From Academic Kids


Total population: 11.2 million (est.)[1] (
Significant populations:

United States: 5 mil.[2] (
Israel: nn
Europe: nn
South Africa: nn
Australia and New Zealand: nn

Language *Ashkenazi Hebrew (liturgical language)
*modern: specific to native country, including Modern Hebrew in Israel).
Religion Judaism
Related ethnic groups

• Jews
  • Sephardi Jews
  • Ashkenazi
  • Mizrahi Jews
  • Other Jewish groups

Ashkenazi Jews, also known as Ashkenazic Jews or Ashkenazim (אַשְׁכֲּנָזִי אַשְׁכֲּנָזִים Standard Hebrew, Aškanazi,Aškanazim, Tiberian Hebrew, ʾAškănāz, ʾAškănāzm), are Jews descended from the Jewish communities of Germany, Poland, Austria, and Eastern Europe mostly established between the 10th and 19th centuries. In historical times and through the mid-20th Century, Ashkenazi Jews usually spoke Yiddish or Slavic languages such as the (now extinct) Knaanic, and developed a distinct culture and liturgy influenced by their native countries.

Although in the 11th century they comprised only 3% of the world's Jewish population, today Ashkenazi Jews account for approximately 80% of world Jewry.[3] (


Origins and medieval history

Historical records show evidence of Jewish communities[4] ( in the Alps and Pyrenees as early as the 8th and 9th Century, and potentially dating back to Roman times when these areas and the Kingdom of Judah were both incorporated under Roman rule. Jews were known to have lived in Cologne and what is now France between 300 and 600, but they were expelled by King Dagobert of the Franks in 629. Jewish traders from Islamic lands during the same period may also have been the origin of the Ashkenazi community, but other evidence suggests direct migration of Jews northward from Italy as the genesis of the ethnically and culturally distinct Ashkenazi group.

By the early 900s, Jewish populations were well-established in Northern Europe, and later followed the Norman Conquest into England in 1066, also settling in the Rhineland. 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. Over this period of several hundred years, some have suggested, Jewish economic activity was focused on trade, business management, and financial services, due to Christian European prohibitions restricting certain activities by Jews, and preventing certain financial activities (such as "usurious" loans) between Christians. (Ben-Sasson, H. (1976) A History of the Jewish People. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.)

By the 1400s, the Ashkenazi Jewish communities in Poland were the largest Jewish communities of the Diaspora[5] (

Usage of the name

In reference to the Jewish peoples of Northern Europe and particularly the Rhineland, the word Ashkenazi is often found in medieval rabbinic literature. References to Ashkenaz in Yosippon and Hasdai's letter to the king of the Khazars would date the term as far back as the tenth century, as would also Saadia Gaon's commentary on Daniel 7:8.

However, the word "Ashkenaz" itself first appears in the genealogy in the Tanakh (Genesis 10) as a son of Gomer and grandson of Japheth. It is thought that the name originally applied to the Scythians (Ishkuz), who were called Ashkuza in Assyrian inscriptions, and lake Ascanius and the region Ascania in Anatolia derive their names from this group. The "Ashkuza" have also been linked to the Oghuz branch of Turks including nearly all Turkic peoples today from Turkey to Turkmenistan.

Ashkenaz in later Hebrew tradition became identified with the peoples of Germany, and in particular to the area along the Rhine where the Allemani tribe once lived (compare the French and Spanish words Allemagne and Alemania, respectively, for Germany).

Medieval references

In the first half of the eleventh century Hai Gaon refers to questions that had been addressed to him from "Ashkenaz", by which he undoubtedly means Germany. Rashi in the latter half of the eleventh century refers to both the language of Ashkenaz (Commentary on Deuteronomy 3:9; idem on Talmud tractate Sukkah 17a) and the country of Ashkenaz (Talmud, Hullin 93a). During the twelfth century the word appears quite frequently. In the Mahzor Vitry, the kingdom of Ashkenaz is referred to chiefly in regard to the ritual of the synagogue there, but occasionally also with regard to certain other observances (ib. p. 129).

In the literature of the thirteenth century references to the land and the language of Ashkenaz often occur. See especially Solomon ben Aderet's Responsa (vol. i., No. 395); the Responsa of Asher ben Jehiel (pp. 4, 6); his Halakot (Berakot i. 12, ed. Wilna, p. 10); the work of his son Jacob ben Asher, Tur Orach Chayim (chapter 59); the Responsa of Isaac ben Sheshet (numbers 193, 268, 270).

