Judaism 2451

Iraq, the Middle East, and North Africa, had
sizable Sephardic populations long before the
areas became Islamic.
Sephardim, living mostly in Islamic lands,
were not treated as equals but generally were
not treated as badly as the Ashkenazim (im is
the masculine plural, and ot the feminine, in
Hebrew). Sephardim were more likely to inter
act with the non Jewish populations, whereas
Ashkenazim, facing more oppression, were less
likely to interact with non Jews. Ashkenazim
generally maintained Yiddish, that is, Hebrew
mixed with German or other European lan
guages, as their major language. Sephardim
from Spain maintained Ladino, Hebrew mixed
with Spanish, to a limited degree, and in some
other areas maintained Hebrew mixed with the
local language, such as Judeo Persian. But
Sephardim or Mizrahim largely spoke the lan
guage of the country. In all Arab countries
Arabic remained the vernacular of the Jews to
the present time, and a voluminous literature in
Arabic was produced by Jews. Largely because
of the interaction, or lack thereof, with non
Jewish neighbors, Sephardim and Ashkenazim
developed different responses to discrimination
and persecution. Ashkenazim have been more
likely to approach persecution from a martyr
perspective, whereas Sephardim have been
more likely to temporarily adjust themselves
to the demands of the oppressive society (some
times converting to the dominant religion, with
a secret maintenance of Judaism) with the
expectation of being able to return to Judaism
at a later date. Maimonides (11351204), a very
famous rabbi, philosopher, and physician who
was born in Spain, fled to Morocco to escape
persecution, and spent most of his life in
Egypt, taught this perspective. Some indica
tions are that his family followed this perspec
In 1170 there were 1,400,000 Sephardim in
the world, and only 100,000 Ashenazim,
Sephardim comprising 93.3 percent of world
Jewry. World trade patterns shifted, some
countries underwent difficult times, and by
1700 there were 2 million Jews in the world,
evenly divided between Ashkenazim and
Sephardim. In the next 200 years the Ashkena
zim, largely in Eastern Europe, continued an
explosive growth while the Sephardim declined.
In 1900 there were 9,550,000 Ashkenazim and
only 950,000 Sephardim, Ashkenazim compris
ing 90.5 percent of world Jewry.
Largely because of different experiences of
Jews living in diverse areas, as well as the influ
ences of modernization, Judaism historically
has had religious divisions and movements. In
the Common Era, the Karaites appeared in the
Middle East in the early eighth century, and
rejected the Talmudic and Rabbinic tradi
tions. Kabbalah, emphasizing Jewish mysti
cism, became more important around the
twelfth century. By the sixteenth century, Jer
usalem, Safed, Tiberias, and Hebron were cen
ters of Jewish mysticism in Israel. Shabbetai
Zevi came out of Turkey in the seventeenth
century, claimed to be the Messiah, and got a
large following, but eventually converted to
Islam under pressure. Hasidism arose in East
ern Europe in the eighteenth century as a pietist
religious and social movement, emphasizing
devotion of the masses rather than Talmudic
learning for a few. The Haskalah, a moderniza
tion and Enlightenment approach to Judaism,
arose in Germany, Italy, and Western Europe in
general in the 1770s.
Today, there are several major branches of
Judaism, which differ in their beliefs and prac
tices. In most Ashkenazi areas the two main
divisions are Orthodox, or Traditional, Judaism,
and Liberal, or Progressive, Judaism. Orthodox
Judaism accepts the totality of Judaism as based
on the Torah, Oral Laws, and commentary, and
requires a strong degree of traditional belief and
daily observance. It is divided into Modern
Orthodox and Traditional Orthodox. Liberal
Judaism has made more adjustments with mod
ern societies and is less demanding in both
beliefs and practices.
The US, whose Jewish population is over 90
percent Ashkenazi, developed a threefold divi
sion of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform
Judaism, largely because of migration patterns
which were not experienced in other countries.
Although Sephardic Jews founded the US
Jewish community in 1654 and remained the
cultural elite until the 1700s, the first sizable
Jewish population was established in the early
and middle 1800s by German Jews. They
usually had been influenced by Haskalah before
migrating. Reform Judaism had begun in
Germany and was brought to the US. In the
1880s large numbers of Jews began migrating to