Sephardim & Ashkenazim

With apologies to Lenny Bruce.

Non-Jews might not know this, but there are quite a lot of different types of Jews — of all races, countries, political beliefs. Even religiously, there is a huge divide between two large camps in particular: The “Ashkenazi” Jews of general European descent, and the “Sephardi” Jews, who originated from the golden age of Jewry in pre-inquisition Spain.

What’s the difference between these groups?

Let me explain it in terms a non-Jew might understand.

The first thing to know is that Spain, insanely, is Ashkenazi because it’s part of Europe, even though “Sephardi” literally means Spanish. The middle east, on the other hand, which has had its own continuous Jewish communities for millennia, is very Sephardi. The rest of Europe is Ashkenazi, except for the Netherlands, which by some accident is honorarily Sephardi, and the small parts of Germany owned by Mercedes-Benz. You see, BMW is Ashkenazi. Audi is very Ashkenazi. But Mercedes is Sephardi.

How about socks? Socks are Ashkenazi. Sandals are Sephardi. Sandals with socks are more Ashkenazi than socks alone. Cargo shorts are also Ashkenazi. Basketball shorts are Sephardi. Bike shorts are goyish (non-Jewish). Suspenders are Ashkenazi. Belts are Sephardi.

Is this beginning to make sense?

Contact lenses are non-Jewish; glasses are Ashkenazi; sunglasses are Sephardi.

Eyebrows are unbearably Ashkenazi but foreheads have a Sephardi feeling to them.

Black is Ashkenazi. Blue is Sephardi.

How about the way they think? OK, try this: Mystical questions about the nature of G-d are Ashkenazi. The answers to those questions are Sephardi. But general philosophical inquiries are Sephardi, while the answers are Ashkenazi. The notion of geniuses is very Jewish, generally, but respect for geniuses, less-so. Everyone thinking they’re a genius is very Jewish. If the person who thinks they’re a genius drives a cab, that’s Sephardi. If they drive a wagon, that’s Ashkenazi.

If they write short stories or slam poetry, that’s Ashkenazi. If they pen novels, that’s Sephardi. Flash fiction is suspiciously goyish.

Confused yet? Disagree? Very Jewish.

Arguments are just plain Jewish, see, but physical violence is goyish. If it comes down to it, Ashkenazim will shove, whereas Sephardim go for outright blows. Everyone throws things, but throwing a chair is Sephardi, and someone over the age of sixty throwing a chair is very Sephardi. This is somehow true even though chairs are quite Ashkenazi, whereas benches are neutrally Jewish unless they have pillows on them, in which case they are indelibly Sephardi. Pews are, it goes without saying, goyish.

Sephardi kids are prone to afternoons on the town, whereas Ashkenazim are more prone to nights on the town. Obedience is goyish.

If a Jew wakes up to eggs over-easy for breakfast, he’s doing it the goyish way. Ashkenazim would have eggs boiled in water. Sephardim would have eggs boiled in stew. Salt is Ashkenazi. Tomatoes are Sephardi. Rice is very Sephardi. Peanut butter is very Ashkenazi but Sephardim get it on a technicality. Gelatinous marrow-based “delicacies” are, regrettably, Ashkenazi. Neither group eats off of their fine china if no guests are invited: Ashkenazim will use plastic dinnerware; Sephardim will use paper.

If she wears a wig, that’s very Ashkenazi. If she wears an urban turban she’s doin’ it Sephardi.

If you see a Jew spit, that’s Sephardi. If you see him sweat, that’s Ashkenazi. If they shake hands, that’s Ashkenazi. If they bump fists, it is hilariously Ashkenazi. Avuncular shoulder slaps are Sephardi (Uncles, as a concept, are Sephardi, but Aunts are Ashkenazi). Hugging is Sephardi and encouraged, but watch out: If two men greet each other with a kiss on the cheek, they instantly become Ashkenazim for life.

Fingers are clearly Ashkenazi, though knuckles are Sephardi. Beards have a faintly Sephardi aura about them, but then, hair is generally Sephardi. Fingernails are quite Ashkenazi.

Stores are Ashkenazi things; stalls are Sephardi. Haggling is Sephardi. Sales tactics are Ashkenazi. A meeting starting on time is Sephardi. A meeting ending on time is Ashkenazi.

Piers are Ashkenazi; wharves, Sephardi. Boats are Sephardi. Ships are Ashkenazi.

