Sephardim and Ashkenazim: Closing the Gaps?

By Miriam Samsonowitz

One of the greatest conflicts that has affected the Jewish nation dwelling in Zion in the past 50 years is the socioeconomic gap between the Sephardic and Ashkenazic communities. The bitterness of the Sephardim towards the dominating Ashkenazic establishment who consigned them to the status of second-class citizens during the early decades of the State has given rise to the rebellion of Sephardim against the left and its support for nationalistic politics, as well as its present religious revival under the aegis of the Shas party and others. The Sephardim in Israel are engaged in a process of regaining their lost dignity and social status. Will they succeed in shedding their second-class label and closing the gaps?

After viewing the historical facts (see “A Proud 500-Year History,” next page) which demonstrate that Sephardic talents and abilities were not less than those possessed by Ashkenazim — and a convincing case can be made for their superiority — how did it happen that the Sephardim, within a short few years, acquired a name in Israel as a second-class, uneducated minority?

Discrimination Sets In

The Sephardic masses who immigrated to Israel in the state’s early decades were faced with challenges and discrimination which their previous experiences and way of life left them incapable of handling. Their existence had followed a predictable Levantine pattern for generations: the father was the patriarch, the generations of the family lived as one close unit, and the men were engaged in a family business or trade. Jewish women were not educated and stayed at home (partly due to the realities of the lecherous peoples among whom they lived). Jewish children were educated in local Jewish schools, but unless they were the sons of rabbanim or other prominent persons, they apprenticed to work and joined the family business when they reached their teens.

This pattern had been partially broken in the big cities such as Meknes, Fez, Casablanca, Tripoli, Tangier, Tunis, Alexandria, Baghdad and Teheran, where Alliance schools and western education had penetrated, but it was followed for the vast majority of Sephardic Jews. It should be noted that the so-called primitive “mountain Jews” such as those who lived in Morocco and Kurdistan, formed only a small percentage of the total Sephardic population. The major Ashkenazic immigration to Israel took place immediately following the Holocaust, and it comprised mostly young survivors who were culturally close to the Zionist leaders. When the Sephardic immigration took place several years after the founding of the State, the situation was vastly different.

The secular leaders of the State were ambivalent about the Sephardic immigration. On one hand, they acknowledged the need to bolster the Jewish population of the fledgling State. On the other hand, they feared having the carpet pulled from under their feet by having a largely religious population come to Israel who would insist on religious representation and completely dissolve the secular Zionism’s political aspirations. In addition, this Ashkenazic establishment was permeated with a sense of superiority, both because they came from the technologically and politically advanced European sphere and because they were in control. In their value system, Levantines could only be perceived as second-class citizens.

When the English historian Cecil Roth wrote a publicity brochure for the Women’s International Zionist Organization in 1954, his book contained condescending comments about Sephardim such as: “…illiterate youngsters who had to be taught the use of a comb, a toothbrush and a spoon… WIZO transformed its Training Farm at Afuleh into a haven…where over one hundred youngsters annually are being removed from a life of idleness and decay… On the whole, it is extremely difficult to instill in them some sort of social consciousness…”

A recent example of this attitude that typified the State’s leadership was the comment made half a year ago by Supreme Court President Aaron Barak to a team of reporters. When asked about the number of Sephardic judges in the Supreme Court, Barak mentioned that most compositions of the High Court from the beginning of the State had a Sephardic judge in it. “In the past, we were willing to lower the level of the High Court to integrate a Sephardic judge,” he said offhandedly. When a look of astonishment fell over the faces of all those present, Barak quickly backtracked.

The Ashkenazic secular leaders of the State contrived numerous elaborate plans to reduce the perceived Sephardic threat. Most of these plans ended up comprising an inhuman, almost savage assault on the deepest values and family life of the Sephardic population.

