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ASHKENAZ (Heb. אשְׁכְּנָז )ַ, a people and a country bordering

on Armenia and the upper Euphrates; listed in Genesis

10:3 and i Chronicles 1:6 among the descendants of *Gomer.

The name Ashkenaz also occurs once in Jeremiah 51:27 in a

passage calling upon the kingdoms of *Ararat, Minni, and

Ashkenaz to rise and destroy Babylon. Scholars have identified

the Ashkenaz as the people called Ashkuza (Ashguza,

Ishguza) in Akkadian. According to Assyrian royal inscriptions

the Ashkuza fought the Assyrians in the reign of Esharhaddon

(680–669 b.c.e.) as allies of the Minni (Manneans).

Since the Ashkuza are mentioned in conjunction with

the Gimirrai-Cimmerians and the Ashkenaz with Gomer in

Genesis, it is reasonable to infer that Ashkenaz is a dialectal

form of Akkadian Ashkuza, identical with a group of Iranianspeaking

people organized in confederations of tribes called

Saka in Old Persian, whom Greek writers (e.g., Herodotus

1:103) called Scythians. They ranged from southern Russia

through the Caucasus and into the Near East. Some scholars,

however, have argued against this identification on philological

grounds because of the presence of the “n” in the word

Ashkenaz. In medieval rabbinical literature the name was used

for Germany (see next entry).

Bibliography: E.A. Speiser, Genesis (Eng., 1964), 66; U. Cassuto,

A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, 2 (1964), 192; em, 1 (1965),

762–3 (incl. bibl.). Add. Bibliography: W. Holladay, Jeremiah, 2

(1989), 427; P. Briant, From Cyrus to Alexander (2002), 39.

[Yehoshua M. Grintz]


ASHKENAZ אשְׁכְּנַז )ַ, 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



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

connotation derives from the phonic resemblance of “Ashkenaz”

to “Saxons” who during the period of Charlemagne constituted

the predominant Germanic element in the Frankish

kingdom. During the 11t and 12t centuries the province incorporating

Mainz and Worms was still known as “othar”(Lotharingia; Rashi, Sefer ha-Pardes, 35:1; Tos. to bb 74a). The

rabbis of Regensburg were referred to as “Rabbanei Reinus”

(i.e., “of the Rhine”; Responsum of Eliezer b. Nathan, in:

She’elot u-Teshuvot Maharam mi-Rothenburg (Lemberg, 1860),

no. 81). At the same time, however, the term “Ashkenaz”

established itself as the accepted Hebrew rendering of Germany.

Thus in *Rashi’s (1040–1105) commentary on the Talmud,

German expressions appear as leshon Ashkenaz (Suk.

17a; Git. 55b; bm 73b). Similarly when Rashi writes: “But

in Ashkenaz I saw…” (Ket. 77b) he no doubt meant the communities

of Mainz and Worms in which he had dwelt. Thus

also it is certain that such terms as Ereẓ Ashkenaz appearing

in his commentaries (e.g., Ḥul. 93a) represent Germany.

*Eliezer b. Nathan (early 12t century) distinguishes between

Ẓarefatim (French) and Ashkenazim in reference to the

crusaders as “a foreign people, a bitter and impetuous nation”

(A.M. Habermann (ed.), Gezerot Ashkenaz ve-Ẓarefat

(1946), 72). Letters from Byzantine and Syrian communities

written during the First Crusade also refer to the crusaders

as “Ashkenazim” (Mann, in: Ha-Tekufah, 23 (1925), 253, 256,


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 14t century. *Asher b. Jehiel (d. 1327), who was born

in western Germany, wrote after settling in Toledo: “ 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 forebears

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’

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 15t and 16t 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 17t 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 19t 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

17t and 18t centuries strained relations with the Sephardim

on economic grounds. At the beginning of the 19t 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.

Bibliography: 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),


[Encyclopaedia Hebraica]

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