Friday, 11 July 2014

Understanding Sephardi Judaism

Hi All,

A few non-Jews have asked me about the difference between Sephardi Judaism and Aszkenazi Judaism. By way of response, I want to share this excellent lecture at the University of Maryland,  by Rabbi Joshua Maroof; an American Sephardi Rabbi. He pretty much sums up my feelings on Judaism. I would highly recommend that people spend the full hour listening to this lecture, which gives a good intro into Sephardi Judaism . 

The key points are : 
  • Sephardi Judaism is 'universal' & 'big picture' in its ethos, in so much as we are immersed in secular as well as religious studies, including science, poetry, literature and philosophy, to the extent that our historical Rabbis are well known outside of the Jewish world, pace the example that historically both Chrisitan and Arab scholars are familiar with and quote Moses Maimonides among others.
  • Sephardi Judaism is 'Bible based', in so much as the root of our outlook is more Hebrew Bible than Talmud. 
  • We therefore see the law as a means to an end, not an end in itself 
  • We are often seen as being more 'liberal' or 'reform' by Aszkenazi Orthodox, because studying the Hebrew Bible , rather than the Talmud.  is the emphasis of Aszkenazi Reform  and because we seek to be conservative in not adding more and more to Jewish law, without a good reason
  • This emphasis on the Hebrew Bible is reflected in our more 'lively' and 'joyful' liturgy 
  • We are not rigid in our world view
  • We seek to make Jewish law easier to understand and this is why so many famous Sephardi Rabbis provided 'codifications' of Jewish law.
Contemporary issues (toward the end) :
  • Conversion- Sephardi see this as a willingness to join the Jewish nation, rather than being a set of dogmas that one must instantly follow or have your conversion revoked . There is an interesting discussion toward the end about this in Israel (he compares what Haredi are doing now as being like a Catholic conversion! Hi Happy Jack!).
  • Women's issues- 
  • The Rabbi argues if it were not for Sephardi Rabbis, women in Israel would NOT have the right to vote  & be in positions of leadership (ironic because we are small 'c' conservatives and traditional)
  • Women singing in front of men, which caused issues in Israel. Sephardi note that in the Hebrew Bible women sung for King David and the interpretation of women singing in front of men is against 'sexual' songs (the Rabbi mentions Britney Spears as an example!)
  • Sephardi have no problem in principle of women being Posek or Rabbis

Brilliant conclusions of Judaism toward the last 12- 15 minutes. 

Shabbat Shalom!


    1. This is great Hannah, but I think that a person needs to be familiar with some of the terms used in the lecture. It isn't for those who know nothing about judaism. But it was a good lecture anyways.

    2. I found it informative- the digs against Roman Catholicism aside.

    3. Interesting & informative .

    4. I liked the lecture. Been listening to it. He puts the boot in once or twice into the RCC. Cyber Swiss guards where art thou?

    5. Free Palestine13 July 2014 at 09:09

      In Israel the Aszk -nazi are the elite who rule over the Sefardi arab jews in a sub-apartheid system!

    6. Stupid comment which has no relevance to this discussion, so deleted.

    7. It was mild criticism though, I'm sure the CSG have better things to do ?

    8. Thanks Paul, I'm glad you liked it.

    9. Thanks Terry. We're not Christians, so I guess there will be some form of antagonism there, but I don' t think i was necessarily inaccurate because it was trying to compare Judaism with what it should not be. A few threads down, even Carl Jacobs explained this; Christianity is about creeds or beliefs, Judaism is about doing and action.

    10. Hi Sophie,

      Yes, I guess this is true; perhaps more for level 2 or 3, than level 1. Glad you managed to follow it.

    11. Mancurian Womble13 July 2014 at 13:04

      I like the Sefardim . The Arizal said we need to daven sefardic, and why Hassidim accept the mechaber over the Remah in many cases. Its also why we should strive to intermarry with Sefardic Jews. You don't see Sefardim throwing rocks and spitting on Dati Leumi schoolgirls. You don't see Ashkenazim learning as much as Maran Ovadia Yosef. I married a Sefardi and I must say its really something else. They're better parents. Better at passing on the mesorah. And better in bed!

    12. let me back up what the Mancurian said, while i dont believe in the zohar bullshit, sephardi chicks are much better in bed.

    13. Just curious: Have I found another Irish Jew?

      BTW, my people are from Donegal

    14. We now have Orthodox extremists and those too apathetic to care one way or another – even as our community is falling into the proverbial toilet.As you look at the Sephardic community, either from within or without, you should be reminded that as a community it has become almost completely unhinged from the moorings of its own past.