In the Midrash compilation Genesis Rabbah, Rabbi Berechiah mentions "Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah" as German tribes or as German lands. It may correspond to a Greek word that may have existed in the Greek dialect of the Palestinian Jews, or the text is corrupted from "Germanica." This view of Berechiah is based on the Talmud (Yoma 10a; Jerusalem Talmud Megillah 71b), where Gomer, the father of Ashkenaz, is translated by Germamia, which evidently stands for Germany, and which was suggested by the similarity of the sound.

In later times the word Ashkenaz is used to designate southern and western Germany, the ritual of which sections differs somewhat from that of eastern Germany and Poland. Thus the prayer-book of Isaiah Horowitz, and many others, give the piyyutim according to the Minhag of Ashkenaz and Poland.

Customs, laws and traditions

The halakhic practices of Ashkenazi Jews may differ from those of Sephardi Jews, particularly in matters of custom. Differences are noted in the Shulkhan Arukh itself, in the gloss of Moses Isserles. Well known differences in practice include:

  • Observance of Pesach (Passover): Ashkenazi Jews traditionally refrain from eating legumes, peanuts, corn, millet, and rice, whereas Sephardi Jews typically do not prohibit these foods.
  • In the case of kashrut for meat, conversely, Sephardi Jews have stricter requirements - this level is commonly referred to as Beth Yosef. Meat products which are not glatt may still be acceptable to Ashkenazi Jews as kosher, but are considered by the Sephardi Jews to be treif (non-kosher). Notwithstanding stricter requirements for the actual slaughter, Sephardi Jews permit eating the rear portions of an animal after proper Halachic deveining; Ashkenazi Jews do not. This difference is not due to a strict vs. lenient understanding of the law; rather, Ashkenazi Jews do not believe they have a reliable tradition as to the proper removal of these veins.
  • Ashkenazi Jews frequently name newborn children after deceased family members, but not after living relatives. Sephardi Jews, on the other hand, often name their children after the children's grandparents, even if those grandparents are still living. (See Sephardi Names).
  • Ashkenazi Jews have a custom for the bride and groom to refrain from meeting one week prior to their wedding.

Relationship to other Jews


The term Ashkenazi also refers to the nusach (Hebrew, "liturgical tradition") used by Ashkenazi Jews in their Siddur (prayer book). A nusach is defined by a liturgical tradition's choice of prayers, order of prayers, text of prayers and melodies used in the singing of prayers.

This phrase is often used in contrast with Sephardi Jews, also called Sephardim, who are descendants of Jews from Spain and Portugal. There are some differences in how the two groups pronounce Hebrew and in points of ritual.

Several famous people have this as a surname, such as Vladimir Ashkenazi. Ironically, most people with this surname are in fact Sephardi, and usually of Syrian Jewish background. This family name was adopted by the families who lived in Sephardic countries and were of Askenazic origins, after being nicknamed Askenazi by their respective communities. Some have shortened the name to Ash. Other spellings exist, such as Eskenazi by the Syrian Jews who relocated to Panama and other South-American Jewish communities.

Literature about the alleged Turkic origin of the Ashkenazi population appeared mainly after 1950.

See also: Jew, Judaism, Rabbenu Gershom


Specific diseases

The Ashkenazi Jewish population has, like many other endogamous populations, a higher incidence of specific hereditary diseases. Genetic counseling and genetic testing are recommended for couples where both partners are of Ashkenazi ancestry. Some organizations, most notably Dor Yeshorim, organize screening programs to prevent homozygosity for the genes that cause these diseases. A large number of these diseases are neurological. See Jewish Genetics Center ( for more information on testing programmes.

Diseases with higher incidence in Ashkenazim include, in alphabetical order:


According to many studies, Ashkenazi Jews have among the highest average intelligence of any ethnic group as measured by IQ, leading East Asians, who also perform highly in IQ. 1 This result is often used to explain some of the intellectual achievements of Ashkenazi Jews. For example, while Ashkenazi Jews represent 3% of the population of the United States, they have won 27% of the US Nobel Prizes in science, 25% of the ACM Turing Awards, and have accounted for more than half of world chess champions. Whether this difference in IQ and achievement is due entirely to a culture of study and vocational training (environment), or partially to a difference in genetic variables, is unknown and controversial. (For a discussion of scholars opinions about race and intelligence in general, see Race and intelligence)

Natural history of Ashkenazi intelligence

A controversial 2005 study[6] ( by Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy, and Henry Harpending of the University of Utah, to be published in Cambridge's Journal of Biosocial Science, hypothesises that European Jews' history of persecution created social selection for high intelligence, leaving a positive effect on their genetic IQ.

