By traditional accounts, Jewish history began during the second millennium BCE with the Biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Jews enjoyed two periods of political autonomy in their national homeland, the Land of Israel, during ancient history. The first era spanned from 1350 to 586 BCE, and encompassed the periods of the Judges, the United Monarchy, and the Divided Monarchy of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, ending with the destruction of the First Temple. The second era was the period of the Hasmonean Kindgom spanning from 140 to 37 BCE. Since the destruction of the First Temple, the diaspora has been the home of most of the world's Jews. Except in the modern State of Israel, established in 1948, Jews are a minority in every country in which they live and they have frequently experienced persecution, resulting in a population that fluctuated both in numbers and distribution over the centuries.
According to the Jewish Agency, as of 2007 there were 13.2 million Jews worldwide; 5.3 million in Israel, 5.3 million in the United States, and the remainder distributed in communities of varying sizes around the world; this represents 0.2% of the current estimated world population. These numbers include all those who consider themselves Jews whether or not affiliated, and, with the exception of Israel's Jewish population, do not include those who do not consider themselves Jews or who are not Jewish by halakha, that is, not Jewish according to Jewish religious law. The total world Jewish population, however, is difficult to measure. In addition to halakhic considerations, there are secular, political, and ancestral identification factors in defining who is a Jew that increase the figure considerably.
The origin of the Jews is traditionally dated to around the second millennium BCE to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Merneptah Stele, dated to 1200 BCE, is one of the earliest archaeological records of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, where Judaism, possibly the first monotheistic religion, developed over a period of thousands of years. According to Biblical accounts, the Jews enjoyed periods of self-determination first under the Biblical judges from Othniel Ben Kenaz through Samson, then circa 1000 BCE King David established Jerusalem as the capital of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah, also known as the United Monarchy, and from there ruled the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
In 970 BCE, David's son Solomon became king of Israel. Within a decade, Solomon began to build the Holy Temple known as the First Temple. Upon Solomon's death (c. 930 BCE), the ten northern tribes split off to form the Kingdom of Israel. In 722 BCE the Assyrians conquered the Kingdom of Israel and exiled its Jews, starting a Jewish diaspora. At a time of limited mobility and travel, Jews became some of the first and most visible immigrants.
The First Temple period ended around 586 BCE as the Babylonians conquered the Kingdom of Judah and destroyed the Jewish Temple. In 538 BCE, after fifty years of Babylonian captivity, Persian King Cyrus the Great permitted the Jews to return to rebuild Jerusalem and the holy temple. Construction of the Second Temple, was completed in 516 BCE during the reign of Darius the Great seventy years after the destruction of the First Temple. When Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire, the Land of Israel fell under Hellenistic Greek control, eventually falling to the Ptolemaic dynasty who lost it to the Seleucids. The Seleucid attempt to recast Jerusalem as a Hellenized polis came to a head in 168 BCE with the successful Maccabean revolt of Mattathias the High Priest and his five sons against Antiochus Epiphanes, and their establishment of the Hasmonean Kingdom in 152 BCE with Jerusalem again as its capital. The Hasmonean Kingdom lasted over one hundred years, but then as Rome became stronger it installed Herod as a Jewish client king. The Herodian Kingdom also lasted over a hundred years. Defeats by the Jews in the First revolt in 70 CE, the first of the Jewish-Roman Wars and the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 CE notably contributed to the numbers and geography of the diaspora, as significant numbers of the Jewish population of the Land of Israel were expelled and sold into slavery throughout the Roman Empire. Since then, Jews have lived in almost every country of the world, primarily in Europe, the greater Middle East, and North America. In the various countries in which they have lived, the Jews have survived discrimination, oppression, poverty, and even genocide (see: Antisemitism, The Holocaust). There have also been periods of cultural, economic, and individual prosperity in various locations (such as Islamic Spain and Portugal, Emancipating Germany and Poland, or the contemporary Liberal Democracies of the United States, Australia or United Kingdom).
The Hebrew noun "Yehudi" (plural Yehudim) originally referred to the tribe of Judah. Later, when the Northern Kingdom of Israel split from the Southern Kingdom of Israel, the Southern Kingdom of Israel began to refer to itself by the name of its predominant tribe, or as the Kingdom of Judah. The term originally referred to the people of the southern kingdom, although the term B'nei Yisrael (Israelites) was still used for both groups. After the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom leaving the southern kingdom as the only Israelite state, the word Yehudim gradually came to refer to people of the Jewish faith as a whole, rather than those specifically from the tribe or Kingdom of Judah. The English word Jew is ultimately derived from Yehudi (see Etymology). Its first use in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) to refer to the Jewish people as a whole is in the Book of Esther.
There are many different views as to the origin of the English language word Jew. The most common view is that the Middle English word Jew is from the Old French giu, earlier juieu, from the Latin iudeus from the Greek Ioudaios (Ἰουδαῖος). The Latin simply means Judaean, from the land of Judaea. Judaea is in turn derived from Judah which was the name of the Kingdom of Judah, and one of the Tribes of Israel. The Hebrew word for Jew, יהודי , is pronounced [jə·hu·ˈdiː].
