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The origin of the surname Ashkenazy – a Portuguese passport Sefardi Jews  

Jordan Levy-Bograd
Jordan Levy-Bograd

Dongdiet & Nellie

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What is the origin of the surname Ashkenazy? Many people are certain that the name bears witness to an Ashkenazi origin and that’s all there is to it. However, the truth is quite different. Surprisingly, this surname indicates a Sephardic descent, as we shall explain this in the article.

If you bear the surname Ashkenazy or have a close affinity to it, you are probably eligible to receive a Portuguese passport. This is because for several hundred years the name has been associated with a Sephardic connection.

Our law office specializing in emigration Portugal, with branches in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, assists in all matters concerning the issue of a Portuguese passport for descendants of Jews who were exiled from Spain. If your origins are from North Africa and/or the countries of the former Ottoman Empire, you are eligible, and we can assist you in obtaining the sought-after passport.

The origin of the surname Ashkenazy - a Portuguese passport for exiles from Spain  

The origin of the surname Ashkenazy – a Portuguese passport for descendants of Spanish expelees 

The surname Ashkenazy originated from the 13th century, when some of the Ashkenazi Jews decided to leave the region of Germany and migrate to southern Europe. This mostly occurred due to anti-Semitic attacks and when the communities found themselves on the brink of destruction. From Germany they decided to migrate to countries like Spain, Italy, Bulgaria, Romania and others.

Many communities in Spain and Italy suggested to the Ashkenazi immigrants that they take up senior rabbinic positions in their splendid yeshivot (seminaries). The result was many famous rabbis of Ashkenazi descent in those southern countries.

Below is a list of rabbis which we have written in order to illustrate how prevalent the surname Ashkenazi is among the Ashkenazim who went to live in southern Europe or the Mediterranean countries during the Middle Ages. The reason for the name “Ashkenazi” was of course because of their affiliation to the region of Ashkenaz. We recommend that whoever does not wish to read the full list skip to the next part.

Famous Ashkenazi Rabbis in Sephardic Countries

Rabbi Asher Ben-Yechiel (HaRosh) – lived from 1250 – 1327 and served as the head of the reputable Toledo yeshiva. He was famous for being a Talmudist and an outstanding posek (ruler). According to Rabbi Yosef Karo, he is considered to be one of the three major poskim of halacha (Jewish law) together with the Rambam and HaRif.

Rabbi Yaakov (Baal HaTurim) and Rabbi Yehuda (the Zichron Yehuda Responsa) – Bnei HaRosh. They lived in Toledo in the 13th century and were the sons of HaRosh. After their father’s death, Rabbi Yehuda inherited the position of the head of the Toledo yeshiva. Rabbi Yaakov became famous as a shrewd posek whose responses are studied in the yeshiva world until the present day.

Rabbi Dan ben Yosef Ashkenazy – born in the 13th century. Arrived in Spain from Germany following the persecution of the German Jews by King Rudolph the First. In Spain he became famous as a brilliant polemicist, as he was wont to argue with Christian sages in theological matters. He founded a yeshiva in Toledo where he taught his interpretations of the Tanach and his halachic methods.

Rabbi Yosef ben Shalom Ashkenazy – born in the 14th century. A kabbalist and exegete on “The Book of Creation” (Sefer Yetzirah). When he migrated to Spain, he studied the works of one of the most famous rabbis who taught there at that time – Rabbi Yehoshua Ibn Shuaib. It is known that he wrote several biblical and kabbalistic interpretations which were studied throughout generations by hassidut in Eastern Europe. However, most of his writings have been lost.

Rabbi Betsalel Ashkenazy. 1520 – 1592 – the son of a learned family from the region of Ashkenaz (the Bavarian region). When he was young he travelled to Egypt and there he became known as an outstanding Talmudist. He was supported by the greatest rabbis in Egypt who were remnants of the expulsion from Spain, who were – Rabbi David Ibn-Zimra and Rabbi Israel di Curiel. His most famous student was the extolled kabbalist – HaAri.

