We compared known TMRCAs to predicted values using FTDNA’s STR mutation rate-based time predictor model, and found that the model overestimated the TMRCA by approximately 14 to 25 percent. This finding was consistent with the results of our previous Y-DNA studies of rabbinical lineages. Such research studies provide useful validation data for evaluating the accuracy and reliability of current STR mutation rate-based models.
The predicted R-M173 haplogroup classification was further refined by the testing of downstream SNPs for all eight pedigreed Twersky descendants. From this additional SNP testing, all eight descendants were found to belong to the R-V88 subclade of the R1b haplogroup, which yielded fresh insights into the likely Sephardic origin of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty.
Additional SNP testing confirmed that one pedigreed descendant of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty belongs to the FGC20149 subclade of the R-V88 haplogroup. Based on their positive R-V88 SNP marker results, and closely matching STR allele values, it can be safely presumed that the other seven pedigreed Twersky descendants belong to this subclade as well. There are five SNPs (FGC21047, FGC21053, FGC21054, FGC21055, FGC21065) at or near the same phylogenetic level as FGC21049. Additional SNP testing will be required to confirm them and establish their branching sequence.
Current research suggests that the Iberian ancestor of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty lived approximately 450–2100 years ago, and that he most likely migrated to Iberia from Africa or the Middle East. However, current phylogenetic-based TMRCA calculations are imprecise, and give only a relative indication of chronological magnitude. The possible Twersky Sephardic ancestral connection to the Spanish town of Zamora provides yet another intriguing clue which merits further investigation.
Future research employing next-generation sequence (NGS)-based methods, such as FTDNA’s Big Y test, will permit the identification of novel SNPs that are further downstream of the FGC21049 SNP marker, and help to elucidate where they fit on the phylogenetic tree. This phylogenetic data, when coupled with appropriate population genetics and biogeographical methods, will permit more accurate age estimates of haplogroup clusters. Advancements in STR methodologies may also make more accurate determinations of mutation rates, TMRCAs, and ethnic origins possible.
Undoubtedly, as such NGS-based methods become more widely available and used, and the full genome database grows, the Twersky Y-DNA genetic signature, like the genetic signature of other rabbinical lineages, will be further extended and refined.
Summary and Conclusions
The Twersky Chassidic dynasty dates back nearly three centuries. Thanks to the numerous published genealogies of the Twersky family in rabbinical sources, family trees, and yichus letters, the authenticity and validity of the lineage has been well-established. Extensive genealogical research of the Twersky family laid the necessary groundwork for identification of eight son-after-son descendants of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty for participation in this Y-DNA study.
Based upon the closely matching Y-DNA results of these eight pedigreed paternal descendants, we have succeeded in identifying the haplotype and haplogroup that characterize the Y-DNA signature of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty, back to their most recent common ancestor and founder of the rabbinical dynasty, Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky (1730–1797).
The findings and conclusions that are drawn from a Y-DNA study are only as strong as the genealogical evidence upon which they are based. In this Y-DNA research study, we were very fortunate to have had eight pedigreed son-after-son descendants with well-documented lines of descent from the Twersky Chassidic dynasty. This provided us with a very robust data set and a strong foundation of genealogical evidence upon which our findings and conclusions are based.
The closeness of the genetic match among these eight pedigreed Twersky descendants, taken together with their well-documented paper trail, provides a high degree of confidence that their distinct allele pattern at 37 STR marker locations, which defines their haplotype, in addition to the R1b-V88 and FGC21049 SNP markers, which define their haplogroup and subclade, accurately represents the Y-DNA genetic signature of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty and its various branches (Chernobyl, Makarov, Trisk, Tolna, Skvira, and Rachmastrivka).
In a recent Y-DNA rabbinical lineage study, we reported that the Katzenellenbogen rabbinical dynasty, long considered to be a classic Ashkenazic lineage, had a Sephardic ethnic origin. In a study of forty-five men in their Family Tree DNA FGC20747 SNP project, Rachel Unkefer et al. also recently presented Y-DNA evidence for an Ashkenazi lineage’s Iberian origin.
These current research findings suggest that the Twersky Chassidic dynasty, too, most likely descends from a Sephardic Iberian ancestor. Current research makes a strong case for the Iberian origins of the R1b-V88 SNP marker and suggests that the most recent common ancestor lived approximately 450–2100 years ago. This ancestor most likely migrated to Iberia from Africa or the Middle East, and during the early Middle Ages, his paternal descendant(s) migrated from Iberia to the Ashkenazi countries, where, several centuries later, the Twersky Chassidic dynasty arose.
In addition to the phylogenetic-based evidence of Iberian origin, this study provides an intriguing clue which suggests that the Twersky Chassidic dynasty may have an ancient connection to the town of Zamora, an important center of Jewish learning in Spain during the 15th century.
The application of DNA to genealogy has made great strides since its beginnings just over a decade ago, and the benefits of combining DNA and traditional paper-trail methodologies are evident. The Twersky Y-DNA research study represents a model example of how traditional genealogy and genetic genealogy work together to validate the paper trail for the pedigreed descendants of a lineage, and identify and characterize the Y-DNA genetic signature of the rabbinical lineage under study.
Several of our Twersky Y-DNA study participants were unsure of their precise line of descent from the Twersky Chassidic dynasty, and through their participation in our research study, they rediscovered their roots. As more individuals of Jewish descent turn to genetic testing as a way of discovering their roots, it is becoming increasingly clear that identifying the unique Y-DNA genetic signature of the world’s historically significant rabbinical lineages will play an important role in Jewish genealogy.
Y-DNA research studies of rabbinical lineages such as Polonsky, Bacharach, Wertheim-Giterman, Katzenellenbogen, and the Shpoler Zeida have demonstrated the intrinsic value of identifying the Y-DNA genetic signature of these lineages for bridging major gaps in the paper trail for both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. As Y-DNA genetic signatures are identified for a growing number of rabbinical lineages, and the size of the DNA database increases, the likelihood of finding a genetic match to a well-documented rabbinical line increases.
With the successful identification and characterization of the Y-DNA genetic signature of the Twersky Chassidic dynasty, we hope to enable many more current and future generations of newly discovered Twersky descendants to connect themselves and their families to this illustrious rabbinical lineage, and to rediscover their remarkable heritage.
The authors wish to thank our Twersky Y-DNA study participants for their outstanding cooperation, patience, and permission to present their names and Y-DNA data in our study. We also offer our sincere thanks to Susan K. Steeble for her invaluable editing assistance, and to Janet Billstein Akaha, Wim Penninx, Zach Gordon, and Schelly Talalay Dardashti for their helpful comments regarding the haplogroup and ethnic origin discussion.