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As Ashkenazim ( Hebrew אַשְׁכְּנַזִים, Plural of Ashkenazi ), Ashkenazi Jews (יְהוּדֵי אַשְׁכְּנַז), more rarely Ashkenazi , call themselves Central, North and East European Jews and their descendants. They form the largest ethno-religious group in Judaism today . In 1939, 94% of all Jews were of Ashkenazi origin, and in the 21st century they make up about 70%.

The name comes from the biblical name of person and area Ashkenaz . Immigrant Jews transferred it to the German-speaking area and the Jews living there in the 9th century . With their increasing spread, the name passed to all European Jews, with the exception of the Sephardi residing in Portugal and Spain . The two terms stand for different halakha and moral circles in Judaism. The Ashkenazi halachic legal tradition goes back to Rabbeinu Gerschom and is epitomized mainly in the Rema glosses . The once most common everyday language among the Ashkenazim was Yiddish ; today it is spoken almost exclusively as a mother tongue in ultra-orthodox circles.


Since around 200 BC There was a Jewish community in Rome . As a result of the defeats in the Jewish war (70 AD) and the Bar Kochba uprising (130), many more Jews came to Italy as slaves. Many of their descendants later emigrated to areas north of the Alps, others returned to their original settlement area after the Islamic conquest of Jerusalem in the 7th century. Most Jews lived under Islamic rule until about AD 1000.

The municipality of Cologne is the first recorded Jewish community in the German-speaking area in AD 321. Synagogues were first occupied in Paris and Orléans before 500 . It is uncertain whether these congregations existed continuously. In the year 825 Ludwig the Pious granted Jewish traders in his empire protection of life, tax exemption, freedom to practice religion, rabbinical courts and protection of their slaves from forced baptism against church resistance . According to the family chronicle (1220) of Rabbi Eleazar ben Juda ben Kalonymos , a "King Karl" brought the calonymids from Lucca to Mainz . This could mean either Charlemagne or Charlemagne . A source from the 16th century mentions the year 917 as the time of settlement, in which neither one nor the other ruled. The story is therefore considered legendary.

The three ShUM communities Mainz (occupied from 917), Speyer and Worms (from 980) are considered the birthplaces of Ashkenazi Judaism. Your Talmudic schools ( yeshivot ) were responsible for the Jewish jurisdiction in the Ashkenaz region in the 10th century .

Another hypothesis ascribes the Eastern European Ashkenazim mainly to immigration of converts or their descendants from the former empire of the Khazars in south-eastern Europe and the Caucasus region. The Khazar theory is considered "extremely questionable" in historical studies. Today it is mainly spread by anti-Semites such as the Christian Identity Movement or the right-wing esoteric conspiracy theorist David Icke , because it allows between supposedly “good” and “bad” Jews, namely the Sephardim, who are allegedly descended from the Israelites , and the Khazarians actually distinguish Caucasian Ashkenazim.

Genetic Studies

Several scientific studies on the genetic origins and development of the Jews living today come to the conclusion that today's Jews inherited many genes from an original Jewish population group who lived in the eastern Mediterranean region known as the Levant around 3,000 years ago . The geneticist Harry Ostrer from the University of New York , together with other geneticists, examined the DNA of 237 people whose families have been Jewish for generations and who represent the large groups of the diaspora (the Ashkenazim, the Sephardi and the Mizrachim ), and compared their genetic information with that of 2,800 non-Jews. According to this study, the three diaspora groups are genetically closer than non-Jews from the same region. Within each group, the people are related like second to fifth degree cousins. In particular, the relationship between Ashkenazim and Sephardi has been convincingly proven. Based on the study, the intermingling with the European population is also very easy to understand, according to Ostrer. The above-mentioned hypothesis that the Ashkenazim were mainly descended from the Khazars has been refuted by geneticists in this way. Although there are indications of a “genetic intermingling” with the Khazars, this influence is very limited from a scientific point of view.

The geneticist Eran Elhaik, however, assesses the relationship between Caucasians and Ashkenazim as much closer. According to Elhaik, however, the genome of European Jews is "a patchwork of ancient ethnic groups such as Judaized Khazars, Greco-Roman Jews , Mesopotamian Jews and residents of Judea ". Elhaik's work has been criticized harshly at times. The Middle East scientist Seth Frantzman accused the geneticist of a lack of seriousness. Elhaik had demonstrably given incorrect statistical values ​​in his study.


