Difference Between Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews in Modern Times

Topics: Ashkenazi Jews, Judaism, Hebrew language Pages: 12 (2286 words) Published: October 8, 1999
For the most part, modern Jewish history deals with the political,

social and economic advancements achieved by the Ashkenazi communities

in Europe, America, and later -- Palestine. Because of it's relatively

small size and involvement in the affairs of "civilized" countries of

Europe and America, the Sephardi branch of Judaism is rerely dealt with in

the context of modern Jewish history. Their development
is however, though

not as influential upon the flow of the "mainstream" history as that of the

Ashkenazi jewry, is nevertheless an area of interest to anyone undertaking

a serious study of Jewish history.

The theological difference between the two movements, the Sefardi and

the Ashekenazi, lies in the traditional laws more than in written ones.

Both take an Orthodoxal approach to the written law of the Torah, and the

differences in its interpretation are subtle enough to be dismissed.

However the traditions acquired
, and at times given the power of laws, in

the course of the long centuries of diaspora differ considerably from one

branch of Judaism to another. Just as the worldwide language of the

Ashekenazim, Yiddish, is a mixture of Hebrew with German, the common

language used by the Sephardim Ladino, still in use in some parts of the

world, is a dialect formed by combining Hebrew with Spanish. The Sephardim

who have historically been more involved into the lives of the gentile

societies where they settled don't have as strict a set of observances as

do the Ashkenazis who have been contained in closed ghettos up until two

centuries ago. The official doctrine of the Sephardis does not for example

prohibit polygomy, whereas it hasn't been allowed in the Ashkenazi law

since Middle Ages.

Although the Ashkenazi traditions are somewhat stricter than those

of the Sephardim, a greater percentage of Ashkenazi Jews have over the past

century and a half stopped observing these traditions, becoming either

"secular Jews", atheists, like the American Freethinkers, or simply

converting. An even greater part have chosen to follow only a part of the

traditional, or "oral", laws, forming widely popular Reform and

Conservative movements. This phenomenon, if present within the Sephardic

community exists on such a small scale that it can be discounted. The

reason for this difference in the adherence of the tradition is the way in

which the tradition itself was first put into effect. In the case of the

Ashkenazi Jews the traditions have been instated by the long centuries of

enforced separation, and when the barriers were let down, the communities

that were held together by pressure from the outside started to degenerate.

With the walls of the ghetto gone, but full emancipation not yet granted,

many believed that if they had integrated themselves into the gentile

societies, they would gain acceptance. Secular education replaced religion,

rather than complementing it. This however was not the case with

Sephardim, whose less strict traditions were developed in the environment

of toleration. While the Ashkenazi Jews were restricted to the ghettos of

Europe, held at bay by the Catholic church, the Sephardim of Middle East,

North Africa and Ottoman Empire were living as "dhimmies", or "people of

the pact", and though not fully equal with their Muslim hosts, were to some

extent intregrated into their societies. For this reason, the traditional

laws of the Sephardim are less demanding, but more enduring.

Unlike the Ashkenazi population that has over a century of

immigration spread itself all over the world, The Sephardic communities

tend to concentrate mostly around a few areas. Today most of the Sephardic

Jews reside within Israel, amost other Middle-Eastern communities having

been reduced to virtual...
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