The Jewish Diaspora


Figure 1.--This German Jewish boy had his Bar Mitzvah portrait taken some time in the 1930s. There is writing on the back, but we can not make it very well. Click on the image for a fuller discussion.

The Jewish Diaspora began with Assyrian conquest when Jew from Israel were exiled (8th century BC). These exiles are lost to history--The Lost Tribes of Israel. As a result, many histories of the Diaspora begin with the Babylonian conquest (6th century BC). Many Jews at the time came to saw their exile as a punishment for their sins and came to believe that they would be unable to return to their land unless God redeemed by sending a Messiah. Some of the Jews taken to Babylon survived and thanks to Cyrus the Great, eventually retuned to Palestine. Another dispersal was conducted by the Romans. The Romans suppressed Jewish revolts and destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem (1st century AD). The Romans slaughtered and enslaved the Jews. Survivors spread throughout the Roman world, the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. This is today known as the Disapora. Over time as the Jews moved into distant lands and memories of Palestine were lost, Jewish scholars came to redfine exole from a geographic sence to separation from God. The Diaspora which began with the Babylonian Captivity spread the Jews east. The Roman supresion of the Jews spread them west. The extrodinary aspect of the Diaspra is that it did not destroy the Jews as a people. They did not like so many other conquered peoples disappear from history. While dispersed, the Jews refused to abandon their faith and assimilate. Jews since the Diaspora have lived in separate, often small religious community living among Gentiles--for the most part, Christian and Islamic majorities. There are two great traditions of European Jews. The Ashkenazi (meaning German) are Eastern European Jews with traditions in some cases dateing back to Roman times. The Sephardic (meaning Spanish) Jews are Western European Jews with roots to the tolerant Omayyid Caliph of southern Spain. Their intelectual tradition developed in an atmosphere of toleration of the People of the Book. This was the Sephardic Golden Age. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella after the completion of the Reconqujista with the fall of Granada expelled the Jews (1492). The Sephardi carried this tradition with them to the other areas of Western Europe and the Ottoman Empire which accepted them. [Perera] The various Jewish communites of the Diaspora interacted to varying degrees with the local culture. The Jews of the Diaspora developed remarkably diverse cultural lives as well as religious outlooks.

Chronology

The Jewish Diaspora began with Assyrian conquest when Jew from Israel were exiled (8th century BC). These exiles are lost to history--The Lost Tribes of Israel. As a result, many histories of the Diaspora begin with the Babylonian conquest (6th century BC). Another dispersal was conducted by the Romans. The Romans suppressed Jewish revolts and destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem (1st century AD). The Romans slaughtered and enslaved the Jews. Survivors spread throughout the Roman world, the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. This is today known as the Disapora. Consditions for the Jews worsened after the beginning of the Crusades. A series of Christian rulers began expelling Jews. One of the first countries to expell the Jews was England when Edward I expelled them (1290). This was followed by Hungary (1376), France--Charles VI (1394), and Sicily (early 15th century). King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella after the completion of the Reconqujista with the fall of Granada expelled the Jews (1492). King Ludvig X of Bavaria expelled the Jews in his kingdom (1470).

Theology

Many Jews at the time came to saw their exile as a punishment for their sins and came to believe that they would be unable to return to their land unless God redeemed by sending a Messiah. Some of the Jews taken to Babylon survived and thanks to Cyrus the Great, eventually retuned to Palestine. Over time as the Jews moved into distant lands and memories of Palestine were lost, Jewish scholars came to redfine exole from a geographic sence to separation from God.

Survival

The Diaspora which began with the Babylonian Captivity spread the Jews east. The Roman supresion of the Jews spread them west. The extrodinary aspect of the Diaspra is that it did not destroy the Jews as a people. They did not like so many other conquered peoples disappear from history. While dispersed, the Jews refused to abandon their faith and assimilate. Jews since the Diaspora have lived in separate, often small religious community living among Gentiles--for the most part, Christian and Islamic majorities.

Traditions

There are two great traditions of European Jews. The Ashkenazi (meaning German) are Eastern European Jews with traditions in some cases dateing back to Roman times. The Sephardic (meaning Spanish) Jews are Western European Jews with roots to the tolerant Omayyid Caliph of southern Spain. Their intelectual tradition developed in an atmosphere of toleration of the People of the Book. This was the Sephardic Golden Age.