European Jews were forbidden to work in the common jobs of the middle-ages, such as agriculture, and subsequently worked in high proportion in meritocratic, IQ-intensive jobs, such as finance and trade, some of which were forbidden to gentiles by the church. Cochran et. al point out that those who performed better raised more children to adulthood, thus passing on their (higher-IQ) genes in greater proportion than those who performed poorer. The Jews rarely married outside of their faith, which created a reproductively isolated population, allowing evolution to occur.

Cochran et. al hypothesize that in this environment the social selection for intelligence was strong enough that mutations that created higher intelligence but created disease when inherited from both parents would still be selected for, which may be responsible for the unusual pattern of genetic diseases, such as Tay-sachs, that is found in the Ashkenazi population. Some of these unique diseases, for example, cause neurons to make too many connections with neighboring neurons.

Alternative explanations along these lines include, for example, that for Jews to be socially successful in their peer group, expertise at Torah study has traditionally been an advantage. Since the Enlightenment, those Jews lacking the intellectual skills for this endeavour may have been more prone to assimilate into general culture and leave the reproductively-isolated Jewish population.

See also this topic covered by the Economist (, the New York Times (, and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (

Modern History

In an essay on Sephardic Jewry, Daniel Elazar at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs[7] ( summarized the demographic history of Ashkenazi Jews in the last thousand years, noting that at the end of the 11th Century, 97% of world Jewry was Sephardic and 3% Ashkenazic; in the mid-seventeenth century, "Sephardim still outnumbered Ashkenazim three to two," but by the end of the 18th Century "Ashkenazim outnumbered Sephardim three to two, the result of improved living conditions in Christian Europe as against the Muslim world."[8] ( By 1931, Ashkenazi Jews accounted for nearly 92 percent of world Jewry.[9] (

Ashkenazi Jews developed the Hasidic movement as well as major Jewish academic centers across Poland, Russia, and Lithuania in the generations after emigration from the west. After two centuries of comparative tolerance in the new nations, massive westward emigration occurred in the 1800s and 1900s in response to pogroms and the economic opportunities offered in other parts of the world. Ashkenazi Jews have made up the majority of the American Jewish community since 1750[10] (

Ashkenazi cultural growth led to the Haskalah or Jewish Enlightenment, and the development of Zionism in modern Europe.

Ashkenazi Jewry and the Holocaust

Of the estimated 8.8 million Jews living in Europe at the beginning of World War II, the majority of whom were Ashkenazi, about 6 million were systematically murdered in The Holocaust; 3 million of 3.3 million Polish Jews, and 900,000 in Ukraine, as well as 75-90% of the Jews of Germany, the Baltic and Slavic nations, and France.[11] ( Many of the surviving Ashkenazi Jews emigrated to countries such as France, the United States, and Israel after the war.

Today, Ashkenazi Jews constitute approximately eighty percent of world Jewry.[12] (


  • Beider, Alexander (2001): A Dictionary of Ashkenazic Given Names: Their Origins, Structure, Pronunciations, and Migrations. Avotaynu. ISBN 1886223122.
  • Brook, Kevin Alan (1999): The Jews of Khazaria. Jason Aronson. ISBN 0765762129.
  • Brook, Kevin Alan (2003): "The Origins of East European Jews" in Russian History/Histoire Russe vol. 30, nos. 1-2, pp. 1-22.
  • Gross, N. (1975) Economic History of the Jews. Shocken Books, New York.
  • Haumann, Heiko (2001): A History of East European Jews. Central European University Press. ISBN 9639241261.
  • Koestler, Arthur (1976): The Thirteenth Tribe: The Khazar Empire and Its Heritage. Random House. ISBN 0394402847. (Most hypotheses in this book are now considered incorrect by most historians)
  • Wexler, Paul (1993): The Ashkenazic Jews: A Slavo-Turkic People in Search of a Jewish Identity. Columbus: Slavica. ISBN 0893572411.

External Links

et:Aškenazi juudid eo:Aŝkenazo es:Ashkenazi fr:Ashknaze id:Ashkenazim he:יהדות אשכנז nl:Askenazische joden ja:アシュケナジム pl:Aszkenazyjczycy pt:Asquenazi sr:Ашкенази


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