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Difference Between  Sephardic and Ashkenazic

Sephardic and Ashkenazic are two sub groups that are part of the Jewish culture.  There are several different groups within this religious society spread across the world ,and established according to different origins.  The Sephardic group of Jews originated from Spain and their name Sephardi, in Hebrew, means Jews of Spain.   Their descendants came from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East.   The Ashkenazic group is descended from France, Germany and Eastern Europe.  Both groups, although essentially Jewish, have cultural and language differences.  Generally speaking Jewish life is surrounded by customs and traditions that can differ from one community to another.  The subject of their essential differences is very broad, however, looking at some of the classic differences can help give a generalized version of how two groups of Jewish communities can differ.

 

Who are Sephardic?

The Sephardic Jews originated in Spain and Portugal as well as North Africa and the Middle East.  A split between the Sephardim and the Ashkenazim came when Rabbi Gershom Ben Judah issued an edict against polygamy that was practised by the Ashkenazim.  The beliefs followed by the Sephardic Jews is according to orthodox Judaism and their interpretation of the Halakhah or Jewish law.  They have adopted some differences in customs attached to some food groups and traditional celebrations.  The Sepharcic prayer services for instance are different from the Ashkenazic services because they used different melodies.  They have different holiday customs and traditional foods eaten at these celebratory times.  One of the most noteworthy differences comes during the celebration of Chanukka, also known as the Festival of lights or Chanukkah Candle Lighting blessing.  The Sephardic will eat sufganiot or jelly donuts, while the Ashkenazim have latkes or potato pancakes.  Other differences are evident in language as Sephardim speak Ladino based on Spanish and Hebrew.  They have also adopted a different set of genealogy as the family name is handed from father to son or from mother to daughter regardless of whether they are alive or deceased.

How do Sephardic Jews celebrate their culture?

  • The Sephardic Jews, descending from their Spanish origins, follow the Orthodox Jewish practices.  There are some cultural differences they observe and these are the aspects of their group that make them different.
  • The Sephardic prayer services and melodies used may differ from those adopted by the Ashkenazi traditional music.
  • Celebrating Chanukkah or the Festival of lights is celebrated by eating fried foods to remind them of the miracle of oil.  Traditionally sufganiot or jelly donuts are enjoyed at this time.
  • Sephardic Jews have a language called Ladino based on  Spanish and Hebrew.
  • Sephardic Jews will name their children after persons living or deceased in the family. The eldest son is named after the paternal grandfather and the eldest daughter  after the paternal grandmother.  Family names have great importance among the Sephardic.
  • Sephardim have some specific ceremonial customs including wearing a Tallit in shul from before or on Bar Mitzvah.  The tallit is a traditional prayer shawl.
  • During the Kaddish, a time of prayer and praise, the Sephradim will sit for most of the time.   However, there are a few designated places when they may stand.  These complex customs are best studied by an expert in the deep seated traditions of the Sephradim.
  • Weddings are always opportunities to celebrate in traditional style.  In the Sephardic tradition, a wedding celebration begins before the Chuppan ceremony.  The chuppan is the canopy under which the bridal couple stand.   A large party is held where the bride to be wears a velvet dress.  The dress is beautifully embroidered with precious stones and pearls.  The bride is purified at the Mikveh, a purifying bath, and relatives shower the bride with sweets.  The wedding guests eat together and henna is painted on the ladies palms as a symbol of fertility.  On the wedding day the bride and groom do not fast and the Sephardic Jews do not cover the bride with a veil known as a bedeken.
  • The groom in Sephardic tradition has a Sabbath dedication, following the wedding

 

Who are Ashkenazim?

The Ashkenazic Jews have their lines of descent originating from France, Germany and Eastern Europe.  Ashkenazic is the adjective used to describe the practices of these Jews.  Askenazi refers to a single person of this group and Ashkenazim is the plural.  Many of the modern day Jews, living in America, can reach back to the Ashkenazim for their origins and heritage.  This is due to the fact that many Jewish families fled from Europe during the World Wars to emigrate to America.  Differences between the two groups are seen through different traditions and ways of celebrating festivals and religious feasts.  Ashkenazic Jews have developed differences in language and speak Yiddish based on German and Hebrew. 

How do Ashkenazim celebrate their culture?

