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    Jewish geography – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Why do we call Germany Ashkenaz, Spain S’farad, and France Tzar’fat?

    map europe spain france germany ashkenaz sephard sefardA. The question is dealt with in detail by Rabbi Dr Ernest Ehrentreu (in the Rabbi Dr Joseph Breuer Jubilee Volume published in 1962).

    He says that in Jeremiah (51:27), the name Ashkenaz (originally a person’s name in Gen. 10:3) is given to an area in Asia Minor where the caravan routes from Eretz Yisra’el and the rest of the Middle East converged. The Jews of Central Europe were called Ashkenazim because their migration routes were in or through Ashkenaz.

    The Book of Obadiah (1:20) refers to galut (exile) in connection with S’farad, and since Spain was a leading part of the Diaspora the name S’farad was attached to it from the time of the Targum Yonatan onwards. (The Latin Vulgate regarded S’farad as the Bosphorus.) The Jews of Spain were flattered that Obadiah mentions Galut Yerushalayim – “the Exile of Jerusalem” (in recent history Vilna was “the Jerusalem of Lithuania”).

    The name Tzar’fat (a Phoenician town on the Mediterranean) came to apply to France for accidental reasons, because Spain and France are adjacent and Obadiah refers to both Tzar’fat and S’farad.

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