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The French Revolution and the emergence of the idea of a nation-state where all citizens have equal rights and responsibilities before the law, along with a scientific concept of race, complicated the Jewish relationship with the societies in which they were resident, particularly in Europe (though pan-Turk and pan-Arab nationalism were analogous and resulted in similar problems of identity).Despite phenomena such the Spanish fixation on “cleanliness of blood”, as well the Jews self-conception as the descendants of Israel, it was in the 19th century that the idea of a Jewish race with very specific and determined biological qualities which were heritable came to the fore.The Nazi total extermination program stood in contrast to previous assaults on the existence of Jewish community, where conversion to Christianity, and assimilation more broadly, were plausible goals.The Nazis aimed to eliminate not just the culture of the Jews, but their very biological existence.A major confounding issue with the modern Sephardim is that in the Ottoman lands they encountered and interacted with preexistent Jewish communities, who often maintained a distinctive identity subsequent to the influx of the Sephardim.Though in most cases, such as in Morocco and Syria, the Sephardim became culturally dominant and assimilated the indigenous Jewish community into their identity (though they often abandoned Ladino, the language they brought from Spain, for the local ), in other cases two distinct Jewish communities were coexistent down down to the modern era (e.g. Finally, the Mizrahim are Jews of the East or Oriental Jews, those Jews whose ancestors hail from Muslim lands where the Sephardim were never a presence.
Contemporary groups outside the “Jewish mainstream,” such as the Beta Israel, Bene Israel and the Karaites, but with an acknowledged connection to Judaism, are windows into other faces of being Jewish besides that of Rabbinical Judaism.
Jews were a corporate entity, a minority subordinate to the majority, whose relationship with the majority was mediated through eminent individuals who spoke for and had power over the community.
Though often fraught in the execution in the abstract the position of Jews within pre-modern political units was not controversial; Jews were subjects with obligations, often a useful minority for potentates.
Today these Jews fall into three broad groups, the Ashkenazim, Sephardim and Mizrahim.
The Ashkenazim are rather easy to define, as they are the Jews of Central Europe who have been so prominent over the past few centuries.