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Bene Israel: Study of Jewish community living in India

A family of the Bene Israel community in India. Image source:

The Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, in a letter written 800 years ago (circa 1200 CE), briefly mentioned a Jewish community living in India. It is anticipated that he referred to the Bene Israel community.

The Bene Israel community in West India is a unique community whose historical background before the 18th century other than their oral history remains largely unknown.

Oral history among Bene Israel holds that they are descendants of Jews whose ship wrecked on the Konkan shore, with only seven men and seven women surviving. Adding to the vagueness of Bene Israel origin is the fact that a similar story of seven surviving couples is found in the oral histories of other Indian populations.

Here is the Abstract of the Reasearch Article “The Genetics of Bene Israel from India Reveals Both Substantial Jewish and Indian Ancestry”:

Bene Israel members consider themselves as descendants of Jews, yet the identity of Jewish ancestors and their arrival time to India are unknown, with speculations on arrival time varying between the 8th century BCE and the 6th century CE.

Here, we characterize the genetic history of Bene Israel by collecting and genotyping 18 Bene Israel individuals. Combining with 486 individuals from 41 other Jewish, Indian and Pakistani populations, and additional individuals from worldwide populations, we conducted comprehensive genome-wide analyses based on FST, principal component analysis, ADMIXTURE, identity-by-descent sharing, admixture linkage disequilibrium decay, haplotype sharing and allele sharing autocorrelation decay, as well as contrasted patterns between the X chromosome and the autosomes.

The genetics of Bene Israel individuals resemble local Indian populations while at the same time constituting a clearly separated and unique population in India. They are unique among Indian and Pakistani populations we analyzed in sharing considerable genetic ancestry with other Jewish populations.

Putting together the results from all analyses point to Bene Israel being an admixed population with both Jewish and Indian ancestry, with the genetic contribution of each of these ancestral populations being substantial. The admixture took place in the last millennium, about 19–33 generations ago. It involved Middle-Eastern Jews and was sex-biased, with more male Jewish and local female contribution. It was followed by a population bottleneck and high endogamy, which can lead to increased prevalence of recessive diseases in this population.

This study provides an example of how genetic analysis advances our knowledge of human history in cases where other disciplines lack the relevant data to do so.

(The paper was originally published in Read full paper here)

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Stephen Hawking dies, world loses its brightest star

Hawking is survived by three children -- Robert, Lucy and Timothy -- from his first marriage to Jane Wilde, and three grandchildren

Scientist Stephen Hawking giving his views on the danger of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Scientist Stephen Hawking giving his views on the danger of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Stephen Hawking passed away on 14th March 2018
  • He was one of the greatest brains in the world
  • He shall always be remembered for his contributions and research

Renowned British physicist Professor Stephen Hawking, who shaped modern cosmology and inspired millions despite suffering from a life-threatening condition, died on Wednesday — leaving millions in mourning globally. He was 76. His family released a statement in the early hours of Wednesday confirming his death at his home in Cambridge.

The world mournes Stephen Hawking's death.
The world mournes Stephen Hawking’s death.

“We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years,” Hawking’s children said in a statement.

“His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world. He once said, It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him for ever,” the statement added.

Hawking is survived by three children — Robert, Lucy and Timothy — from his first marriage to Jane Wilde, and three grandchildren. The physicist was born on January 8, 1942 in Oxford, England.

Known the world over for his acclaimed book “A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes”, Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — a progressive neuro-degenerative disease — in 1963 at age 21, The Guardian newspaper said. Hawking’s doctors gave him nearly two years to live but he defied medical history and survived for decades.

Also Read: Hawking treated Artificial Intelligence as threat to humanity

For the rest of his life, the physicist used a wheelchair to move around and a speech synthesizer that allowed him to speak in a computerised voice with an American accent. For Hawking, the early diagnosis of his terminal disease ignited a fresh sense of purpose.

“Although there was a cloud hanging over my future, I found, to my surprise, that I was enjoying life in the present more than before. I began to make progress with my research,” he once said, the paper reported.

Prof. Stephen Hawking provided theories to  solve mysteries of the World. Wikimedia commons
Prof. Stephen Hawking provided theories to solve mysteries of the World. Wikimedia commons

“My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all,” Hawking added. With fellow physicist Roger Penrose, Hawking merged Einstein’s theory of relativity with quantum theory, suggesting that space and time began with the Big Bang and end in black holes. In 1974, Hawking proposed what is known as his most significant theory that black holes can emit sub-atomic particles.

Published for the first time in 1988, “A Brief History of Time” stayed on the Sunday Times bestsellers list for an unprecedented 237 weeks. It sold 10 million copies and was translated into 40 different languages. Hailed as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Albert Einstein, Hawking never won a Nobel Prize.

In India, President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Science Minister Harsh Vardhan condoled the demise of Hawking.

“Sad to hear of the passing of scientist Stephen Hawking. His brilliant mind made our world and our universe a less mysterious place. And his courage and resilience will remain an inspiration for generations,” Kovind said in a tweet.

Modi also took to Twitter to pay tribute to Hawking and said: “Professor Stephen Hawking was an outstanding scientist and academic”. It was January 2001 when Hawking came to India for the first time, later describing the 16-day long tour as “magnificent”.

In the first leg of the tour in Mumbai, Hawking addressed an international physics seminar at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). The physicist also celebrated his 59th birthday at the Oberoi Towers hotel where he stayed.

In New Delhi, Hawking met then President K.R. Narayanan at Rashtrapati Bhavan who later described the 45-minute meeting with the British physicist as “an unforgettable experience”.

The US space agency NASA tweeted: “Remembering Stephen Hawking, a renowned physicist and ambassador of science. His theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that we & the world are exploring. May you keep flying like superman in microgravity, as you said to astronauts on @Space_Station in 2014”.

“We lost a great one today. Stephen Hawking will be remembered for his incredible contributions to science — making complex theories and concepts more accessible to the masses,” tweeted Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Also Read: Tech giants mourn Hawking’s death

Astrophysicist Dr Karan Jani, who works for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), wrote: “The courage for a career in astrophysics happened due to Brief History of Time – a used copy that I got from a street vendor in my small town of [India] 12 yrs ago.”

“A loss for all humanity. RIP Stephen Hawking,” tweeted American astronaut Scott Kelly. The physicist’s inspiring story gave birth to the 2014 movie “The Theory of Everything,” which was based on a memoir by Hawking’s first wife Wilde. Actor Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Hawking in the film won him an Oscar for Best Actor.

He was one of the greatest and most influential personalities in the world.
He was one of the greatest and most influential personalities in the world.

From Hollywood to Bollywood, condolences poured in for Hawking. While actor Eddie Redmayne remembered him as a “ladies man”, the official Twitter account of “The Big Bang Theory”, a TV series that witnessed appearances of the famed professor, also remembered him.

“RIP Stephen Hawking. A major loss to the scientific community and to the millions he inspired through his work and life. Condolences to the family,” tweeted actor-producer Farhan Akhtar. Oscar-winning sound designer Resul Pookutty said: “Remember to look up at the stars not down at your feet”! A sad day for all of us”. IANS