In the 1949-‘50s, 50,000 Yemenites were air-lifted to Israel by the Joint and the Jewish Agency. The abuses carried out against them were cruel and cunning. They were tricked out of their life savings. (They were told, “The plane can’t fly as long as you’re holding onto your jewels and money.”) They were dumped in ma’aborot — primitive tent settlements surrounded by barbed wire in which only secular personnel were allowed free entry. Children were forcibly separated from parents, with older children sent to kibbutzim for secular indoctrination and education, and babies abducted and sold for adoption abroad or adopted by secular couples in Israel. The beggared Yemenites were defenseless, since the secular Mapainiks controlled the distribution of food, jobs and housing, and whoever did not toe the line did not get food to eat. They were unacquainted with the country and language, and had no connections or family to help out.

Similar injustices occurred with the immigrations of other Sephardic groups, though on a lesser scale. By 1953, 90% of Libyan and Iraqi Jews had emigrated to Israel, together with large numbers of Egyptian, Syrian, Tunisian and Algerian Jews. Their native governments had passed discriminatory laws forbidding them to take more than a minimal amount of their possessions, so most of these groups too reached Israel impoverished and dependent on the generosity of the government. A clear policy was implemented against Moroccan Jewry which only allowed healthy, strong adults ages 18 – 45 to immigrate, and which separated children from the parents, with most sent for “re-education” in the kibbutzim. (See page 167 in the book by Norman A. Stillman listed below.)

Many of the Sephardic communities also passed through the ma’aborot, although they did not suffer the same intimidation and threats that the Yemenites experienced. Once they left the ma’aborot, they were subjected to a new variety of abuses: They were scattered into dead-end developmental towns only to be locked into low-income positions with little opportunity to improve their material situation. Their rabbis and other spiritual leaders were not recognized by the State rabbinate, and in any event their communities were too poor to provide for them. The authorities insured that they were settled far from the concentrations of their community. Factotums of the secular government leaders were placed in leadership positions in the local communities and given liberal funds to cultivate activities (such as social dancing, attending movie theaters, etc.) guaranteed to cause the disintegration of the mores associated with religious identity of the new immigrants. The schools reinforced the image of the parents as backward and incapable, thus destroying the patriarchal system that had been in existence for generations. Mothers were ashamed before their educated daughters. Parents were disparaged, their authority diminished, and the youth was drawn to the streets.

Although Ashkenazic immigrants had their share of pressures with which to contend, these were not comparable to those of the Sephardim. The Ashkenazim were acquainted with the form of government and mentality of the Zionist hierarchs. Coming from Europe, where education was a universal privilege, they had sufficient background and education to enter the Zionist track and reach prominent positions, particularly if they were secular or national-religious. If they were Chareidi, they were able to isolate themselves and form separate communities relying on their relatives abroad to support their institutions and help them retain their unique identity and values. In contrast, the Sephardim’s limited education, unfamiliarity with the hidden agendas implemented against them, and lack of assistance from abroad left them exposed.

These sordid manipulations not only accomplished what the secular leaders of the State had hoped for — the dissolution of religious identity — but also spawned an abundance of problems that have dogged the Sephardic community in Israel until today. With little hope of improving their situation, many Sephardic youngsters fell into a pattern of surging anger, unrestrained ruthlessness and crime to achieve their aims — patterns of behavior that had never existed in their original countries. In the beginning decades of the State, Sephardim in Israel were far less educated than the Ashkenazim. (In 1972 a study showed that the Sephardim comprised 65% of the students in elementary school, but only 16% of the high school graduates. Although the percentage of Sephardim in higher education is gradually growing, it is still far from reaching parity with the Ashkenazim.) The majority of blue collar jobs are performed by Sephardim. Sephardic politicians exist in far less numbers than their ratio in the general population. The prisons in Israel are filled with Sephardic criminals. The Sephardic Jew is seen by the rest of Israel as uneducated, primitive, backward, poverty-ridden… and for many decades they didn’t have the wherewithal to change this image. No wonder that when Morocco and Algeria allowed its Jews to leave in 1961, the majority preferred moving to France, the United States, Spain and Belgium over returning to the “homeland” in Israel.

