Roots: Part V: Ashkenazi Jews
Mike Martin - December 9, 2008
No story on the origins of the Jewish people would be complete without a section on the Ashkenazi Jews. As we know from the Tanach and has now been confirmed by genetic markers the Jewish people originated from Semitic tribes that lived in the Middle East approximately 4,000 years ago. In 587 B.C.E., after the defeat of the Judean kingdom, the Jews were dispersed and exiled into Babylonia and other areas.
Today Ashkenazi Jews constitute more than 80 percent of all world Jewry. Some of the early founders of the Ashkenazi community made their way to Europe during Roman rule, but the majority of the founders of the population came more recently from the region of present day Israel, moved to Spain, France, and Italy, and then in the 10th century into the Rhineland valley in Germany.
The Crusades, carried out between the 11th and 13th centuries, and the charters of protection granted to the Jews in 1264, in order to rebuild Polish cities, encouraged the migration of many Jews to Poland and Lithuania. The early Jewish settlements in these areas often consisted of only a few families that remained isolated genetically, not only from their non-Jewish neighbors, but also from other Jewish communities.
There was a significant growth in the number of Ashkenazi Jews in the 18th century and the 1765 census reported them to be 750,000 in number. At the end of the following century, 6 million Jews were counted in an additional census. Persecutions and economic difficulties in the 19th century caused many Ashkenazi Jews to emigrate to the United States and to Israel. During the Holocaust 6 million European Jews perished. After World War II many of the survivors immigrated to Israel.
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