Language

An important aspect of the diaspora is language. The ancient language of the Jewish people was Hebrew. The lanhuage of the Old Testament was Hebrew. The Jews were conquered by many people, including the Egyptians, Assyrians, Bablyoniasns, Persians, Greeks, ans Romans. This of course affected language. Jesus spoke Aramaic which is a Semitic language belonging to the Afroasiatic language family. Aramaic belongs to the Semitic subfamily which includes includes Canaanite languages such as Hebrew and Phoenician. The Aramaic script was widely adopted for use in other languaes, including the Arabic and Hebrew alphabets. The New Testament was written in Greek, but by this time the Jewish Jesus movement had developed into the New Christin church. Wth the Romn supression of the Jewsish Revolt (1st century AD), Jews in the diaspora learned the language of the countries in whih they lived. Hebrew was preserved as a scholarly language ad for religious purposes. This varied somewhat depending on how tolerant the local community was. Spanish became very important because of the substantial Jewish community and the spirit of toleration in Spain. Sephardic Jews in Spain and other Mediterranean areas developed Ladino, a hybrid of Hebrew and Spanish. Jews became noted linguists They were attacked during the Crusades expelled from much of Western Europe (10-15th centuries). in both the Muslim and Christian worlds, able to bridge the gulf between the two religuous communities who wre often at war. Spain expelled theJews at the end of the Recoinquista (1492). With this and other expulsions, the Jewish communities in Eastern Rurope become increasingly important. It is at this time that Yidush becomes a major languge for evedryday life and commerce of Ashkenazic Jews (. Yiddish was a hybrid of Hebrew and medieval German. Most of the wirds are German, but in addition to Hebrew, words are borrowed from the other lanugafes of Eastern Europe. It has a unique grammatical structure and uses Hebrew characters. This continued until the Holocaust which destroyed the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. After Workd War II, the new state of Isreal revived Hebrew as their national languafe.

Country Trends

The various Jewish communites of the Diaspora interacted to varying degrees with the local culture. The Jews of the Diaspora developed remarkably diverse cultural lives as well as religious outlooks. These Jewish communities were established througout Europe as well as the Middle East. Spain and Portugal using law and the Inquisition kept Jews out of the Americas until independence (19th century). England did not, however, bar Jews from their American colonies. Each country has its own unique history of Jewish settlement and culture. Some like America, Poland, and Rusia had very large Jewish communities. Other countries have had only tiny Jewish communities. Some Jewish communities were destroyed or exiled in the Medieval era and n some instances later recovered. Some were irevocably destroyed. Jews and later Protestants were a major target of the Inquisition. Many of these communities were destoyed in thr 20th century. The NAZIs destroyed vibrant Jewish communities throughout the areas of Europe they occupied. The Arabs and Iranians have destroyed the Jewish communities in their countries. Here is what we know about the various Jewish communities of the Diasopra. While small in number, Jews in many of these countries have played a major role in cultural and intelectual life.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish people over time experienced periods of benign toleration followed by rulthless suppression. Anti Semitism became a prominent aspect of European life during the Medieval Era. Throughout the Medieval era Jews were the target of persecution by the Catholic Church. The history of the Jews and the extent of perscution has varied widely from country to country. Many states expelled the Jews entirely. The most famous such event was Spain's expulsion of the Jews (1492). Other countries also expelled the Jews, including England. There were a few islands of toleration, the most prominent being the Netherlands. Historically Islam was more tolerant to Jews and other Christian sects than the Catholic Church. In the late Medieval era, Jews in Poland and Russia were the target of horific pogroms. Only in the 19th century did Jews begin to gain full civil rights in Western Europe. The most terrible explosion of anti-SEmitism was the NAZI attempt to eradicate European Jewery during World war II. After the War anti-Semitism declined, a trend based on having witnessed what anti-Semitism can lead to. In more recent years, however, anti-Semitism has become a growth industry around the world, including Europe. In the Arab world fired by the Palentinian-Israeli conflict, anti-Semitism has become a uesful scapegoat for Arab leaders who have poorly managed their countries. [Timmerman]

Sources

Boyadjieff, Christo. Saving the Bulgarian Jews in World War II (Free Bulgarian Center: 1989).

Katz, Shmuel. Battleground (1974).

Perera, Victor. The Cross and the Pear Tree.

Timmerman, Kenneth R. Preachers of Hate: Islam and the War on America (Crown Forum, 2003), 370p.






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Created: 4:27 AM 12/25/2006
Last updated: 10:22 PM 7/30/2007