Thursday, November 09, 2006

Sephardim and Ashkenazim communities in history; friction and cooperation

Large concentrations of the 2 groups living in close proximity to each other was something that was not very common up untill the creation of the State of Israel. Such communities were once to be found in Amsterdam, Hamburg, Germany and parts of Italy and England. There were also smaller Sephardic communties in Eastern Europe that eventually assimilated within the dominant Ashkenazi communties in Transylvania for example (Particularly Dej, Carei and Cluj) and in Poland. Romania actually managed to keep intact a separate Sephardic community up untill the Holocaust (see Yaakov Geller, Hasefardim asher b'Romania).

There was also an opposite phenomenon of Ashkenazim who emigrated to Spain and assimilated among the Iberian Jews. Some examples include the children of the Rosh (Rabbenu Asher) and Rabbi Vidal, a descendant of Rashi who left France for North Africa. It is also interesting to note that the common Sephardic surname "Ashkenazy" denotes an Ashkenazic ancestry. (More on this cross-pollination in a different post).

In the United States the Sephardim-who were the first Jews to settle these shores- replicated their parochial existence but by the 18th century there was a fairly high rate of intermarriage between Sephardim and Ashkenazim. According to one historical source (I have seen conflicting information on this) Emma Lazarus' was half-Ashkenazy as her mother was German-Jewish.

Rabbi Marc Angel in his book Remnant Of Israel ; A Portrait of America's First Jewish Congregation writes:

"Almost all of the 23 founders of of Shearith Israel were of Sephardic descent..The Sephardim seem to have constituted a decisive majority at least untill 1700...According to the 1721/1722 synagogue record book the cong. then had 37 members. Of these 15 were of Sephardic background, while 22 were of Ashkenazy background..In communities such as Amsterdam and London, relations between Sephardim and Ashkenazim were less than cordial. Each group maintained seperate congregations and communal institutions. Fortunately the antagonisms between the 2 groups in the old world were overcome in the new world. Sephardim and Ashkenazim in New York worked together, married each other, prayed in the same synagogue, and were buried in the same cemetery one next to the other." (pp. 52-23)

In Eretz Israel there seems to have been less friction and closer ties between the 2 communities at least untill the major aliyot from Eastern Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. One exampe that indicates the cordial relations between the 2 communties is the personage of Rishon Lezion (Sephardic Chief Rabbi) Rabbi Yaakov Elyashar (Also known as the Yisa Bracha after his most famous work). Born to an old Jerusalemite Ashkenazic family, he studied under the Sephardic sages and was eventually appointed their leader.

The great Kabbalist, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria Ashkenazi (known as the Arizal) who was the son of an Ashkenazy father and a Sephardic mother may also be an indication of this trend.

Friction and cooperation between the sides.

The case of Benedict Spinoza and Uriel Acosta in Amsterdam were one of the few instances where the the Sephardic and Ashkenazy kehillot cooperated with each other but the general attitude was one of mutual wariness and often open hostility. There was-for example- a strict takana (ordinance) in the Amsterdam Sephardic community against patronizing Ashkenazy merchants for example (see Benjamin Disraeli and the myth of Sephardi superiority Todd M. Endelman, Jewish History Volume 10, Number 2 / September, 1996). So we see that there is a long history of friction as well as cooperation between the 2 streams of Judaism.


At Monday, November 13, 2006 2:50:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well your shameless plugging has paid off -- I'm visiting your blog. Not bad.

At Monday, November 13, 2006 2:56:00 AM, Blogger Joe said...

Also the ARI HaKadosh, though he was born and raised in Sefardic communities in EY & Egypt, was of Ashkenazi ancestry, as is revealed by his last name, Luria, which is a common Ashkenazi family name (e.g. the Ashkenazi aharonim, MAHARSHA"L and RADA"L ).

At Monday, November 13, 2006 1:50:00 PM, Blogger avakesh said...

Thank you for your comments on my site.
Part of the tension between the Ashkenazic and Sefaradic communites in Amsterdam ,may be traceable to frequent conflicts between the rabbis of the two communities. We have the scandal of Nechemiah Chayoun with the R. Shelomo Ayalon, now uncovered as a secret Sabbatean, able to drive out Chakaham Tsvi and these tensions continued into the next generation. Sefaradim were more worldly. more acculturated to the Spanish - at that time, world culture and less viscerally Jewish. retained traces of syncretism that they praciced as Marrnaos of Spain. They produced critical thinkers and a number of outright heretics.

