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What is the difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg


Library » Jewish Identity » Jewish "Labels" » Ashkenazim/ Sephardim | Subscribe | What is RSS?


Ashkenazi Jews come from European (Christian) countries, whereas Sephardic Jews lived in the Iberian Peninsula, African and Middle Eastern (Moslem) countries.

Throughout the centuries of exile the Ashkenazim and Sephardim developed distinct cultures, different prayer-books (the essentials are the same, but there are many different nuances), and many different customs.


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Ashkenazim Jews

Posted by: Charles Calahan, Butler, PA on Oct 25, 2004

The Ashkenazim origins were from the Khazar (Chazar) Empire that extended south of present day Moscow to the northern shores of the Black Sea. By the eighth century A.D. this Kingdom on the steppes of Russia was the largest in Europe, covering an area nearly one million square miles. Chargan (King) Bhilan, in 740 A.D. adopted Judaism as a religion of the people by a decree. Rabbis were employed to teach the result was "Yiddish". In 969 A.D. Scandinavian founders of Russia conquered the Khazars. Ashkenazim-Kazar Jews began a migration accross Northern Europe and these people compose nearly all the Jews that immigrated to the United States when the Pale was nearly depleted of Jews in the nineteenth century. The Sephardic name comes from the location listed as the dwelling place of the decendents of Shem. (Gen. 10:30: And thier dwelling east from Mesha, as you go unto SEPHAR a mount of the East.) These are the Jews who were given the Secptre promise but the promise of National Greatness went not to the Jews but first to Joseph and then to his two sons Ephriam and Manassah. The Jews were a part of Israel but the other Ten Tribes have been ignored by the world including the Jews. Many that are called Gentile today are of the other tribes.

Not kazars

Posted by: Michael on Apr 25, 2005

That is all pure speculation, and most of it has been disproven.

When Jews were exiled from Israel, some inevitably ventured north, slowly spreading through northern and western Europe.

And as for Ashkenazim being descended from the Kazars, surely a few are. But the majority are not Kazars. The Kazars were Turks, and genetic analysis of Ashkenazim show that Ashkenazim have far more genetically in common with Semitic (Middle Eastern) people than they do with Turks or (white) Europeans. Most of this testing is done on males, because since the Y chromosome is only contributed by the father (and not the mother), it passes from father to son almost completely unchanged, thus allowing your Y to be compared with Ys from around the world, and figuring out therefore where your genetic roots are.

Surely some Kazars migrated west to western Europe, but the overwhelming majority of Ashkenazim are most likely descendents of those who ventured forth to the north from the Mediterranean.

Jews Are Not Only Ashkenaz and Sephardit

Posted by: Harel Newman, Chicago, Illinois on May 01, 2005

One thing that I particularly don't like is that the majority of Jews and Gentiles alike ignore the "lost tribes". While many accusations of "lost tribes" may be false, there most certainly are Jews of the "lost tribes" of Israel. For instance, the Abyssinian Jews of Ethiopia, who made up nearly all of Ethiopia's population before the spread of Christianity. There are also tribes of possible lost Jews all over Africa including a tribe in South Africa and Zimbabwe who recently gained attention from a program on the history channel. There are also Jews from the Diaspora who moved east instead of west, south, or north. These Jews are known to have made it as far as Southern India and possibly even China, although the belief in a tribe of Aborigine Jews in Australia is almost certainly a myth. So, just as a reminder, it is a good thing to remember that not all Jews are Ashkenaz or Sephardit.

Editor's Comment

Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews are thus divided primarily because of the different customs and rituals which each group practices. Otherwise, there is no purpose to dividing Jews into different groupings! The other "tribes" are so assimilated that they do not have their own Torah-rooted customs.


Posted by: Anonymous on Jun 03, 2005

In Israel, Jews with origins in Western (Christian) countries are called Ashkenazi though many are not. The Jews of Italy are Bené Roma; the Georgian are Gruzim; the Greek are Romaniotes; and many of the Bulgarian and Latin American are Sephardic. These groups claim distinct cultures and histories.

Those with origins in Muslim and Arab lands are commonly called Sephardi though many are not. The Jews of Iran and Iraq are Mizrahi and the Yemenite and Omani are Temani. None of these groups include the Beta Israel of Ethiopia who were brought to Israel during Operation Solomon and Operation Moses, as well as other groups.

Please see and


Posted by: R. Walter Franco, Belmont, CA on Sep 07, 2005

Contrary to popular believe True Sephardim are not only Mediterranean and not all Jews in the Middle East Africa etc. are Sefardic. True Sephardim are Jewish people that their ancestry came from the Iberian Peninsula or Spanish territories and kept Judeo-Spagnol otherwise known as Ladino as their language and this language was and still is used in liturgy as in all the cultural facets. Most of the religious books were published in Ladino written in Raschi characters. In the Ottoman Empire Kemmal Attaturk (A Dohnme) reformed the Empire and passed a law so all printing of any language within Turkey started to be in Latin characters. Among the Sephardic communities there were also Romanoid Jews, Karaites, Asckenazim and Oriental Jews with their distinctive Synagogues and usages.

Ashkenazi Jews

Posted by: Alex Guyster, Santa Clara, CA on Mar 09, 2006

As a Russian Jew and a devoted historian for the last 16 years, I can tell you that most Ashkenazi Jews are actually for the most part, are descended from the Israelites. A great many of the Khazars were in fact either conquered by the Vikings or retreated to the country we now call Georgia (former Soviet republic as well). The Vikings generally, never harassed the actual Isrealites living in what is today modern day Russia, partially because they were a peaceful people, and mostly because they made good trading partners to the Vikings. Khazars however, though they did practice a form of Judaism, were very warlike and posed a threat to the Vikings. If the Vikings over a thousand years previously could make the difference, why can't we? Also I would like to point out, that in the last 150 years many of the Jews living in anti-semitism in Russia, were very aware of the similar customs of the Georgians, but always felt that it was an entirely different race.


Posted by: Anonymous on Mar 27, 2006

This is in regards to the first statement, that Ashkanazi comes from the word Chazar. This is not true. The term Ashkanaz is a Hebrew word and is found in the Torah, in Bereshet/Genesis 10:3.

Some Facts Regarding The Khazars

Posted by: Yonason, Brooksville, FL on Jun 27, 2006

The following link provides some actual facts, as opposed to the speculations of some of the above commentators.

In closing response to everyone's comments.

Posted by: YH on Jul 27, 2006

Let's just love each other and see past the different ethnicities. Afterall, Judaism is not a color or culture thing. It's a way of life through Hashem. we all follow the same instruction. Period. As long as we see eye to eye with the same principles and values, then I'm already liking you as my brother. Israel needs every faithful jew. we're small enough, why count the freckles on Israel? Step back a little bit and see all of Israel as a whole body. Then we will be one! Then the perhaps the messiah will come.


Posted by: Anonymous, London, UK on Aug 27, 2006

Romaniote is not the name given to all Greek Jews as an above user says. The Romaniotes are a community possibly descended from Roman Jews who were shipwrecked in Greece and grew up with distinct customs.
(pl. Ashkenazim). A Jew of Northern or Eastern European ancestry.
(pl.) Jews of Northern or Eastern European ancestry. (singular: Ashkenazi)
(Pl.: Sephardim) A Jew whose ancestors stem from Southern Italy, Spain, Portugal, North Africa or the Arabian countries.
(adj.) A Jew whose ancestors stem from Southern Italy, Spain, Portugal, North Africa or the Arabian countries.