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Who are the Ashkenazi Jews?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Ashkenazi Jews are people who are descended from the Jewish population of Central and Eastern Europe. Judaism can be both a cultural and a religious identity, and in the case of Ashkenazi Jews, it is possible for someone to be culturally or ethnically descended from the Ashkenazim without practicing Judaism, or for someone to adopt Ashkenazic traditions without being ethnically related to the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe. Around 80% of the Jewish people around the world are Ashkenazim, including most American Jews.

The history of the Ashkenazi Jews began with migration from the Middle and Near East to Central Europe. The term “Ashkenazi” actually comes from the Hebrew word for “Germany,” reflecting the fact that many of them settled in Germany and along the Rhine Valley. Over time, the Ashkenazim were pushed back into Eastern Europe, developing close-knit communities and a rich cultural and religious tradition. They have historically been persecuted, banned from working in many professions and sometimes prevented from living in specific regions.

Genetically, the Ashkenazi Jews are clearly descended from people of Middle Eastern ancestry who intermarried with Central and Eastern Europeans, as ample studies on the Ashkenazim have demonstrated. Many Ashkenazim in Europe spoke Slavic languages, but they also developed their own language, Yiddish. They also developed a unique approach to the Jewish liturgy and to Jewish religious traditions. While Ashkenazim follow the same religious texts that other Jews do, there are a few distinctive variations in the Ashkenazic tradition which distinguish Ashkenazi Judaism from Sephardi Judaism and Mizhrahi Judaism.

The Ashkenazim population in Europe was devastated by the Holocaust of the 1930s and 1940s, when an estimated six million Jews were slaughtered under the regime of Adolf Hitler. Fortunately, many Ashkenazim had settled outside Europe, primarily in the United States, and kept their traditions and history alive. With the foundation of Israel in 1948, many Ashkenazi Jews relocated to the Middle East, and they make up a sizable proportion of the Jewish population of Israel today.

Because Ashkenazi Jews make up such a huge percentage of the Jews around the world today, many people who are unfamiliar with Judaism think specifically of Ashkenazi traditions when they hear the word “Jewish,” and they also assume that most Jews are of Central and Eastern European descent. In fact, Judaism is practiced in a variety of ways, and the ethnic heritage of the Jewish people is also quite diverse, with distinct lineages from the Mediterranean and Middle East.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon1005674 — On Oct 23, 2021

Yiddish is a German dialect and can be eaisly understood by a German speaker.

By anon1004789 — On Apr 20, 2021

To ANON311143 stalin and hitler were not Jewish in any sense of the word.

By anon1003875 — On Sep 27, 2020

I believe it's all in the blood. Maybe because they have been here since the beginning of time. There is a reason for this. Maybe God's gift to his people is already here. Right in front of our eyes. One must open your eyes to see. Hmm.

By anon992629 — On Sep 20, 2015

This, that, the other. I am right, you are wrong, it is green, no, it is red. What about the mass extinction perpetrated and executed by the zionist assassin state? That is the real issue.

Who cares where they are from? They are assassins who went somewhere and are assassinating the native inhabitants of that land and no one has the guts to stop them.

By anon960835 — On Jul 12, 2014

There is a difference between a Jew, who is a person who practices the religion of Judaism and worships God according to the laws of the Old Testament and a Jew born of a mother who has Middle Eastern DNA (Sephardic Jews).

According to the Bible, the descendants of the tribes of Jacob are Jews by genetics, as a child is a related to parents by genetics. And to be a descendant of the Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a person must be born of a woman who had Middle Eastern DNA who practices the religion Judaism according to the Old Testament.

DNA proves that all Ashkenazim European Jews DNA of the mothers are white European women. Therefore, all Ashkenazic Jews are descendants of converts and are not descendants of Jacob. Anyone can be a Jew for the purpose of practicing the religion Judaism. But not every person can be born into the tribes of Jacob.

By anon334104 — On May 09, 2013

Most of known Ashkenazi Jews have non- Jewish blood.

By anon333120 — On May 03, 2013

Ashkenazim are the real Jews, but they are from Ashkenaz kingdom or Khazar khaganate. As it is known, that was the only medieval Judean kingdom. It was a shelter for many Jews from Byzantium and other countries. After it was destroyed by Genghis Khan, all the Jews and some other people found the shelter in Lithuania and Poland.

