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The Jewish diaspora (or simply the Diaspora; Hebrew Galut גלות; Yiddish Golus) was the historical exile and dispersion of Jews from the region of the Kingdom of Judah and Roman Judaea, as well as the later emigration from wider Eretz Israel.
The diaspora began with the 6th century BCE conquest of the ancient Kingdom of Judah by Babylon, the destruction of the First Temple (c. 586 BCE), and the expulsion of the population, as recorded in the Bible. The Babylonian ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, allowed the Jews to remain in a unified community in Babylon. Another group of Jews fled to Egypt, where they settled in the Nile delta. From 597 BCE onwards, there were three distinct groups of Hebrews: a group in Babylon and other parts of the Middle East, a group in Judaea, and another group in Egypt. While Cyrus the Persian allowed the Jews to return to their homeland in 538 BCE, most chose to remain in Babylon, becoming what is now known as the Mizrahi Jewish ethnic division. A large number of Jews in Egypt became mercenaries in Upper Egypt on an island called the Elephantine. Most of these Jews retained their religion, identity, and social customs; both under the Persians and the Greeks, they were allowed to conduct their lives according to their own laws.
In 63 BCE, Judaea became a protectorate of Rome, and in 6 CE was elevated to a Roman province. The Jews began to revolt against the Roman Empire in 66 CE during the period known as the First Jewish–Roman War which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. During the siege, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and most of Jerusalem. In 132, the Jews rebelled against Hadrian. In 135, Hadrian’s army defeated the Jewish armies and Jewish independence was lost. Jerusalem was turned into a pagan city called Aelia Capitolina and the Jews were forbidden to live there, and Hadrian changed the country’s name from Judea to Syria Palestina.
During the Middle Ages, the Jews had divided into distinct regional groups which today are generally addressed according to three primary geographical groupings: the Ashkenazi Jews who immigrated to Central and later Eastern Europe, the Sephardi Jews who settled in Iberia and later North Africa, and the Mizrahi Jews who remained in the Babylon after the destruction of the First Temple. Ashkenazi populations grew rapidly from the 16th to the 19th centuries, with the largest diaspora populations in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Russian Empire. Millions of Jews migrated to the Americas in the 20th century. In the early 21st century the largest diaspora populations were in the United States (~ 5.75 million), France (~ 475,000), Canada (~ 375,000), the United Kingdom (~300,000), Russia (~ 200,000), Argentina (~200,000) and Germany (~120,000).
Origins of the term
The Greek word διασπορά (dispersion) appears in the Ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint: ἔση διασπορὰ ἐν πάσαις βασιλείαις τῆς γῆς (thou shalt be a diaspora (or dispersion) in all kingdoms of the earth) (Deuteronomy xxviii:25). In Talmudic and post-Talmudic Rabbinic literature, this phenomenon was referred to as galut (exile), a term with strongly negative connotations, often contrasted with geula (redemption). The modern Hebrew concept of Tefutzot תפוצות, "scattered", was introduced in the 1930s by the Jewish-American Zionist academic Simon Rawidowicz, who to some degree argued for the acceptance of the Jewish presence outside of the Land of Israel as a modern reality and an inevitability.
After the overthrow of the kingdom of Judah in 586 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon (see Babylonian captivity) and the deportation of a considerable portion of its inhabitants to Mesopotamia, the Jews had two principal cultural centers: Babylonia and the land of Israel. For over 2,700 years since, Persian Jews have lived in the territories of today's Iran.
Although most of the Jewish people, especially the wealthy families, were to be found in Babylonia, the existence they led there, under the successive rules of the Achaemenids, the Seleucids, the Parthians, and the Sassanians, was obscure and devoid of political influence. The poorest but most fervent of the exiles returned to Judaea during the reign of the Achaemenids. There, with the reconstructed Temple in Jerusalem as their center, they organized themselves into a community, animated by a remarkable religious ardor and a tenacious attachment to the Torah as the focus of its identity. As this little nucleus increased in numbers with the accession of recruits from various quarters, it awoke to a consciousness of itself, and strove for political enfranchisement.
After numerous vicissitudes, and especially owing to internal dissensions in the Seleucid dynasty on the one hand and to the interested support of the Romans on the other, the cause of Jewish independence finally triumphed. Under the Hasmonean princes, who were at first high priests and then kings, the Jewish state displayed even a certain luster and annexed several territories. Soon, however, discord in the royal family and the growing disaffection of the pious, the soul of the nation, toward rulers who no longer evinced any appreciation of the real aspirations of their subjects made the Jewish nation easy prey for the ambition of the Romans, the successors of the Seleucids. In 63 BCE Pompey invaded Jerusalem, and Gabinius subjected the Jewish people to tribute.
