ASHKENAZ (אַשְׁכְּנַז), designation of the first relatively compact area of settlement of Jews in N.W. Europe, initially on the banks of the Rhine. The term became identified with, and denotes in its narrower sense, Germany, German Jewry, and German Jews ("Ashkenazim"), as well as their descendants in other countries. It has evolved a broader connotation denoting the entire Ashkenazi Jewish cultural complex, comprising its ideas and views, way of life and folk mores, legal concepts and formulations, and social institutions. The Ashkenazi cultural legacy, emanating from the center in northern France and Germany, later spread to Poland-Lithuania, and in modern times embraces Jewish settlements all over the world whose members share and activate it. The term "Ashkenaz" is used in clear contradistinction to *Sepharad, the Jewish cultural complex originating in Spain.
It is difficult to determine when the term Ashkenaz was first applied to Germany. In the Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 10a) the biblical Gomer, the father of Ashkenaz, is rendered as "Germania," although in its original context the reference is to Germanikia in northwestern Syria (cf. Gen. R. 37:1; TJ, Meg. 1:11, 71b). In addition to this incorrect identification, a possible source of explanation may be in the name Scandza or Scanzia, the designation of Scandinavia in several sources, which was regarded as the cradle of some Germanic tribes. The association of Ashkenaz with Scandza is found as early as the sixth century in the Latin addendum to the chronology of Eusebius. According to another theory, the present
The Cultural Complex
The use of the term "Ashkenazi Jewry" to denote a distinct cultural entity, comprising the communities of northern France and of the Slavonic countries previously known as Ereẓ Kena'an, can be discerned in sources dating from as early as the 14th century. *Asher b. Jehiel (d. 1327), who was born in western Germany, wrote after settling in Toledo: "I would not eat according to their [i.e., the Sephardi] usage, adhering as I do to our own custom and to the tradition of our blessed forefathers, the sages of Ashkenaz, who received the Torah as an inheritance from their ancestors from the days of the destruction of the Temple. Likewise the tradition of our fore-bears and teachers in France is superior to that of the sons of this land" (Responsa 20, 20).
While external influences are apparent in the Sephardi attitude toward religion, the Jews of Ashkenaz tended to be fundamentalist and rigorist, consonant mainly with internal Jewish sources, ideas, and customs. The Ashkenazi scholar's sphere of interest was circumscribed by study of the Bible and Talmud. He devoted more efforts to exegesis of the sacred text, rather than attempting a systematic codification of the halakhah or extracting general principles. The Ashkenazi and Sephardi cultural centers did, however, exert a reciprocal influence. The talmudic scholarship of early Ashkenazi authorities found its way into kabbalistic circles in Provence and Spain (see *Kabbalah). The approach of the Ashkenazi *tosafists to
the Talmud was adopted in Spain by *Naḥmanides and Solomon b. Abraham *Adret. The Ashkenazi Ḥasidim, who evolved original religious and social views, evinced an interest in the concepts of *Saadiah b. Joseph and *Maimonides.
Ashkenazi society was structured on the formally monogamic Jewish family, according to the takkanah of *Gershom b. Judah. Its leadership developed new and successful means of exercising *autonomy through the local community and synod. The Jews of Ashkenaz continued the hallowed tradition of *kiddush ha-Shem ("martyrdom") as well as broadening its concept. Ashkenazi and Sephardi customs gradually established themselves as separate norms, expressed in differences in way of life, pronunciation of Hebrew, and the liturgical rite followed in the respective congregations (see *Liturgy). Ashkenazi scribes developed a distinctive script, and the illuminators of manuscripts, a specific style.
With the emigration of Ashkenazi Jewry from Western to Eastern Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, the center of gravity shifted to *Bohemia, *Moravia, *Poland, and *Lithuania, developing in each place with local modifications. In the Slavonic territories their use of the Judeo-German language became a prominent distinguishing feature of Ashkenazi Jewry (see: *Yiddish Language). The Ashkenazi maḥzor included seliḥot and piyyutim composed by the liturgical poets of Germany and northern France. The Ashkenazi liturgical rite did not follow a uniform pattern. The southwestern Ashkenazi rite, similar to that followed by the communities of France and Holland, varied from that followed in the area west of the Elbe River; the minhag ("custom") of Bohemian Jewry differed from that of Lithuanian Jewry. However these divergences are insignificant as compared with the difference in the basic Ashkenazi and Sephardi rituals.
The parallel development of Sephardi and Ashkenazi religious and social usages was considerably influenced by the works of the codifiers Joseph *Caro on the one hand and Moses *Isserles on the other. Although Caro based his Shulḥan Arukh upon *Jacob b. Asher's Sefer ha-Turim, summarizing the halakhah of the Ashkenazi rabbinical authorities, Caro's decision in most cases favors the Sephardi codifiers (*posekim). Isserles provided glosses to the Shulḥan Arukh wherever the Ashkenazi posekim disagreed with Caro's decision. Whereas the Ashkenazim accepted Isserles' decision, the Sephardim abided by the norms laid down by Caro.
From about the 17th century the significance of the Sephardi Jewry began to diminish as the Ashkenazim increased in number and importance. After the *Chmielnicki massacres in Poland in 1648, numbers of Ashkenazi Jews spread throughout Western Europe, some even crossing the Atlantic. After a few generations they were to outnumber the Sephardim in those lands. By the close of the 19th century, as a result of persecutions in *Russia, there was massive Ashkenazi emigration from Eastern Europe (see *United States). Ashkenazi Jewry then gained decisive numerical ascendancy in the Jewish communities of Europe, Australia, South Africa, the United States, and Ereẓ Israel. Sephardi Jewry maintained its preponderance only in North Africa, Italy, the Middle East, and wide areas of Asia. Before World War II Ashkenazi Jewry comprised 90% of the global total. The destruction of European Jewry drastically reduced their number and to some extent their proportionate preponderance. With the isolation of Russian Jews from world Jewry, the United States became the main center of Ashkenazi Jews.
Relations between Ashkenazim and Sephardim have varied from time to time and from one cultural region to another. In Holland and France the Sephardi communities excluded Ashkenazim from membership. An extreme example of such an attitude occurred in the Sephardi community of Bordeaux, which was empowered to expel undesired newcomers by a majority vote. In Italy, on the other hand, the contrast between the two was not so sharp and the Ashkenazi settlers adopted the characteristics of the native elements except in matters of ritual. The immigration of Ashkenazi Jews to Jerusalem in the 17th and 18th centuries strained relations with the Sephardim on economic grounds. At the beginning of the 19th century, efforts to obtain the sanction of the Turkish authorities for restoration of the Ashkenazi congregation in Jerusalem were aided by the Sephardim. The two communities existed side by side, each maintaining its own institutions. This division has established itself in the religious life of the present Jewish community in Israel, reflected in the composition of the Chief Rabbinate.
See also *Migration; *History; *Historiography.
H.J. Zimmels, Ashkenazim and Sephardim (1958); Kraus, in: Tarbiz, 3 (1931/32), 423–35; Mann, ibid., 4 (1932/33), 391–4; Zunz, Ritus, 66; Germ Jud, 1 (1963), index, S.V. Deutschland; 2 (1968), index, S.V. Lothringen, Baron, Community, 2 (1942), 19, 365; Wallach, in: MGWJ, 83 (1939), 302; Rosenthal, in: HJ, 5 (1943), 58–62. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: I.G. Marcus, in: Cultures of the Jews (2002), 449–516.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.