The contrast in status between Israeli Sephardim and Sephardim in Jewish communities abroad is striking. Throughout the Diaspora, Sephardim are considered the intellectual and cultural equivalents of their Ashkenazic brothers, and in a number of places such as South America and England, even superior. The general lack of discrimination in the Diaspora has resulted in many mixed marriages between the two communities. In areas of the United States such as New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Miami, and in countries such as Canada and France and numerous places in South America, marriages between Sephardim and Ashkenazim are not infrequent.

The Sephardim Raise Their Heads

In 1972, when Mr. Elie Eliachar of the World Sephardic Organization petitioned the administration of the Jewish Agency to allow Sephardim to reach positions of power in the State’s political infrastructure, it was a long-awaited demand for equality. He said candidly, “Seventy-five years after the Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency have been active, a non-Ashkenazi sat there for the first time as a representative of the Sephardim. Do you believe this can be tolerated when we are 60% of the population here?”

The old patronizing of the Zionist Ashkenazic establishment began to boomerang when the Sephardim, in their masses, threw their support behind the oppositionist Likud party. By 1977, 2/3 of the Sephardim were voting for the right-wing, traditionalist Likud, while 2/3 of the Ashkenazim were voting for the left-wing, secular Labor — the latest evolution of the party that had been in power since the beginning of the State. It was in fact due to the growing Sephardic population that for the first time, Likud was voted into power that year. This watershed year in Israeli politics made the Ashkenazic establishment reel and they finally learned that the Sephardim are a power “to be reckoned with.” In the 1980s, Labor slowly accepted Sephardim into its ranks, and Sephardim penetrated to other positions of prominence too. In 1983, Iraqi-born Moshe Levy was chosen as Chief of Staff. Shortly afterwards, Yisrael Kessar, a Yemenite, reached the head of the Histadrut.

The greatest impetus in the fight of Sephardim to regain their early status happened when a new Sephardic religious party called Shas came onto the scene in 1983. Founded by former Chief Rabbi Ovadya Yosef, and initially given the support of the Ashkenazic Chareidi community, Shas won an amazing four seats in the Jerusalem municipality, and two years later repeated this feat in the national arena. During its 14 years of existence, Shas has made stunning advances in returning the lost pride of the Sephardic population, while at the same time affecting a religious revival.

Rav Benizri, Deputy Minister of Health and a Shas MK calls attention to the survey publicized in Yediot Achronot last year in which half a million Israelis claim that they have become more religious, and he states that 80% of them are Sephardic. “It is easy for Sephardim to return to their heritage,” Benizri asserts, “since the Sephardim never had the generations-long break from Judaism that was typical of many Ashkenazim.” Benizri says that Shas is constantly advancing in their goals of “returning the lost majesty” of the Sephardim. After a decade of being the hinge party on which Israeli governments have survived or fallen, Shas has been the beneficiary of huge government funding which it liberally channeled into its varied projects — the El Maayan school network which encompasses the length and breadth of the land and has 10,000’s of students; the Chareidi pirate radio stations Radio 10 and Kol Ha’emet, which are powerful outreach tools; a worldwide organization which broadcasts videos of Rav Ovadya Yosef’s shiurim throughout the world; and a powerful political infrastructure which has penetrated successfully even into the Arab and Druze sectors. Sephardic synagogues in every city and town feature outreach activities such as shiurim and youth groups for Sephardic youth in the afternoon and evening.

The Sephardic impact on general Israeli politics has been staggering. Today, at least a quarter of the Israeli Knesset members are Sephardic, including almost a third of Labor, the bastion of the previously Ashkenazic establishment. Labor’s presidential hopeful Ehud Barak was quoted recently as saying that the leadership of the Labor party passes by way of the Ashkenazim, but attaining the government can only be done by way of the Sephardim. He has set his sights on not repeating the mistakes of his predecessors who ignored the Sephardic population.