      Though there are a few Sephardim who have selflessly tried to maintain the values of the glorious past – and a number of righteous Ashkenazim as well – the whole thing has been of little effect on the primary realities of the community. These realities are now almost completely Ashkenazi and have locked the community in a vise which it is now being choked by. The endless wars and controversies being waged in the community among the various partisan groups have led to a cultural and moral degeneration in the community. This degeneration has taken the form of a general decadence that has infected the youth of the community; a youth that is wayward and conflicted and apathetic in relation to what should rightly be the real values and priorities of the community.

    15. As a British & Canadian Jew whose very old and renowned religious ancestry lies in both Sephardi and Ashekenazi roots, I am sickened by the racist attitude of the Ashkenazim who portray Sephardim as second class citizens. I have been enriched by both sides of my family, and they both taught me respect for all people!

    16. The Ashkenazim Haredi -not the reform, conservative or mystical people- are among the most prejudice people I've ever come across in my entire life: they fight amongst each other, hate the sepharidim and complain about the goyim, non-stop. The Sephardic people are the warmest, most caring among the Jewish people BAR NONE . AND, they haven't 'inter-married, without conversion, ' at such a high rate like the ashkenazim. AND, their adherence to the Torah is FAR PURER and closer to the original form of Jewish practice than the ashkenazim. The ashkenaz are a world all their own.

    17. 'Sephardi are better in bed!' Yep!

    18. Thanks for sharing this; my mum is Mizrachi (Sephardic) and my dad Ashkenazim, so I know a bit about both cultures. I enjoy both, but I think the Sephardi way of doing religion is much better. I dislike the Haredi culture of exclusiveness as well, so I think non Jews commenting here have unfortunately met them and have got a false impression of Ashkenazim .

    19. My partner is Sephardi and she is much better in bed than the other girlfriends I've gone out with (all of 3 others).

    20. Yes! Sephardi girls are very attractive and sensual (:

    21. Dominique Vasilkovsky13 July 2014 at 19:16

      I'm from an Askenazi -Hassidim background, albeit more secular now. I prefer the Sefardi outlook on Judaism. But I hope I'm as sexy as the next girl. My boyfriend is Sefardi and he clicks all the right buttons.

    22. Dominique Vasilkovsky13 July 2014 at 19:17

      Enjoyed the video Hannah. Very informative. I'm just worried that this has become a bit of a Haredi/Askenazi bashing post .

    23. Hi ,

      "Sephardic people are the warmest, most caring BAR NONE"

      Thanks, but don't confuse Ashkenazim with being just Haredi, which has upset some of my dear, lovely and wonderful Ashkenazi Jewish brothers and sisters .

    24. Hi Michelle,

      Welcome. I think you refer to some of the extreme views held among either Haredi or Ultra Zionists. We are all Jews and we are all united by our Torah and our covenant to G-d. We need to remember that, even when we hear of fundamentalist loons.

    25. Hi,

      You are clearly a glass half empty person. Our particular Sephardi traditions will survive and prosper. Hashem is our Lord and he will make sure us Jews survive until Messiah comes.

    26. Hi,

      Our family is Anglo-Irish on our paternal side and Iraqi Jewish on the maternal side. I guess I 'm an Irish Jew of sorts. But that'd be stretching stuff quite a bit.

    27. "My boyfriend is Sefardi and he clicks all the right buttons"

      Hi Dominique,

      I sure hope my bro Shmu'el is listening to that! (:

    28. Hi Sarah,

      'attractive and sensual' You are too! xxxx

    29. Hi Mancurian,

      "I married a Sefardi and I must say its really something else. They're better parents. Better at passing on the mesorah. And better in bed!"

      Fab! It seems that quite a few agree with you. Um, perhaps this is how we unify Judaism; not by doctrines or creeds, but by love? Seems to work every time (:

    30. FWIW

      If you had asked me the difference before reading this post, I would have defined the difference purely in terms of national origin. "Ashkenazi are from Europe. Sephardi are from the Middle East and Africa." I am even guessing on the right form of the words in that sentence. I had no idea there were doctrinal differences. There have been on this weblog a few comments of the "Why do you let non Jews post here?" variety, but I never associated them with Ashkenazi. I assumed they were from the more orthodox readership. I also assume the more orthodox would never tolerate my presence on their weblogs.

      I don't actually engage in Jewish-Christian apologetics because I don't know enough about Judaism to do it. My model is pretty much the Reform/Conservative/Orthodox division and this website presents to me (in my limited knowledge) as a Conservative site toward the liberal end of that part of the Jewish spectrum. The easy acceptance here of homosexuality is a serious deviation from Jewish tradition (that much I do know) and forces you into the liberal side of things. Please feel free to correct.