The Jewish population in Central Europe, 1881

High Middle Ages

From the 11th century onwards, various imperial cities issued letters of protection to the Ashkenazi Jewish communities in order to benefit from the lively commercial activity of the Ashkenazi Jews and the associated economic boom. Despite this promise of protection by the imperial cities for the Ashkenazi Jews, Christian crusaders destroyed the Jewish communities of the Rhineland during the first crusade in 1096 , murdered most of the members or tried to force them to baptize them. Some Ashkenazi congregations anticipated this through group suicide, which they understood as the sanctification of the Jewish god YHWH ( Kiddush Hashem ).

The calonymids founded an influential school on Jewish poetry , the works of the Saadia Gaon and pre-Kabbalistic merkaba literature. They shaped the Ashkenazi mysticism , from which medieval Hasidism arose since around 1150 .

From around 1200 Yiddish , a type of Middle High German dialect enriched with many Hebraisms and Aramaisms and written in Hebrew script , emerged. This language spread with the Ashkenazim, first to Eastern Europe, and later to the whole world, made a decisive contribution to their own culture and has been preserved to this day, even if only rarely spoken.

During the plague epidemic of 1349 there were again numerous pogroms against the Ashkenazi communities in the French and German-speaking areas (see Persecution of Jews at the Time of the Black Death ). Many survivors fled, especially to Poland-Lithuania , where they were welcome and helped build the economy.

Early modern age

In the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, the Ashkenazi Jews, with the exception of a minority remaining in Germany, Bohemia and Italy, were expelled from Western and Central Europe to Eastern Europe and settled in the Ukraine , Romania , Russia , Hungary and above all in Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania . The resulting Jewish communities retained their distinctly Ashkenazi rabbinic character until the Holocaust . The liturgy and religious traditions of the Jews from Poland-Lithuania were based on medieval traditions. By the 16th century, most of the leading Polish rabbis had received their training in Talmud schools in Germany and Bohemia and then emigrated to the Eastern European communities.

In contrast to the Sephardic Jews , who developed numerous philosophical and literary traditions in the relatively tolerant and culturally open Islamic rule, which were influenced by the surrounding culture, the Ashkenazi Jews in Eastern Europe separated themselves more and more from the largely hostile Christian environment . For a long time, her intellectual interest was limited to rabbinical literature .

However, despite their isolation from Christian society, Jews in Poland-Lithuania initially found much more security than in Western Europe. This is largely due to privileges granted to them by the Polish kings and Lithuanian grand dukes. 70 percent of the Polish-Lithuanian Ashkenazim lived in cities on an equal footing with non-Jews . Noble landowners promoted Ashkenazi traders because they paid high prices for agricultural products, had good international connections and were politically loyal. This brought about an upswing in Polish-Lithuanian villages and their Jewish communities. From this emerged the Shtetlech , in which Ashkenazim made up the majority of the population, predominantly inhabited the center of the village and shaped their own social organization. In the cities of Poland-Lithuania administered by non-Jewish royal officials and dominated by Christian guilds and guilds, they formed influential minorities that were rejected as competition. In the 18th century they dominated trade and craft in the feudal corporate state of Poland-Lithuania.

From 1600, Eastern European Ashkenazim and some Sephardim, some of whom were forced to become Christian , began to settle again increasingly in Central and Western European trading centers as a result of pogroms and in the course of the Thirty Years' War . By 1650 there were an estimated total of less than 500,000 Ashkenazim.

Ashkenazim migrating back from Eastern Europe founded new Jewish communities in the large cities of Central and Western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. In German territories, the respective ruler initially allowed a court Jew and his servants to move in. This resulted in new Jewish communities, which were mostly represented by the respective court Jews, also known as Schtadlan . The German authorities demanded high payments from the Ashkenazi immigrants for settlement rights, supervised their sources of income, restricted their freedom of movement and interfered with their jurisdiction. As a result, the new communities became heavily dependent on the favor of the authorities. Attempts by the leading Ashkenazi Jews to maintain autonomous forms of organization in agreement with the respective rulers often increased the distance between richer and poorer Ashkenazim and the distrust of non-Jews.

20th century until today

As a result of anti-Semitic pogroms, between 1881 and 1924 around two million Ashkenazim emigrated from the Russian Empire and from Central and Eastern Europe, mainly to the USA , South Africa and Australia . The Second World War and the Holocaust triggered further extensive waves of refugees to the USA, South America and above all to Israel, which was founded by Ashkenazi Jews. According to a study by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem , 2.8 million Ashkenazim live in Israel; in the USA an estimated 90 percent of the 6 million Jews living there are Ashkenazim. About 200,000 Ashkenazi Jews live in Germany. Today's Judaism consists of about 80 percent and correspondingly 10 million people from Ashkenazim. Currently, New York City , London , Antwerp , Manchester and increasingly Berlin are the numerically and culturally most important metropolises of Ashkenazi.

