Jacob of Marseilles, and both of them trusted their cousin Joseph of Jerusalem, all three stood to make a profit”. Thus was born, early in Christian Europe, the prejudiced and anti-Semitic stereotype of the indispensable but hated Jewish merchant. Jews were regarded as demons, but necessary demons.

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From the approximately one million Jews who lived in the Western Roman Empire at the beginning of the fourth century, some five thousand, or at most ten thousand, survived as Jews by the end of the eighth century… they were almost exclusively of the descendants of that tiny but highly distinct group the members of which possessed the [sic] two very rare qualities: commercial ability and possession of wealth on the one hand, and tremendous dedication to the study and practice of Judaism on the other.

Accordingly, the five to ten thousand souls who survived as Jews in Italy, Germany and France by the end of the eight century, were the true ancestors of that Jewry in the sense that all the Yiddish-speaking Jews of the year 1900, numbering more than ten million, were the descendants of these five to ten thousand -[they were] the forefathers of a distinct group (the Ashkenazim) that in the second half of the eighth century embarked upon its national life with unusual vigor and truly heroic determination.(Irving A. Agus,The Heroic Age of Franco-German Jewry.) It is interesting to note that even as late as 1170, there were only 100,000 Ashkenazic Jews compared to a Sephardic population of 1,400,000 (as asserted in H.J. Zimmel’s book Ashkenazim and Sephardim.)


The name “Ashkenaz” can be traced back to the book of Genesis 10:3 where Ashkenaz is the son of Gomer, the great-grandson of Noah. In Talmudic tradition, the 70 primary nations of the world stem from Noah’s descendants and the term “Ashkenaz” established itself as the accepted Hebrew word for Germany. In Rashi’s commentary on the Talmud, he refers to “Ashkenaz” as the German Jewish communities of Mainz and Worms.