Shimon Peres’ unjustified confidence left his party sorely defeated two years ago. During the 1996 elections, the Likud and right-wing parties received the support of 11% more of the Jewish electorate than did the left. With religious and traditional Jews (about 30-40% of the population) giving birth to large families (4-12 children) while the secular community was stagnating with zero population growth, the left wing drearily realized that things would only get worse. Ehud Barak knew that unless a stunningly new approach were to be implemented, no Labor phoenix would rise from the ashes.

One of his first moves after winning the leadership of the Labor party was to organize a rally in Netivot, a predominantly Sephardic and religious stronghold where 96% had voted for Netanyahu. He surprised the participants when he stood up and apologized to the Sephardim for the outrages and abuses perpetrated on them by Labor and its historic anti-religious antecedent, the Mapai party.

But his efforts notwithstanding, the Ashkenazic establishment — including the Likud — may soon discover that the days are not far off when they will have lost the support of Sephardim for good. The resurgent Sephardic pride which was fostered by Shas is gaining lost ground, and patronizing Ashkenazim are quickly told “No, thanks.” Shas politicians conservatively estimate that in the next elections, they will garner 15 seats, up from the 10 they have now, and some estimates predict as high as 20 seats.

As far as discrimination is concerned, Benizri says that covert forms of it still exist in the Ashkenazic establishment strongholds such as the army, banks, institutions of higher education, and government ministries. He expects, however, that within a few decades, it will be all but gone. He acknowledges that the Ashkenazic secular and Mizrachi youth are fully integrated with their Sephardic peers, and intermarry on a regular basis. Only in Chareidi circles is there still a pronounced polarization between the two groups, which was initially caused by differences in halachah and minhagim between the two and because Ashkenazic Chareidim are markedly conservative in keeping to their own kehillot. Benizri notes, though, that there is more intermarriage between the Chareidi Litvish community and Sephardim than between Litvish and Chassidim. “In terms of our Torah leaders and hashkafah,” he says, “the Litvish and Sephardim are close.” Rabbi Berel Wein, an Orthodox historian who recently made aliyah, confirms Benizri’s projection of discrimination fading away. “With the Sephardim becoming more powerful politically, the discrimination against Sephardim will diminish. Once the Ashkenazim need favors from Shas, they will be forced to look at them differently.”

The Yemenite Leading the Teshuvah Revolution in Israel

Everyone readily admits that the lecturer in Israel with the greatest impact in outreach is Rav Amnon Yitzchak. Rav Yitzchak was born in 1953 to a traditional Yemenite family who lived in Tel Aviv. After 12 years of study in a secular government school, he served 3 years in the artillery division of the IDF. He became religious at the age of 24 when a copy of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch fell into his hands. His return to Judaism was the result of his own research and study.

In the early 1980s Rav Yitzchak found he had a serious impact on individuals with whom he held discussions on Judaism. He began to speak about Judaism to small study groups in private homes; within a short time he became a sought-after speaker, addressing crowds of thousands. He sometimes spoke at as many as 30 engagements a month.

Rav Yitzchak’s lectures attract a wide audience, from intellectuals to simple Jews, Ashkenazim and Sephardim alike. His topics are varied, but they inevitably touch on the lack of identity and direction and the moral degeneration that afflicts all echelons of secular Israeli society today, and how Judaism’s directives can bring the nation back to its senses. He fearlessly speaks about any topic brought up by questioners. Frequently, he starts a dialogue with one stubborn person in the audience who within a short time withdraws in defeat to the cheering of all the others. The repeated attacks against him in the secular media have had the effect of increasing his popularity.

Rav Yitzchak’s lectures are not prepared in advance. His topics are spontaneous and unrehearsed, and what he says at each lecture is determined by the composition of his audience and the location of the lecture. He has carefully documented and catalogued the phenomena that he speaks about, and he screens the evidence on the wall in full view so the audience sees that his claims are true.

