All Jews Are Ashkenazi
If there is a Jew in any mainstream media (and the odds are better than you might think
), he or she will most likely be portrayed as Ashkenazi
, even when that portrayal does not fit that character's background or the setting. Oy vey!
This means that the Jew will be apparently of Central or Eastern European descent, will probably eat gefilte fish and bagels with lox, and may drop Yiddish words into their speech
. The names of Jews will almost always end with -berg, -man, or -stein or contain the syllable "Gold". These "Jewish names" are actually Germanic names adopted by Ashkenazi Jews (the trend began with 18th century Austrian officials forcing Jews to adopt local last names to resident Jews who were still following the patrimonial formatnote
. The trope is so pervasive that viewers from outside Germany, Poland or Russia tend to think only
Jews have these names.
In real life, while seventy to eighty percent of the world's Jewish population are in fact Ashkenazim, there are many other Jewish ethnicities, including the Sephardim
(Iberian), the Mizrahim
(Middle-Eastern; there may, depending on who's counting, be more Mizrahim in Israel than Ashkenazim), the Temanim
(those from Yemen in particular), the Kaifeng Jews
(Chinese), Bene Israelites
), and the Habashim
(Ethiopian). Indeed, there are Jews from almost every country and culture, with their own distinct names and customs. And this is not even counting converts, who can (and do) come from every cultural background imaginable.
The trope has its origins in America, where Jewish culture, especially in New York and Los Angeles, is dominated by Ashkenazi tradition. This was not always so, however. In 1850, the considerable majority of Jews living in English-speaking countries were Sephardim, which can make works from this period with Jewish characters a bit confusing (even leaving aside the near-constant antisemitism
). It was only in the late 19th and early 20th century
that a great number of Ashkenazi Jews immigrated to the United States (and to a lesser extent, Western Europe) to flee from persecution in eastern Europe. The trope is also used to avoid leaving viewers wondering
why a given character behaves like a Jew but looks like an Arab.
In historical works, this can sometimes be a case of Translation Convention
Note that this trope is not about the simple presence of Ashkenazi Jews in a work
, but rather about the implicit or explicit assumption that all Jews are of Eastern European descent (e.g. by having Jewish characters speaking with Yiddish accents where their background and/or time period would make this improbable). Please do not add examples along the lines of "Character X is Ashkenazi" when it is nothing remarkable. Similarly, it's not worth listing an "aversion" if a work just happens to have a Jew who's Sephardi or Mizrachi.
- Rule of Funny-based Astérix example in the album Asterix and the Black Gold - Ashkenazi Jews in Jerusalem in 50 B.C.
- By the same token, The Cartoon History of the Universe, where Jews are often seen saying "Oy" and other historical non-Ashkenazi Jews use Yiddishisms (e.g. Salome calling her nephew Archelaus a "schmuck" and a "schlemiel" in a presentation to Emperor Augustus) purely for the humor value.
- Note that much of Larry Gonick's work - which covers topics ranging from statistics to human sexuality, all presented in comic book form - includes a certain amount of Borscht Belt humor, including Self-Deprecation (Gonick is of Ashkenazi descent himself), regardless of the topic at hand.
- The Rabbi's Cat:
- The story takes place within the Sephardic community of Algiers in the 1920s, where Ashkenazi Jews are considered weird and foreign. The second volume introduces a singular Ashkenazi Jew, a Russian painter who smuggled himself into Africa in a crate full of prayer books (who is viewed as an oddball by pretty much everyone else). The second volume also involves a quest to track down a hidden city of Beta Israel/Ethiopian Jews.
- The trope is played straight in-universe by the character of El Rebibo, a Sephardic Jewish entertainer in Paris who has to portray a stereotypical Arab because he can't manage the Polish accent needed to portray a stereotypical Jew.
- Lampshaded (and also subverted) in The Name of the Game by Will Eisner. In the opening narrative, Eisner goes into detail on the different waves of jews coming to America. Thus, the Sephardic arrived first, making up a Jewish elite. Then, from 1830 an onwards, the Ashkenazi Jews started their immigration, followed by the eastern European Jews (also Ashkenazi).
These new immigrants were a crude and noisy people. But they were intelligent, resourceful and innovative, an ideal trait for life in this big and open country that was often crude and noisy itself but where opportunity was so abundant. The hard-working newcomers thrived. They were Ashkenazis, just one rung below the Sephardics on the Jewish social ladder.
- Also by Eisner, the autobiographical To the Heart of the Storm, telling the story of Eisner`s childhood and family. Rose, his maternal aunt, stands out as the most stereotypical ashkenazi, with phrases like this:
Hah! A dentist with a college degree she wants yet!