The etymological equivalent is in use in other languages, e.g., "Jude" in German, "juif" in French, "jøde," in Danish, in Spanish (judío), etc., but derivations of the word "Hebrew" are also in use to describe a Jewish person, e.g., in Italian (Ebreo), and Еврей, (Yevrey). The German word "Jude" is pronounced [ˈjuː·də] and is the origin of the word Yiddish. (See Jewish ethnonyms for a full overview.)
Historical definitions of Jewish identity have traditionally been based on halakhic definitions of matrilineal descent, and halakhic conversions. Historical definitions of who is a Jew date back to the codification of the oral tradition into the Babylonian Talmud. Interpretations of sections of the Tanach, such as Deuteronomy 7:1-5, by learned Jewish sages, are used as a warning against intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews because "[the non-Jewish male spouse] will cause your child to turn away from Me and they will worship the gods of others." Leviticus 24:10 says that the son in a marriage between a Hebrew woman and an Egyptian man is "of the community of Israel." This contrasts with Ezra 10:2-3, where Israelites returning from Babylon, vow to put aside their gentile wives and their children. Since the Haskalah, these halakhic interpretations of Jewish identity have been challenged.
Within the world's Jewish population, which is considered a single self-identifying ethnicity, there are distinct ethnic divisions, most of which are primarily the result of geographic branching from an originating Israelite population, and subsequent independent evolutions. An array of Jewish communities were established by Jewish settlers in various places around the Old World, often at great distances from one another resulting in effective and often long-term isolation from each other. During the millennia of the Jewish diaspora the communities would develop under the influence of their local environments; political, cultural, natural, and populational. Today, manifestation of these differences among the Jews can be observed in Jewish cultural expressions of each community, including Jewish linguistic diversity, culinary preferences, liturgical practices, religious interpretations, as well as degrees and sources of genetic admixture.
Jews are often identified as belonging to one of two major groups: the Ashkenazim, or "Germans" (Ashkenaz meaning "Germany" in Medieval Hebrew, denoting their Central European base), and the Sephardim, or "Spaniards" (Sefarad meaning "Spain" or "Iberia" in Hebrew, denoting their Spanish and Portuguese base). The Mizrahim, or "Easterners" (Mizrach being "East" in Hebrew), that is, the diverse collection of Middle Eastern and North African Jews, constitute a third major group, although they are sometimes termed Sephardi for liturgical reasons.
Smaller groups include, but are not restricted to, Indian Jews such as the Bene Israel, Bnei Menashe, Cochin Jews, and Bene Ephraim; the Romaniotes of Greece; the Italian Jews ("Italkim" or "Bené Roma"); the Teimanim from Yemen and Oman; various African Jews, including most numerously the Beta Israel of Ethiopia; and Chinese Jews, most notably the Kaifeng Jews, as well as various other distinct but now extinct communities.
The divisions between all these groups are approximate and their boundaries are not always clear. The Mizrahim for example, are a heterogeneous collection of North African, Central Asian, Caucasian, and Middle Eastern Jewish communities that are often as unrelated to each other as they are to any of the earlier mentioned Jewish groups. In modern usage, however, the Mizrahim are sometimes termed Sephardi due to similar styles of liturgy, despite independent development from Sephardim proper. Thus, among Mizrahim there are Iraqi Jews, Egyptian Jews, Berber Jews, Lebanese Jews, Kurdish Jews, Libyan Jews, Syrian Jews, Bukharian Jews, Mountain Jews, Georgian Jews, and various others. The Teimanim from Yemen and Oman are sometimes included, although their style of liturgy is unique and they differ in respect to the admixture found among them to that found in Mizrahim. In addition, there is a differentiation made between Sephardi migrants who established themselves in the Middle East and North Africa after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and Portugal in the 1490s and the pre-existing Jewish communities in those regions.
Despite this diversity, Ashkenazi Jews represent the bulk of modern Jewry, with at least 70% of Jews worldwide (and up to 90% prior to World War II and the Holocaust). As a result of their emigration from Europe during the wartime periods, Ashkenazim also represent the overwhelming majority of Jews in the New World continents and in countries previously without native Jewish communities, such as the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, and South Africa. In France, emigration of Mizrahim from North Africa has led them to outnumber pre-existing European Jews. Only in Israel is the Jewish population representative of all groups, a melting pot independent of each group's proportion within the overall world Jewish population.
Despite the evident diversity displayed by the world's distinct Jewish populations, both culturally and physically, genetic studies have demonstrated most of these to be genetically related to one another, having ultimately originated from a common ancient Israelite population that underwent geographic branching and subsequent independent evolutions.
A study published by the National Academy of Sciences found that "the paternal gene pools of Jewish communities from Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East descended from a common Middle Eastern ancestral population", and suggested that "most Jewish communities have remained relatively isolated from neighboring non-Jewish communities during and after the Diaspora". Researchers expressed surprise at the remarkable genetic uniformity they found among modern Jews, no matter where the diaspora has become dispersed around the world.
Moreover, DNA tests have demonstrated substantially less inter-marriage in most of the various Jewish ethnic divisions over the last 3,000 years than in other populations. The findings lend support to traditional Jewish accounts accrediting their founding to exiled Israelite populations, and counters theories that many or most of the world's Jewish populations were founded by entirely gentile populations that adopted the Jewish faith, as in the notable case of the historic Khazars. Although groups such as the Khazars could have been absorbed into modern Jewish populations — in the Khazars' case, absorbed into the Ashkenazim — it is unlikely that they formed a large percentage of the ancestors of modern Ashkenazi Jews, and much less that they were the genesis of the Ashkenazim.