Rav Yitzchak appears in traditional Yemenite garb and headdress, and his long winding payos spill onto his striped caftan. After a two hour talk — notwithstanding his outmoded appearance — his honesty, incisiveness and charisma have the astonishing effect of inspiring numerous listeners to commit themselves to a Jewish way of life. Many of his lectures end with a dozen youths coming up to the dais, each prepared to have his ponytail snipped off, a kippah placed on his head and an arba kanfot placed on his shoulders; they enthusiastically pronounce the blessing, “Shehechiyanu… la’zman hazeh.” Each married woman signals a new commitment for life by accepting a scarf and placing it on her head. The thousands of earrings shed by youths at the end of his lectures were collected and fashioned into a huge sefer Torah crown.

In 1986, Rav Yitzchak founded his organization, “Shofar,” which runs a variety of outreach activities including lectures, seminars, trips to kivrei tzaddikim, and above all, distribution of his tapes and videos. The latter are distributed throughout the country for free at road junctions, schools and anywhere people are motionless long enough to take these items from one of his activists. A recent study by the Israeli Druze community about his activities discovered that his tapes are extremely popular with the secular Israeli population. Some of his videos were dubbed in English. Experts in outreach claim that Rav Yitzchak has influenced 200,000 Israelis to become religious, and his assistants estimate even more. A religious activist who works in Tel Aviv registering youths and children in religious schools told me that when an evening with Rav Yitzchak is advertised in Tel Aviv, 2000 secular youths pack the halls. Although other groups do excellent work and often continue with the chozrim b’teshuvah [returnees to Jewish observance] that he initially inspired, his influence is unparalleled in Israel. Despite his remarkable success, Rav Yitzchak is not affiliated with a specific political or religious group and his activities are not funded by the State.

After 15 years of activity, Rav Yitzchak’s organization has distributed 8 million tapes in Hebrew throughout the world, with thousands of new tapes being distributed every day. The organization plans to purchase an advanced video-copying machine — possibly the only one of its type in the Middle East — to increase its output and achieve the goal of giving out a million videos for free. His followers say enthusiastically, “We’ll continue the revolution to hasten the Geulah and rebuild the Beit Hamikdash.”

To what does Rav Yitzchak attribute his spectacular success? His assistants in Shofar say, “Unquestionably, Heaven has granted him favor and assistance because of his mesirat nefesh [self-sacrificing devotion] for each Jew.”

Ashkenazic/Sephardic Conflict Within the Chareidi Community

The secular and national religious communities have achieved a large degree of integration of Ashkenazim and Sephardim, and intermarriages between them are common because their goals (a good materialistic life, or national religious values) supersede their ethnic differences. In contrast, the situation between the two groups in the Chareidi community has become more polarized and segregated. What initially caused the separation were differences in halachah, but over time, the separation has taken on more emotional and societal undertones.

There is no denying that this is because Sephardim are considered weaker scholastically and socially. For decades, the Chareidi community absorbed the Sephardim in their schools without noticeable discrimination, and during this time the Sephardim numbered about 30% of the students in
the main Chareidi population centers. When various Chassidic groups separated from the general Chareidi education system to form their own schools about 15-20 years ago, this change substantially increased the percentage of Sephardim in the general school system and cast the burden of absorption on the Litvish sector.

The situation worsened with the Chareidi population explosion ten years ago, and every year new private Chareidi schools came into existence, each striving to find a reputable niche. The resulting fierce competition brought schools to vie for the best-performing students and distinguished families, while rejecting students who were less qualified scholastically or socially. There is hardly an Ashkenazic family that has not suffered from the onerous criteria, but the full brunt of the ruthless situation fell upon the Sephardim, who were already at a disadvantage merely because they were Sephardic. While the cream of the Sephardic youth are still accepted in Ashkenazic schools, anyone less than outstanding usually is not.

