For other meanings see Ashkenaz (disambiguation). Ashkenazi Jews ( Y’hudey Ashkenaz in Ashkenazi Hebrew) Total population 1011.2 million Regions with significant populations United States of America 56 million State of Israel 2.8 million Russia 194,000500,000 Argentina 300,000 United Kingdom ~ 260,000 Canada ~ 240,000 France 200,000 Germany 200,000 Ukraine 150,000 Australia 120,000 South Africa 80,000 Belarus 80,000 Hungary 75,000 Chile 70,000 Brazil 30,000 Netherlands 30,000 Moldova 30,000 Poland 25,000 Mexico 18,500 Sweden 18,000 Latvia 10,000 Romania 10,000 Austria 9,000 New Zealand 5,000 Azerbaijan 4,300 Lithuania 4,000 Czech Republic 3,000 Slovakia 3,000 Estonia 1,000 Languages Historical: Yiddish, German Modern: Local languages, primarily: English, Hebrew, Russian Religion Judaism, some secular, irreligious Related ethnic groups Other Levantines,Samaritans,Assyrians,Italians and other Europeans
Ashkenazi Jews, also known as Ashkenazic Jews or simply Ashkenazim (Hebrew: , Ashkenazi Hebrew pronunciation: [aknazim], singular: [aknazi], Modern Hebrew: [akenazim], [akenazi]; also Y’hudey Ashkenaz, “The Jews of Germany”), are a Jewish ethnic division whose ethnogenesis and emergence as a distinct community of Jews traces back to immigrants originating in the Israelite tribes of the Middle East who coalesced in the Holy Roman Empire around the turn of the first millennium. They established communities throughout Central and Eastern Europe, which had been their primary region of concentration and residence until recent times, evolving their distinctive characteristics and diasporic identity. Their millennia residence in Europe was largely brought to an end following the Holocaust, which resulted in the mass murder or genocide of approximately six million Ashkenazi Jews during World War II in a programme of systematic state-sponsored murder by Nazi Germany, led by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, throughout the German Reich and German-occupied territories.
Historically, the vernacular language of Ashkenazi Jews was Yiddish, a High German language consisting of six major dialects, each incorporating Hebrew, Aramaic, and by regional dialect, extensive Romance, Slavic or Hungarian vocabulary.
It is estimated that in the 11th century Ashkenazi Jews composed only three percent of the world’s Jewish population, while at their peak in 1931 they accounted for 92 percent of the world’s Jews. Immediately prior to the Holocaust, the number of Ashkenazi Jews stood at approximately 16.7 million. Statistical figures vary for the contemporary demography of Ashkenazi Jews, oscillating between 10 and 11.2 million. Sergio DellaPergola in a rough calculation of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, implies that Ashkenazi make up around 74% of Jews worldwide. Other estimates place Ashkenazi Jews as making up about 75% of Jews worldwide. Ashkenazi Jews constitute around 3536% of Israel’s total population, or 47.5% of Israel’s Jewish population.
Although the copious number of genetic studies on Ashkenazim researching both their paternal and maternal lineages all point to certain ancient Levantine origins, the studies have arrived at diverging conclusions regarding both the degree and the sources of their non-Levantine admixture. These diverging conclusions focus particularly in respect to the extent of the predominant non-Levantine genetic origin observed in Ashkenazi maternal lineages, which is in contrast to the predominant Levantine genetic origin observed in Ashkenazi paternal lineages.
The name Ashkenazi derives from the biblical figure of Ashkenaz, the first son of Gomer, and a Japhetic patriarch in the Table of Nations (Genesis 10). Gomer has been identified with the Cimmerians, while the biblical term Ashkenaz here may be an error for ‘Ashkuz’, from Assyrian[disambiguation needed]Akza (A/Is-k/gu-zu-ai/Asguzi in cuneiform inscriptions) a people who expelled the Cimmerians from the Armenian area of the Upper Euphrates. This ethnonym perhaps denoted the Scythians, though the identification is problematic. The theory presupposes a scribal confusion between /(waw/nun), creating A-shkenaz from a-Shkuz. In Jeremiah 51:27, Ashkenaz figures as one of three kingdoms in the far north, the others being Minni and Ararat, perhaps corresponding to Urartu, called on by God to resist Babylon.