Rabbi Issachar Bar Eilenburg – lived 1550 – 1623.  He led the Jewish community in Venice, Italy, when he served as its rabbi.  He wrote a treatise called “Beer Sheba”, as well as Talmudic and Biblical interpretations. Rabbi Issachar was greatly influenced in kabbala matters by his Spanish Egyptian rabbi Israel Sarug.

Solomon ben Natan Ashkenazy. 1520 – 1602 – an extraordinary man as far as his skills and activity are concerned. He was born near Venice to parents from Germany. As an adult he studied medicine at the University of Padua which was considered to be one of the most highly regarded educational institutions in Europe. He served as the personal physician of the King of Poland Sigismund the Second, and thereafter of the Grand Vizier in the Ottoman Empire – Sokollu Mehmed Pasha. Ashkenazy had such a great influence among the courts of the nobility, that he succeeded in considerably enabling the return of the Jews of the city of Venice in 1573, after they had been expelled from there by the authorities. Likewise, he devoted himself to dayanut (judgeship) studies and became a rabbi.

Rabbi Yehonathan Ashkenazy – born in the 13th century.  He was a sage and was well versed in matters of halacha. He left Germany in the 13th century following local pogroms, and decided to devote his energy to diligent in Toledo – the Spanish city of Torah where he remained a “talmid hacham” (scholar) until his dying day.

The origin of the surname Ashkenazy – a Portuguese passport for exiles from Spain

Why have we written the above list of rabbis? In fact the list is a small testimony out of a broader group indicating how common the name “Ashkenazy” is among Oriental Jews. A hint of the Sephardic affiliation attributed to the name. As you may recall, a large number of Ashkenazim went to live in the Mediterranean countries during the Middle Ages following local riots in Germany.

As we have learned from Jews from Spain and the Mediterranean countries, (Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia and others), they also, in a similar way to the population where they settled, used to call foreigners by the the name of their country of origin. So they called the residents of Ashkenaz – “Ashkenazim”.

During the Middle Ages it was customary to call people by the the name of their place of origin, occupation or external appearance.  For example – in Spain at that time, it was customary to call local Jews by the names of the cities they came from, such as: Barseloni (from Barcelona), Sevilla (from Seville), Cordovero (Cordoba) and so on. On the other hand, Jews from Germany called each other by names such as Berliner (from Berlin), Frankfurter (Frankfurt), Hamburger (the city of Hamburg, not the food with the same name) etc.

Today we know that people with the name Ashkenazy have a Sephardic past, since the person with the name Ashkenazy settled alongside Sephardic communities throughout the generations and was compelled to assimilate among them. And indeed, the name Ashkenazy is widespread among Sephardic Jews who migrated to most of the Balkan countries, for example, Bulgaria, Serbia, Turkey and also Romania.  On the other hand, it is also common among North African Jews, in countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Egypt.

Spanish Jews migrated in their thousands to all the countries mentioned above after they had been expelled from Spain. Presently, if we encounter the name Ashkenazy it is certainly possible to find a Sephardic connection. Because there has never been any custom among local people from the same country to call each other by the name of their country of origin unless they they had migrated from a foreign country.

The Jews who migrated from the German region held office in influential positions in all matters pertaining to matters of halacha and psika (rulings). The reason for the demand for these people among the different Jewish communities was the proficiency of the Jews from Ashkenaz in the many laws of halacha.

Contact us – who is eligible for a Portuguese passport?

If you also have the surname Ashkenazy, or another surname testifying as to your Sephardic origin, and wish to obtain a European passport with all its advantages, contact us. Our office can also assist you in obtaining the sought-after passport, by virtue of the genealogists who work in our office. To find out whether you are eligible for a Portuguese passport, contact us through the numbers appearing at the bottom of the page.

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