For the Chayon controversy -

At Monday, November 13, 2006 1:55:00 PM, Blogger avakesh said...

Of course, the ashkenaizm were also viewed as more primitive and less cultured than the sefaradim, in reverse of how thinks are viewed today.

At Monday, November 13, 2006 4:01:00 PM, Blogger Joels W. said...

Joe, The Ari was half Sefard and half Ashkenaz(Ashkefardi?).

Avakesh, Thanks for the insight. Sabbateanism and its fallout certainly did not improve relations between the 2 communities (Although initially-anticipating the Messiah- the degree of Jewish unity was almost unprecendented).

It is interesting to note that Sabbetai Sevi himself was not Sephardic but actually a Greek Romaniote Jew (indigenous Jews of Southern Europe and the Balkans) who followed the Spanish customs.

At Monday, November 13, 2006 6:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

do you delve into the Lost Tribes and where they may be and who they may be today?

At Monday, November 13, 2006 11:20:00 PM, Blogger Joels W. said...

Neshama, a very interesting and complicated topic which I will get to eventually.

At Thursday, November 16, 2006 10:03:00 PM, Blogger Mottel said...

Of note, to the best of my understanding Sefardic Communities in Romania emigrated at a latter point in time then those from Spain -as well, perhaps the closer proximity to other Sefardic communities -such as the Balkans, perhaps Turkey and Crimea would help them retain their identity.
In regards to Amsterdam, a Dutch friend of mine told me that the Sefardic and Ashkenazi communities did not make peace until a couple of years ago.

At Friday, November 17, 2006 12:15:00 PM, Blogger Joels W. said...

Mottel, Re: the Romanian Sephardim it sounds very plausible. Part of the reason also may be because they were larger in number and eschewed any contact with the ashkenazic community. In geller's book he mentions how some of the ashkenazim would complain that the Sephardim wouldn't give the former the time of day and how they "all consider themselves Philosophers and intellectual descendants of Maimonides.

At Saturday, November 18, 2006 6:53:00 PM, Blogger Menachem Butler said...

Have you seen HJ Zimmels' "Ashkenazim and Sephardim: Their Relations, Differences, and Problems As Reflected in the Rabbinical Responsa" ? It's a FANTASTIC work!!!!!

At Saturday, November 18, 2006 6:55:00 PM, Blogger Menachem Butler said...

Have you seen HJ Zimmels' "Ashkenazim and Sephardim: Their Relations, Differences, and Problems As Reflected in the Rabbinical Responsa" ? It's a FANTASTIC work!!!!!

At Saturday, November 18, 2006 8:31:00 PM, Blogger Joels W. said...

You know Menachem, I have wanted to read that book for the longest time but have never gotten around to it.

At Friday, December 01, 2006 3:19:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For a journalist's view of Ashkenazi/Sephardi relations in pre/WW2 Amsterdam, I recommend Egon Erwin Kisch "Auswanderer, derzeit Amsterdam" (to be found, i.a., in the collected feuilletons book "Geschichten aus sieben Ghettos", lately (re)published in Germany by Aufbau Taschenbuch Verlag. Also contains other tidbits of Jewish communities' life in a perished period...

At Tuesday, December 26, 2006 11:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Ashkenazim who emigrated to Spain and assimilated among the Iberian Jews. Some examples include the Rosh (Rabbenu Asher)"

Who said the Rosh assimilated ? I heard that he made an Ashkenazic-German Yeshiva in Spain and had a strong (Ashkenazic) influence on the Spanish Jews and their customs, some of which can be seen in the minhogim of Moroccan Jews to this day.

At Wednesday, December 27, 2006 12:02:00 AM, Blogger Joels W. said...

"I heard that he made an Ashkenazic-German Yeshiva in Spain and had a strong (Ashkenazic) influence on the Spanish Jews"

That may very well be the case but this obviously did not last very long. I am almost certain that the descendants of the Rosh assimilated among the Sephardim.

At Saturday, November 17, 2012 3:29:00 PM, Anonymous Asakzay said... pashtun.... my tribe is Asakzay or Achakzay... there re names in israel that somehow matches our tribe name, bt not in afghanistan... if any1 knows anythin that can help... so please. Asakzay from zawul of herat...thnx

At Wednesday, October 02, 2013 6:13:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello I live in the UK -- I read the messages on your site about interest in Spinoza -- with great interest - my name name is Judith Rodrigues and I have found [very much to my surprise] I have a long line of Sephardic ancestors through my grandfather Abraham Rodrigues, related to these families and the community of Sephardim from Spain and Portugal - the history goes back a long way.