The cultural gap between Ashkenazim and other Jewish groups in terms of political influence, customs, beliefs, education, customs and language is particularly evident in Israel. In anthropological terms, the Ashkenazim differ from all other Jewish groups by about 10 percent of so-called "light-colored" (blond, blue-eyed) elements.

Cultural differences can be seen in different burial methods. The Jewish cemetery in Hamburg-Altona is unique as the Ashkenazim and Sephardi rest in one cemetery. In the Ashkenazi part of the cemetery, the tombstones are placed upright and bear Hebrew inscriptions, while in the Sephardic part, tombstones are set in the ground, often bearing Portuguese inscriptions and richly decorated with reliefs.


Ashkenazi Jews usually had no fixed family names until the beginning of the 19th century . Usually the father's name was used as the second name, for example Jakob ben Nathan = Jakob, son of Nathan. The reason for this is, among other things, the decree by Rabbenu Tam (Jacob ben Meir) from the 12th century that in a divorce certificate only names used by Jews among Jews (i.e. proper names and paternal names) could be used, but not by Jews exclusively in dealings epithets used with non-Jews. This instruction was then appropriately applied to comparable contracts, for example marriage and business contracts . To this day, Jewish names consist of the first name and the first name of the father, with a ben 'son (of)' or , respectively , begging 'daughter (of)' inserted in between. In the religious field, the name is used especially for ritual purposes, for the first time with boys during circumcision and with the bar mitzvah on the occasion of the call to the Torah reading . Usually this name is on the tombstone of a Jew.

There were exceptions to this rule. Most important of all was the custom of designating a rabbinical dynasty with a family name - usually derived from the founder's place of origin - for example von Katzenelnbogen or Emden . These surnames served partly as family names, partly as brand names, so to speak. Sons-in-law who became rabbis often inherited the name, and sons who did not become rabbis most of the time did not bear it.

The typical Ashkenazi family names Oppenheim , Warburg , Guggenheim , Frankfurter , Landauer , Feuchtwanger , Kissinger , Spira and similar (from Speyer), Dreyfuss (from French Trèves for Trier) and Mintz (from Mainz) are also derived from the place of origin . In some cases family names were derived from individual houses. The derivations Rothschild - from "Haus zum Rothen Schild" - and Schwarzschild - from "Haus zum Schwarzen Schild" - from houses on Frankfurt's Judengasse are known .

The Ashkenazi names ruby , amber , diamond and the associated flag colors red / red, green, black / black, white / white , pink, often expanded with additions such as verdigris, rose leaf, rose branch and rosenthal, are derived from the Torah . Comparable are names containing silver and gold , which are associated with the archangels Michael and Gabriel . In Judaism, Michael and Gabriel are pictorially named as the guardian angel of the people of Israel . According to tradition, Gabriel brought gold to earth - hence Goldberg, Goldmann or Goldstein . According to a rabbinical story, Michael is made entirely of snow, which is why the metal silver is assigned to him - hence the names Silberberg , Silbermann , Silberstein . The Ashkenazi surnames Weizenbaum , Feigenbaum , Honigmann and Teitelbaum , which are quite common, describe the holy fruits in Deuteronomy .

Cohen (with the variants Coen , Cahn , Cohn , Kohn, Kagan , Kahn , Katz and Kuhn ) is the biblical name of members of a clan with priestly functions in Ashkenazi Judaism - the Kohanim . The name Levi and the variant Weil goes back to the Jewish tribe of the Levites , was passed on from father to son and appeared in almost all Jewish documents, gravestones, etc., if a man mentioned there belonged to this tribe. Judah , the most powerful tribe among the Twelve Tribes of Israel , is traditionally symbolized by a lion - in Yiddish Loew - and derived from it Loeb .

In the absolutist states of Central Europe, at the end of the 18th century, Jewish residents began to accept an unchangeable family name as a condition for extended civil rights. This first happened in 1787 in the Habsburg hereditary lands ; other states and cities followed. Gradually, all the states of Europe introduced similar regulations.

Ashkenazi Jews were not always free to choose their new names. In isolated cases, this resulted in humiliating or insulting surnames such as drinker, beggar and mole, which could usually be changed again later. The Austrian and French laws did not allow any new names that clearly emphasized the Jewish background of the bearer - when naming from the Tanach or biblical city names. As far as possible, the Jewish family names should not differ from German family names in order to promote the integration of the Jews , who at first mostly received limited and later full civil rights.