    31. Hannah,

      I enjoyed reading the lecture and your notes on it. I would only say 2 things :

      1) I think this is slightly more advanced for a non-Jew than I would recommend. It uses terms that a Jew or a student of Judaism would be familiar with, but not a lay audience. Therefore I'd say this is pitched at level II, rather than a basic I or II.

      2) Alas the comments thread, people are confusing Haredi with the totality of Askenazi Judaism which isn't correct.


      3) Could you write another post in response to the comments here and the e-mails I've had over the past 48 hours to further clarify/expand?

      Chars, Dov

    32. Hi David,
      I'll think about it. No promises.

    33. Hannah's Housemate14 July 2014 at 20:01

      I'm an atheist goyim, but I stand shoulder to shoulder with my Jewish friends as they have to take the anti-semitic SHIT that people think is somehow acceptable when the Jewish people defend themselves against terrorist aggression. Hannah & her brother were spat upon today because Samuel wore a Kippah. I'm NOW WEARING A KIPPAH to show solidarity with my Jewish friends. This goy loves Israel and the Jewish people (especially the Sephardim, who are fit). Israel just doesn't have a right to EXIST, it NEEDS TO EXIST, because of Jew hate.

      Fuck the racists & fascists and wear a Kippah with pride!

    34. Hannah's Housemate14 July 2014 at 20:06

      OK I'm an atheist goyim, but I stand shoulder to shoulder with my Jewish friends as they have to take the anti-semitic SHIT that people think is somehow acceptable when the Jewish people defend themselves against terrorist aggression. Hannah & her brother were spat upon today because Samuel wore a Kippah. I'm NOW WEARING A KIPPAH to show solidarity with my Jewish friends. This goy loves Israel and the Jewish people (especially the Sephardim, who are fit). Israel just doesn't have a right to EXIST, it NEEDS TO EXIST, because of Jew hate.

      Fuck the racists & fascists and wear a Kippah with pride!

    35. Dude,

      Thanks bud! You are a real Mensch. One day, I look forward to you joining the Jewish nation! (:

    36. Dov,

      A comprehensive and intelligent response. Great!

    37. Dom,

      You are beyond sexy gal! You are an ULTRA HOT BABE ! X

    38. I guess they aren't bovered ....

    39. Atheist Shrugged14 July 2014 at 20:58

      Fuck you! What kind of fucking atheist are you?

      Pro Israel posters say Hamas initiates attacks for no reason other than the destruction of Israel as per the charter etc. They say Israel is doing what any other country would do in defending its civilians. They say the killing of Palestinians civilians is not intentional but the result of Hamas' location of weaponry. So examine the facts behind the statement. I say there is always a trigger for the rockets. In this case, the unwarranted aggression and arrests made re the teenagers. In the last "war", an assassination. All countries would protect civilians, but not many corral, assassinate and steal land routinely from a section of the population. Hence the UN Resolutions. But even so, would you knowingly kill women and children to get to a would be killer? Depends on how you value life, I guess. Having the backing of the US and UK must make it a lot easier. I can't say that Hamas is right, given the losses suffered, but before the intifada, there was no Hamas. If Israel was a partner in peace and gave up occupied land, this conflict would vanish.

    40. Free Palestine14 July 2014 at 21:03

      Hamas isn't a dictatorship, or a terrorist organisation. They're a resistance group formed by the people of Gaza in response to Israeli oppression. Actually, Hamas merely seeks a full implementation of the 1922 Leagur Mandate promise ..where the terretorial integrity of Palestine is unchallenged ..and where all her historic peoples are equally-empowered through citizenship.The Israeli State serves as memorial to sectarian terrorism from the Palestinian point of view this is unacceptable. Hence there must be much re-appraisal ..on the Israeli side.

      Do you perhaps begin to understand?

      Does it somehow escape your notice that since 1947-1948, Israel and her deep-pocketed foreign allies have devoted considerable energy to the overthrow of this promise. Very much to the disadvantage of an ever- poor native Palestine.

    41. Hamas is ideologically equal to ISIS, al-Qaeda.

      The lefties don't give a damn how many Islamic terroritst are killed by their own countries in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen. But when Israel reacts to terrorism, they squeal and defend Hamas.

      Israel, ignore the hypocrites and defeat that scum.

    42. Bro,

      Great response. Proud to call you a brother, as ever ! :)

    43. Carl ,

      We are Sephardi, we are Orthodox, not Reform.