Even the archetype of Israelite-origin is also beginning to be reviewed for some Jewish populations amid newer studies. Previously, the Israelite origin identified in the world's Jewish populations was attributed only to the males who had migrated from the Middle East and then forged the current known communities with "the women from each local population whom they took as wives and converted to Judaism". Research in Ashkenazi Jews has suggested that, in addition to the male founders, significant female founder ancestry might also derive from the Middle East, with about 40% of the current Ashkenazi population descended matrilineally from just four women, or "founder lineages", that were "likely from a Hebrew/Levantine mtDNA pool" originating in the Near East in the first and second centuries CE.
Points in which Jewish groups differ is largely in the source and proportion of genetic contribution from host populations. For example, Teimanim differ from other Mizrahim, as well as from Ashkenazim, in the proportion of sub-Saharan African gene types which have entered their gene pools. Among Yemenites, the average stands at 35% lineages within the past 3,000 years. Yemenite Jews, as a traditionally Arabic-speaking community of local Yemenite and Israelite ancestries, are included within the findings, though they average a quarter of the frequency of the non-Jewish Yemenite sample. The proportion of male indigenous European genetic admixture in Ashkenazi Jews amounts to around 0.5% per generation over an estimated 80 generations, and a total admixture estimate "very similar to Motulsky's average estimate of 12.5%."
DNA analysis further determined that modern Jews of the priesthood tribe — "Cohanim" — share a common ancestor dating back about 3,000 years. This result is consistent for all Jewish populations around the world. The researchers estimated that the most recent common ancestor of modern Cohanim lived between 1000 BCE (roughly the time of the Biblical Exodus) and 586 BCE, when the Babylonians destroyed the First Temple. They found similar results analyzing DNA from Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews. The scientists estimated the date of the original priest based on genetic mutations, which indicated that the priest lived roughly 106 generations ago, between 2,650 and 3,180 years ago depending whether one counts a generation as 25 or 30 years.
Beyond intra-Jewish genetic interrelationships, other findings show that by the yardstick of the Y chromosome, the world's Jewish communities are closely related to Arab Israelis and Palestinians, who together as a single population also represent modern "descendants of a core population that lived in the area since prehistoric times", albeit religiously Christianized and later largely Islamized, and both ultimately culturally Arabized. The authors of one of the studies wrote that "the extremely close affinity of Jewish and non-Jewish Middle Eastern populations observed ... supports the hypothesis of a common Middle Eastern origin".
There are an estimated 13 million Jews worldwide. The table below lists countries with significant populations. Please note that these populations represent low-end estimates of the worldwide Jewish population, accounting for around 0.2% of the world's population.
|Country or Region||Jewish population||Total Population||% Jewish||Notes|
|United States||5,300,000 to 6,155,000||301,469,000||1.8%-2.0||(est.)|
|United Kingdom||267,000||60,609,153||0.4%||(2001 census)|
|Republic of Ireland||1,930||4,234,925||0.046%||(2006 census)|
|Russia||228,000||142,400,000||0.15%||(Territory of the former Soviet Union. (est.) Some estimates are much higher.)|
|Germany||220,000||82,310,000||0.3%||(2004 est.), over 100,000 who are members of a synagogue|
250,000 to 500,000 (Local Jewish agency estimate)
|Hungary||80,000 to 100,000||10,053,000||0.8-1%||Mainly Hungarians of Jewish religion (Hungarian speaking, assimilated Jews)|
|Italy||30,000||58,883,958||0.05%||(Jewish communities est.)|
|Asia (excl. Israel)||50,000||3,900,000,000||0.001%||(est.)|
Israel, the Jewish nation-state, is the only country in which Jews make up a majority of the citizens. Israel was established as an independent democratic state on May 14, 1948. Of the 120 members in its parliament, the Knesset, currently, 12 members of the Knesset are Arab citizens of Israel, most representing Arab political parties and one of Israel's Supreme Court judges is a Palestinian Arab. Between 1948 and 1958, the Jewish population rose from 800,000 to two million. Currently, Jews account for 76.4% of the Israeli population, or 5,600,000 of the citizens. The early years of the state of Israel, were marked by the mass immigration of Holocaust survivors and Jews fleeing Arab lands. Israel also has a large population of Ethiopian Jews, many of whom were airlifted to Israel in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Between 1974 and 1979 nearly 227,258 immigrants arrived in Israel, about half being from the Soviet Union. This period also saw an increase in immigration to Israel from Western Europe, Latin America, and the United States A trickle of immigrants from other communities has also arrived, including Indian Jews and others, as well as some descendants of Ashkenazi Holocaust survivors who had settled in countries such as the United States, Argentina, and South Africa. Some Jews have emigrated from Israel elsewhere, due to economic problems or disillusionment with political conditions and the continuing Arab-Israeli conflict. Jewish Israeli emigrants are known as yordim.
Currently, the largest Jewish community in the world is located in the United States, with almost 5.7 million Jews. Elsewhere in the Americas, there are also large Jewish populations in Canada, Argentina, and Brazil, and smaller populations in Mexico (45,000), Uruguay, Venezuela, Chile, and several other countries (see History of the Jews in Latin America).
Western Europe's largest Jewish community can be found in France, home to 600,000 Jews, the majority of whom are immigrants or refugees from North African Arab countries such as Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia (or their descendants). There are over 265,000 Jews in the United Kingdom. In Eastern Europe, there are anywhere from 500,000 to over two million Jews living in the former Soviet Union, but exact figures are difficult to establish. The fastest-growing Jewish community in the world, outside Israel, is the one in Germany, especially in Berlin, its capital. Tens of thousands of Jews from the former Eastern Bloc have settled in Germany since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The Arab countries of North Africa and the Middle East were home to around 900,000 Jews in 1945. Fueled by anti-Zionism after the founding of Israel, systematic persecution caused almost all of these Jews to flee to Israel, North America, and Europe in the 1950s (see Jewish exodus from Arab lands). Today, around 8,000 Jews remain in Arab nations. Iran is home to around 10,800 Jews, down from a population of 100,000 Jews before the 1979 revolution. After the revolution some of the Iranian Jews emigrated to Israel or Europe but most of them emigrated (with their non-Jewish Iranian compatriots) to the United States (especially Los Angeles).
Throughout history, many rulers, empires and nations have oppressed their Jewish populations or sought to eliminate them entirely. Methods employed ranged from expulsion to outright genocide; within nations, often the threat of these extreme methods was sufficient to silence dissent. The history of antisemitism includes the First Crusade which resulted in the massacre of Jews; the Spanish Inquisition (led by Torquemada) and the Portuguese Inquisition, with their persecution and Auto de fé against the New Christians and Marrano Jews; the Bohdan Chmielnicki Cossack massacres in Ukraine; the Pogroms backed by the Russian Tsars; as well as expulsions from Spain, Portugal, England, France, Germany, and other countries in which the Jews had settled. The persecution reached a peak in Adolf Hitler's Final Solution, which led to the Holocaust and the slaughter of approximately 6 million Jews from 1942 to 1945.
According to James Carroll, "Jews accounted for 10% of the total population of the Roman Empire. By that ratio, if other factors had not intervened, there would be 200 million Jews in the world today, instead of something like 13 million. Of course, there are many other complex demographic factors involved; the rate of population growth, epidemics, migration, assimilation, and conversion could all have played major roles in the current size of the global Jewish population.
Orthodox and Conservative Judaism discourage proselytization to non-Jews, but many Jewish groups have tried to reach out to the assimilated Jewish communities of the Diaspora in order to increase the number of Jews. Additionally, while in principle Reform Judaism favors seeking new members for the faith, this position has not translated into active proselytism, instead taking the form of an effort to reach out to non-Jewish spouses of intermarried couples. There is also a trend of Orthodox movements pursuing secular Jews in order to give them a stronger Jewish identity so there is less chance of intermarriage. As a result of the efforts by these and other Jewish groups over the past twenty-five years, there has been a trend of secular Jews becoming more religiously observant, known as the Baal Teshuva movement, though the demographic implications of the trend are unknown. Additionally, there is also a growing movement of Jews by Choice by gentiles who make the decision to head in the direction of becoming Jews.
Hebrew is the liturgical language of Judaism (termed lashon ha-kodesh, "the holy tongue"), the language in which the Hebrew scriptures (Tanakh) were composed, and the daily speech of the Jewish people for centuries. By the fifth century BCE, Aramaic, a closely related tongue, joined Hebrew as the spoken language in Judea. By the third century BCE, Jews of the diaspora were speaking Greek. Modern Hebrew is now one of the two official languages of the State of Israel along with Arabic.
Hebrew was revived as a spoken language by Eliezer ben Yehuda, who arrived in Palestine in 1881. It hadn't been used as a mother tongue since Tannaic times. For over sixteen centuries Hebrew was used almost exclusively as a liturgical language, and as the language in which most books had been written on Judaism, with a few speaking only Hebrew on the Sabbath. For centuries, Jews worldwide have spoken the local or dominant languages of the regions they migrated to, often developing distinctive dialectal forms or branching off as independent languages. Yiddish is the Judæo-German language developed by Ashkenazi Jews who migrated to Central Europe, and Ladino is the Judæo-Spanish language developed by Sephardic Jews who migrated to the Iberian peninsula. Due to many factors, including the impact of the Holocaust on European Jewry, the Jewish exodus from Arab lands, and widespread emigration from other Jewish communities around the world, ancient and distinct Jewish languages of several communities, including Gruzinic, Judæo-Arabic, Judæo-Berber, Krymchak, Judæo-Malayalam and many others, have largely fallen out of use.
The three most commonly spoken languages among Jews today are English, modern Hebrew, and Russian. Some Romance languages, such as French and Spanish, are also widely used.
Judaism guides its adherents in both practice and belief, and has been called not only a religion, but also a "way of life, which has made drawing a clear distinction between Judaism, Jewish culture, and Jewish identity rather difficult. Throughout history, in eras and places as diverse as the ancient Hellenic world, in Europe before and after The Age of Enlightenment (see Haskalah), in Islamic Spain and Portugal, in North Africa and the Middle East, India and China, or the contemporary United States and Israel, cultural phenomena have developed that are in some sense characteristically Jewish without being at all specifically religious. Some factors in this come from within Judaism, others from the interaction of Jews or specific communities of Jews with their surroundings, others from the inner social and cultural dynamics of the community, as opposed to from the religion itself. This phenomenon has led to considerably different Jewish cultures unique to their own communities, each as authentically Jewish as the next.
Throughout Jewish history, Jews have repeatedly been directly or indirectly expelled from both their original homeland, and the areas in which they have resided. This experience as both immigrants and emigrants (see: Jewish refugees) have shaped Jewish identity and religious practice in many ways, and are thus a major element of Jewish history. An incomplete list of such migrations includes:
Jews descend mostly from the ancient Israelites (also known as Hebrews), who settled in the Land of Israel. The Israelites traced their common lineage to the biblical patriarch Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. A United Monarchy was established under Saul and continued under King David and Solomon. King David conquered Jerusalem (first a Canaanite, then a Jebusite town) and made it his capital. After Solomon's reign, the nation split into two kingdoms, the Kingdom of Israel (in the north) and the Kingdom of Judah (in the south). The Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian ruler Shalmaneser V in the 8th century BCE and spread all over the Assyrian empire, where they were assimilated into other cultures and came to be known as the Ten Lost Tribes. The Kingdom of Judah continued as an independent state until it was conquered by a Babylonian army in the early 6th century BCE, destroying the First Temple that was at the centre of Jewish worship. The Judean elite was exiled to Babylonia, but later at least a part of them returned to their homeland after the subsequent conquest of Babylonia by the Persians seventy years later, a period known as the Babylonian Captivity. A new Second Temple was constructed funded by Persian Kings, and old religious practices were resumed.
The Seleucid Kingdom, which arose after the Persians were defeated by Alexander the Great, sought to introduce Greek culture into the Persian world. When the Greeks under Antiochus IV Epiphanes, supported by Hellenized Jews (those who had adopted Greek culture), attempted to convert the Jewish Temple to a temple of Zeus, the Jews revolted under the leadership of the Maccabees. After their victory, the Jews rededicated the Temple to God (hence the origins of Hanukkah) and created an independent Jewish state known as the Hasmonaean Kingdom, which lasted from 165 BCE to 63 BCE, when it came under influence of the Roman Empire. During the early part of Roman rule, the Hasmonaeans remained in power, until the family was annihilated by Herod the Great. Herod came from a wealthy Idumean family and became a very successful client king under the Romans. He significantly expanded the Temple in Jerusalem.
Upon his death in 4 BCE the Romans directly ruled Judea and there were frequent changes of policies by conflicting and empire-building Caesars, generals, governors, and consuls who often acted cruelly or attempted to maximize their own wealth and power. Rome's attitudes swung from tolerance to hostility against its Jewish subjects, who had since moved throughout the Empire. The Romans, worshiping a large pantheon, could not readily accommodate the exclusive monotheism of Judaism, and the religious Jews could not accept Roman polytheism. (It was in this tumultuous climate that Christianity first emerged, among a small group of Jews.) After a famine and riots in 66 CE, the Jews in Judea began a revolt against Rome. The revolt was smashed by Titus Flavius, the son and successor of the Roman emperor Vespasian. In Rome the Arch of Titus still stands, showing enslaved Judeans and a menorah being brought to Rome. It is customary for Jews to walk around, rather than through, this arch.
The Romans destroyed most of Jerusalem but left the Western Wall, a retaining wall of the Temple Mount. After the end of this first revolt, the Jews continued to live in their land in significant numbers, and were allowed to practice their religion. In the second century the Roman Emperor Hadrian began to rebuild Jerusalem as a pagan city while restricting some Jewish practices. Angry at this affront, the Jews again revolted led by Simon Bar Kokhba. Hadrian responded with overwhelming force, putting down the revolt and killing as many as half a million Jews. After the Roman Legions prevailed in 135, Jews were not allowed to enter the city of Jerusalem and most Jewish worship was forbidden by Rome. Following the destruction of Jerusalem and the expulsion of the Jews, Jewish worship stopped being centrally organized around the Temple, and instead the rabbis took on a more prominent position as teachers and leaders of individual communities. No new books were added to the Jewish Bible after the Roman period, instead major efforts went into interpreting and developing the Halakhah, or oral law, and writing down these traditions in the Talmud, the key work on the interpretation of Jewish law, written during the first to fifth centuries CE.
In 212, all Jews were made citizens of the Roman empire. Christianity became the sole state religion of the declining Roman empire, when Constantine I issued the Edict of Milan in 313. Jewish and Christian life evolved in "diametrically opposite directions" during the final centuries of Roman empire. Jewish life became autonomous, decentralized, and community-centered, in contrast to Christian life, which became a rigid hierarchical system under the supreme authority of the Pope and the Roman Emperor.
Jewish life after the fall of Israel was basically democratic. Rabbis in the Talmud interpreted Deuteronomy 29:9, “your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, even all the men of Israel” as “Although I have appointed for you heads, elders, and officers, you are all equal before me” (Tanhuma). The Talmud stressed that rights always entailed responsibilities: “you are all responsible for one another.”
Jewish survival in the face of external pressures from the now Catholic Roman empire and Persian Zoroastrian empire is seen as ‘enigmatic’ by many historians. For example, Wilhelm von Humboldt wrote “such an extraordinary phenomenon in world history and the history of religion that many a fine mind has doubted whether it can at all be explained in merely human terms”.
