Ashkenazi Jews, also known as Ashkenazic Jews or Ashkenazim (Hebrew: אַשְׁכְּנַזִּים, singular:, ; also יְהוּדֵי אַשְׁכֲּנַז Y'hudey Ashkenaz, "The Jews of Ashkenaz"), are an ethnoreligious group who trace their origins to the indigenous Hebrew speaking peoples of Canaan in South Western Asia, and settled along the Rhine in Germany from Alsace in the south to the Rhineland in the north probably during the early Middle Ages.
The name Ashkenazi derives from the biblical figure of Ashkenaz, the first son of Gomer, and a Japhetic patriarch in the Table of Nations (Genesis 10). In the rabbinic literature, the kingdom of Ashkenaz was first associated with the Scythian region, then later with the Slavic territories, and, from the 11th century onwards, with northern Europe and Germany. The Jews living in these regions associated with Ashkenaz's kingdom thus came to call themselves the Ashkenazi. Later, Jews from Western and Central Europe also came to be called Ashkenazi because the main centers of Jewish learning were located in Germany.
Many Ashkenazi Jews later migrated, largely eastward, forming communities in non German-speaking areas, including Bohemia, Hungary, Poland, Belarus, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, and elsewhere between the 11th and 19th centuries. With them, they took and diversified Yiddish, a High German language written using the Hebrew alphabet. It had developed in medieval times as the lingua franca among Ashkenazi Jews. The Jewish communities of three cities along the Rhine: Speyer, Worms and Mainz, created the SHUM league (SHUM after the first Hebrew letters of Shpira, Vermayza, and Magentza). The ShUM-cities are considered the cradle of the distinct Ashkenazi culture and liturgy.
Although in the 11th century, they composed only three percent of the world's Jewish population, at their peak in 1931, Ashkenazi Jews accounted for 92 percent of the world's Jews. Today they make up approximately 80 percent of Jews worldwide. Most Jewish communities with extended histories in Europe are Ashkenazim, with the exception of those associated with the Mediterranean region. The majority of the Jews who migrated from Europe to other continents in the past two centuries are Ashkenazim, Eastern Ashkenazim in particular.
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