Ashkenazic families of Sephardic descent and a word about bigotry
Not long ago, I came across this story:
Talmud Torah school rejects four-year-old due to Sephardi grandfather. Principal says child has ‘stain’ in genealogy
Leaving aside the obvious chillul hashem such stories generate (just do a google search and see for yourself how many anti-Semitic websites picked up this story and relished it with gusto), it also struck me how ridiculous the terminology (the princpal is using) is. I am willing to bet that a cursory glance at that individual's family tree would uncover more than a few such stains.
At the risk of causing hardship to many Ashkenazi children, I am about to release a bombshell (tongue in cheek). As someone who has long had an interest in Jewish genealogy I have discovered that many of the most prominent Ashkenazi Haredi families in have numerous such 'stains' in their genealogy. The following is a very partial list:
*The Vizhnitz Chassidic dynasty (The Hager family also of Roumania) also has a tradition of Sephardic descent. According to family lore the name derives from the fact the family fled Spain to Holland (the Hague).
*The Epstein-Halevi family of Lithuania is descended from the Sephardic Benvensite family members of which settled in Ebstein, Germany before moving further east into Lithuania . The Horowitz-Halevi family (members of which include the Bostoner Rebbe of Boston and Jerusalem)also claims descent from this family. See here and here
* Rebbe Chai Yitzchok Twersky, Grand Rabbi of the Chassidic Rachmastrivka sect based in Brooklyn, NY and Israel is descended from the Colorful Sephardic Rabbi and scholar Chayyim Yosef David Azulai (known as the Chida) on his maternal side.
It is interesting to note that R' Azulai himself was Ashkenazic on his maternal side (his mother was the daughter of Yosef Ben Pinchas Biala who came to the holy land with the mystic Rabbi Yehuda Chasid in 1700 -not to be confused with the medieval Kabbalist Rabbi Yehuda Ha-chasid) and even understood Yiddish.
Several other prominent Haredi Rabbis are also descended from R' Azulai including Rabbi Baruch Mendelbaum Admor of Turav-Stolin, Rabbi Eliezer Brizel, and the brothers Rabbi Avraham and Mendel Atik (See the family tree below). Interestingly, there was plenty of intermarriage between Sephardim and Ashkenazim in the old Yishuv. This is no longer the case.
*The first Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi was descended from a Portugese Jew named R' Baruch Portugeli. Among the Chabad Chassidim in Russia were also many Sephardic Jews who settled in the region including the Chen family, the Don-Yichye (also Charlap, Sahr) family (more on this prestigious family some other time). It is noteworthy that anti-Sephardic racism is almost unheard of in Chabad.
This should all be superfluous since almost all Ashkenazim have some Sephardic ancestry (after all Avraham Avinu was an Iraqi..) . The Kabbalists -that the Chassidim admire and follow-are almost all Sephardim. The Arizal himself was an Ashkefardi (a term I coined to denote someone who is half-Sephardic and half-Ashkenazic). There is plenty more to say on this subject but I'll leave it for now.
. See מקור ברוך חלק א by Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein where he mentions this tradition. There are numerous other Lithuanian families who were once Sephardim including the Wein family, Carmel family (Eliashiv(?) and many others. See Shlomo Katzav hasfardim asher belita for a listing of all the Sephardic families who settled in Lithuania.
. One personage who shows up in many Ashkenazic family trees is Rabbi Akiva Katz of Uban (old Budapest) who had 12 sons and 12 daughters and who was descended from Rabbi Akiva Kohen Tzedek of Salonika, A Sephardic Jew.
For my previous posts mentioning some prominent Ashkenazim of Sephardic descent and conversely, that of Sephardim of Ashkenazic descent see here here here and here.