I have been drawn into this 'Sephardic web' for a while now -- and a Portuguese friend has recently given me some copies of the Spinosa /Uriel Da Costa family links.

This goes back to 4 four families of the community --- who were living in the North of Portugal from around late 1400's until they had to move on to safer places - the history goes back to Northern Spain -- in 1492 with the expulsion of the jews and the [last] Rabbi [gaon] of Castille 'Isaac Aboab'.

This rabbi Isaac Aboab negociated with the Portuguese king for around 600 jewish families to settle in Portugal [at a great financial cost] until it would safe for them to return to Spain.
30 of these families settled in a new juderia that had been built in Porto - 'The Juderia de Olival' -- other families settled in other towns and villages in Portugal and all other refugee Sephardim from Spain were allowed safe access in/through Portugal for a head tax but had to leave within a certain number of months by ships that the king would try to help supply or become his slaves-- The families who had negociated to stay was of course short lived as by 1497 all the jews in Portugal were forcibly converted and had no choice but to become 'new christians'.

Uriel Da Costa's family came from this Porto community of crypto jews.Isaac Aboab was their rabbi in Porto [Juderia da Olival]

The 4 main Sephardic families that link Spinosa and Uriel Da Costa were settled after 1497 [from dates I have circ.1500's] in the North of Portugal in -

Braga - Jacome da Costa and Maria Vaz

Porto - [family - Aboab/Rodrigues] Alvaro Rodrigues1 and Violante Rodrigues1.

Ponte Lima - [family - Homem/Aboab ] Pedro Homem1. and Branca Nunes [ Valenca]

Aviero - Fernao Gomes and Felipa Rodrigues

I will try to scan these trees to send them to you if you like or if you havent already got them - they are from a French book - 'Uriel Da Costa and the Marranos of Porto.' published by the Calouste Gulbenkien Foundation.

It does give the links back and the towns and countries that indicate the various routes that the families were taken to try to find a safe places once the Inquisiton was established in 1536 in Portugal --

Before 1492 - it is almost certain they came from Northern Spain - there is a small town in Northern Spain called 'Espinosa de los Monteros' -- it has been suggested that [some of] Spinosa's ancestors could have come from here or at least the name was taken from here - eventually.
I was amazed to find that friends of mine live very near Espinosa and they told me that its most likely where my GGandmothers family could have originated ,they were 'Velasco's' .
The branch of the 'Velasco' family I'm descended from changed their name to 'Belasco' when they reached London [late 1600's] -then some of them then emigrated to America during the gold rush years of the 1840's -- [many connected to the Theatre].

Back to Spinosa's tree [in Portugal] - his parents were - Hannah Deborah Senior and Gabriel [Miguel] Espinosa.

-- Gabriel [Miguel] Espinosa's parents were -- Henrique Garces [Baruch Senior - 1619 ] and Maria Nunes[ Miriam Senior].[Anvers]

Henrique Garces's - parents were - Francisco Bemtalhado and Violante Gomes.

Francisco Bemtalhado II 's parents were - Diego Bemtalhado and Ana Henriques I [daughter of Henrique Garces I] -- Porto

At Wednesday, October 02, 2013 6:13:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is alot more information on these trees, names were changed after the conversions [forced baptisms] so the names in italics indicate the jewish names.

Uriel Da Costa's tree -- show him as - Gabriel [Uriel] da Costa [1583/84 - 1640] married to Francisca de Crasto.

His parents moved to Amsterdam their names were - Bento da Costa Brandao [d. 1608] and Branca Dinis,alias Branca [Sarah] da Costa [d.1628].

Bento's parents from Porto - were Jacome da Costa [d.1573] and Maria Vaz -- they came from Braga.

Its too difficult to show the links between the families in this email but will forward them to you if you'd like the information once scanned?

I've been totally amazed to be honest to have found all this history -- my grandad had told me our name was from Portugal but we arrived in London a long time ago around the time of the Armada -- I had no idea he was jewish, never heard of the Sephardim until long after he'd died though - I was born in London but my parents moved to the Isle of Wight when I was very young and we saw grandparents very rarely after that. I feel he knew far more than he ever was able to say. dad never said anything but had been raised by his maternal grandmother who was catholic.

I'm quite amazed at how much Im learning in relation to so many things really, having discovered this ancestry

Best wishes and kind regards

judy rodrigues


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