Jewish Multiple Identity
Sephardim And Ashkenazim
The medieval Jewish view divided the world between Edom (Christendom) and Ishmael (the realm of Islam), and the Jewish world was likewise bifurcated (for example, by Maimonides) into Galut Edom (Jews under the cross) and Galut Ishmael (Jews under the crescent). More broadly, and continuing throughout roughly the second Christian millennium, most of the Jews of the world have generally been understood to belong to two major subgroups. One group is called Sephardim, a term derived from the Hebrew name of Spain. The term originally denoted only Iberian Jews, but after the expulsion of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492, it was colloquially expanded to include all the Jewish communities of the circum-Mediterranean, Middle East, and North Africa. The second group is known as Ashkenazim. This term is derived from the Hebrew word designating the German lands and was used to describe virtually all the Jewish communities of northern, western, and eastern Europe, who shared the Yiddish idiom until the modern era. Until the nineteenth century, the former group was more numerous, but the Ashkenazi population increased dramatically in the modern era. Since the establishment of the state of Israel, however, scholars and activists have worked to promote the collective identity and cultural heritage of Arabic-speaking Jews as distinguished, on the one hand, from the "true" Sephardim (Ladino-speaking communities that trace their origin to Iberia) and, on the other, from the largely secular Ashkenazim who founded the central Zionist institutions. It is also understood in the early twenty-first century that the bifurcation of Jewishness into Sephardic and Ashkenazic identities occluded the stubborn persistence of Jewish communal identities in widely scattered parts of the world such as Ethiopia, India, and China, and of nonrabbinic Jewish groups, most notably the Karaites.
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