Recently, Jim Bennett of Haifa Israel posted a notice that he is trying to
locate descendants of Rav Mordechai JAFFE, "Ba'alei HaLibushim", codifier of
rabbinical law, author of the book "Libushim", who was born in Prague around
1530 and died in Posen in 1612. Like Jim, I have been searching for the same
descendants and others but for a slightly different reason. As Administrator
of the JAFFE SURNAME PROJECT sponsored by Family Tree DNA (FTDNA), I am
trying to assist member of the project, after they have exhausted the use of
available documentary records, to surmount their dead-end genealogical
research efforts by means of DNA Genealogy testing the male Y chromosome,
and to establish some families' connections with notable ancestors.
The genealogy of the family of rabbis and scholars surnamed Jaffe/Joffe is
documented back to Bologna Italy in the 15th Century (See Funk and Wagnall's
Jewish Encyclopedia, 1901-1906, which is available on-line). There are also
references to the surname in the 13th and 14th Century records of the
Spanish Inquisition and in records from the Spanish Kingdom of Aragon before
the expulsion in 1492. There have been and still are numerous variations of
the surname beginning with the letters "E", "I", "J", "Y", and "Z", all
derived from the Hebrew root word "yafeh" (yud, peh, heh) meaning "pretty".
The port city of Jaffa, Israel has a history going back almost 10,000 years
and is mentioned by name several times in the TaNaCh. There is also a city
and province in Yemen named Yafa, and some Arab families claim that their
surname is derived from association with those places. Families with the
surname Iofe (a transliteration from the Cyrillic alphabet) were common in
the Jewish Pale of Settlement of the Russian empire, especially in what is
now Lithuania. Families surnamed Yaffe and Jaffe exist in Israel (some who
may be indigenous, but most who have immigrated). The surname has a long
tradition in Turkey, the Island of Rhodes, Egypt and Mesopotamia. The
spelling Jaffe/Joffe appears to have originated in German speaking lands of
Central Europe where the alphabet of that language pronounces the letter J
as a Y.
The JAFFE SURNAME PROJECT currently has 13 members; hardly enough to draw
any firm conclusions about the origin(s) of the family(ies). However, seven
members, all of whom carry the surname or a variation, are determined or
predicted to be in the same haplogroup (E1b1b1) which has been found to be
common among both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. Two members are determined
or predicted to be in haplogroup R, one in R1a1 and one in R2. Both
haplogroups have been found to have Central Asian origins, but R2 appears in
a cluster of Ashkenazi Jews and is suspected to have a connection with the
Khazars. The R2 member incidentally is a third generation descendant of a
famous 19th Century rabbi. One member is in haplogroup G which appears to
have Anatolian origins but does appear among a significant number of
Ashkenazi Jews. Two members are in haplogroup J1e which appears to have its
origin in the Southern Levant (the Arabian Peninsula, the Sinai and the
Negev) and is frequent among Arabs (Bedouins, Yemeni, Palestinians) and Jews
(particularly Cohanim). One of these does not carry the surname. One member
who does not carry the surname but is known to be a descendant of a family
that does, is in haplogroup I2b1, which is closely related to haplogroup J.
One conclusion that can be drawn from this small sample is that NOT all
persons name Jaffe or a variation are directly descended from a common
Jewish male ancestor. The ancestors of some may have adopted the surname,
especially in the early 19th Century. Other possibilities are that some are
the product of ancestors who converted to Judaism or that the surname was
acquired though a matrilineal connection or marriage, not an uncommon
occurrence particularly among Jewish scholars.
Some of the mysteries may never be solved. However the larger the sample the
better are the chances of accumulating useful evidence and drawing
reasonable conclusions. For this reason, I urge any male who has inherited
the surname or a variation to join the project to have his Y DNA tested and
provide as much family history as possible. Please be assured that the
laboratory data is confidential and is not useful for any other purpose.
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
Membership in the project entitles members to a substantial discount off the
regular price of the tests.
Administrator, Jaffe Surname Project
JewishGen research No. 2074