Sephardic law and customs means the practice of Judaism as observed by the Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews, so far as it is peculiar to themselves and not shared with other Jewish groups such as the Ashkenazim. Sephardim do not constitute a separate denomination within Judaism, but rather a distinct cultural tradition.
Sephardim are, primarily, the descendants of Jews from the Iberian peninsula. They may be divided into the families that left in the Expulsion of 1492 and those that remained as crypto-Jews and left in the following few centuries.
In religious parlance, and by many in modern Israel, the term is used in a broader sense to include all Jews of Ottoman or other Asian or African backgrounds, whether or not they have any historic link to Spain, though some prefer to distinguish between Sephardim proper and Mizraḥi Jews.
For the purposes of this article there is no need to distinguish the two groups, as their religious practices are basically similar: whether or not they are "Spanish Jews" they are all "Jews of the Spanish rite". There are three reasons for this convergence, which are explored in more detail below:
- Both groups follow general Jewish law without those customs specific to the Ashkenazic tradition.
- The Spanish rite was an offshoot of the Babylonian-Arabic family of Jewish rites and retained a family resemblance to the other rites of that family.
- Following the expulsion the Spanish exiles took a leading role in the Jewish communities of Asia and Africa, who modified their rites to bring them still nearer to the Spanish rite, which by then was regarded as the standard.
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