Cleavers are Ashkenazi; fruit knives are Sephardi; combat knives are goyish, unless they’re from the IDF, and even then…

Home repair is Sephardi, as are plumbers, electricians, roofers, handymen. Appliance repair is ever-so-slightly Ashkenazi. Tech support is Ashkenazi but Sephardim are better at it; computer programming is decisively Sephardi but Ashkenazim have a knack for it.

As far as domesticated animals go, goats are Sephardi. Sheep are Ashkenazi. We all pass on hogs. If we have to go for insects, bees are more Sephardi whereas flies are profoundly Ashkenazi. Cats are Ashkenazi and dogs are Sephardi. Birds are Sephardi, fish are Ashkenazi. Guinea pigs are cute but not Jewish. Bad memories.

All comic books are Jewish, but DC leans Ashkenazi and Marvel leans Sephardi.

Led Zeppelin — classic Ashkenazi mascots. AC/DC represent the Sephardim. Deep Purple is just plain goyish. Frank Zappa is weird Ashkenazi. Bob Dylan is profoundly Ashkenazi. Bob Marley should be Sephardi but the Ashkenazim stole him. Johnny Cash is proper Sephardi. Black Metal is goyish as landed nobility, and opera once attended a pogrom, but show tunes are Ashkenazi and Top 40 music generally is Sephardi.

Google is Sephardi. Apple is Ashkenazi. Microsoft is goyish.

On the Internet: Facebook is Sephardi. Twitter is Ashkenazi. If you meme about Harambe you’re doing the Ashkenazi; if you play Pokemon Go you are doing the Sephardi. This dude was circumcised in an Ashkenazi synagogue: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, whereas this guy has a profound Sephardi heritage: ಠ_ಠ.  This guy attends a restricted country club: :).

An Ashkenazi might argue that there are no differences between Jews at all, whereas a Sephardi might quibble on the details and say my distinctions are not stark enough. Either way, it’s one big family, and we all love to laugh. I hope.


Originally posted on Hevria.

The World’s Shortest (Jewish!) Personality Quiz

Somehow, in recent years, BuzzFeed has revived one of the oldest irritating features of the Internet: useless “which character are you” personality quizzes. Also quite popular nowadays are the more serious tools of personality analysis, such as Meyers-Briggs (INFP, regrettably) and the Enneagram (9…no one believes me). Generally, ever-larger swaths of the population are engaging in what is hopefully not paralyzing narcissism but rather self-reflection and self-awareness.

All of this is wonderful, but it doesn’t take into account the specific wrinkles and rhythms of the Jewish condition. It’s clear to me that we need a personality system (and attendant quiz) of our own. I set out to devise it. It was surprisingly easy. Since it’s Jewish, I used a joke.



Below is my version of a classic Jewish joke. Your job is to pay attention to your own intuitive feelings toward the characters in the joke, your gut reaction. (Don’t overthink things! I mean it!) Based on that reaction, we will tell you whether you’re type א or type ב.

Three yeshiva students are in the middle of smoking cigarettes on Shabbos (a forbidden activity) when the head of the yeshiva walks into the dorm and catches them red-handed.

The first student says, “Forgive me, Rabbi; I forgot today was Shabbos.”
The second student says, “Forgive me, Rabbi; I forgot it’s forbidden to smoke.”
The third student says, “Forgive me, Rabbi; I forgot to lock the door.”


Question: How do you intuitively feel about the third student? Would you generally say (based on the little we know) that he is a more moral person than students one and two, or a less moral person?

If you think he is more moral, your personality type is א.

If you think he is less moral, your personality type is ב.


If you are type א:

You probably think student 3 from the joke is more moral because, while the other students lied, student 3 was refreshingly honest about his transgression.

This means you intuitively value personal authenticity over the maintenance of social processes. Though all three students probably know themselves that they have transgressed, only student three decided to express it outwardly to an authority figure, the Rabbi; the other two students are presumably embarrassed to publicly display what they and G-d already know to be true.

As a type א, you profoundly appreciate the essential purity of the soul — in other words, in man’s potential to reach a state of perfect altruism and selflessness. You are moved to act by situations in which systems — social, political, religious, etc — prevent you or others from achieving the collective perfection that springs naturally from the noble human spirit. Type אs are frustrated when others do not use their incredible human powers for the good of mankind.

Religiously, type אs are enamored with the concept of a transcendent, infinite, all-powerful, kind G-d, unbound by any nature or limitation. They are generally more inclined to spirituality than to religiosity. One of their primary challenges is relating the G-d of their understanding to the moral strictures of religion. They are particularly turned off by the imperfections of religious people, which type אs often view as unacceptable hypocrisy. They also have more trouble reconciling the existence of G-d and the existence of evil than other people, and will constantly struggle with how an omnipotent, good deity could cause so much suffering in the world.

