Jewish Genealogy in the UK. Jewish migration into the UK. What is an Ashkanzi Jew and what is a Sephardic Jew?
These are very common questions in Jewish genealogy and are important to understand. Understanding the differences between the Ashkanzim and the Sephardim will help to further your family tree and uncover more Jewish ancestors.
Most Jews in the UK today are of Ashkanazi descent, coming to the country in the last two centuries. However, Jews were first recorded in the UK as early as 1066. They were welcomed, as long as they paid a hefty tax. Violence occurred against them from time to time, the first example being at the time of the Crusades. One of the most notorious incidents being in 1190 when most of York's Jewish population was trapped in Clifford's Tower. They killed themselves rather than be taken alive. Under King Edward I, many Jews were imprisoned, some being hanged, before he expelled all 3,000 Jews from the UK in 1290, and took all of their possessions. Some remained in secret and there was some unofficial migration of Jews into the UK over the next few hundred years, but it was not until 1656 that Judaism could once again be practised legally.
Initially migration was from Sephadic Jews from the Netherlands, having been expelled from Spain and Portugal. By 1800 more than 20,000 Jews were living in the UK, mainly in ports such as London and Bristol. This had almost doubled by the middle of the 1800s. These Sephardim came mostly for economic reasons as well as religious freedom. In 1881 there was a massive influx of Ashkanzi Jews from Eastern Europe.
Originally from Germany, the Ashkanazim migrated into Eastern Europe and today Ashkanzi Jews are acknowledged as having origins across this entire area. This is particularly the case given the extreme persecution that has happened in modern times and has been widely documented. By 1931, Ashkanazi Jews accounted for 92% of the world's Jewish population. Mass migration occurred over the next 15 years, especially to the USA where more than 5 million Jews now live.
Ashkanazi cultural differences:
There are several areas in which the Ashkanzi differ culturally from the Sephardic Jews. They traditionally spoke Yiddish, essentially a mix between German and Hebrew, a language which is still used to today even in English speaking countries. Probably as a result of this different language, some pronunciation of Hebrew is different. They name children only after dead relatives, never after the living, which can be a good indicator in genealogy research. During Passover, they refrain from eating grain, millet, rice and legumes. They mix and eat milk and fish together. They are not as strict in the slaughter of animals for use in Kosher meat but will not eat meat which contains the sciatic nerve.
Ashkanzi migration to the UK
Over the centuries Jews have been persecuted and blamed for events. This has resulted in mass killings, abuse and ultimately explusion from several countries. They have been blamed for events such as Mongol raids led by Tamerlane, the Black Death, assinations and economic decline. During the 1800s Jews in Russia were moved into the Pale of Settlement, an area on the edges of Russia and Poland. Conditions were poor, Jews were prohibited from travel or taking certain jobs. Migration began in spits and starts at this point. The assination of Tzar Alexander II of Russian in 1881 led to waves of anti-semitism, known as pogroms, which resulted in mass migration to the UK. Having left most possessions in their homelands, they arrived predominantly with no money. The lucky ones found distant, often Sephardic, relations to help them out although many were ignored by their settled, middle-class, cousins. The rest settled in East London and took on menial jobs which paid poorly such as tailoring, boot and shoe manufacturing and furniture making. Tailoring was the predominant job. Many built up these fledgling concerns into successful businesses. For example, Michael Marks co-founded Marks & Spencer. Other Ashkanazi built businesses that supplied the Jewish community such as bakers and butchers. When they arrived in the country, immigration officials often could not understand the Eastern European accents and Anglicised the names or simply gave them the surname, Cohen. In addition, many Jews themselves settled on new English names to help them settle. Some rather unfortunateley gave themselves German names which of course led to different persecution in the 1900s. Some who travelled via steamship from Baltic, Black Sea or North Sea ports bought tickets to the USA but were put ashore in London, Bristol, Liverpool, Southampton or even Hull. Whilst sea voyages from North Sea ports were reasonably good, conditions from the cheaper Baltic ports were terrible often using cargo holds to tranport people with no health-checks prior to boarding. By 1900 there were an estimated 135,000 Jews in the London alone. Migration dropped off between 1900 and 1930 thanks to stricter immigration controls (called for by gentiles and the Anglo-Jewish alike). In total, around 50,000 Jews migrated from Nazi Germany in the 1930s with a similar number coming from Italy, Poland and Eastern Europe. These settled in North London, Leeds and Manchester rather than other Ashkanazi in East London. This included some 10,000 Jewish refugee children (kindertransport) in 1938-1939 who arrived in the UK from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia.
Originating in the Iberian Peninsula, they were expelled in the 15th century from both Spain and Portugal. There is some debate as to what constitutes a Sephardic Jew as there are differences between religious and cultural definitions. Most re-settled around the Mediterranean in parts of the Ottoman Empire (which of course spanned the Balkans, Greece, Turkey and parts of North Africa at that time) and North Morocco (later moving back to Gibraltar). Some remained in Iberia and converted to Christianity, later reverting to Judaism in the Netherlands, Germany, England and Italy. A final group remained in the Spanish empire, in places such as Mexico, the Caribbean, South America and the Philippines. They continued to practise Judaism in secret. In the 11th century, Sephardic Jews numbered some 97% of the Jews worldwide.
Sephardic cultural differences
One of the biggest differences in naming conventions. Sepharic Jews name children after their offspring's grandparents even if alive. First children of a single follow paternal grandparent names, and second children of that same sex follow maternal grandparent names. The only time this is not applied is if one of the parents has the same name as a grandparent. In addition names are often Hispanic sounding. They are very strict on the slaughtering of animals. They will not mix or eat milk and fish together.
Sephardic migration to the UK
They settled back into the UK well and mixed with the local middle-class populations. Many were wealthy merchants. Barred from some jobs where Christian oaths were required they specialised in jewellery, furniture and clothing or the importation of goods such as fruit. They often viewed subsequent (especially Ashkanzi) migration as different from theirs. They feared a rise in anti-semitism and in many cases just saw the Ashkanazi as very different from them. However, they often gave them jobs working in their factories.