Early diaspora populations
As early as the middle of the 2nd century BCE the Jewish author of the third book of the Oracula Sibyllina addressed the "chosen people," saying: "Every land is full of thee and every sea." The most diverse witnesses, such as Strabo, Philo, Seneca, Luke (the author of the Acts of the Apostles), Cicero, and Josephus, all mention Jewish populations in the cities of the Mediterranean basin. See also History of the Jews in India and History of the Jews in China for pre-Roman (and post-) diasporac populations. King Agrippa I, in a letter to Caligula, enumerated among the provinces of the Jewish diaspora almost all the Hellenized and non-Hellenized countries of the Orient. This enumeration was far from complete as Italy and Cyrene were not included. The epigraphic discoveries from year to year augment the number of known Jewish communities but must be viewed with caution due to the lack of precise evidence of their numbers. According to Josephus, the next most dense Jewish population after the Land of Israel and Babylonia was in Syria, particularly in Antioch, and Damascus, where 10,000 to 18,000 Jews were massacred during the great insurrection. Philo gives the number of Jewish inhabitants in Egypt as one million, one-eighth of the population. Alexandria was by far the most important of the Egyptian Jewish communities.
To judge by the accounts of wholesale massacres in 115 BCE, the number of Jewish residents in Cyrenaica, Cyprus, and Mesopotamia was also large. At the commencement of the reign of Caesar Augustus, there were over 7,000 Jews in Rome (this is the number that escorted the envoys who came to demand the deposition of Archelaus). Finally, if the sums confiscated by the governor Lucius Valerius Flaccus in the year 62/61 BCE represented the tax of a didrachma per head for a single year, it would imply that the Jewish population of Asia Minor numbered 45,000 adult males, for a total of at least 180,000 persons.
Roman destruction of Judea
Roman rule which began in 63 BCE continued until a revolt from 66–70 CE culminated in the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, the centre of the national and religious life of the Jews throughout the world.
Exactly when Roman Anti-Judaism began is a question of scholarly debate, however historian H.H. Ben-Sasson has proposed that the "Crisis under Caligula" (37–41) was the "first open break between Rome and the Jews".
The complete destruction of Jerusalem, and the settlement of several Greek and Roman colonies in Judea indicated the express intention of the Roman government to prevent the political regeneration of the Jewish nation. Nevertheless, forty years later the Jews put forth efforts to recover their former freedom. With Israel exhausted, they strove to establish commonwealths on the ruins of Hellenism in Cyrene, Cyprus, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. These efforts, resolute but unwise, were suppressed by Trajan (115–117 CE), and under Hadrian the same fate befell the attempt of the Jews of Israel to regain their independence (133–135 AD). From this time on, in spite of unimportant movements under Antoninus, Marcus Aurelius, and Severus, the Jews, reduced in numbers, destitute, and crushed, lost their preponderance in the Jewish world. Jerusalem had become, under the name "Ælia Capitolina", a Roman colony and entirely pagan city. Jews were forbidden entrance on pain of death, except for the day of Tisha B'Av, see also Anti-Judaism in the Roman Empire. Despite the decree, there has been a continual Jewish presence in Jerusalem for 3,300 years, and 43 Jewish communities in Israel remained in the 6th century: 12 on the coast, in the Negev, and east of the Jordan, and 31 villages in Galilee and in the Jordan valley. Yavne on the coastal plain, associated with Yochanan ben Zakai, was an important center of Rabbinic Judaism.
Dispersion of the Jews in the Roman Empire
Following the 1st century Great Revolt and the 2nd century Simon Bar Kochba revolt, the destruction of Judea exerted a decisive influence upon the dispersed Jewish people throughout the world. One of the most significant changes was the shift of the centre of religious authority from the Temple Priesthood to Rabbis.
Many Jews entered the Diaspora as slaves after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Although evidence for Jewish communities in the Diaspora is scanty until the fourth century, many of these slave populations may have served as the basis of later European Jewish communities.
While more Jews lived outside Judea than in it, the Romans did not distinguish between Jews inside and outside of Judea. They collected an annual temple tax, thereby treating all Jews as a distinct ethno-national group. The revolts in and suppression of communities in Egypt, Libya and Crete in 115–117 CE likely decimated the Jewish Diaspora population. The Christian empire continued the oppression; the Church fathers and Roman Imperial Law both held that, not only were the Jews a distinct and reprehensible ethno-national group, but that they were a group largely exiled or dispossessed of Temple, city and land, because of their rejection of Christ, and that this exiled status would persist in perpetuity.