A religious type א has trouble attributing any inherent worth to our world per se. They tend to view our world as a beautiful place that exists only to be fixed and perfected so it reflects G-d’s vision. That something “happens to exist” is after all no argument for its perfection, and they feel no compunctions in reshaping the world to bring it more in line with G-d’s vision.

Type אs are outcome-focused rather than process-focused by nature. Thus, Jewish type אs in their approach to Torah are generally disposed toward straightforward expressions of the Truth rather than the underlying generative systems of the law. They have a particular passion for the written Torah, including נ”ך.

Type א tends to view love and specifically empathy as the foundation of any relationship. As in other areas of life, they view their relationships as controllable and open to a great degree of personal decision-making.

Type א people tend to view type ב people as lethargic, stuck in their ways, and sometimes even needlessly cruel. They admire the type ב detachment; they sometimes wish they could be as calm and levelheaded as type ב, but they worry that detachment breeds emotional coldness and indifference to the injustice of the status quo.

As a type א, your vision of the final redemption is inclined toward a cataclysmic shift that is a total break from the past. Nevertheless, you see it as our personal responsibility as Jews to directly bring about that reality; we cannot wait for G-d to fix the world but must actively strive every day to fix it ourselves; this is the type א mission.


If you are type ב:

Student 3 from the joke is clearly less moral than his companions since they at least were embarrassed and ashamed to admit their transgression, whereas student 3 is so far gone that he has no shame and publicly admits to inappropriate behavior.

This means that, as a type ב, you intuitively value social cohesion and group dynamics over expressions of personal authenticity that might affect the standards of the group. Only student 3 thought to make the communal context one of explicit and acknowledged transgression, whereas the other two students, though equally culpable in their smoking on Shabbos, decided to keep the public ban on that transgression at least nominally in place.

As a type ב, you are constantly aware of the deep imperfection and flawed nature of humanity. If at all achievable, human perfection is in your view extremely rare. You are moved to act by your desire to refine and improve existing processes, and to defend those processes from outside meddling. You are annoyed when others fail to acknowledge their own limitations and the impact those limitations have on their efforts at self-improvement.

Religiously, type בs are attracted to the idea of an imminent G-d over nature who runs the world according to knowledge and reason. They are generally more religious than spiritual. One of their biggest religious challenges is seeing beyond any one aspect of serving G-d to embrace the creator as an infinite whole, not bound to the limits of their own religious practice. They are particularly turned off by the zealous religious and secular leaders who impose their will on the world and try to change it; in their opinion, religion and accepting religious truths is a natural phenomenon rather than a volitional one. Type בs also have trouble conceiving of a G-d beyond their understanding who operates super-rationally.

A religious type ב sees the world as brimming with inherent value; the fact that G-d created it means it has a certain claim and stake on existence, and we should only actively alter it with great forbearance.

Type ב Jews are process-focused people and find the underlying reasoning of the Talmud endlessly fascinating, whereas the laws it produces are seen more as an afterthought. They are inclined toward the study of ethical/mussar works.

Type ב people see love and feelings as secondary in any relationship to the actual obligations and structures that bind people together, whether contractual (in business and marriage) or social. They view their relationships as just another thing over which they have very limited control. They tend to focus on the unwritten laws of tact, respect, and etiquette more than expressing their feelings.

Type ב people admire type א people for their soaring aspirations but worry that “dreaming big” detaches people from reality and brings them to make the wrong decisions, not just for themselves but for the world they are trying to fix.

As a type ב, your vision of the final redemption is a gradual change bringing the world to perfection from within, but you don’t worry about it much, since (other than playing our small roles in G-d’s plan) there is nothing we can do it bring it about and it rests ultimately in G-d’s hands alone.


Neither type of person is particularly happy with this dumb quiz and its stupid results, but for different reasons.

The type א person is generally uncomfortable with divisions between people, and is particularly uncomfortable with being categorized, which they see as an all-pervasive separation from others. Their impulse will be to fight this divide and find unity in a common ground. Yes, we are all human beings in the end.

The type ב reader doesn’t mind division as much, but for some reason feels the need to delve deeper into these difference and probe them for falseness, even though they know it’s just some ridiculous online quiz someone whipped up in half an hour . They undoubtedly are working to come up with a whole list of reasons why these categories are internally inconsistent. They, too, will fight the type distinction, not to find unity but because as a system it is not perfectly true and in fact is riddled with errors and imperfections.


Originally posted on Hevria.