The place of origin—the places where Jews were allowed to live in communities (ghettos) after the Diaspora—underlies the three primary ethnic divisions within contemporary Judaism: the Ashkenazi Jews—or Ashkenazim (the Hebrew plural); the Mizrachi or Mizrahi Jews—or Mizrahim (the Hebrew plural); the Sephardi Jews—or Sefaradim (the Hebrew plural).
Ashkenazi Jews. The Ashkenazim are descendants of medieval Jews who lived in communities along the Rhine river from Alsace in the South to the Rhineland in the North, an area that is now Germany. The ancient Hebrew word for this region, and thus for Germany, is Ashkenaz. The word “Ashkenazim,” therefore, literally means “German Jews.” However, as the main centers of Jewish learning were in Germany, and as Jews from Central and Western Europe travelled and moved to Ashkenaz to study, the term Ashkenazim came to denote all the Jews of Eastern, Central, and Western Europe (except for the Jews of the Iberian peninsula).
Mizrahi Jews. The Mizrahim are descendants of the Jews living in Jewish communities (ghettos) of the Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Middle East. The Mizrahim, therefore, comprise Afgan Jews, Berber Jews, Bukharim Jews, Ethopian Jews, Georgian Jews, Indian Jews, Iraqi Jews, Kurdish Jews, Lebanese Jews, Maghrebi Jews, Pakistani Jews, Persian (Iranian) Jews, Syrian Jews, and Yemenite Jews. The word “Mizrahi” derives from the Hebrew word for Eastern.
Sephardi Jews.The Sephardim are Jews who follow the Jewish customs and traditions that originated following the Diaspora and in the Iberian Peninsula but before the Spanish monarchy’s expulsion of Jews in 1492. The Sefardim comprise Spanish Jews, Portuguese Jews, Greek Jews, Turkish Jews, and Tagalog (Philippine) Jews. The word “Sephardi” dervives from the Hebrew word for Spain.
Each of these Jewish ethnic traditions has some wedding customs that differ from the other traditions; the Mizrahim and Sephardim generally are observant and religious; the Ashkenazim, however, who constitute over ninety percent of American Jewery, divide among themselves over both religious observance and practices. The American Ashkenism who observe Jewish religious practice, do so in synagoges that adhere to three different modes of Ashkenism—Orthodox, Reformed, and Conservative. As the majority of American Jews are Ashkenazim, we will give the Ashkenazim tradition primary coverage on this website, but we will refer where appropriate to the Mizrahi and Sephardi traditions as well.