Based on this article it would seem that the transition from a unified people into two groups, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, began in the 9th century and proceeded over time. I would like to know if there is any demarcation as to when these groups were formally viewed as separate, so for example Rabbinic bans enacted by one group would not apply to the other. By way of analogy there are individuals who are seen as the last of a certain era (Tanaaim, Geonim, Rishonim etc.) these people can be viewed as demarcating between one epoch and another even though there was a transition which may have taken years. Does such a thing exist in terms of the split between Ashkenaz and Sephard?

  • What about Yemenites? Moroccans? Yekkes? Iraqis? Provencals? Chabadnikim? What are these two distinct groups of which you speak?
    – Double AA
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 21:19
  • Communal bans are effective over anyone considered a part of the community. They spread as populations move and cultural centers shift. || A given figure may have great influence and many communities listen to him, while other figures had more limited spheres of influence. || The modern distinction between two main groups is the result of local variation being wiped out over time such as during the upheaval following the first world war, and even more so after the second.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 21:23
  • 2
    [cont.] There used to be much more variation between communities in different countries and different countries, e.g. France, Germany, England, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Syria, and Iran. || The distinct Ashkenazi culture / tradition is first recorded in 10th century Rhineland.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 21:23
  • @DoubleAA I am asking when the classification of "Ashkenaz" and "Sephard" began, that is all. Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 21:31
  • 1
    @rikitikitembo But you do not provide evidence that such a classification even exists. If you mean as a commons linguistic convention, that seems off topic.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 21:32

1 Answer 1


Edit based on the discussion in the comments: As the OP mentioned, this demarcation can't be accurately attributed to a specific time, because A. Differentiating between Ashkenazim and Sephardim oversimplifies the differences between communities in Europe, Africa and the middle East, and B. Even if we oversimplify in such a way, it was a process of probably hundreds of years until the split was complete (or as complete as it ever got).

Even so, I tried answering the question in a way that shows that a majority of (what we now call) Ashkenazim paskened differently than a majority of (what we now call) Sephardim and other non- European communities, this showing that the demarcation had already begun to take effect.

One early sign of this demarcation is the Cherem d'Rabbeinu Gershom on marrying two wives. Rabbinic Gershom Maor Hagolah was a Rosh Yeshiva in Germany during the late 10th and early 11th century, and his takkana was accepted by all of European (Ashkenazi) Jewry, but not by most Sefardi or other communities (see, for example, Yabia Omer part 8 Even Ha'ezer 2).

Though it's not fully clear when all of the Ashkenazi communities accepted this takana, of note is the fact that (according to Wikipedia https://he.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%A8%D7%91%D7%A0%D7%95_%D7%92%D7%A8%D7%A9%D7%95%D7%9D) most of the gedolim of the generation after rabbeinu Gershom were his students, and Rashi wrote about him:

רבינו גרשום זכר צדיק וקדוש לברכה שמאיר עיני גולה וכולנו מפיו חיין וכל בני גלות אשכנז וכיתים תלמידי תלמידיו הן

Rabbeinu Gershom zecher tzadik vekadosh l'bracha, who lights up the eyes of the exiled and from whose mouth we all live and all of the exiled of Ashkenaz and kittim (understood to mean Italy) are students of his students

In addition to Rashi quoting the takana outright in one of his t'shuvos (quoted by the Mordechai Bava Kama siman 210) which indicate that his psaks, and especially his Cherem, were probably well accepted almost immediately (Rashi was only a generation younger than rabbeinu Gershom) among the Ashkenazi communities.

In the comments, a claim was made that maybe some Sephardim also accepted the takana at first, and then later changed their minhag to match other communities. While this could be true, it must have been on a small enough scale that it's rarely mentioned, and not paskened at all, among the Sephardi rishonim, which doesn't affect the claim that at this point in time there was a clear demarcation.

This is the first relatively clear demarcation I could find between Ashkenazi Jews and others (Sephardi, Yemenite etc.), though it may have happened earlier.

  • When did this difference in acceptance happen? The way "ashkenazi" and "sefardi" communities now view this ban isn't necessarily how everyone always did.
    – Double AA
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 13:37
  • @DoubleAA, it must have been pretty early, at least on the Sefardi side not accepting it, because otherwise there would be more difference of opinion/ different minhagim within the Sefardi umbrella of communities, presumably
    – Lo ani
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 14:46
  • @DoubleAA edited my answer to address your comment
    – Lo ani
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 15:16
  • I find the historical analysis of the spread of this enactment severely lacking. Your best argument is just from the fact that Rashi thought to describe a group of people as Ashkenazim. At the time there were groups of European Jews in Germany France Provence Italy Greece Castille Aragon Portugal with their own cultures, so still not much support for the two groups in question Ashkenaz and Sefarad.
    – Double AA
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 15:42
  • @DoubleAA true, but seeing as (per Wikipedia) most of the gedolim of Europe the generation after rabbeinu Gershom were his own talmidim, and communities tend to follow the psaks of gedolim even when they're not from the same country, it seems safe to say that at least most of Europe adopted rabbeinu Gershoms psak. Especially since, AFAICT, the only (and certainly the biggest) centers of Torah in Europe were in France, Italy, and Germany, all of which followed rabbeinu Gershom
    – Lo ani
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 15:54

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