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Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews

A painting depicting the expulsion of the Jews from Portugal in 1497. Portugal was the destination of most Jews who left Spain...Read More >>A painting depicting the expulsion of the Jews from Portugal in 1497. Portugal was the destination of most Jews who left Spain after their expulsion in 1492. King John II granted them asylum in return for payment. However, after eight months, the Portuguese government decreed the enslavement or deportation of all Jews. Following John's death in 1494, the new king Manuel I of Portugal restored the freedom of the Jews. He, too, changed his policy, decreeing in 1497 that all Jews had to convert to Christianity or leave the country. Persecution by the Portuguese Inquisition, massacres and forced deportations to Portuguese colonies overseas followed.By the end of the Middle Ages, the Jews of Europe formed two major groups: the Sephardim (from the Medieval Hebrew name for Spain, Sepharad), or "Hispanics”, who lived in Spain and Portugal, and the Ashkenazim (from the Hebrew name for Germany, Ashkenaz), or "Germanics”, who had settled in western Germany and northeastern France. The two groups had separate identities and customs, which they took with them in their exile from their adopted homelands: the Sephardi Jews to North Africa, Anatolia (modern Turkey), Levant and southern Europe; the Ashkenazi Jews to Poland-Lithuania (then a large part of eastern Europe), and later from there to western Europe and the United States.



A print showing the massacre of Jews in Barcelona during the anti-Jewish riots of 1391

Sephardi diaspora

In the late Middle Ages, Spain was the last Christian country where Jews survived in large numbers. But even here, they experienced persecution. In 1391, Christian Spain ordered the majority of Spain's 300,000 Jews to convert to Christianity. They became known as conversos

The term “ghetto” was originally used in Venice to describe the part of the city to which Jews were restricted. The word may come from the old Venetian language “ghèto”, meaning “foundry” (the ghetto was established in 1516 on the site of a foundry). Alternatively, it may come from the Italian “borghetto”, meaning “little town” or “little borough”.

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