  • The Ashkenazim have their own traditional melodies and ceremonies.  The also celebrate the Festival of lights, but will eat potato pancakes.
  • The Ashkenazic Jews developed a language based on German and Hebrew.  It is known as Yiddish.  It is not the international language of Judaism as some would believe.
  • The genealogy of the Ashkenazim is based on naming children after deceased members of the family. The Paternal grandparents but they will not name their ofspring after family members that are still living.
  • The Ashkenazim will refrain from eating legumes, kitniyot, on Pessach, the Passover feast.
  • During Kaddish, the praise and worship prayer time, the Ashkenazim will stand.
  • The wedding day of the Ashkenardic Jew is commemorated with a special Sabbath for the groom before the wedding.  He is called upon to read a blessing.  The Ashkenazim do not allow the bride and groom to see each other for up to two weeks before the ceremony.

 

Differences between Sephardim and Ashkenazim

Origins

The Sephardic Jews originated from Spain, Portugal and the North of Africa and Middle East.   The Askenazic Jews were originally from the European countries of Germany, France and Eastern Europe.

Language

The Sephardic Jews have developed a language called Ladino based on Spanish and Hebrew.  Ashkenazim speak Yiddish based on Hebrew and German.

Genealogy

Sephardic Jews trace their genealogy through the lines of deceased or living paternal and maternal grandparents.  It is their custom to name the first born son or daughter after their paternal grandparents.  The Ashkenazim will only name children after their deceased grandparents.

Music

Music and melodies used at worship times differ between the two groups.

Ceremonies

Wedding ceremonies in particular differ between the two religious groups.  Some modern adaptations have been made to include some of the traditions but give them a more egalitarian concept.  The significance of the bride being clothed by the groom through the veiling or bedeken ceremony can be carried over to the bride placing a a tallit round the groom or a kip pah on his head.  The couple then partake of legal formalities and sign documents.  This is an Ashkenazic tradition.

Sephardim verses Ashkenazim: Comparison Chart

 

Summary of Sephardim and Ashkenazim

  • The Ashkenazim and the Sephardi are two separate religious groups within the Jewish culture.  They became separated by geographical differences and emigration to different countries.
  • One of the most recognizable differences is seen through their language.  Sephardic Jews speaking Ladino and the Ashkenazic Jews speak Yiddish.
  • Ceremonies of praise and worship differ in some of the stances and melodies.  Wedding traditions can vary.  Each culture has a different emphasis on following older traditions of dress and different additions with regard to the bride and groom’s activities before the wedding.
  • There are differences to be found in the food groups they accept especially over Passover.
  • There are many more Ashkenazic Jews in America than Sephardic Jews due to the influx of Ashkenazic Jews during and after the World Wars.
  • The deeper meaning to the prayer traditions and other religious ceremonies are more thoroughly discussed through scholars of the Torah and the Talmud with a knowledge of Hebrew and Jewish culture. 
  • Author Rav Ovadiah Yosef quotes a Talmudic phrase “Nehara, Nehara Ufashtei.” meaning – ‘Rivers flow at different rates and in their usual places.’  In a similar fashion, he is saying, Jewish communities have slight variances in their customs and different communities should maintain their respective traditions.

 


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1 Comment

  1. Thank you, i was always aware that there were differences between the two groups but this is an excellent explanation. Today of course there are many other smaller groups as representatives of the separated tribes return to the land of their ancestors, each bringing their unique contributions.

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References :


[0]Sasha David May 25th 2011. Understanding the Sephardi. Www.huffingtonpost.com/david-sasha-understanding-the-sephardi-b-541033html reviewed 06.02.2019. pub Huffington Post.

[1]Fish.M.Jefferson.Oct.01.2013. Looking into the cultural mirror. Www.psychologytoday.com/inti/blog/what-does-it-mean-to-look-Jewish-Sephardic Jews. Pub Sussex.pub.LLC reviewed 06.02,2019

[2]Mosseri Joseph. 3rd Dec 2010. Sephardic Hanouka Traditions. Www.esefarad.com/Sephardic-Hanouka-traditions. Pub.eSefarad lilara y Marcelo Benvensite. Reviewed 08.02.2019.

[3]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tiferet_Israel_Sephardic_Synagogue,_Berlin.jpg

[4]Image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:1914_photo_of_an_Ashkenazic_synagogue_in_Sarajevo.png

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