- In You Don't Mess with the Zohan, Israeli culture is rife with Yiddishisms (e.g. "feygele") despite Yiddish (both language and culture) being largely foreign in Israel (except amongst Charedim).
- Used extensively in Mel Brooks's History of the World Part I for comedy. Even the Spanish Sephardic Jews in the Inquisition song wear Hasidic outfits (also anachronistic) absurdly speak in Yiddish accents with smatterings of Yiddish such as "Oy gevalt!" But none of the film even pretends to try to be taken seriously. Mel Brooks plays Torquemada, ironically appropriate since many historians belive he was of Jewish descent.
- In Agora, Jews are mostly European looking, though some do have Mizhrahim and Sephardim features.
- Played puzzlingly straight in The Infidel where a British Muslim taxi driver figures out he is actually Jewish by birth. Rather than making him a member of the well-established Persian Jewish community (actor Omid Djalili is of Iranian descent and looks it), they gave him an inexplicably anglo-Ashkenazi birth name and background.
- Every Time We Say Goodbye features an American RAF pilot played by Tom Hanks being stationed in Jerusalem, who meets and falls in love with a Sephardic girl and has to deal with her disapproving and large family. The film is notable for being partially in Ladino aka Judeo-Spanish, the language of Sephardic Jews.
- Pain and Gain: Kershaw is from Colombia but addresses his rabbi with the Yiddish salutation, "Gut yontiff!" Given his surname, it's possible that he has some Ashkenazi or European ancestry.
- Pearl S. Buck wrote Peony, a novel about the history of the Kaifeng Jews, a nearly extinct division of Jews that lived in China before being largely assimilated into Han society.
- Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle features a number of Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews, however in one scene Jewish galley slaves of Barbary pirates sing "Havah Nagilah." In addition to being a humorous anachronism, the song was written by an Ashkenazi Jew in Ottoman Palestine and set to an Ashkenazi melody, making it more a part of Ashkenazi culture.
- The prequel book to Kyril Bonfiglioli's "Charlie Mortdecai" series All the Tea in China partially averts this, but also kind of plays is straight for Rule of Funny reasons. Mortdecai is loosely based on the famous art dealer Joseph Duveen, and was given the same background, that of descent from upper middle class Sephardic Jews in the Netherlands. However, the ancestor character behaves like a (somewhat offensive) Askenazi Jewish stereotype, including his use of Yiddish as a Second Language.
- This is actually an interesting quirk of history, as the Jewish community of the Netherlands has had both a large portion Ashkenazi and Sepheradi for a long time, to the point where a distinct liturgy developed, and the two communities intermarried often.
- Michael Chabon:
- Played straight in the novel The Yiddish Policemen's Union. The community of Sitka is heavily based on Ashkenazi culture. This is justified by the fact that the city-state is populated mostly by descendants of Jews who fled the Nazis.
- Also seen in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay in a New York City setting where it makes sense.
- The whole point of Gentlemen of the Road, however, is to avert this trope. The two main characters are a Frankish and an Abyssinian Jew who travel to the Khazar khaganate, a Turkic nation that practiced Judaism.
- Played With in The Sparrow by Mary Russell. It is precisely because Sofia is a Sephard, and behaves like one, that Fr. Sandoz's quasi-Spanish gallantry and old-fashioned beard are off-putting to her; it's also why Sandoz doesn't recognize that she's Jewish at all.
- Averted (and lampshaded, by Lew Salmon) in the Village Tales series. Sir Ben Salmon RA, his nephew and eventual heir Lew, and Lew's wife Melanie, are, like many British Jews, descended of Ashkenazim (mostly Baltic traders) and Sephardim (mostly via Amsterdam): which is Truth in Television, as, for a long time, Jews in London and the Low Countries were so few that they had no choice but to marry across such minor divides.
- Very much averted in A Wolf In The Soul. Almost everyone in the story is at least partially Sephardi, other than the two major supporting characters who are black converts. The author is even careful to differentiate between Ashkenazi and Sephardi pronunciations when transliterating Hebrew.
- One of many anachronisms in Mistress of the Art of Death. The Jews of 12th century Cambridge speak Yiddish.
- Averted to the point of almost being inverted in 1632 - while the one up-timer Jewish couple is presumably Ashkenazi, almost all named downtimer Jewish characters and particularly the Abrabanel clan are Sephardim as would be expected in mid 17th century Central and Western Europe. The inner monologue of Rebecca Abrabanel consequently features Spanish/Sefardi as a second language instead of the requisite Yiddish as a Second Language for Ashkenazi Jews. However, the narrative has not yet focused much on Eastern Europe where the vast majority of Ashkenazi Jews lived at that time.