The concept of Exile evolved even though substantial numbers of Jews lived in the land that had been Judea and Israel, and which was now under increasingly harsh imperial Roman Christian law. Restrictions (taxation, discrimination, social exclusions)further alienated and marginalized Jews there and favored the settlement of Christians, of culturally pagan Greco-Romans, and those of Aramaic provenance. It was at this time that Judea became normatively known as Syria Palestina. The name reflected both the large scale killing of Jews during the suppression of the 2nd Jewish revolt, and a Roman policy, first pagan, then Christian, to alienate Jews from the land of Judea, ensuring that no Jewish temple, Jerusalem or state ever rose again.
Over the centuries, the number of Jews gradually diminished to a minority in their historical land of Judea. Hellenistic-Jewish literature, culture, and discourse declined sharply from the 2nd century, not only due to Imperial Roman suppression, but also as the result of Christian appropriation of the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, as its authorized version even while the Rabbis prescribed only the Hebrew Bible as authoritative. Through internal and external pressures, the two communities, Greco-Roman and Jewish, diverged, the former becoming universally Christian, and, in time, self-defined as "Roman". "Roman" would enter Arabic, Islamic discourse as "Rumi", the Quranic term for "Roman" or "belonging to the Roman Empire". "Greek" became in patristic discourse synonymous with "pagan".
Meanwhile, the meme of a Jewish people in exile entered normative medieval Jewish, Christian and Islamic thought and discourse. Mohammed addressed the Jews of Mecca and Medina as though they had been twice expelled from the land of Judea by the servants of Allah, as a punishment for their rejection of Jesus and of the prophets.
Scholars have rejected the widespread popular belief that there was a sudden expulsion of Jews from Palestine in 70 AD that led to the creation of the Diaspora  and argue that modern Jewish ancestry owes about as much to converts from the first millennium to the beginning of the Middle Ages as it does to the Jews of antiquity. While the myth of exile from Palestine is dismissed by serious Jewish historical scholarship, the destruction of the Second Temple was responsible for a seismic change in communal Jewish self-perception and of their place in the world. For the generations that followed the event came to represent a fundamental insight about the Jews who were to become an exiled and persecuted people for much of their history.
According to Israel Yuval, the Babylonian captivity created a promise of return in the Jewish consciousness which had the effect of enhancing the Jewish self-perception of Exile after the destruction of the Second Temple, albeit the dispersion was, Yuval says, due to an array of non-exilic factors.
Post-Roman period Jewish populations
During the Middle Ages, due to increasing geographical dispersion and re-settlement, Jews divided into distinct regional groups which today are generally addressed according to two primary geographical groupings: the Ashkenazi of Northern and Eastern Europe and Sephardic Jews of Iberia (Spain and Portugal), North Africa and the Middle East. These groups have parallel histories sharing many cultural similarities as well as a series of persecutions and massive population transfers, such as the expulsion from Spain in 1492 and the exodus from Arab countries in 1948–1973. Although the two branches comprise many unique ethno-cultural practices and links to local populations (such as Europeans for the Ashkenazim and Arabs for the Sephardim), the ample evidence of continuous communication and population transfer has been responsible for a shared sense of cultural and religious Jewish identity between Sephardim and Ashkenazim from the late Roman period to the present.
The "Negation of the Diaspora" by Zionism
According to Eliezer Schweid, the rejection of life in the Diaspora is a central assumption in all currents of Zionism. Underlying this attitude was the feeling that the Diaspora restricted the full growth of Jewish national life. For instance the poet Hayim Nahman Bialik wrote:
- And my heart weeps for my unhappy people ...
- How burned, how blasted must our portion be,
- If seed like this is withered in its soil. ...
According to Schweid, Bialik meant that the “seed” was the potential of the Jewish people. Preserved in the Diaspora, this seed could only give rise to deformed results; however, once conditions changed the seed could still provide a plentiful harvest.
In this matter Sternhell distinguishes two schools of thought in Zionism. One was the liberal or utilitarian school of Herzl and Nordau. Especially after the Dreyfus Affair, they held that anti-Semitism would never disappear and saw Zionism as a rational solution for Jewish individuals.
The other was the organic nationalist school. It was prevalent among the Zionists in Palestine and saw the movement as a project to rescue the Jewish nation rather than as a project to rescue Jewish individuals. For them Zionism was the "Rebirth of the Nation".
Contrary to the Israel-centric Zionist view, acceptance of the Jewish communities outside of Israel was postulated by those, like Simon Rawidowicz (also a Zionist), who viewed the Jews as a culture evolved into a new 'worldly' entity that had no reason to seek a return, either physical, emotional or spiritual to its ancient Land, and could remain a one people even in dispersion.
It was argued that the dynamics of the diaspora which were affected by persecution, numerous subsequent exiles, as well as political and economic conditions created a new Jewish awareness of the World, and a new awareness of the Jews by the World.
A critical account of the diaspora is given by Ilan Pappe who argues that "a journey to the moment of transubstantiation, wherever it occurred, would dim the claim for uniqueness [of the Jewish tragedy]--a claim that has been abused and exploited..." Pappe goes on to conclude that there is no justification for a Jewish state and that Jews should live together with Arabs under the model of the "one state solution".
Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov (Bnei Yissaschar, Chodesh Kislev, 2:25) explains that each exile was characterized by a different negative aspect:
- The Babylonian exile was characterized by physical suffering and oppression. The Babylonians were lopsided toward the Sefirah of Gevurah, strength and bodily might.
- The Persian exile was one of emotional temptation. The Persians were hedonists who declared that the purpose of life is to pursue indulgence and lusts—”Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die.” They were lopsided toward the quality of Chessed, attraction and kindness (albeit to the self).
- Hellenistic civilization was highly cultured and sophisticated. Although the Greeks had a strong sense of aesthetics, they were highly pompous, and viewed aesthetics as an end in itself. They were excessively attached to the quality of Tiferet, beauty. This was also related to an appreciation of the intellect’s transcendence over the body, which reveals the beauty of the spirit.
- The exile of Edom began with Rome, whose culture lacked any clearly defined philosophy. Rather, it adopted the philosophies of all the preceding cultures, causing Roman culture to be in a constant flux. Although the Roman Empire has fallen, the Jews are still in the exile of Edom, and indeed, one can find this phenomenon of ever-changing trends dominating modern western society. The Romans and the various nations who inherited their rule (e.g., the Holy Roman Empire, the Europeans, the Americans) are lopsided toward Malchut, sovereignty, the lowest Sefirah, which can receive from any of the others, and act as a medium for them.
As of 2010 the largest numbers of Jews live in Israel (5,703,700), United States (5,275,000), France (483,500), Canada (375,000), the United Kingdom (292,000), Russia (205,000), Argentina (182,300), and Germany (119,000). These numbers reflect the "core" Jewish population, defined as being "not inclusive of non-Jewish members of Jewish households, persons of Jewish ancestry who profess another monotheistic religion, other non-Jews of Jewish ancestry, and other non-Jews who may be interested in Jewish matters." Significant Jewish populations also remain in Middle Eastern and North African countries outside of Israel, particularly Iran, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen. In general, these populations are shrinking due to low growth rates and high rates of emigration (particularly since the 1960s).
The Jewish Autonomous Oblast continues to be an Autonomous Oblast of Russia. The Chief Rabbi of Birobidzhan, Mordechai Scheiner, says there are 4,000 Jews in the capital city. Governor Nikolay Mikhaylovich Volkov has stated that he intends to, "support every valuable initiative maintained by our local Jewish organizations." The Birobidzhan Synagogue opened in 2004 on the 70th anniversary of the region's founding in 1934. An estimated 75,000 Jews live in the vast Siberia region.
Metropolitan areas with the largest Jewish populations are listed below, though one source at jewishtemples.org, states that "It is difficult to come up with exact population figures on a country by country basis, let alone city by city around the world. Figures for Russia and other CIS countries are but educated guesses." The source cited here, the 2010 World Jewish Population Survey, also notes that "Unlike our estimates of Jewish populations in individual countries, the data reported here on urban Jewish populations do not fully adjust for possible double counting due to multiple residences. The differences in the United States may be quite significant, in the range of tens of thousands, involving both major and minor metropolitan areas."
- Gush Dan (Tel Aviv and surroundings) – Israel – 2,979,900.
- New York City, New York – U.S. – 2,007,850.
- Jerusalem – 705,000.
- Los Angeles, California – U.S. – 684,950.
- Haifa – Israel – 671,400.
- Miami, Florida – U.S. – 485,850.
- Be'er Sheva – Israel – 367,600.
- San Francisco, California – U.S. – 345,700.
- Paris – France – 284,000.
- Chicago, Illinois – U.S. – 270,500.
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – U.S. – 263,800.
- Boston, Massachusetts – U.S. – 229,100.
- Washington, D.C. – U.S. – 215,600
- London – United Kingdom – 195,000.