For a long time, the everyday language of the Ashkenazim was Yiddish , which emerged from German, and Hebrew as a religious language . Both consist of several dialects.

The Ashkenazi pronunciation of Hebrew differs from Sephardic and modern Ivrit , which is spoken in Israel. The latter is not influenced purely by Sephardi, but also has elements of Ashkenazi Hebrew. Ashkenazi differs from Sephardic Hebrew or Ivrit in the following points, among others:

  • In Ashkenazi, as far as possible, most words have a penultima stress, that is, a stress on the penultimate syllable, while in Israeli Hebrew they are usually stressed on the last syllable.
  • The Ashkenazi Hebrew does not distinguish between א ( Aleph , glottal stop [⁠ ʔ ⁠] ) and ע ( Ain , voiced pharyngeal fricative [⁠ ʕ ⁠] ).
  • Ashkenazi Hebrew, like Tiberian Hebrew, differentiates between Patach (Tiberian / a / [ a ], Ashkenazi / a / [ a ]) and Qamaz (Tiberian / åː / [ ɔː ], Ashkenazi / o / [ ɔ ] or regionally in open syllable also / u / [ u ]); in Ivrit these two sounds coincide in / a / (the seventh day, "Sabat", is therefore called Shabbos [ ˈʃabɔs ] in Ashkenazi Hebrew , in Ivrit Shabbat [ ʃaˈat ]; for the distinction between / s / and / t / see below for Realization of the Taw ).
  • Sere and Schuruq are usually pronounced as diphthongs in Ashkan , and monophthongs in Sephardic and Ivrit . Ashkenazi / ej, aj / and / ou, au, oj / stand opposite Sephardic / eː / and / oː /; In Ivrit, / o / is also valid, whereas it knows both / ej / and / e /.
  • The double pronunciation of the letter ת ( Taw ), which was originally used on the one hand for the sound / t / [ t ] and on the other hand for the voiceless th [ θ ], is in Ashkenazi as / t / versus voiceless / s / [ s ] preserved (as the Hebrew name of the feast of Tabernacles in Ashkenazi Sukojs pronounced in Yiddish Sukkes, each with emphasis on the first syllable, in modern Ivrit contrast Sukkot with -t and final stress). Jacob Emden therefore wrote that the Ashkenazi pronounced Taw sounds like the Samech (ס).
  • The letter ח ( HET ) is in Ashkenazi not as a voiceless pharyngeal fricative [⁠ ħ ⁠] spoken. Jacob Emden mentions the debate as a voiceless glottal fricative [⁠ h ⁠] as the letter ה ( He ). More common is the debate as a voiceless uvular fricative [⁠ χ ⁠] as in spirantisierten Kaph (כ, at the end of a word ך).


Web links

Wiktionary: Ashkenazi  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

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  4. Michael Brenner: A Little Jewish Story. Munich 2008, p. 101.
  5. Ursula Reuter: Jerusalem on the Rhine. The ShUM communities Speyer, Worms and Mainz. In: Amounts on Rhenish Jewish history. Issue 3 (2013), p. 11.
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  8. ^ Michael Barkun : Religion and the Racist Right. The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement. UNC Press. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1997, pp. 136-142; the same: A Culture of Conspiracy. Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America . University of California Press, Berkeley 2013, p. 145.
  9. Genetic ancestry. Abraham's Children Der Tagesspiegel on June 16, 2010, last seen on May 21, 2016.
  10. ↑ Do all Jews really share a certain gene? The world, as last seen on May 21, 2016.
  11. Israel and the search for the "Jewish gene" Die Welt on September 1, 2010, last seen on May 21, 2016.
  12. Genetic ancestry. Abraham's Children Der Tagesspiegel on June 16, 2010, last seen on May 21, 2016.
  13. Israel and the search for the "Jewish gene" Die Welt on September 1, 2010, last seen on May 21, 2016.
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  18. ^ Susanne Galley: Judaism. Campus, 2006, ISBN 3-593-37977-5 , p. 99 f.
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  22. Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson, Michael Brenner, Shmuel Ettinger, Abraham Malamat: History of the Jewish People. Munich 2007, pp. 951-953.
  23. ^ Hebrew University Genetic Resource (HUGR): Ashkenazi Jews. In: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (project page).
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  28. See the research by Ghil'ad Zuckermann ; According to him, modern Ivrit or "Israeli" is a "Semitic-European" language based on the one hand on Biblical-Mishna'i Hebrew and on the other hand on Yiddish.
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