It is a common mistake to think that this discrimination is imposed solely from without by the Ashkenazic Chareidi establishment. Many will be surprised to hear that the Sephardim give a hand to it too. For instance, many Sephardic Chareidi families insist on sending their children to Ashkenazic schools. They refuse to send their children to any of the new Sephardic schools which opened in recent years, whether private or affiliated with Shas. They feel that the Ashkenazic schools are of better quality and that their child will have far better opportunities for advancement, shidduchim and attaining jobs if they’ve gone through the Ashkenazic washing machine and become “meshuchnaz.” Last year, for instance, several dozens of Sephardic 9th grade girls in Jerusalem who were not accepted by Ashkenazic high schools stayed home for most of the year until an arrangement was made, which allowed them to attend an Ashkenazic school rather than attend a Sephardic high school. Sephardic boys will often prefer a second-class Ashkenazic yeshivah to a better Sephardic one, despite the fact that most Sephardic yeshivot have Ashkenazic staff.

If the Sephardic Chareidi community experiences several decades of the same educational opportunities as the Ashkenazim, will that bring it on par? A rosh yeshivah from Yeshivat Kol Torah (a yeshivah with a large percentage of Sephardic students) says, “Changes occur slowly. Generations of Sephardim did not experience advanced Torah and secular studies, and now they have to make it up. But it is not because they lack the potential.” He adds that, for years, the best students in his class were Sephardic.

Rav Yosef Ben Amram, a Sephardic rosh yeshivah in Jerusalem, affirms that it took Sephardim a long time to digest what it meant to be a “yeshivah man.” Whereas the Ashkenazim recognized the system and had the background, for the Sephardi, the mentality and hashkafot were completely new.

Another Sephardic rosh yeshivah contends privately that while Shas has lifted the honor of Sephardim, it has paradoxically helped widen the schism between them and the Ashkenazim. Their accomplishments have nurtured the attitude: “I don’t need you, you don’t need me, so let’s all keep to ourselves.” He adds that a major accomplishment of Shas has been to enable the Sephardic Jew to feel, “Who needs Ashkenazim?” Although this attitude is empowering for simple Jews, he concedes that the Sephardic talmid chacham still feels that he needs the Ashkenazim because the Ashkenazic learning level is higher.

This rosh yeshivah also agrees that as soon as the Sephardic institutions will be on par with the Ashkenazic ones — and he thinks it won’t be in the near future — the patronizing attitude of Ashkenazi Chareidim toward the Sephardic Chareidim will end. He brings as an example the yeshivah headed by Rav Atun in Jerusalem, Bnei Yehoshua, which has established a name as a premier Sephardic yeshivah ketanah. It scrupulously accepts only “elite” students who are the sons of Sephardic talmidei chachamim. But he admits that such Sephardic institutions are few and far between.

Rabbi Berel Wein sums up both the hopes and fears accompanying the rise of Sephardic pride and power. “Things will change because the Sephardim are quickly catching up with the times. There is nothing intrinsic that makes Sephardim different from Ashkenazim.” Will the 50-year discrimination between these two groups finally come to an end? Rabbi Wein smiles wryly. “I hope there will not be reverse discrimination. It’s only human nature to want to get even.”

Miriam Samsonowitz is a journalist living in Jerusalem.

Box #1 (Use photo of engraving
Tunisian Jews
Moldovan Family Collection. From the exhibition, The Sephardic Journey: 1492-1992. Yeshiva University Museum)

A Proud 500-Year History

Sephardic Jewry acquired its identity during the Golden Age of Spain in the early centuries of this millennium. The Jewish Spanish population was perhaps the most cultured and sophisticated diaspora that the Jewish people had ever known. But the catastrophe of the Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions and the ensuing expulsions destroyed this venerated community and scattered its remnants throughout the Levantine. Spanish exiles settled in cities such as Fez, Algiers, Tunis, Alexandria, Tzefat, Acre, Constantinople, Smyrna, Saloniki, as well as parts of Yugoslavia and throughout Italy. Forcibly converted Jews escaping from the Iberian Peninsula over the following century founded Sephardic settlements in London, Amsterdam, Hamburg and the New World. (It should be noted that although indigenous Jewish populations existed in the areas where the Spanish exiles settled, the prestigious Spanish Jews generally became the dominating element in the Jewish community and the name “Sephardim” enveloped the others.)