    44. Excellent comment! Our gentile friends are fantastic and a much needed boost to those of us who simply wish to live in peace and not have to resort to war. Thank you friend! Hannah chooses her friends wisely. She is a Kav. :)

    45. Hannah,

      Great post. I agree that the lecture isn't a basic introduction to Sephardi Judaism, so perhaps you jumped the gun. I understood the lecture, but I fear some of our gentile friends wouldn't understand.

    46. Haredi : Fuck the goyim & heretics (EVERYONE WHO ISN'T US)

      Sephardi :I will not stand by while the holy Torah of good will and faith that I have sworn to uphold is twisted into a hammer and used to beat people down!

    47. I disliked the tone of that one, so I decided to delete it.

    48. You should know better15 July 2014 at 12:21

      More heresy ! You CANNOT convert to Judaism in order marry a Jew, this is an incorrect motivation!

    49. You should know better15 July 2014 at 12:22

      This is heresy. Haredi Judaism is the only authentic Torah path and it seems this blog isn't Orthodox at all.

    50. Hi


      See the narratives from Bavli Shabbat 31a and Bavli Menakhot 44a & cross reference them with Tosafot, Yosef Caro and Benzion Meir Hai Uziel.

      In the Talmud passages I've just given you Hillel and Hiyya
      would & could convert people who wanted to be Jewish in
      order to be high priest and for marriage.

      The Rabbis I've mentioned take this and argue that a convert can be accepted if he/she wishes to marry a Jew, IF the Beth Din is convinced that they will eventually convert for 'the sake of heaven'. So even though their initial impetus to convert was for an ulterior motive, by the time that they completed the process they were fully sincere such that even without the initial reason for converting, they would nevertheless desire to be Jewish 'for the right reasons'.

      To quote some previous Sephardi Chief Rabbis, which yet again highlights the difference of Sephardi and Aszkenazi Orthodox:

      1) Benzion Meir Hai Uziel:

      "Not only if they are children of a Jewish mother whose children are complete Jews, but even if they are children of a non-Jewish mother behold they are of Jewish seed and are
      like lost sheet. I am afraid that if we reject them completely by not accepting their parents for conversion, we will be brought to judgment and it will be said of us, ‘Those who went astray you did not return and the lost you did not seek’ "(Ezekiel 23:4).

      2)Ovadia Yosef

      "Some Ashkenazic Rabbis are stringent in this matter... In practice...even when they know the woman comes to convert for marriage, they accept her. "

    51. IF Judaism believes that all Jews were present the moment that Moses presented the tablets, then how can Jews accept a convert? Along the same line, if Jews are considered the chosen ones', then how can a gentile convert and suddenly become a chosen one?

    52. Hi

      Being 'chosen' doesn't give a Jew some kind of mystical powers like the 'force' off Star Wars, it simply means that Jews were tasked with the responsibility and mission of representing G-d & spreading awareness of him throughout the world; not by mass conversion, but by deed and action. If any glory is gained by Jews, it is to reflect back on HIM. Any person who believes in the ideals of Judaism, wishes to live by its laws and undertake this national mission may do so via formal conversion.

      When the Rabbis said that all Jews were present at the giving of the Torah, I see this as a metaphor to say that the giving of the Torah was equally powerful and significant for all Jews at all times and all places; it is an assurance that the message of Siani is for all people in all generations, for all Jews (there is no distinction between a convert or someone who is born of a Jewish mother, both are fully Jewish).

      To end with a quote :

      "Dearer to God than all of the Israelites who stood at Mount Sinai is the convert. Had the Israelites not witnessed the lightning, thunder, and quaking mountain, and had they not heard the sounds of the shofar, they would not have accepted the Torah. But the convert, who did not see or hear any of these things, surrendered to God and accepted the yoke of heaven. Can anyone be dearer to God than such a person".

      Lech Lecha 6:32

    53. Paul,

      Thanks for this and for looking after Samuel and Hannah like that. It seems you are almost near the point of joining our people. You will do one day you know (:

    54. Give it time Hannah, give it time.

    55. David

      I agree with what you've written. Only to add that we also follow the 613 Mitzvot, which also makes us Orthodox.

    56. How is explaining a tradition within Judaism 'heresy' . What you really are trying to say is 'I don't like, I don't like', but can't think of any reasonable responses. Thus, you are a product of the wonderful education system that Haredi have. I pity you.

    57. What a day !

      Got to go now as

      1) I'm shattered.

      2) I've been trying to translate my grandmother's handwritten journals to English, including her recipes. The thing is that she writes most of the stuff in a byzantine Judeo - Iraqi Arabic dialect , but her poetry is in Ladino and other stuff in Hebrew, Arabic & English.Bloody confusing & my head is spinning!

      So time for some sleep.


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