Yes, a Jew is a Jew. Or not. It depends who you ask. I will get back to this in a later post. For now, let's just talk about the major groups based on geography. Kinda.
So, I'll start with my own group: Ashkenazi Jews. Ashkenazim trace their heritage back to Central and Eastern Europe. Ashkenaz means Germany, and not surprisingly, for many of the Ashkenazi Jews the native language was Yiddish. Yiddish is a Jewish language closely related to German, but written in a modified Hebrew script.
Ashkenazi Jews, if Orthodox, follow the Ashkenazi Halakha. It differs greatly from the Sephardi Halakha. Ashkenazim have their own Chief Rabbi of Israel, as do the Sephardim.
As I said, the Ashkenazi population, making up more than 90% of world Jewry before World War II, were mainly native speakers of Yiddish. The Hebrew they speak (or mostly, spoke) also sounds different from the Hebrew spoken by Sephardi Jews and what is spoken in modern day Israel. For example, the word Shabbat became Shabos, Kashrut is Kashrus, and even Lecha Dodi sounds completely different in Ashkenazi Hebrew! I have occasionally heard it spoken in Hungary, but many times the younger generations are using standard Hebrew pronunciation.
As I said I'm Ashkenazi. My ancestry is mostly from Hungary, Poland and former Hungarian territories now belonging to Romania and Ukraine. I, however, have two Sephardi great-grandparents and great-great grandparent. My maternal grandmother's mother was a Sephardi Jew from Amsterdam, and my great-grandfather on my dad's side was the product of a marriage between a Polish Ashkenazi man and a French Sephardi woman.
Sephardic Jews are generally considered to be Jews from the Iberian peninsula. Due to persecution, Sephardim moved to other countries as well. In France, for example, there were two distinct Jewish communities, one Ashkenazi and one Sephardi. Sephardim have their own Halakha, followed by most Mizrahi Jews as well, and in Israel they have their own chief rabbi, too, like the late Ovadia Yosef, who, himself, was of Mizrahi background. I'll get to that in a minute.
Sephardi tradition differs from Ashkenazi tradition in many ways. Most commonly known ones might be the naming of a newborn for living relatives that Ashkenazim don't do, and the definition of matzah.
(To be continued tomorrow.)