What is Ashkenazi? Decoding the Jewish Ethnic Group

Ashkenazi Jews are the most prominent Jewish ethnic group with a rich history and culture. They are believed to have originated in the Rhineland region of Germany and later migrated to Eastern Europe. This group has influenced the world in many ways, and their impact is still felt today. In this article, we will delve into the characteristics, history, culture, and customs of the Ashkenazi Jewish group.

Who are Ashkenazi Jews?

Ashkenazi Jews are a Jewish ethnic group that dominates the religious, social, and economic life of Jews worldwide. They comprise approximately 80% of the Jewish population worldwide, with the rest being Sephardic or Mizrahi Jews. Ashkenazi Jews are the descendants of Jews who lived in Central and Eastern Europe for many generations. They speak Yiddish, a language that originated in Germany and later spread to other parts of the world.

Genetics of Ashkenazi Jews

Ashkenazi Jews are genetically distinct from other Jewish groups and non-Jewish populations. Studies have shown that Ashkenazi Jews share a common ancestor who lived about 1,000 years ago. This ancestor was likely a Jewish man who lived in the Middle East and later migrated to Europe.

The Ashkenazi Jewish genome is characterized by a high rate of genetic diseases, such as Tay-Sachs and Gaucher’s disease. This high rate is thought to be due to the limited gene pool of the group, as a result of multiple generations of intermarriage.

History of Ashkenazi Jews

The origin of Ashkenazi Jews can be traced back to the Middle Ages when Jews began to migrate from the Middle East to Central and Eastern Europe. Jews who settled in Germany in the 11th century formed the kehilla, a self-governing community with their own laws and customs. This community later became the model for Jewish communities throughout Europe.

The Ashkenazi Jews lived in ghettos and faced frequent persecution, including massacres, expulsions, and forced conversions. Despite this, they managed to maintain their religious and cultural traditions for centuries.

Ashkenazi Culture and Customs


The Yiddish language originated in the 10th century in Germany and was later influenced by Hebrew, Aramaic, and Slavic languages. Today, Yiddish is spoken by Orthodox Jews in Israel, the United States, and other parts of the world. The language is rich in terminology dealing with daily life, religious practices, and customs.

Religious Practices

Ashkenazi Jews follow the religious practices set forth in the Talmud, the holy book of Judaism. The Talmud contains the ethical, moral, and legal principles that guide Jewish life. The Ashkenazi Jews also observe the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest, when they are forbidden to work or engage in ordinary activities.

Like other Jewish groups, Ashkenazi Jews follow the Kashrut, a set of Jewish dietary laws. These laws govern the types of food that can be eaten and the way in which they must be prepared.

Wedding Traditions

The Ashkenazi Jewish wedding is a significant event that marks the union of two families. The groom breaks a glass with his foot at the end of the wedding ceremony to symbolize the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. This serves as a reminder that there is still much work to be done to achieve peace and unity in the world. The wedding ceremony is followed by a festive meal, where guests sing songs and dance.

The Legacy of Ashkenazi Jews

The Jewish Enlightenment

The Jewish Enlightenment, or Haskalah, was a cultural and intellectual movement among Ashkenazi Jews in the 18th and 19th centuries. The movement advocated for the adoption of modern, secular values and the integration of Jews into the broader society. The Haskalah led to the birth of modern Jewish literature, science, and art.

Contribution to Finance and Business

Ashkenazi Jews have played a prominent role in the world of finance and business. They are credited with introducing modern banking practices to Europe and the rest of the world. Some notable Ashkenazi Jews in the business world include the Rothschild family, whose wealth and power extended across Europe during the 19th century.

Contribution to Science and Culture

Ashkenazi Jews have made significant contributions to the world of science and culture. Some notable Ashkenazi Jews in the scientific world include Albert Einstein, who changed the way we understand the universe, and Jonas Salk, who discovered the vaccine for polio. In the world of culture, Ashkenazi Jews have produced many renowned writers, musicians, and artists, such as Franz Kafka, Marc Chagall, and Leonard Bernstein.


Ashkenazi Jews are a unique and influential Jewish ethnic group whose impact on the world cannot be overstated. From the Middle Ages to the present day, Ashkenazi Jews have contributed to the world’s cultural, scientific, and economic development. Their traditions and customs continue to influence and shape Jewish culture worldwide.

Common questions related to Ashkenazi Jews

  • What does Ashkenazi mean?
  • What is the difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews?
  • What is Yiddish?
  • What are the unique genetic characteristics of Ashkenazi Jews?
  • What is the history of Ashkenazi Jews?
  • What are some of the significant contributions Ashkenazi Jews have made to the world?


– “The Ashkenazi Jewish Genome.” National Human Genome Research Institute. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from https://www.genome.gov/genetics-glossary/Ashkenazi-jewish-genome

– Wex, Michael. “Yiddish.” YIVO Encyclopedia of Jewish Heritage. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Yiddish
– Harkavy, Alexander. Yiddish-English-Hebrew Dictionary. New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1912.

– “Wedding Customs.” Chabad.org. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/478739/jewish/Wedding-Customs.htm
– “The Rothschilds: Portrait of a Dynasty.” Deutsche Welle. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from https://www.dw.com/en/the-rothschilds-portrait-of-a-dynasty/a-42708522

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *