By: Gotthard Deutsch
Germany: name applied generally in medieval rabbinical literature to that country. Its origin in this particular is obscure. Among the sources quoted by Zunz ("Ritus," p. 66) the ritual of Amram Gaon (about 850) is perhaps the oldest. Its mention there proves nothing, as thework has been interpolated by later authors. References to Ashkenaz in Yosippon and Ḥasdai's letter to the king of the Chazars would bring the inquiry down to the tenth century, as would also Saadia Gaon's Commentary on Dan. vii. 8. The epistle of Ḥasdai is, however, of disputed authenticity, while the commentary of Saadia is certainly a work of much later date (see Rapoport, in "Bikkure ha'Ittim," ix. 34, Vienna, 1828; Steinschneider, "Cat. Bodl." col. 2195). In a genuine work of Saadia the word, however, is also used, as it seems, in the same sense (Harkavy, "Measef NidaḦim," pp. 1, 90).
In the first half of the eleventh century Hai Gaon refers to religious questions that had been addressed to him from Ashkenaz, by which latter term he undoubtedly means Germany ("Sha'are Ẓedeḳ," No. 99, Leipsic, 1858). Rashi in the latter half of the eleventh century refers to both the language of Ashkenaz (Commentary on Deut. iii. 9; idem on Suk. 17a) and the country of Ashkenaz (Ḥul. 93a). During the twelfth century the word appears quite frequently. In the "MaḦzor Vitry" (ed. S. Hurwitz, pp. 112, 392, Berlin, 1892), a liturgical work, the kingdom of Ashkenaz is referred to chiefly in regard to the ritual of the synagogue there, but occasionally also with regard to certain other observances (ib. p. 129).
Eliezer ben Nathan, in his history of the persecution during the Crusades ("Quellen zur Gesch. der Juden in Deutschland," ii. 36, Berlin, 1892), mentions a mob of Zarfatim (French) and Ashkenazim (Germans). The same words are used by Solomon ben Simson (ib. p. 1). German as the language of Ashkenaz is frequently referred to in the anonymous work on ritual, called "Asufot" (Güdemann, "Geschichte des Erziehungswesens und der Cultur in Frankreich und Deutschland," 1880, pp. 113, 131; see also pp. 50, 276).
In the literature of the thirteenth century references to the land and the language of Ashkenaz often occur. See especially Solomon ben Adret's Responsa (vol. i., No. 395); the Responsa of Asher ben Jehiel (pp. 4, 6); his "Halakot" (Berakot i. 12, ed. Wilna, p. 10); the work of his son Jacob ben Asher, "Ṭur OraḦ Ḥayyim" (lix.); the Responsa of Isaac ben Sheshet (Nos. 193, 268, 270). It is strange, however, that Meïr of Rothenburg, a prominent German rabbi of the thirteenth century, does not seem to employ the word at all, while he quotes the German word Putz as the language of Canaan (Responsum, No. 30, p. 8, ed. Bloch, 1891; see also p. 10, where the word is evidently a misprint), and speaks of "our kingdom" ["be-malkutenu"], as distinguished from England and Normandy. His contemporary Samuel ben Samuel, however, employs this word in a letter addressed to R. Meir in a context which renders it difficult to decide what he meant by it ("Monatsschrift," xviii. 209). It is also curious that Meïr ben Solomon of Perpignan, who was a younger contemporary of Meïr of Rothenburg, speaks of the latter as the greatest of all the rabbis in Ẓarfat ("Bet ha-BeḦirah," 1854, p. 170)—a usage which may have originated in the age of Charlemagne, when Germany was part of the Frankish kingdom.
The reason for this rather peculiar identification of Ashkenaz, who is one of the descendants of Japheth (Gen. x. 3), is found in the Midrash, where R. Berechiah says: "Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah are " (Gen. R. xxxvii. 1), which evidently means German tribes or German lands. It would correspond to a Greek word Гερμανικια that may have existed in the Greek dialect of the Palestinian Jews, or the text is corrupted from "Germanica." This view of R. Berechiah, again, is based on the Talmud (Yoma 10a; Yer. Meg. 71b), where Gomer, the father of Ashkenaz, is translated by "Germamia," which evidently stands for Germany, and which was suggested by the similarity of the sound. The explanation of as a Mesopotamian district (Neubauer, "La Géographie du Talmud," p. 421, Paris, 1868; Fürst, "Glossarium Græco-Hebræum," p. 92, Strasburg, 1891; Krauss, "Lateinische und Griechische Lehnwörter") is forced. Not better is the derivation by Elijah Levita from the Talmudic = "fair" (see Tishbi, s.v., and "Monatsschrift," xxxviii. 260). A peculiar usage of the word is found in the dictionary of Samuel ben Solomon of Urgenj, who interprets Ashkenaz as Khwarizm (see Bacher, "Ein Hebräisch-Persisches Wörterbuch," pp. 19, 31, Budapest, 1900).
In later times the word Ashkenaz is used to designate southern and western Germany, the ritual of which sections differs somewhat from that of eastern Germany and Poland. Thus the prayer-book of Isaiah Horowitz, and many others, give the piyyuṭim according to the Minhag of Ashkenaz and Poland. The neo-Hebraic writers, mostly of Russian and Polish origin, have coined a verb, "to ape modern social manners."