Religion & Beliefs

I THINK I know what Ashkenazic means

After discussing the dilemma of the words we don't really know the meaning of and the resulting need to go back and re-learn some things, I woke up this morning with the realization that there's a Jewishy word I use … Read More

By / January 19, 2007

After discussing the dilemma of the words we don't really know the meaning of and the resulting need to go back and re-learn some things, I woke up this morning with the realization that there's a Jewishy word I use without any real background: Ashkenazi.

In my lame-ass understanding of the term, an Ashkenazi Jew is someone whose family:

1. at some point spoke Yiddish

2. lived in Poland or thereabouts

3. looked Hassidic

That's about it for my sense of what that word means. Though if I wrote my own Jewish dictionary, it might say simply Ashkenazic- NOT Sephardic. (another only vaguely understood term… but we'll get to it later)

But then I got to thinking that I have no idea why a bunch of Polish motherfuckers speak German, and I have no idea when they got to where they got, or how long they stayed. Turns out…

… they arrived in northern France (we assume from the middle east) and the Rhineland sometime around 800-1000 CE, the Ashkenazi Jews brought with them both Rabbinic Judaism and the Babylonian Talmudic culture that underlies it. European Jews became called "Ashkenaz" because the main centers of Jewish learning were located in Germany. "Ashkenaz" is a Medieval Hebrew name for Germany.

But they didn't stay forever. It follows that…

With the onset of the Crusades, and the expulsions from England (1290), France (1394), and parts of Germany (1400s), Jewish migration pushed eastward into Poland, Lithuania, and Russia.

So some of these families were in Germany for as long as 700 years, and some as few as 200 years. In most cases, much longer than they were in Poland or wherever, and a helluva lot longer than we've been in the United States so far.

The other question I have about this relates to a rough sense that Sephardic Jews were classier and smarter and better off than Ashkenzic Jews for a long time… but at some point lost their clout. I've heard such rumors, and would like to look into the matter, but this post is already too long…. so maybe after I've had my coffee.