Ashkenazi Jews (Hebrew: יהודים אשכנזים) (Yiddish: אַשקענאַזי יהודים), also known as Ashkenazic Jews, European Jews or simply Ashkenazim (Hebrew: אַשְׁכְּנַזִּים) are a Jewish ethnic division that come from Central and Eastern Europe, which had been their primary region of concentration and residence until recent times, evolving their distinctive characteristics and diasporic identity. Their millennia residence in Europe was largely brought to an end following the Holocaust, which resulted in the mass murder or genocide of approximately six million Ashkenazi Jews during World War II in a program of systematic state-sponsored murder by Nazi Germany, led by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, throughout the German Reich and German-occupied territories.[1][2][3]

It is estimated that in the 11th century Ashkenazi Jews composed only three percent of the world's Jewish population, while at their peak in 1931 they accounted for 92 percent of the world's Jews. Immediately prior to the Holocaust, the number of Ashkenazi Jews stood at approximately 16.7 million.[4] Statistical figures vary for the contemporary demography of Ashkenazi Jews, oscillating between 10[5] and 11.2[6] million. Sergio DellaPergola in a rough calculation of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, implies that Ashkenazi make up around 74% of Jews worldwide.[7] Other estimates place Ashkenazi Jews as making up about 75% of Jews worldwide.[8] Ashkenazi Jews constitute around 35–36% of Israel's total population, or 47.5% of Israel's Jewish population.[9][10]

Although the copious number of genetic studies on Ashkenazim — researching both their paternal and maternal lineages — all point to certain ancient Levantine origins, the studies have arrived at diverging conclusions regarding both the degree and the sources of their non-Levantine admixture.[11] These diverging conclusions focus particularly in respect to the extent of the predominant non-Levantine genetic origin observed in Ashkenazi maternal lineages, which is in contrast to the predominant Levantine genetic origin observed in Ashkenazi paternal lineages.


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). Gomer has been identified with the Cimmerians, while the biblical term Ashkenaz here may be an error for 'Ashkuz', from Assyrian Aškūza (A/Is-k/gu-zu-ai/Asguzi in cuneiform inscriptions)[12] a people who expelled the Cimmerians from the Armenian area of the Upper Euphrates.[13] This ethnonym perhaps denoted the Scythians, though the identification is problematic.[13][14] The theory presupposes a scribal confusion between נ/ו(waw/nun), creating A-shkenaz from a-Shkuz.[15] In Jeremiah 51:27, Ashkenaz figures as one of three kingdoms in the far north, the others being Minni and Ararat, perhaps corresponding to Urartu, called on by God to resist Babylon.[15][16]

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