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The Differences Between the Sephardim and Ashkenazim by Rabbi Yochanan Bejarano

The Differences Between the Sephardim and Ashkenazim by Rabbi Yochanan Bejarano

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The differences between Sephardic Jews and Askenazic Jews are substantial. The following essay by Rabbi Yochanan Bejarano seeks to review this issue.
The differences between Sephardic Jews and Askenazic Jews are substantial. The following essay by Rabbi Yochanan Bejarano seeks to review this issue.

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Published by: yochananbejarano on Apr 22, 2012
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04/22/2012

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The Differences between the Sephardim andAshkenazim
ByRabbi Yochanan Bejarano
Introduction
 The differences between the Sephardim and Ashkenazim are traced tothe different social, religious, economic, political, geographic, and evenethnic influences existent in each community.
1
The differences are toonumerous to enumerate in detail. Differences in practice in Ashkenaziand Sephardi schools of thought are also often argued to reflect thedifferences in Palestinian and Babylonian practice, which influenced thetwo former groups.
2
 
Assimilation and Daily Life
 The Christian Reconquista altered the political and religious environmentof Jews in Spain. While this eventually caused Jewish life to reflect thetype of restrictions common in Franco-German regions, Sephardim werecertainly more influenced by Islam than by Christianity. Jews underIslamic rule in Spain underwent varying degrees of Arabization or evenIslamization which to a large extent reveals the ability of non-Muslims tointegrate to a large measure in Islamic society.
3
  The Ashkenazim as the only notable minority in Christian landsexperienced a very different environment. That should not by defaultcreate an image of constant isolation or persecution, but the relationship
1
 
H.J. Zimmels,
 Ashkenazim and Sephardim: The Relations, Differences, and Problemsas Reflected in the Rabbinical Responsa
, (London: Oxford University Press, 1958), 233. The presence of Jews in the Iberian Peninsula is attested to as early as the fourthcentury of the Common Era as evidenced by anti-Jewish legislation enacted under theCouncil of Elvira. Some of the edicts of the Council prohibit intermarriage whichapparently occurred in sufficient numbers to warrant their attention. Joseph Perez,
History of a Tragedy: The Expulsion of the Jews from Spain
, (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 5.
2
 
H.J. Zimmels,
 Ashkenazim and Sephardim: The Relations, Differences, and Problemsas Reflected in the Rabbinical Responsa
, (London: Oxford University Press, 1958), 210.
3
According to Menahem Ben-Sasson, Jews underwent extensive cultural Arabization.Ben-Sasson, “On the Jewish Identity of Forced Converts: A Study of Forced Conversionin the Almohade Period.” 20. Bernard Lewis emphasizes the linguistic transformation in Jewish life with the rise of Islamic rule:” One of the major changes that took place Jewish life in these countries was the process of Arabization, meaning primarily but notexclusively the replacement of the older languages by Arabic.” He also refers to anumber of similarities between the two religious traditions: the similarity of a rabbi toan
alim
, the similarity in emphasis of religious law (halakhah and sharia), in teshuvotand in the Islamic fatwa. The influence on Jewish poetry, philosophy and theology isapparent as both arose in Islamic lands. Bernard Lewis,
The Jews of Islam,
(Princeton:Princeton University Press, 1984), 76, 79-80.
1
 
with Christianity society was certainly more restricted, thoughexceptions did exist. The everyday life of Jews in 11
th
century France forexample points to a more complicated relationship with their Christianneighbors than typically imagined. Esra Shereshevsky states:“The Jews of Troyes lived in harmony with their Christianneighbors; they hired Christian laborers under contract, hadtheir horses shod in workshops owned by Christians and theirclothes laundered and repaired by Christian tailors. Jewsborrowed money from Christians and the Christians in turnsupplied the Jews with fresh fodder for their cattle on Jewishholidays when Jews were not permitted to perform the choresentailed in fodder getting.”
4
Rabbi Yehudah HeChasid’s Sefer
Chasidim
also reveals a complexrelationship with non-Jews. In his ethical work, Rabbi Yehudah includesa number of positive comments regarding friendships with gentiles,including praying for their safe journey, providing them with helpfuladvice, and even cautioning them when about to sin.
5
 
