Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews

This very interesting discussion is the subject of many books, novels and stories. There are numerous classifications of Jews from various parts of the world, but the largest division is between those Jews of the Rhineland area of Germany – the Ashkenazim, and later to include non-German speaking areas: France, Bohemia, Hungary, Poland, Belarus, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, the Baltic countries.

These medieval Jewish communities spoke in Yiddish and Hebrew. To be an Ashkenazic Jew is to follow family traditions and rituals of the early Ashkenazic observances. This from Wikipedia:

Before the Haskalah and the emancipation of Jews in Europe, this meant the study of Torah and Talmud for men, and a family and communal life governed by the observance of Jewish Law for men and women. From the Rhineland to Riga to Romania, most Jews prayed in liturgical Ashkenazi Hebrew, and spoke Yiddish in their secular lives.

By ethnicity, an Ashkenazic Jew is one whose ancestry can be traced to the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe, though they have and do live in many countries.  Since the middle of the 20th century, many Askenazim have intermarried with other nations and faiths but can be groupled in the same genetic cohort – belonging to the same ethnic group.

Sephardic Jews come from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East. The word “Sepharad” refers to Spain. Those from Northern Africa and the Middle East are more commonly called Mizrachim, meaning “eastern”. Until the 1400s the Iberian Peninsula were controlled by Muslims. When the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, many were absorbed into those Mizrachi communities. Christopher Columbus was a Sephardic Jew, as were a great many pirates on the seas during his lifetime and afterward.

Sephardim speak and write Ladino, a Hispanic language and it largely reflected for a long time the grammar and vocabulary of t14th and 15th century. Ladino is also based on Hebrew in the same way that Yiddish was based on German and Hebrew. In passing centuries the language has become highly dialectical and has various forms. 

the Sephardim are usually Orthodox Jews, though their interpretations of Jewish law are somewhat different from Ashkenazic understandings. There are no formal organized movements of Sephardim. Their culture was strongly influenced by Arabic and Greek philosophy and science.

The term “converso” is applied to Sephardic Jews who were forcibly converted to Catholicism during the expulsion from Spain in 1492 and expulsions from Portugal five years later. These Jews settled in the Ottoman Empire – Balkans, Levant, Morocco, Algeria, Israel and many other nations (see ) and have dense populations in large American cities, especially New York,, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.


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