In each of these settlements, the Spanish Jews retained their elitist, aristocratic attitudes and worldly culture. They fervently maintained the Spanish language, songs, foods, games, and personal and family names. They tended to view Ashkenazic Jews as less sophisticated, more primitive, Jews who were influenced by the uneducated and backward Germanic and Polish gentiles among whom they lived. The Ashkenazic Jews were also less prominent since they were a minority in the Jewish world of those days, comprising only 30% of the total Jewish population. The vicissitudes of those times resulted in major social and demographic changes in the Jewish community. While the numbers of the Sephardim remained constant, the Ashkenazic community burgeoned. The center of world domination shifted to Europe, the seat of the Ashkenazim, while the commercial and political importance of the Levantine was eclipsed. The Mediterranean’s international ambiance was replaced by Arabic culture with its lower intellectual and cultural productivity.

The Sephardim had been immigrating to Eretz Yisrael in regular numbers since the Spanish Expulsion, in contradistinction to the Ashkenazic immigration which only took firm root at the beginning of the 1800s. In Israel, they had established kehillot and numerous yeshivot. Many Sephardim were recognized Torah scholars and kabbalists, far beyond their numbers in the Ashkenazic community in Eretz Yisrael.

The Sephardim retained their dominance in Eretz Yisrael until the end of World War I, when Palestine passed into the hands of the English. The new rulers transferred the power structure into the hands of the nascent but ambitious Zionists, who were part of an exclusively Ashkenazic establishment born in the Russian political ferment of the previous half century. The Sephardic leadership was thereby excluded after 400 years of domination.

A further change brought about by the eclipse of the Ottoman Empire was the loss of the special status which the Sephardic Jews had enjoyed in the Mediterranean lands under Turkish rule. The political independence achieved by the local Arab populations precipitated a Sephardic exodus to North and South America and Western Europe. In these new communities, Sephardim retained their Jewish identity and often intellectual and cultural superiority over the Ashkenazim.

BOX #2
Sephardic and Ashkenazic Populations in the Last Millennium
(Source: Sephardim and Ashkenazim, Hirsh Tzvi Zimmels, 1976.)

World Population of Jews (in millions, rounded off)
Year Total Jewish Ashkenazim % Ashkenazim Sephardim
1170 1.5 .1 6.7% 1.4
1300 2.0 .3 15% 1.7
1500 1.5 .5 33.3% 1.
1650 1.75 .7 40% 1.0
1700 2.0 1.0 50% 1.0
1800 2.5 1.5 60% 1.0
1840 4.5 3.6 80% .9
1860 6.0 5.2 86.6% .8
1900 10.5 9.5 90.5% .95
1930 15.9 14.6 91.8% 1.3
1939 16.2 14.9 92% 1.3
1950 11.5 10. 87.07% 1.5
1954 11.75 10. 85.16% 1.75
1970 14. 11.7 83.6% 2.1
1984 14. 11.2 80% 2.8

BOX #3
For Further Reading
Some of the material in this article was taken from the following books:
The Other Jews, the Sephardim Today, Daniel J Elazar. Basic Books, NY 1989.
History Around the Clock, The World of the Sephardim, Cecil Roth, WIZO, Tel Aviv, 1954.
Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times, by Norman A. Stillman, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1991.
Sephardim in Israel, Problems and Achievements, Jerusalem, 1972.

This article was featured in Jewish Action Fall 1998.