I was wondering about the difference between sephardim and ashkenazim. I know there is a difference in the pronunciation. What about rituals? Customs? Etc etc.

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    Welcome, liz, to Mi Yodeya, and thanks for bringing your question here. Please consider registering your account for access to more site features. Don't be surprised if answerers below focus on general principles: there are very many small differences between the groups you mention.
    – msh210
    Mar 24 '14 at 8:56

This is a huge and unanswerable question... I'll take a stab at some general observations.

First of all, while it's common colloquially to refer to anyone who is not Ashkenazi as "Sephardi", the term technically applies only to the communities of the Iberian peninsula (today Spain/Portugal) and their descendants (who ended up in places like Amsterdam, Turkey, Greece, and northern Morocco). Many other Jewish communities — for example, those of Yemen, Iran, Iraq, India, and much of North Africa — have no connection to Spain at all, and the use of "Sephardi" as an umbrella term often misleadingly implies that there is some unity or continuity between groups that have very little in common.

In terms of rituals and customs: just as in Ashkenazi cultures, every aspect of Jewish life, from lifecycle celebrations to holidays to daily life, is surrounded by customs, practices, and other traditions which vary from community to community. Non-Ashkenazi groups developed unique traditions not found among Ashkenazim. For example, my own academic work focuses on the history of Jewish henna traditions. Without a specific question I can't really go into details; as an example, here's a booklet I wrote for a former student about non-Ashkenazi Passover customs.

Thus in my opinion, "what are some Yemenite customs for Passover?" for example, is a more manageable question that "what are some Sephardi customs?"

If you can read Hebrew, a good resource for learning about different groups is a book series published by the Ben-Zvi Institute on non-Ashkenazi Jewish communities in the 19th and 20th centuries; to date they've released Yemen, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, Iran, Libya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Algeria, and Italy, and a special volume focusing on lifecycle rituals. A good general English resource, if somewhat simplistic, is Herbert Dobrinsky's Treasury of Sephardic Laws and Customs, as is Marc Angel's Exploring Sephardic Customs.

In terms of halakha, the general halakhic paradigms of Sephardim, Mizrahim, and other groups, differed from the one that developed in the Ashkenazi world — for example, see Norman Stillman's Sephardi Religious Responses to Modernity.


This question is way too broad to really answer - as I will explain below.

There are some "classic" differences between Sephardi and Ashkenazi rituals, like:

  • The Sefardi classic Sefer Torah is barrel-shaped, as opposed to the Torah-roll of the Ashkenazim.
  • Sefardim start wearing a Tallit in shul from Bar Mitzva - or before - and Ashkenazim only after they are married.
  • Sefardim eat legumes - Kitniyot - on Pessach, Ashkenazim do not.

I'm sure others will add to this list.

But as I said, the question is too broad, as there are lots of different groups that are all called "Ashkenazim" - and the same for "Sefardim" - and each group has it's own rituals.

Examples: - Ashkenazim only wear a Tallit after marriage, yet Yekkes (who originate from Ashkenaz = Germany) also wear a Tallit from Bar Mitzva - or even before. - Certain Sefardim don't eat kitniyot on Pessach. - Some Sefardim do not use the barrel-type Sefer Torah.

To elaborate on the sub divisions. Almost every village had its unique customs. Every country had a few sub divisions. See Wikipedia's Jewish ethnic divisions for more details.

Here's a sample breakdown of some obvious sub divisions - each group having unique customs and rituals - and there own Sidurim with slight changes in Nussach.

  • Ashkenazim
    • Misnaged
      • Yekke
      • Yeshivish
      • Mizrachi
      • etc.
    • Chasidish
      • Ger
      • Lubavitch
      • Belz
      • etc.
  • Sefardim
    • Temanim (who are not Sefardim at all)
      • Dor Daim
      • Iqshim
    • Syrian - Chalabi
    • Moroccan
    • Tunisian
    • Etc.

So it's almost as broad a question as asking "what are the differences between Asian and European etiquette."

  • we independently wrote essentially the same thing! it's almost impossible to say anything this general, especially since the "ashkenazi-sephardi" binary is too simplistic to be useful. :) Mar 24 '14 at 12:56
  • @NoamSienna - agreed! The explanation was too large for a "comment" so it became a "non-answer". Mar 24 '14 at 13:04

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