What is Ashkenazi Jewish

Isto K’Gufo

Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews follow different traditions. When a Sephardic man marries a woman from an Ashkenazi family and both actively live their tradition, friction can arise.

The most vivid example are probably the "Kitnijot": rice, sesame, mustard, sunflower seeds and corn, but also legumes such as beans and peas. Ashkenazi Jews banned them on Passover, as did Chametz, which includes products made from wheat, barley, spelled, rye and oats.

Areas of conflict But what is considered kosher in a “mixed” household? Will the Sephardic man eat rice but his Ashkenazi wife won't? Do the two separate their Passover dishes? The deeper one delves into the differences between Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews, the more areas of conflict arise. So what can be done to ensure domestic peace in a mixed Ashkenazi-Sephardic family?

The question is quite new. There is not much on this subject in the ancient writings, because the contacts between the various Jewish communities were different then than they are today. It used to be very unlikely that an Ashkenazi Jew from Lublin would marry a Jew from Fez. But in our day the world is shrinking. In the Land of Israel, Jews with different minhagim (customs) encounter one another, and in the large cities of the Diaspora, Jews of various backgrounds also encounter one another.

Responsum There is only one old (and often quoted) responsum that deals with the question of how to proceed in a Sephardic-Ashkenazi marriage. The approach is still valid. It comes from Rabbi Shimon ben Zemach (1361–1444). He was born in Mallorca and later had to flee to North Africa. The question of Ashkenazi-Sephardic marriages may have been raised in the new environment, and so it found its way into Rabbi Shimon ben Zemach's collection of responses Tashbatz (2,300).

The rabbi argues that women should always adopt her husband's custom. Why? He refers to a principle called "Ischto k’Gufo", according to which husband and wife are to be viewed as one unit. He in turn derives this from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 26b) and the Torah (Leviticus 18:14).

So as soon as a man and a woman get married, they become one person - and that follows the custom of the man's family. Later responses, which take account of the new times, build entirely on this argument and quote Rabbi ben Zemach.