Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: Samuel Deutsch (1861-1938)

When I first saw the below photo of my great grandfather's tombstone, I knew instantly, whoever was responsible for the inscription believed he was either a descendant of Aaron, brother of Moses, or from the planet, Vulcan. Either way, it was new information, and the precise descent equally difficult to trace. Since he died in 1938, when Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was only 17 years old, my bet was on the former.

Hebrew Transcription:
Shlomo Zalman Bar Avraham "The Cohen"
Died on the 20th of Sh'vat 5698

Last Week I discussed how I finally obtained the photographs of my great grandparents' tombstones, and both of them provided previously unknown details. I have long been a Star Trek fan, so I instantly recognized the hand gesture inscribed at the top of the tombstone as the Vulcan salute (rotated 45 degrees). I also knew that actor Leonard Nimoy had borrowed the gesture from his observances of the Priestly blessing as a child.

But just because someone thought he was a Cohen doesn't make it necessarily so. The most likely person responsible for the inscription would have been his widow, and there's a chance she may have been basing this on actually having met his father. So is there any way to prove this?

No. The only way to prove it would be to document the descent individual by individual back to Aaron. I don't see that happening. Yes, there is a Y-Chromosome marker that half of Cohanim who have been tested have been shown to have. Of course, the other half don't have it. Maybe the half that do have it are all descended from the same individual who falsely assumed Cohenship a Millennia ago. Is that impossible? Here's more information on the: Cohen Modal Haplotype.

Let's say we accept the marker as a test for descent. Can I be tested for this?

Sure, but my Y-chromosome is meaningless, since this is my mother's line. (And I have a paternal uncle who has already been tested, and my Y-Chromosome haplogroup should be identical to his.)

My mother can't be tested, because she doesn't have a Y-chromosome, and neither does her sister. There are some male Deutsch cousins whose arms we might be able to twist into taking the test.

I'll also point out that since the Cohen designation is traditionally something that gets passed down only through the male, which is why the Y-Chromosome test makes sense, I am not a Cohen, even if my maternal grandfather was.

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