Please excuse the crossword-puzzle-clue style of the title...

What is a or the technical name for the distinction between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, and/or the class or category that both of these labels belong to?

I have seen them referred to as "groups," "subcultures," "ethnic groups," or "divisions," but none of these labels seems very precise. What is? (English or Hebrew.)

Zero points for "isotopes," "moieties," or "Why would you need a term?"

Related: The Split Between Sefardim and Ashkenazim

  • what are moieties?
    – mbloch
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 17:54
  • 2
    btw it took me a while to get the title - but it is very good
    – mbloch
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 17:54
  • @mbloch It's like Ashkenazim vs. Sephardim. Juuuuuust kidding. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moiety_(kinship)
    – SAH
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 17:54
  • 1
    There might not be a technical term, because those aren't Halachically recognized categories. They are but generalizations.
    – Double AA
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 17:57
  • @DoubleAA I would submit that one's cultural group or community is halachically recognized in many ways.
    – SAH
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 17:57

3 Answers 3


Here are just a few possibilities in Hebrew (I don't speak Hebrew, so please forgive me--and let me know--if some are way off):

  • אגודת - Indeed used with this meaning
  • ציבור -?
  • עם (Not the best)
  • יהדות--Roughly "Jewry" (countable)--In frequent use with this meaning--see here
  • קהילה
  • ממוצא -- In frequent use, but lacks the sought degree of precision
  • בית, insofar as בית יוסף -- Bet Yosef -- is a common metonymy for Sephardic practice and Sephardim as a group
  • "Ancestry": שושלת ,יוחסין ,צאצאי -? . English: Nation, clan, race, ethnicity
  • כלל -?
  • קבוצת - Used moderately often, as here
  • Nusach, דרך, minhag, mesorah, שרשרת. English: tradition, ritual, rite

. ..And here are the words I've found that come closest to being actual answers to my question:

עדה - Eida /edah, eidot -- To be found here and here, among many other places. In short, "eidot" is the answer to my question -- although Lital Levy interestingly notes (in Poetic Trespass: Writing between Hebrew and Arabic in Israel/Palestine) that in Modern Hebrew, the term is used almost exclusively to distinguish, and subalternate, Sephardi Jews, and refers only rarely to Ashkenazim. She notes further that "Modern Hebrew has no neutral words for race or ethnicity" (41, n. 85, and 82, n. 71)

"Shevet" -- שֵׁבֶט -- may be a misnomer, since it means "tribe," and there is only a sketchy correlation between the Tribes of Israel and the modern eidos. But it is in fairly frequent (mis)use for this purpose, as seen here and here.

For academic treatment of the lack of words in modern Hebrew to describe this divide, see Words and Stones: The Politics of Language and Identity in Israel By Daniel Lefkowitz, pp. 15-16, 83-88, et passim.

  • 2
    In Israel, the word commonly used to differentiate between "streams" (e.g. Syrian Sepharadi vs. Lithuanian Ashkenazi vs. Baladi Te'imani, etc.) is indeed 'e'idah (עדה) or 'e'idot (עדות) for plural. Of interest, this is also the word used for the Meragelim (which is also where the concept of a minyan comes from) and is often translated as "congregation" in English.
    – Lee
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 1:58
  • Now that I'm thinking about the potential root (shoresh) of the word, it likely comes from 'ed (witness). In other words, a member of an 'e'idah is testifying to that 'e'idah's tradition. This is purely my own conjecture.
    – Lee
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 2:02
  • A quick search in Wikipedia reveals that minhag and nusach have specific meanings. Minhag refers to a custom, accepted tradition, or group of traditions. Nusach refers to an established text or version regarding the proper wording of a religious text. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minhag
    – הבלשן
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 7:14

In Hebrew, I have often seen it written as

בני אשכנז


בני ספרד

to refer to the two ethnic subdivisions of Judaism. I also really like the word עדה. When talking about minhagim, I obviously prefer the word נוסח.


I don't think there is one right answer, here are a few possibilities you could pick from

  • ethnicities
  • ethnic groups (e.g., here)
  • ethnic divisions (e.g., Wikipedia uses it here and here)
  • communities (also here and here)
  • origins
  • subcultures (e.g., here)
  • traditions
  • Actually, of all the words in that category I think "clan" comes closest. Nevertheless, I want an exact word and believe it exists.
    – SAH
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 21:26

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