According to the famous Jewish historian, Salo Wittmayer Baron, a number of mechanisms of Jewish survival evolved during these crucial centuries between the fall of Israel and the fall of Rome. He describes at least eight factors that strengthened Judaism and Jewish society. 1. Messianic faith. Belief in an ultimately positive outcome and restoration of Israel.
2. Doctrine of the Hereafter was increasingly elaborated. Belief in an afterlife had been largely ignored during Biblical times. Now it was discussed more by the sages. It reconciled Jews with suffering in this world and helped them resist outside temptations to convert.
3. Suffering was given meaning through interpretation of Jewish history and destiny.
4. Doctrine of martyrdom and inescapability of persecution transformed both into a source of communal solidarity.
5. Jewish daily life was very satisfying. Although living throughout the Roman empire and Persian empire and beyond, Jews lived among Jews. In practice, in a lifetime, most Jews encountered overt persecution only on a few dramatic occasions. They mostly lived under discrimination that affected everyone, and to which they were habituated. Daily life was governed by a multiplicity of ritual requirements, so that Jews were constantly aware of their relationship with God throughout the day. “For the most part, he found this all-encompassing Jewish way of life so eminently satisfactory that he was prepared to sacrifice himself…for the preservation of its fundamentals.” Those commandments for which Jews had sacrificed their lives, such as defying idolatry, eating pork, observing circumcision, were the ones most strictly adhered to.
6. The corporate development and segregationist policies of late Roman empire and Persian empire, helped keep Jewish community organization strong.
7. The Talmud provided an extremely effective force to sustain Jewish ethics, law and culture, a benevolent judicial and social welfare system, universal education, to develop and sustain a strong, loving and sexually satisfying family life, and a satisfying religious life from birth to death.
8. The concentration of Jewish masses within ‘the lower middle class’ sustained middle class virtues of sexual self-control. Jews, unlike the cultures around them, followed a moderate path between ascetism and licentiousness. For Jews, marriage formed a strong foundation of ethnic, and ethical, life.
Hostility only helped cement Jewish unity and internal strength and commitment.
Though Jews had settled outside Israel since the time of the Babylonians, the results of the Roman response to the Jewish revolt shifted the center of Jewish life from its ancient home to the diaspora. While some Jews remained in Judea, renamed Palestine by the Romans, some Jews were sold into slavery, while others became citizens of other parts of the Roman Empire. This is the traditional explanation to the Jewish diaspora, almost universally accepted by past and present rabbinical or Talmudical scholars, who believe that Jews are almost exclusively biological descendants of the Judean exiles. In the six centuries before the rise of Islam, there was a mass migration out of Palestine (devastated by war, and after the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 313, the pressure of the Christian mission) and into Syria, Babylonia and the Iranian Plateau, so that these areas "received a tremendous admixture of Jewish blood.”
Some secular historians speculate that a majority of the Jews in Antiquity were most likely descendants of converts in the cities of the Græco-Roman world, especially in Alexandria and Asia Minor. They were only affected by the diaspora in its spiritual sense and by the sense of loss and homelessness which became a cornerstone of the Jewish creed, much supported by persecutions in various parts of the world. Any such policy of conversion, which spread the Jewish religion throughout Hellenistic civilization, seems to have increased following the destruction of the Jewish state, and to have ended only when Christianity came to power. At the time of the Christian era the Jews in Egypt may have come to number about a million out of a total population of about seven and a half millions.
DNA evidence of this theory has been spotty, but some historians believe based on some historical records that at the dawn of Christianity as many as 10% of the population of the Roman Empire were Jewish, a figure that could only be explained by local conversion.
During the first few hundred years of the Diaspora, the most important Jewish communities were in Babylonia, where the Babylonian Talmud was written, and where relatively tolerant regimes allowed the Jews freedom. The situation was worse in the Byzantine Empire which treated the Jews much more harshly, refusing to allow them to hold office or build places of worship. In the belief of restoration to come, the Jews made an alliance with the Persians who invaded Palestine in 614, fought at their side, overwhelmed the Byzantine garrison in Jerusalem, and for three years governed the city. But the Persians made their peace with the Emperor Heraclius. Christian rule was re-established, and those Jews who survived the consequent slaughter were once more banished from Jerusalem.
The conquest of much of the Byzantine Empire and Babylonia by Islamic armies generally improved the life of the Jews, though they were still considered second-class citizens. In response to these Islamic conquests, the First Crusade of 1096 attempted to reconquer Jerusalem, resulting in the destruction of many of the remaining Jewish communities in the area. The Jews were among the most vigorous defenders of Jerusalem against the Crusaders. When the city fell, the Crusaders gathered the Jews in a synagogue and burned them. The Jews almost single-handedly defended Haifa against the Crusaders, holding out in the besieged town for a whole month (June-July 1099). At this time, a full thousand years after the fall of the Jewish state, there were Jewish communities all over the country. Fifty of them are known to historians; they include Jerusalem, Tiberias, Ramleh, Ashkelon, Caesarea, and Gaza.