The Differences in World View: Economic
While the idea of 
Convivencia
is perhaps exaggerated with the regardsto the idyllic picture of Jewish life in Spain, the complexinterrelationships of Muslims and Christians and Jews provided the latterwith a much more open society. The differences between the Sephardimand Ashkenazim were however often as attributable to simple issues likeeconomic reality to explain why variations in practice existed as theywere to differences in religious philosophy and application. Because thedifferences are simply too many to full enumerate, we will review a fewexamples.
Day to Day Examples: Wine
 The leniency of the Ashkenazim with regards to wine of non-Jews or Jewish wine handled by non-Jews is a perfect example. In France andGermany, many Jews worked in wine trade and viticulture.
6
According tothe Talmud wine handled by or made by non-Jews is prohibited as abeverage, nor may any benefit be derived from it.
7
The prohibitionextended rabbinically to even wine which was not definitely known tohave been dedicated to an idol. The Biblical prohibition only restricts
4
 
Esra Shereshevsky,
Rashi: The Man and His World
, (Northvale: Jason Aronson, 1996),60.
5
Avraham Yaakov Finkel, trans.,
Rabbi Yehudah HeChasid: Sefer Chasidim
, (Northvale: Jason Aronson, 1997), 365, 375-376.
6
 
H.J. Zimmels,
 Ashkenazim and Sephardim: The Relations, Differences, and Problemsas Reflected in the Rabbinical Responsa
, (London: Oxford University Press, 1958), 210.
7
Avodah Zarah 29b.
2
 
wine explicitly known to have been dedicated to an idol. The
Shulchan Aruch
composed by Joseph Caro retained the Talmudic prohibition.Moses Isserles, however, in his gloss to the
Shulchan Aruch
specificallymentions economic concern as the motivation for a more lenientapplication of the law.“Since libation is not usual nowadays, some say that our winetouched by a non-Jew is prohibited only as far as drinking itconcerned, but on may have a benefit from it. The sameapplies to
setham yenam
[the case of wine not definitivelyknown to have been dedicated to an idol]. Because of this it isallowed to take their wine (
setham yenam
) as repayment of adebt since it is regarded as ‘rescue’ from their hands. Similarly,whenever a loss (of money) is imminent, e.g. if one has alreadybought (be-diabad) suspect wine, only may have a benefit fromit. But one should not intentionally deal in the in the firstinstance (
le-chathhilla
) Some even permit this as well, but it isbetter to be scrupulous.”
8
In contrast, Maimonides applied the Talmudic restrictions completeywhen dealing with Christians. He did however, concede some leniencywith respect to Arabs, though this appears to be in line with the view of earlier Geonim. The general prohibition against alcohol by Islam mostlikely provided the basis of the leniency.
9
Day to Day Examples: Terefah
Sephardi leniency in the area o
terefah
is generally assumed.Geographical and economic influences on the observance of 
Terefah
however reflected the different economic realities of the Sephardim. Insome areas Ashkenazim owned slaughter houses, while in others theyused the abattoirs of their non-Jewish neighbors. In the latter cases,non-Jews provided the cattle. In such cases, the ability to morethoroughly inspect the lungs of slaughtered animals gave theseAshkenazim the ability to be more meticulous. Animals which did notmeet these requirements were simply provided to non-Jewish customersand hence no economic problems existed between Jewish and non- Jewish slaughterers. In the case of Castile for example, where non-Jewsrefused to eat meat slaughtered by Jews, the concern for financial losscaused Sephardic rabbis to rule in accordance with Talmudic law only,and not on stricter laws introduced by recent authorities.
8
Yoreh Deah., cap. 123, no. 1. H.J. Zimmels,
 Ashkenazim and Sephardim: TheRelations, Differences, and Problems as Reflected in the Rabbinical Responsa
, (London:Oxford University Press, 1958), 210.
9
Ibid., 211.
10
 
H.J. Zimmels,
 Ashkenazim and Sephardim: The Relations, Differences, and Problemsas Reflected in the Rabbinical Responsa
, (London: Oxford University Press, 1958), 200.
3

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