Judaism/Jewish Ethnic Divisions
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By sheer numbers, the overwhelming majority of Jews fall into only a handful of communities. The largest ethnically Jewish community, constituting the majority of world Jewry, are the Ashkenazim (historically meaning "German" in Medieval Hebrew) who can ultimately be traced back to Jews who migrated from Israel to Italy in the first and second centuries" and from Italy to southern Germany in the 7th-8th centuries, spreading thereafter to central and eastern Europe. The Sephardim (Hebrew for "Spanish") are those descended from Jews who migrated from the Middle East to the Iberian Peninsula, and were scattered in 1492 throughout North Africa, the Netherlands, south-eastern Europe, back to the Near and Middle East, and parts of the Americas. Together, Ashkenazim and Sephardim comprise 90-95% of the world's Jewish population — though the Ashkenazim alone constitute around 80% of Jews worldwide.
The designations "Ashkenazi" and "Sephardi" encompass cultural, religious, culinary, linguistic and other differences. Some scholars maintain that Ashkenazi Jews are inheritors of the religious traditions of the great Babylonian Jewish academies, and that Sephardi Jews are descendants of those who originally followed the Judean Jewish religious traditions.
As long ago as Biblical times, cultural and linguistic differences between Jewish communities even within the area of Palestine are observed both within the Bible itself as well as from archeological remains. The full extent of these differences, however, is unknown at this time. Following the defeat of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the Jewish people were dispersed throughout the Middle East, especially in Egypt, Yemen and Mesopotamia. By the height of the Roman Empire, Jewish communities could be found in nearly every notable settlement throughout the Empire, as well as scattered communities found in settlements beyond the Empire's borders in northern Europe and in Africa. In the east, Jewish communities could be found throughout Parthia and empires even further east into India, China and in eastern Europe and southwestern Asia, where as much as a third of the population of Khazaria is believed to have been Jewish at one time. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, and especially after the Moorish invasion of Iberia, communications between the communities in various parts of the former Empire became sporadic. With increasing persecution in "Ashkenaz", i.e., the areas that are now northern France and Germany, masses of Jews began to move further to the east, where they were welcomed by the king of Poland. At the same time, as a result of the freer communications within the Muslim world, the communities in Iberia were in more frequent communication with those in North Africa and the Middle East. Meanwhile, communities further afield, in central and south Asia and central Africa, remained isolated and continued to develop their own unique traditions. Following the 1492 expulsion from Spain, the Sephardim were dispersed to the Americas, the Netherlands, the Balkans, North Africa and in smaller numbers to other areas of the Middle East.
Although the Jewish population was severely reduced after the Arab invasions of the 7th century and the Christian Crusades, Jews were always present in Palestine. Over the centuries following the Crusades, Jews from around the world began returning in small numbers. Upon arrival, these Jews adopted the customs of the Mizraḥi and Sephardi communities into which they moved. With the rise of Zionism in the late 19th and early 20th century, and Nationalsozialisme in the 1930ties Ashkenazi immigration brought the Jewish population of Palestine to several hundred thousand, the majority of whom were Ashkenazim, by the time the State of Israel was proclaimed in 1948. Following the declaration of the State, a flood of Jewish immigrants entered Israel from Arab countries, most of whom were Sephardim or so-called "Arab-Jews" from the Maghreb, Yemen, Iraq, and smaller communities, principally from Egypt and Libya, and a number of Jews who came from non-Arab Muslim countries, mainly Persia and Turkey. More recently, other communities have also arrived, including large groups of Jews from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union. Because of the relative homogeneity of Ashkenazic Jewry, over time, all Jews from Europe came to be called "Ashkenazi" in Israel, regardless of whether they were Ashkenazim, while Jews from Africa and Asia have come to be called "Sephardi", regardless of whether or not they are actually Sephardim. Tensions between the two groups instigated shortly after the declaration of the state. The European-descended people, claiming social superiority, occupied virtually all the important political positions. The student and lecturer body of Israel's universities was overwhelmingly Ashkenazi. Sephardim (in its wider meaning) were often victim to discrimination, and were sometimes called "Schwartze" (meaning "black" in Yiddish). An immigrant from Iraq recalls when he first arrived to Israel he was given a tent, while a friend of his from Germany was given an apartment. Another incident occurred when a young Ashkenazi girl nearly drowned in a lake in Ramath Gan and a teenaged Persian boy dove in and saved her. The boy did not receive any official recognition from the school or city, which he probably would have if he had been Ashkenazi. Marriage between the two groups of Jews was initially uncommon, but in recent generations, the social discrimination has diminished due to extensive intermarriage and assimilation as a whole into a common Israeli identity. Another community often written of are Mizraḥim. This is not an actual community, but rather a convenient "catch-all" for Jews from the Muslim world who are not Sephardim. For a more detailed discussion, see Mizrahi Jew.
