During the period when Chassidic Judaism1 was still in its infancy, Rabbi2 Raphael of Bershad3 (c. 1751–1827)4 was a charismatic figure who was revered by his followers in the region that is now southwestern and central Ukraine.

Rabbi Raphael was a beloved and influential spiritual leader and was known as a tzaddik.5 After the death of his mentor, Rabbi Pinchas (Shapira)6 of Koretz7 (1726–1791), some of his followers became Rabbi Raphael’s disciples and were known as Bershad Chassidim.

Following Czar Alexander I’s 1804 edict, which mandated that Jews of the Russian Empire adopt permanent surnames, Rabbi Raphael and his sons acquired the rare and unique surname of “Fridgant,” meaning “peace hand.” 9 Although there are very few living descendants with that surname, we succeeded in identifying four pedigreed descendants of Rabbi Raphael, all of whom had variants of the Fridgant surname.

We also succeeded in identifying one partially pedigreed descendant, and several possible patrilineal descendants of Rabbi Raphael. The genealogical records for the partially pedigreed descendant were fragmentary and incomplete, but the naming pattern and available records enabled us to construct a family tree showing a hypothesized line of descent.

In this pioneering Y-DNA research study, we succeeded in identifying the Y-DNA genetic signature and ethnic origin of Rabbi Raphael’s paternal lineage. Our study demonstrates the usefulness of identifying the Y-DNA genetic signature of a rabbinical line, and for verifying descent from that line, despite having fragmentary and incomplete genealogical records. Continue Reading…