Was Jefferson the First Jewish President of U.S.? Who Cares?

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Apparently I was at least partly mistaken in thinking that Myron S. Goldberg was the first Jewish President of the United States. According to an article by Nicholas Wade, published by The New York Times back in 2007, one of our Founding Fathers—Thomas Jefferson—may have harbored some Jewish blood inside his brilliant veins.

Thomas Jefferson as a Jewish President Wearing a Yarmulke

Thomas Jefferson as a Jewish President Wearing a Yarmulke

Says Mr. Wade, “Researchers studying Jefferson’s Y chromosome have found it belongs to a lineage that is rare in Europe but common in the Middle East, raising the possibility that the third president of the United States had a Jewish ancestor many generations ago.” Of course none of Jefferson’s biological remains survive, so that genealogical limb was severed.

However, this did not deter geneticists at the University of Leicester in England. Led by Turi E. King and Mark A. Jobling, they headed along a branch to which Jefferson’s Y chromosome belongs. Called K2, this branch is rare, showing up in Spain and Portugal once in a blue moon but not, it turns out, in Britain (specifically Wales), from where Jefferson’s family hailed.

Dr. Jobling decided to scan the population most likely to carry K2 — men named Jefferson. Of the 85 British Jeffersons tested, only two had Y chromosomes of the K2 lineage: one paternal grandfather born in Yorkshire, another born in the West Midlands. So Jefferson’s most recent paternal ancestry was indeed British. No surprise there. And no good news for the theory of Middle Eastern origins.