Because of the independence of local communities, Jewish "ethnicities", even when they circumscribe differences in liturgy, language, cuisine and other cultural accoutrements, are more often a reflection of geographic and historical isolation from other communities. It is for this reason that communities are referred to by referencing the historical region in which the community cohered when discussing their practices, regardless of where those practices are found today. The Jewish communities of the modern world can all be found represented today in Israel, which is as much a melting pot as it is a salad bowl. The smaller groups number in the hundreds to tens of thousands, with the Gruzim and Beta Israel being most numerous at somewhat over 100,000 each. Many members of these groups have now emigrated from their traditional homelands, largely to Israel. For example, only about 10 percent of the Gruzim remain in Georgia. A brief description of the extant communities is as follows, by the geographic regions with which they are associated:
Europe and the Caucasus
▪ Ashkenazim are Jews who migrated north from Italy into Germany and France, and later into Eastern Europe. Ashkenazim comprise far-and-away the majority of Jews, with approximately 70 percent of the Jewish total. Among the Ashkenazim are a number of cultural groups, roughly: ▪ Western (sometimes called Yekkes), stemming from northern France, from the Lowlands, historical Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Scandinavia. ▪ Oberlander, Western Yiddish speaking Jews originating in the Oberland region of Hungary and the disctrict surrounding Bratislava in Slovakia. ▪ Central (Galitzianers) from Hungary, southwestern Poland, western Ukraine and northern Serbia and Montenegro ▪ Northeastern (see Litvak) ▪ Southeastern, predominantly from Ukraine, Moldova and Romania ▪ Bené Roma or Italkim are the Jews of Italy. ▪ Chuts were Dutch Jews, observing an amalgam of Ashkenazi and Sephardi customs, living in London, although this community has almost completely been lost to history. ▪ Gruzim are Georgian-speaking Jews from Georgia in the Caucasus. ▪ Juhurim are mountain Jews mainly from Daghestan and Azerbaidjan in the eastern Caucasus. ▪ Krymchaks and Karaim are Turkic-speaking Jews of the Crimea and Eastern Europe. The Krymchaks practice rabbinical Judaism, while the Karaim are Karaites. Whether they are primarily the descendants of Israelite Jews who adopted Turkic language and culture, or the descendants of Turkic converts to Judaism, is still debated. ▪ Romaniotes are Greek-speaking Jews from the Balkans that lived there from the Hellenistic era until today. ▪ San Nicandro Jews - A group of mid-20th century converts from Italy ▪ Sephardim are Jews whose ancestors lived in Spain or Portugal, where they lived for possibly as much as two millennia before being expelled in 1492 (see Alhambra decree); they subsequently migrated to North Africa, the eastern Mediterranean, Latin America, the Netherlands, the Balkans, and other parts of Europe. During the 1950s and '60s most Jews from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia fled to either Israel (where they presently comprise approximately 50% of the Jewish population) or to France (where they have become the majority of a Jewish population that was traditionally Ashkenazi). ▪ Spanish and Portuguese Jews Nação - West Europe Sephardi ▪ Conversos Belmonte, Portugal and some parts of Brazil ▪ Baleares Chueta ▪ Maghreb Anusim ▪ Amazonian Hebraicos - Moroccan Jewish communities in Belém, Santarém, Manaus and many river villages in the Amazon basin. ▪ Salonika Jews
Middle East and Central Asia
▪ Bukharan Jews are Jews from Central Asia. They get their name from the Uzbek city of Bukhara, which once had a large community. ▪ Iraqi Jews are descendants of the Jews who have lived in Mesopotamia since the time of the Assyrian conquest of Canaan ▪ Kurdish Jews from Kurdistan, as distinct from the Persian Jews of central and eastern Persia ▪ Persian Jews from Iran (commonly called Parsim in Israel) have a 2700-year history. ▪ Yemenite Jews are Oriental Jews whose geographic and social isolation from the rest of the Jewish community allowed them to develop a liturgy and set of practices that are significantly distinct from other Oriental Jewish groups; they themselves comprise three distinctly different groups. ▪ Egyptian Jews are generally Jews thought to have descended from the great Jewish communities of Hellenistic Alexandria. ▪ Lebanese Jews are the Jews that lived around Beirut. After the Lebanese Civil War, the community's emigration appears to have been completed; few remain in Lebanon today. ▪ Omani Jews are the early Jewish community of Sohar. They are thought to be descendants of Ishaq bin Yahuda, a Sohari merchant around the first millennia. This community is believed to have disappeared by 1900. ▪ Syrian Jews are generally divided into two groups: those who inhabited Syria from the time of King David (1000 B.C.), and those who fled to Syria after the Spanish Inquisition (1492 A.D). There were large communities in both Aleppo and Damascus for centuries. In the early twentieth century a large percentage of Syrian Jews emigrated to the U.S., South America, and Israel. Today there are almost no Jews left in Syria. The largest Syrian-Jewish community is located in Brooklyn, New York, and estimated at 40,000.
