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אשׁכּנז

Ashkenaz

By: David Deschesne

Ashkenaz was the great-grandson of Noah on Japheth's side.1

Ashkenaz probably refers to the Scythians. In Medieval Hebrew, this name was given to Germany, and Jews from Central and Eastern Europe were called Ashkenazim, in contrast to the Spanish and Oriental Jews, called Sephardim.2

The Ashkenazim are Jews who trace their descent from ancestors who settled throughout northwestern Europe in the early Middle Ages; the preponderant section of world Jewry, long distinguishable from Sephardim and “Oriental” Jewish communities by virtue of folkways, outlook, cultural heritage, and religious traditions. In the Hebrew Bible, Ashkenaz first denotes a grandson of Japheth and great-grandson of the patriarch Noah; it also designates the territory of a (Scythian?) people located north of Mesopotamia (Jer. 51:27). Talmudic sources (Yoma 10a), followed by the prayer book of Amram Gaon (9th cent.), however, identify Ashkenaz with Germania or Germanna - and when speaking of the German language or homeland, Rashi likewise employs the term “Ashkenaz.”3

A primary characteristic of medieval Franco-German Jewry was its adoption of liturgical rites deriving from the ancient “Palestine” (rather than “Babylonian”) group. The order and wording of many prayers differed considerably from those recited by Jews in Spain, Portugal, Provence, and the Orient.4

Judah, the son of Jacob and grandson of Isaac, was one of the Biblical “twelve tribes of Israel” since he was one of the twelve sons of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel after wrestling with an angel of God on a riverbank. “Israel” in the Bible does not refer to a geographical land mass in the mid-east as common vernacular uses it today.

The tribe of Judah, later to be referred to as the Jews, has its lineage through Jacob, Isaac, Abraham and ultimately back through the line of Shem.

After dishonoring his father, Ham was cursed to be a servant of his brothers, Shem and Japheth. Shem was to receive the blessing and promises, with Japheth living among him.

When Jacob/Israel continued the blessings, he blessed his son Judah and all his offspring by saying “the sceptre shall not depart from Judah nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.”5

The scepter is the kingly power that was given to Judah to reign over the other eleven members of his family and the birthright until Shiloh (peace/Christ) comes. This divine lineage of kings can be traced forward in history to today’s Queen of England.

Like all patriarchs of the Old Testament after Moses, the descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth were contemporaries with the Mosaic Law (now encoded in the Torah, a/k/a The Pentateuch and embodied in the larger work, the Old Testament).

Though called “Jews,” due to their continued practice of the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament, Ashkenazim, or Ashkenazi Jews are not true bloodline Jews in that they do not derive their lineage from the tribe of Judah.

Since they are not bloodline Jews, and not even a member of the Semitic line of Shem, Ashkenazi Jews cannot directly lay claim to the birthright of the promised land or any kingly rule as was conferred on Judah by Jacob, though they may share in the benefits of the land under their brothers in the Semitic line - those true bloodline Jews from the tribe of Judah as well as all of Judah’s brothers who have descended from the patriarch, Israel (Jacob). Noah said Japheth could “dwell in the tents of Shem.”6 In that respect, Ashkenaz, as all other descendants of Japheth, is a guest, not a true heir or ruler, of his brother’s in the promised land.

Notes:

1.) Genesis 10:2

2.) The Torah; A Modern Commentary, W. Gunther Plaut, ed., ©1981Union of American Hebrew Congregations, p. 74

3.) The New Encyclopedia of Judaism, ©1989, 2002 The Jerusalem Publishing House, Ltd., p.83

4. ibid

5.) Genesis 49:10

6.) Genesis 9:27