Jews settled in Europe during the time of the Roman Empire. Early medieval society, before the Church became fully organized, was tolerant. Between 800 and 1100 there were 1.5 million Jews in Christian Europe. They were fortunate in not being part of the feudal system as serfs or knights, thus were spared the oppression and constant warfare that made life miserable for most Christians. Unlike lay Christians, most Jews were literate; they were cleaner and thus healthier than Christians, for example, dying in fewer numbers during the Black Death; and they were able to live under Jewish law, which was much fairer and more humane. In relations with the Christian society, they were protected by kings, princes and bishops, because of the crucial services they provided in three areas: financial, administrative and as doctors. Christian scholars interested in the Bible would even consult with Talmudic rabbis. All this changed with the reforms and strengthening of the Roman Catholic Church, especially the creations of the Franciscan and Dominican preaching monks, and the rise of envious and competitive middle-class, town-dwelling Christians. By 1300 the friars and local priests were using the Passion Plays at Easter time, which depicted Jews in contemporary dress killing Christ, to teach the general populace to hate and murder Jews. It was at this point that persecution and exile became endemic. Finally around 1500, Jews found security and a renewal of prosperity in Poland.
The Crusaders routinely attacked Jewish communities, and increasingly harsh laws restricted Jews from most economic activity and land ownership, leaving open only money-lending and a few other trades. Jews were subject to expulsions from England, France, and the Holy Roman Empire after 1300, with most of the population moving to Eastern Europe and especially Poland, which was uniquely tolerant of the Jews through the 1700s. The final mass expulsion of the Jews, and the largest, occurred after the Christian conquest (Reconquista) of Iberia in 1492 (see History of the Jews in Spain and History of the Jews in Portugal). After the end of the expulsions in the 17th century, individual conditions varied from country to country and time to time, but, as rule, Jews in Western Europe generally were forced, by decree or by informal pressure, to live in highly segregated ghettos and shtetls. By the beginning of the twentieth century, most European Jews lived in the so-called Pale of Settlement, the Western frontier of the Russian Empire consisting generally of the modern-day countries of Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and neighboring regions.
In the Iberian Peninsula, under Muslim rule, Jews were able to make great advances in mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, chemistry, and philology. This era is sometimes referred to as the Golden age of Jewish culture in the Iberian Peninsula.
During early Islam, Leon Poliakov writes, Jews enjoyed great privileges, and their communities prospered. There was no legislation or social barriers preventing them from conducting commercial activities. Many Jews migrated to areas newly conquered by Muslims and established communities there. The vizier of Baghdad entrusted his capital with Jewish bankers. The Jews were put in charge of certain parts of maritime and slave trade. Siraf, the principal port of the caliphate in the 10th century CE, had a Jewish governor.
Throughout history, there have been numerous instances of pogroms against Jews. Examples include the 1066 Granada massacre, where the razing of the entire Jewish quarter in the Andalucian city of Granada in 1066. In North Africa, there were cases of violence against Jews in the Middle Ages, and in other Arab lands including Egypt, Syria, and Yemen.
The Almohads, who had taken control of much of Islamic Iberia by 1172, far surpassed the Almoravides in fundamentalist outlook, and they treated the dhimmis harshly. Jews and Christians were expelled from Morocco and Islamic Spain. Faced with the choice of either death or conversion, some Jews, such as the family of Maimonides, fled south and east to the more tolerant Muslim lands, while others went northward to settle in the growing Christian kingdoms.
During the Age of Enlightenment, significant changes occurred within the Jewish community. The Haskalah movement paralleled the wider Enlightenment, as Jews began in the 1700s to abandon their exclusiveness and acquiring the knowledge, manners, and aspirations of the wider European society. Secular and scientific education was added to the traditional religious instruction received by students, and interest in a national Jewish identity, including a revival in the study of Jewish history and Hebrew, started to grow.
The Haskalah movement influenced the birth of all the modern Jewish denominations, and planted the seeds of Zionism. At the same time, it contributed to encouraging cultural assimilation into the countries in which Jews resided, as well as the nineteenth century Reform movement in Judaism. At around the same time another movement was born, one preaching almost the opposite of Haskalah, Hasidic Judaism. Hasidic Judaism began in the 1700s by Israel ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov, and quickly gained a following with its exuberant, mystical approach to religion. These two movements, and the traditional orthodox approach to Judaism from which they spring, formed the basis for the modern divisions within Jewish observance.
At the same time, the outside world was changing. In 1791, France became the first European country to emancipate its Jewish population, granting them equal rights under the law. Napoleon further spread emancipation, inviting Jews to leave the Jewish ghettos in Europe and seek refuge in the newly created tolerant political regimes (see Napoleon and the Jews). Other countries such as Denmark, England, and Sweden also adopted liberal policies toward Jews during the period of Enlightenment, with some resulting immigration. By the mid-19th century, almost all Western European countries had emancipated their Jewish populations, with the notable exception of the Papal States, but persecution continued in Eastern Europe including massive pogroms at the end of the 19th century and throughout the Pale of Settlement. The persistence of anti-semitism, both violently in the east and socially in the west, led to a number of Jewish political movements, culminating in Zionism.
Zionism is an international political movement that supports a homeland for the Jewish People in the Land of Israel. Although its origins are earlier, the movement was formally established by the Austrian journalist Theodor Herzl in the late nineteenth century. The international movement was eventually successful in establishing the State of Israel in 1948, as the world's first and only modern Jewish State. It continues primarily as support for the state and government of Israel and its continuing status as a homeland for the Jewish people. Described as a "diaspora nationalism, its proponents regard it as a national liberation movement whose aim is the self-determination of the Jewish people.