- Rachel Berry of Glee fits this, because in order to figure out whether or not Puck was Quinn's baby daddy she told Quinn that her cousin was worried about her baby having Tay-Sachs, and tells Quinn that she only has to worry about the disease if the father of her baby is Jewish. This is despite the fact that Rachel Berry's actress, Lea Michele, is actually of Sephardic ancestry. (Ironically, Quinn's actress, Dianna Agron, is actually Ashkenazi.) Though it may be debatable, as she may have simply made it up to learn the truth about the paternity of Quinn's child.
- The supposedly-Israeli businessman Ari Frankel in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia not only has a Yiddish last name, but also speaks completely unaccented American English. While there are a few natural-born Israelis who can do this (usually American-educated or born to American parents), the obviously non-Israeli actor hardly portrayed a typical person from Israel.
- In an episode of Mad Men, one of the executives remarks that the Israelis don't look anything like New York Jews, who would largely be Ashkenazi. Don Draper later asks a New York Jew to tell him about Israel, and she admits that she doesn't know much about it, besides advising him not to cross an Israeli.
- In an episode of Raising Hope, when Burt goes to a deli with Jimmy to find out what it means to be Jewish, they all burst into song detailing stereotypes about Jews and their cultural features, all of which refer specifically to Eastern European Jewish Americans.
- Zigzagged on Will & Grace. Grace hires a new secretary from Iran who gets away with answering the phone in Farsi and acting extremely unprofessionally in general, to the point she shreds plans Grace worked on all night for an important client. She is overjoyed when she discovers that the secretary is Jewish and gleefully fires her. It looks like an aversion of this trope at first glance, but the employee said she was Jewish ‘like a brisket’, which is hardly a universal staple of Jewish cuisine.
- There's an episode of Law & Order where an Iranian character accuses the police of being involved in a Zionist conspiracy. In response, Anita gestures to Kevin and herself while sarcastically asking "Do we look like Zionists?" She's presumably trying to calm the man down by insinuating that she and Kevin can't be Jewish because they're black, even though there are many black Jews in certain parts of the world.
- Murder in the First: Averted with Raffi Veracruz, who appears to be Sephardic judging by her name (like the actress playing her, Emmanuelle Chriqui, who comes from a Sephardic family).
- In L.A. Noire, the prime suspect in one of the cases is a Jewish jeweler. Though his swarthy complexion and decidedly un-ashkenazi name "Kalou" suggest that he is of Sephardic descent, he still peppers his speech with Yiddish.
- Averted in Crusader Kings 2: While the autogeerated, randomly appearing jews in europe are mostly Ashkenazi, there is also a chance that they are Sephardim, especially if you have iberian culture yourself. Also, the two big jewish nations in the game are the ethiopian kingdom of Semien (later Auxium) and the jewish Khazar Khaganate, both of which follow their own culture and speak their own language (ethiopian and kazar respectively). Any character with any culture can be converted to judaism while keeping their original culture, resulting in things like jewish Sweden or jewish Afghanistan. All in all the game does a pretty good job at portraying jewish culture during this time period.
- In Family Guy, Peter Griffin's retelling of the Exodus story via his ancestor "Moses Griffin" portrays the Biblical Israelites (i.e. a generation of ancient Hebrews born and raised in Egypt) as stereotypical Ashkenazi Jews.
- Averted in M.K. 22, though since it's an Israeli series, it's a given. Out of the show's four main Jewish characters, two (Shukrun and Chanuka) are Mizrahi, and two (Shulman and Levinstein) are Ashkenazi.
- About 80% of Jews worldwide are Ashkenazi.
- This trope was inverted in Western Europe prior to the 18th century or so, where most Jews were Sephardi. Still partly the case in France.
- Inverted in Israel, where about half of the Jews follow the Sephardic rites (with the majority of them technically being Mizrahim). Israeli Hebrew pronunciation (which is a Sephardi pronunciation with Ashkenazi influencesnote ) is becoming standard outside of Orthodox circles, even among American Jews.
- Ironically, Jews with the last name Ashkenazi are usually not Ashkenazi. Though the name probably originated from someone in their distant family history who was Ashkenazi, generations later, they're more likely to have predominantly Sephardi ancestry from southern Europe or the Ottoman Empire.
- It's often assumed that there's some sort of religious restriction against Jews naming a child after a living relative. That's actually just an Ashkenazi custom. Naming children after living relatives is quite common among Sephardim.