European Jewry: The Beginnings

The genesis of Ashkenazic identity.

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These new communities also dealt in long‑distance trade. The first-­generation immigrants recognized hereditary monopoly rights in rela­tions with clients--a custom borrowed from Arabic‑speaking commun­ities such as that of Kairouan, and still practiced among Ashkenazi Jews as late as the seventeenth century. The new communities imposed internal discipline to prevent feuds between rival family firms and, while jealously guarding their independence, accepted an inter‑communal system of control and intervention to ensure peaceful relations and harmony within their diaspora.

For historians who wish to organize the sporadic and uneven history of European Jewry into a convenient formula of a succession of dominant centers, the late eleventh century, "the age of Rashi" [the great medieval commentator] opens a new chapter. Henceforth, Ashkenazi Jewry would maintain its predominance in the Jewish world.

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Eli Barnavi is the Director of the Morris Curiel Center for International Studies and a Professor of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University