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Language Ashkenazi Hebrew as a liturgical language. Also, traditionally, (Yiddish); now typically the language of whatever country they live in (including Modern Hebrew in Israel).
Religion Judaism
Related ethnic groups • Jews
  • Sephardic Jews
  • Ashkenazi
  • Other Jewish groups

Ashkenazi (אשכנזי, Standard Hebrew Aškanazi, Tiberian Hebrew ʾAškănāzī) Jews, also called Ashkenazim (אשכנזים, Standard Hebrew Aškanazim, Tiberian Hebrew ʾAškănāzīm), are Jews who are descendants of Jews from Germany, Poland, Austria and Eastern Europe. In historical times, Ashkenazi Jews usually spoke Yiddish or Slavic languages such as (now extinct) Knaanic.

Since the 19th century, many of them have emigrated to other countries such as France, the United States and, recently, Israel.

Table of contents
1 History of the word Ashkenaz
2 Customs, laws and traditions
3 Relationship to other Jews
4 Medicine
5 Literature

History of the word Ashkenaz

Ashkenaz is a traditional Hebrew word for Germany, and in particular to the area along the Rhine where the allemani tribe once lived (compare the French word Allemagne for Germany).

The word ashkenazi is often used 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. Literature about the alleged Turkic origin of the Ashkenazi population appeared mainly after 1950. 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 Adret'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 Orah Hayyim" (chapter 59); the Responsa of Isaac ben Sheshet (numbers 193, 268, 270).

The first use of the name comes from a Midrash about the descendants of Japheth (Genesis 10:1). 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

During Passover, Ashkenazic Jews traditionally refrain from eating legumes, peanuts, corn, millet, and rice, whereas Sephardic Jews do not prohibit themselves from consuming these foods.

Ashkenazic Jews frequently name newborn children after deceased family members, but not after living relatives. Sephardic Jews, on the other hand, often name their children after living relatives.

(more to be added)

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 Sephardic 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, e.g. Vladimir Ashkenazi.

See also: Jew, Judaism, Rabbenu Gershom


The Ashkenazi Jewish population has, like many other populations, a higher incidence of specific hereditary diseases. Some organizations, most notably Dor Yeshorim, organize screening programs to prevent homozygosity for the genes that cause these diseases:

There is also a higher incidence of: See Jewish Genetics Center for more information on testing programmes.

A number of the above diseases are neurological. Recent studies have found that the Ashkenizim have the highest average IQ of any ethnic group in the world (verbal IQ ONLY). See "race and intelligence" for a discussion.