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Jewish history

Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews

The expulsion of the Jews from Portugal in 1497The expulsion of the Jews from Portugal in 1497By 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.


The massacre of Jews in Barcelona, 1391The massacre of Jews in Barcelona, 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



Alhambra Decree of 1492Alhambra Decree of 1492
Following the conquest of the Muslim Kingdom of Granada in 1492, the Christian monarchs issued the Alhambra Decree whereby Spain's remaining 100,000 Jews were forced to choose between conversion and exile. As a result, an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Jews left Spain. Those conversos who secretly practised Judaism were subjected to 40 years of repression by the Spanish Inquisition. The expelled Spanish Jews, known as the Sephardim, fled mainly to Portugal (where they were forcibly converted to Christianity or expelled in 1496–97), the Ottoman Empire, North Africa and the Kingdom of Naples. This was known as the Sephardi diaspora. A small number of Sephardi Jews also settled in Holland and England.

Migrations and settlements of the Sephardi JewsMigrations and settlements of the Sephardi Jews

A Jewish man from the Ottoman Empire A Jewish man from the Ottoman Empire

Ottoman Empire

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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