In the Yoma tractate of the Babylonian Talmud Gomer is glossed as Germania, which originally referred incorrectly to a Germanikia in northwest Syria. Ashkenaz is linked to Scandza/Scanzia, viewed as the cradle of Germanic tribes, as early as a 6th-century gloss to the Historia Ecclesiastica of Eusebius. In the 10th century, History of Armenia of Yovhannes Drasxanakertc’i (1.15) Ashkenaz was associated with Armenia, as it was occasionally in Jewish usage, where its denotation extended at times to Adiabene, Khazaria, Crimea and areas to the east. His contemporary Saadia Gaon identified Ashkenaz with the Saquliba or Slavic territories, and such usage covered also the lands of tribes neighboring the Slavs, and Eastern and Central Europe. In modern times Samuel Krauss identified this biblical area with northern Asia Minor. Sometime late in the Ist millennium CE., the Jews of central and eastern Europe came to be called by this term which in biblical Hebrew referred to their neighbours on the Black Sea steppe. In conformity with the custom of designating areas of Jewish settlement with biblical names (Spain was Sefarad (Obadiah 20), France Tsarefat (1 Kings 17:9) and Bohemia the Land of Canaan) by the first century of the second millennium, Talmudic commentators like Rashi began to use Ashkenaz/Eretz Ashkenaz to designate Germanic lands, earlier known as Loter, where, especially in the Rhineland communities of Speyer, Worms and Mainz, the most important Jewish communities arose. Rashi uses leshon Ashkenaz (Ashkenazi language) to describe German speech, and Byzantium and Syrian Jewish letters referred to the Crusaders as Ashkenazim. Given the close links between the Jewish communities of France and Germany following the Carolingian unification, the term Ashkenazi refers to both the Jews of medieval Germany and France because they are both descendants of the same family of Jews exiled by the Romans from Judea to Central Europe, they shared an identical culture (see “Responsa of the Rosh” chap. 20 par. 20), and, when the Jews of France were exiled, the majority of them settled in Germany (see encyclopedia “Sefer Hatishbi”, under entry “krovetz”).
The exact definition of Jewishness is not universally agreed upon neither by religious scholars (especially across different denominations); nor in the context of politics (as applied to those who wish to make Aliyah); nor even in the conventional, everyday sense where “Jewishness” may be loosely understood by the casual observer as encompassing both religious and secular Jews, or religious Jews alone. This makes it especially difficult to define who is an Ashkenazi Jew. The people have been defined differently from religious, cultural, or ethnic perspectives.
Since the overwhelming majority of Ashkenazi Jews no longer live in Central or Eastern Europe, the isolation that once favored a distinct religious tradition and culture has vanished. The center of Judaism today is once again in Israel, although a large community continues to live abroad, particularly in the United States of America, where Ashkenazi Jews live alongside other Jewish groups. Furthermore, the word Ashkenazi is often used in non-traditional ways, especially in Israel. By Conservative and Orthodox philosophies, a person can be considered a Jew only if his or her mother was Jewish (meaning, more specifically, either matrilineal descent from a female believed to be present at Mt. Sinai when the ten commandments were given, or else descent from a female who was converted to Judaism before the birth of her children), or if he or she has personally converted to Judaism. This means that a person can be Ashkenazi but not considered a Jew by some of those within the Jewish communities, making the term “Ashkenazi” more applicable as a broad ethnicity which evolved from the practice of Judaism in Europe.
Religious Jews have Minhagim, customs, in addition to Halakha, or religious law, and different interpretations of law. Different groups of religious Jews in different geographic areas historically adopted different customs and interpretations. On certain issues, Orthodox Jews are required to follow the customs of their ancestors, and do not believe they have the option of picking and choosing. For this reason, observant Jews at times find it important for religious reasons to ascertain who their household’s religious ancestors are in order to know what customs their household should follow. These times include, for example, when two Jews of different ethnic background marry, when a non-Jew converts to Judaism and determines what customs to follow for the first time, or when a lapsed or less observant Jew returns to traditional Judaism and must determine what was done in his or her family’s past. In this sense, “Ashkenazic” refers both to a family ancestry and to a body of customs binding on Jews of that ancestry. Reform Judaism, which does not necessarily follow those minhagim, did nonetheless originate among Ashkenazi Jews (it began in Germany).
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