▪ Abayudaya of Uganda ▪ Beta Israel from Ethiopia, tens of thousands of whom were brought to Israel during Operation Solomon and Operation Moses ▪ The House of Israel, several hundred Sefwi tribesmen in Ghana ▪ The emergent Jewish community among the Igbo in Nigeria, perhaps as many as 30,000 strong ▪ Various other small African Jewish populations are also found, from the Lemba in Malawi, South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe; the "prophetic" Jews from the vicinity of Rusape, Zimbabwe; as well as vestigial communities in São Tomé e Príncipe and Timbuktu, Mali.
India and China
▪ Bene Israel are the Jews of Mumbai, India, most of whom presently reside in Israel. ▪ Cochin Jews are also Indian Jews from southwestern India, most of whom also now reside in Israel. Included among these are the Paradesi Jews. ▪ Baghdadi Jews  Those Jews came from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Arab countries and settled in India in 18th Century. ▪ Bnei Menashe. A group of Jews living in Manipur and Mizoram in northeastern India, claiming descent from the dispersed Biblical Tribe of Menasseh. ▪ Bene Ephraim, the Telugu-speaking Jews of Kottareddipalem in Andhra Pradesh, India. ▪ Chinese Jews: most prominent were the Kaifeng Jews, an ancient Jewish community in China, descended from merchants living in China from at least the era of the Tang dynasty. Today functionally extinct, although several hundred descendants have recently begun to explore and reclaim their heritage.
▪ Hispanic Crypto-Jews are the descendants of those Sephardi Jews who migrated to the New World at the onset of the Spanish Inquisition, and who then hid their Jewish ancestry and beliefs in fear of persecution by the inquisition's franchises that had followed them to Latin America. Their numbers are difficult to assertain as most are at least nominally Catholic. Collectively, they could possibly reach the millions. Most are mixed descendants, although some communities may have been able to maintain a degree of endogamy (marrying only other Crypto-Jews) throughout the centuries. They may or may not consider themselves Jewish, some may continue to preserve some of their Jewish herritage in secrecy, many others may not even be aware of it. Most are not recognised as Jews according to halakha. Small numbers of various communities have formally returned to Judaism over the past decade after over five centuries of isolation. See also anusim. ▪ Iquitos Jews are the "accidental" descendants of mostly Moroccan Jewish traders and tappers who arrived in the Peruvian Amazon city of Iquitos during the rubber boom of the 1880s. Because usually only one in four or eight of their ancestors was Jewish, and being that the Jewish descent was paterilineal (the Jewish traders were all males who had coupled up with local mestizo or Amerindian females), their Jewishness is not recognised according to halakha. The Iquitos Jews are integrated into the local mestizo population. Because of the still existing Peruvian race/class system, there is virtually no interaction between the small halakhic Jewish population concentrated in Lima (under 3,000, most of whom are integrated into Lima's elite white minority) and the Jews of Iquitos. Iquitos Jews have only recently begun rediscovering their Jewish roots thanks to efforts made by Israeli outreach programmes. Some have formally returned to Judaism and now live in Israel after having made aliyah. ▪ Inca Jews are converts to Judaism originally from the Andes Mountains north of Lima, Peru. Some of these individuals are of indigenous Amerindian descent — hence Inca — though most are mestizo (mixed Spanish and Amerindian, though none with any known Sephardi ancestors). Again, there is virtually no interaction between Peru's small Ashkenazi population and the Inca Jews. The Ashkenazi community in Lima only approved of their conversions to Judaism if they were not conducted under the authority of the local beit din, and that they agree to emigrate from Peru once converted. The conversions were subsequently conducted under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, most then made aliyah and now live in Israel. There are still some left in Peru, and a few hundred more of the same community are awaiting conversions. ▪ Other Jewish communities throughout the Americas are the descendants of Jews who found their way to the New World at different periods in modern history. Most of these Jews, particularly American Jews, are Ashkenazi, and they in fact compose the majority of recognised Jews on the American continent today. There are also Sephardi, Mizraḥi and other historic groups represented, as well as mixes of any or all of these, but they are included in their respective groups discussed in earlier sections of the article.