While Zionism is based in part upon religious tradition linking the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, where the concept of Jewish nationhood is thought to have first evolved somewhere between 1200 BCE and the late Second Temple era (that is, up to 70 CE), the modern movement was mainly secular, beginning largely as a response by European Jewry to rampant antisemitism across Europe.
In addition to responding politically, during the late 19th century, Jews began to flee the persecutions of Eastern Europe in large numbers, mostly by heading to the United States, but also to Canada and Western Europe. By 1924, almost two million Jews had emigrated to the US alone, creating a large community in a nation relatively free of the persecutions of rising European antisemitism (see History of the Jews in the United States).
This antisemitism reached its most destructive form in the policies of Nazi Germany, which made the destruction of the Jews a priority, culminating in the killing of approximately six million Jews during the Holocaust from 1941 to 1945. At first the Nazis used death squads or Einsatzgruppen to conduct massive open-air killings of Jews and others in territory they conquered. By 1942, the Nazi leadership decided to implement the Final Solution, the genocide of the Jews of Europe, and to increase the pace of the Holocaust by establishing extermination camps specifically to kill Jews. This was an industrial method of genocide. Millions of Jews who had been hitherto confined to diseased and massively overcrowded ghettos were transported (often by train) to "Death-camps" where some were herded into a specific location (often a gas chamber), then either gassed or shot. Afterwards, their remains were buried or burned. Others were interned in the camps where they were given little food and disease was common.
The Jewish people and Judaism have experienced various persecutions throughout Jewish history. During late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages the Roman Empire (in its later phases known as the Byzantine Empire) repeatedly repressed the Jewish population, first by ejecting them from their homelands during the pagan Roman era and later by officially establishing them as second-class citizens during the Christian Roman era. Later in medieval Western Europe, further persecutions of Jews in the name of Christianity occurred, notably during the Crusades—when Jews all over Germany were massacred—and a series of expulsions from England, Germany, France, and, in the largest expulsion of all, Spain and Portugal after the Reconquista (the Catholic Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula), where both unbaptized Sephardic Jews and the ruling Muslim Moors were expelled. In the Papal States, which existed until 1870, Jews were required to live only in specified neighborhoods called ghettos. In the 19th and (before the end of World War II) 20th centuries, the Roman Catholic church adhered to a distinction between "good antisemitism" and "bad antisemitism". The "bad" kind promoted hatred of Jews because of their descent. This was considered un-Christian because the Christian message was intended for all of humanity regardless of ethnicity; anyone could become a Christian. The "good" kind criticized alleged Jewish conspiracies to control newspapers, banks, and other institutions, to care only about accumulation of wealth, etc.
Islam and Judaism have a complex relationship. Traditionally Jews and Christians living in Muslim lands, known as dhimmis, were allowed to practice their religions and to administer their internal affairs, but subject to certain conditions. They had to pay the jizya (a per capita tax imposed on free adult non-Muslim males) to the Islamic state. Dhimmis had an inferior status under Islamic rule. They had several social and legal disabilities such as prohibitions against bearing arms or giving testimony in courts in cases involving Muslims. Many of the disabilities were highly symbolic. The one described by Bernard Lewis as "most degrading" was the requirement of distinctive clothing, not found in the Qur'an or hadith but invented in early medieval Baghdad; its enforcement was highly erratic. On the other hand, Jews rarely faced martyrdom or exile, or forced compulsion to change their religion, and they were mostly free in their choice of residence and profession. Notable exceptions include the massacre of Jews and/or forcible conversion of some Jews by the rulers of the Almohad dynasty in Al-Andalus in the 12th century, as well as in Islamic Persia, and the forced confinement of Morrocan Jews to walled quarters known as mellahs beginning from the 15th century and especially in the early 19th century. In modern times, it has become commonplace for standard antisemitic themes to be conflated with anti-Zionist publications and pronouncements of Islamic movements such as Hezbollah and Hamas, in the pronouncements of various agencies of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and even in the newspapers and other publications of Turkish Refah Partisi."
The most notable modern day persecution of Jews remains the Holocaust — the state-led systematic persecution and genocide of European Jews (and certain communities of North African Jews in European controlled North Africa) and other minority groups of Europe during World War II by Nazi Germany and its collaborators. The persecution and genocide were accomplished in stages. Legislation to remove the Jews from civil society was enacted years before the outbreak of World War II. Concentration camps were established in which inmates were used as slave labour until they died of exhaustion or disease. Where the Third Reich conquered new territory in eastern Europe, specialized units called Einsatzgruppen murdered Jews and political opponents in mass shootings. Jews and Roma were crammed into ghettos before being transported hundreds of miles by freight train to extermination camps where, if they survived the journey, the majority of them were killed in gas chambers. Every arm of Germany's bureaucracy was involved in the logistics of the mass murder, turning the country into what one Holocaust scholar has called "a genocidal nation."
There is no single governing body for the Jewish community, nor a single authority with responsibility for religious doctrine. Instead, a variety of secular and religious institutions at the local, national, and international levels lead various parts of the Jewish community on a variety of issues.
Jews have made contributions in a broad range of human endeavors, including the sciences, arts, politics, business, etc. The number of Jewish Nobel prize winners (approximately 160 in all), is far out of proportion to the percentage of Jews in the world's population.
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