Hungary is the world’s highest rate of Jewish-Ashkenazi ethnicity, after Israel, more than in the US, according to a new genetic study conducted by Israeli startup MyHeritage. Russia ranks second in the world and with no significant difference.
The company analyzed anonymous DNA tests carried out by 1.8 million people, and the findings surprised even the researchers.
The discrepancy between MyHeritage’s research findings and previous estimates of the number of Jewish origins in Hungary shows that there are a considerable number of people in Hungary who are either unaware of their Jewish roots or whose Jewish heritage has been consciously suppressed by their ancestors.
MyHeritage conducted the study in collaboration with Dr. Daniel Stetsky, Director of the European Jewish Demography Unit at the Jewish Policy Research Institute and a Jewish Demographic Expert Statistician, who conceived the study.
The study included users from all over the world, in 42 different languages, who could be verified with certainty about the country in which they live. For example, if a person living in a particular country purchased additional DNA kits for family members whose country of residence was unknown to MyHeritage for sure, they were excluded from the study.
Of the 100 countries included in the study, 7.6% of the 4,981 Hungarian residents who supplied MyHeritage DNA were found to have 25% or more Ashkenazi Jewish origin (ie, each had at least one grandparent, or grandmother, of origin A full Ashkenazi Jew). This figure is significantly higher than the corresponding percentage measured among US residents, which stood at 3.5%, and Canada with 3.0%.
When examining the percentage of people of lower Ashkenazi Jewish origin, Hungary’s advantage is even more pronounced. 12.5% of the Hungarian were measured as having Ashkenazi Jewish origin of 10% or more, compared to only 4.7% of US residents and 4.0% in Canada. Moreover, 4.2% of those surveyed in Hungary had 50% Ashkenazi Jewish ethnicity or more (equivalent to at least one Jewish parent), up from 2.3% in the US.
According to recent UN estimates, Hungary’s current population numbers about 9.7 million.
MyHeritage’s discovery that 4.2% of Hungary’s MyHeritage DNA population has at least 50% Jewish-Ashkenazi ethnicity requires adjustment to translate these percentages into population numbers.
Dr. Stetzky suggests taking into account that among MyHeritage users. Consistent with the selectivity required, I have concluded that the number of people with Ashkenazi Jewish origin in Hungary of 50% or more reaches 130,000, “says Dr. Stetsky.
This figure is significantly higher than some of the most recent global estimates.
According to the 2013 National Census, the number of Jews in Hungary was only 10,965. Other estimates, such as the one produced by Professor Sergio della Pergola, show that the number of people in Hungary who identify themselves as Jews – for example, in response to polls – reaches 47,500, or 0.49% of the population.
Larger estimates 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 or more Jewish parents.
Therefore, the MyHeritage data-based estimate is in good agreement with some of the high demographic estimates. “The research result lends credibility to both traditional demographic methods and innovative estimates based on genetic testing,” Dr. Stetsky said.
The purpose of MyHeritage’s research was not to find how many people in Hungary or other countries identify as Jews, but only to determine the number of people who have Jewish ancestors or mothers, as evidenced by genetic testing, and without regard to Jewish law principles, according to which a person’s Jewishness is determined by his mother.
One of the major challenges facing demographics exploring the proportion of the Jewish population around the world is the fact that Jews used to hide their Jewishness before and during the Holocaust. It is believed that even after World War II, many Jews avoided revealing their Jewish identity and concealing it, or were no longer aware of it.
Dr. Andreas Kovac, professor of sociology at the University of Central Europe in Budapest, is well aware of the fact that there are more Jewish people in Hungary than is customary and recognizes that there is a real challenge to assessing the true size of the Jewish population in the country.
“If we count the number of Jews based on residents who have at least one Jewish grandfather and subtract all non-Jewish family members, then there should be between 150 and 200,000 Jews in Hungary today,” said Kovacs, who conducted close to two thousand interviews to investigate the issue, as published in an article in the Times of Israel last year.