By anon311143 — On Dec 29, 2012

Why is it racism to tell the truth? Ashkenazi Jews claim by birthright they had a right to take Palestine and treat Palestinians as visitors. The promise God made to Abraham was not made to the sons of Japeth or Ham; it was made to Abraham and his sons, descendants of Shem.

The Ashekenazi who say they are Jews by conversion have abandoned the principal way of determining a Jew's heritage. All Old Testament lineages were traced through the father, not the mother.

If a Christian says he/she is a Christian and hates their enemies, they are no more Christian than a Jew who says he/she is a Jew and traces their ancestry through women.

The Ashekenazi have abandoned the daily sacrifice required by the Law and replaced it with the commandments of men and not God. It is said that prayers offered in the morning meet the requirement God requires of those that live under the Law. Clearly, that is not true.

The Ashekenazi have allied themselves with idol worshippers and false prophets (the Mormons) and therefore not only have no birthright, but also have have set themselves apart from God. Every king and all false prophets in the Bible who allied with such were punished by the Lord. Mormons mask themselves as Christians, but are blasphemers and Ashekanazi have a lot of people fooled with their masks as well, but they are wolves in sheep's clothing. They are the Jews who are not Jews in the Bible.

You correctly said that if a person converts to Christianity, then it doesn't matter what their Jewish ancestry is. But what does matter is that their works match their faith and that they do not pervert the inspired Word of God with man-made doctrines that exist to control others, benefit themselves, and are always fairly obvious because their fruits are always bad.

It is not racism to say Ashekenazi are not Jews by promise, but as in Esther's day, many Persians converted to Judaism out of fear and became Jews. The idea that Christians would ally themselves with a nation armed with 120 nukes crying about their neighbors who have not one single nuke because they believe God would have His temple on the blood soaked ground soaked with the blood of His Son is an anti-Christ dogma.

Clearly, Paul and Revelation state there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and Zion will come out of that Heaven, not the polluted ruin that is covered with God's Son's blood. The Ashekenazi and false Christians have used this propaganda to profit from those poor souls that need to be freed.

In this country where there is not supposed to be a religious test, let a politician say one word about the Ashekenazi or the home they stole, and that politician will never be elected. Yet our president can be called a monkey, a terrorist, the “N” word, and any other disgusting name and the politician who utters that evil is rewarded.

I hardly think racism can be applied to the Ashekenazi who wield more power with less than 5 percent of the population of our nation of almost 300 million people. Lenin, Marx and Stalin -- all engineers of mass murder and communism – were all Ashekenazi Jews. I have heard that even Hitler was Ashkenazi. I don't know.

By anon310061 — On Dec 19, 2012

Gefilte fish is yummy, especially with matzos.

By mcschrade — On Jul 27, 2012

Ashkenaz was a son of Gomer, who was the son of Japheth, who was the son of Noah. Therefore, the Ashkenazi are Gentiles by birth, not Jews are Israelites, as the Israelites are descendants of the 12 sons of Jacob who is a descendant of Shem, not Japheth. (Ref. Gen. 10-49)

By anon217920 — On Sep 27, 2011

@anon192703, Post 10: Are you a jew? Tell me what you know of the Khazars please.

By anon192703 — On Jul 02, 2011

The author of this article has obviously never hear of the Khazars! It looks as though 90 percent of Jews in Israel are probably descendants of the Great Khazars and never were descendants of Abraham.

By lenmarlin — On Aug 26, 2010

A Jew is someone who practices Judaism like a Christian is someone who practices Christianity or a Muslim is someone who practices Islam, no matter the race or nationality. People seem to impose their own racist beliefs about religions, which are about seeking truths and enlightenment, not promoting or maligning races.

By anon93099 — On Jul 01, 2010

"Around 80% of the Jewish people around the world are Ashkenazim"

Most of them - mainly non-israeli and russian-israelis - should not be referred to/considered as "Jewish" according to Jewish Laws.

By dudla — On Oct 23, 2009

One thing distinctly Ashkenazi (and not Sephardic, for example): gefilte fish.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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