For the most part, modern Jewish history deals with the political,
social and economic advancements achieved by the Ashkenazi communities
in Europe, America, and later -- Palestine. Because of it's relatively
small size and involvement in the affairs of "civilized" countries of
Europe and America, the Sephardi branch of Judaism is rerely dealt with in
the context of modern Jewish history. Their developement is however, though
not as influential upon the flow of the "mainstream" history as that of the
Ashkenazi jewry, is nevertheless an area of interest to anyone undertaking
a serious study of Jewish history.
The theological difference between the two movements, the Sefardi and
the Ashekenazi, lies in the traditional laws more than in written ones.
Both take an Orthodoxal approach to the written law of the Torah, and the
differences in its interpretation are subtle enough to be dismissed.
However the traditions aquired, and at times given the power of laws, in
the course of the long centuries of diaspora differ considerably from one
branch of Judaism to another. Just as the worldwide language of the
Ashekenazim, Yiddish, is a mixture of Hebrew with German, the common
language used by the Sephardim Ladino, still in use in some parts of the
world, is a dialect formed by combining Hebrew with Spanish. The Sephardim
who have historically been more involved into the lives of the gentile
societies where they settled don't have as strict a set of observances as
do the Ashkenazis who have been contained in closed ghettos up until two
centuries ago. The official doctrine of the Sephardis does not for example
prohibit polygomy, whereas it hasn't been allowed in the Ashkenazi law
since Middle Ages.
Although the Ashkenazi traditions are somewhat stricter than those
of the Sephardim, a greater percentage of Ashkenazi Jews have over the past
century and a half stopped observing these traditions, becoming either
"secular Jews", atheists, like the American Freethinkers, or simply
converting. An even greater part have chosen to follow only a part of the
traditional, or "oral", laws, forming widely popular Reform and
Conservative movements. This phenomenon, if present within the Sephardic
community exists on such a small scale that it can be discounted. The
reason for this difference in the adherence of the tradition is the way in
which the tradition itself was first put into effect. In the case of the
Ashkenazi Jews the traditions have been instated by the long centuries of
enforced separation, and when the barriers were let down, the communities
that were held together by pressure from the outside started to degenerate.
With the walls of the ghetto gone, but full emancipation not yet granted,
many believed that if they had integrated themselves into the gentile
societies, they would gain acceptance. Secular education replaced religion,
rather than complementing it. This however was...