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Differences in Jewish Culture

Updated on October 1, 2016

Many cultures one people

When someone thinks of Jewish people, or the Jewish faith often times people think that it is very monolithic, and that all the believes are the same. However, this could not be further from the truth. There are several types of Jewish people, and there are several definitions for who is a Jew. If one would think about Christianity as a whole they would say that there are several types of Christianity. We see several types and from Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, several in the east and Protestantism and within Protestantism there are several types such as Pentecostal, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, etc. just to name a few. So it goes without reason that if over two thousand years of growth there are so many forms of Christianity then it could be easy to reason that since Judaism is around three thousand years later than there would be a lot more fraction and divisions. However, in view of this one would think that Judaism is pretty much monolithic. In this article I will discuss the major groups of Jewish culture, and Jewish culture is so linked to religious traditions that they are pretty much inseparable. However, I am not taking about denominations, I will be taking about cultures.

The Sephardic Jews are Jews from lands such as Spain, Italy, North African countries, England, Mexico, and South America. Sephardic Jews were pretty much the only Jews in the United States until mass migrations of the eighteen hundrends of Ashkenazi Jews which eventually became a bigger influence in the USA. The sephardic traditions have been influenced greatly by the RAMBAM (Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon). RAMBAM was a great philosopher and doctor. Sephardic Jews for the most part speak Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic or English. There is a unique language which is called Ladino, and this language is a mix of Old Spanish and Hebrew.

The Ashkenazi Jews are Jews from Eastern European lands, such as Germany, Russia, etc. Ashkenazi Jewry has been greatly influenced by Rashi (Rabbi Shalomi ben Yitzachi) who kept a vineyard and wrote great commentaries to scriptures that were easy for the simple man to read. Usually, when someone watches a movie that makes references to the Jewish religious world it is shows the images of the Ashkenazi Jews. They have a special language called Yiddish and this language is a mixture between Old German and Hebrew. I have never formally learned Yiddish, however, I have formally learned German and Hebrew and often times I find myself understand people that speak the Yiddish language. A lot of these Jews speak Russian.

Yemenite Jews are unique, and just as it says these are Jews from Yemen. There were periods of time when they where not well connected with the rest of Jewry in the world and so they have a lot of traditions that are ancient and that the rest of Jewish culture does not display. The Arabic language tends to be the dominate language of these Jews, on the other hand the Hebrew language was also spoken as well, whereas in many other cultures the Hebrew language was reserved for the scholars and synagogue worship.

Iraqi Jews are unique as well. There are strong traditions that come from Iraqi Jewish, and this goes without saying if you know the history of the Jews. After the destruction of the first Temple the Jews were carried off into exile into Babylon, and Babylon in modern days is referred to as Iraq. This is the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. This is the land that the prophet Ezekiel and Daniel spoke from. Jews have lived there ever since, and it might shock some people to know that there are still Jews living in modern day Baghdad. They have a strong tradition because when the Jews were in the exile when the Talmud was written down there were two basic editions of the Talmud. One is referred to as the Yerushalmi Talmud meaning that it was written down by the Rabbis living in the land around Jerusalem, and other edition is by those living in Babylon and this is referred to as the Talmud Bavli, Bavli being an Aramaic word for Babylon. The edition that has been study stronger through the ages is the Talmud Bavli because for so long most Jews in the world are spread all over the world, and so the topics are more relevant for them in the Talmud Bavli. There are other Jews to the east which are Persian Jews, and Oriental Jews, they hold deep middle eastern perspectives since there traditions did not move all over the world like the Sephardi and Ashkenazi traditions. Iraqi Jews speak Arabic, and Aramaic which is a language that some would rather just call a dialect of Hebrew since it is so close to Hebrew. Aramaic is a language that is between Arabic and Hebrew, but closer to Hebrew.

Ethiopian Jews have unique culture and traditions because they have been cut off from the rest of Judaism for a long period of time. Therefore, the ancient traditions did not change as the Jews in the rest of the world experience so many situations that caused the legal rulings to be re-evaluated in their days. They speak Amharic which is a Semitic language like Arabic and Hebrew.

These are the main culture differences. There are some more that are specifically religious like the uses of the Tallit, the binding of Tefillin, the variations on the same basic kosher diet. Several cultural difference, but hopefully there is a enough here to show that there are differences. Despite all the difference, all the Jews are held by One Belief in G-d as is expressed by the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4, the same Tallit, the same Tefillin, the prayer books are different but for the most part the standards prayers are still standard. The similarities are stronger than any difference and it is because of these differences that they can still be identified as a people for so many years living in an exile from our ancestral land.


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