- Toronto – Canada – 180,000.
- Atlanta, Georgia – U.S. – 119,800.
- Moscow – Russia – 95,000.
- San Diego, California – U.S. – 89,000.
- Cleveland, Ohio – U.S. – 87,000.
- Phoenix, Arizona – U.S. – 82,900.
- Montreal – Canada – 80,000.
- "The Diaspora". Jewish Virtual Library.
- Elazar, Daniel J. "The Jewish People as the Classic Diaspora: A Political Analysis". Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
- "The Bar-Kokhba Revolt". Jewish Virtual Library.
- Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved 19 February 2012 (subscription required).
- See for example, Kiddushin (tosafot) 41a, ref. "Assur l'adam..."
- Simon Rawidowicz, Benjamin C. I. Ravid, Israel, the ever-dying people, and other essays, Associated University Presses, Inc., Cranbury, NJ., note p.80
- Kleiner, Fred (2010). Gardner's Art Through the Ages: A Global History, Enhanced, Volume I: 1. Wadsworth Publishing. p. 262. ISBN 1439085781.
- H.H. Ben-Sasson, A History of the Jewish People, Harvard University Press, 1976, ISBN 0-674-39731-2, The Crisis Under Gaius Caligula, pages 254–256: "The reign of Gaius Caligula (37–41) witnessed the first open break between the Jews and the Julio-Claudian empire. Until then — if one accepts Sejanus' heyday and the trouble caused by the census after Archelaus' banishment — there was usually an atmosphere of understanding between the Jews and the empire ... These relations deteriorated seriously during Caligula's reign, and, though after his death the peace was outwardly re-established, considerable bitterness remained on both sides. ... Caligula ordered that a golden statue of himself be set up in the Temple in Jerusalem. ... Only Caligula's death, at the hands of Roman conspirators (41), prevented the outbreak of a Jewish-Roman war that might well have spread to the entire East."
- "Academies in Palestine". JewishEncyclopedia.com.
- No Return, No Refuge (Howard Adelman, Elazar Barkan, p. 159). "in the popular imagination of Jewish history, in contrast to the accounts of historians or official agencies, there is a widespread notion that the Jews from Judea were expelled in antiquity after the destruction of the temple and the “Great Rebellion” (70 and 135 c.e., respectively). Even more misleading, there is the widespread, popular belief that this expulsion created the diaspora."
- Bartal, Israel (July 6, 2008). "Inventing an Invention". Haaretz. Archived from the original on April 16, 2009. "Although the myth of an exile from the Jewish homeland (Palestine) does exist in popular Israeli culture, it is negligible in serious Jewish historical discussions.(Israel Bartal, dean of humanities at the Hebrew University)"
- "Book Calls Jewish People an ‘Invention’". The New York Times. November 23, 2009. p. 2).
- The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History (Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, Oxford University Press 2009) pp. 17–18
- Ulman, Jane (June 7, 2007). "Timeline: Jewish life in Poland from 1098". Jewish Journal.
- E. Schweid, ‘Rejection of the Diaspora in Zionist Thought’, in ‘’Essential Papers onZionsm, ed. By Reinharz & Shapira, 1996, ISBN 0-8147-7449-0, p.133
- E. Schweid, ‘Rejection of the Diaspora in Zionist Thought’, in ‘’Essential Papers on Zionism, ed. By Reinharz & Shapira, 1996, ISBN 0-8147-7449-0, p.157
- Z. Sternhell, 'The founding myths of Israel', 1998, p. 3-36, ISBN 0-691-01694-1, p. 49-51
- Ilan Pappe in Prem Poddar et al , Historical Companion to Postcolonial Literatures—Continental Europe and its Empires, Edinburgh University Press, 2008
- World Jewish Population Study 2010, by Sergio DellaPergola, ed. Dashefsky, Arnold , Sheskin, Ira M., published by Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry (ASSJ), North American Jewish Data Bank, The Jewish Federations of North America, November 2010
- "A Jewish revival in Birobidzhan?". Jewish News of Greater Phoenix. October 8, 2004.
- "From Tractors to Torah in Russia's Jewish Land". Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS. June 1, 2007.
- "Governor Voices Support for Growing Far East Jewish Community". Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS. November 15, 2004.
- "Far East Community Prepares for 70th Anniversary of Jewish Autonomous Republic". Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS. August 30, 2004.
- "Planting Jewish roots in Siberia". Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS. May 24, 2004.
- "Jewish Temples – World Jewish Population and Temple Directory".
- Immigration to Israel from North America hits 22-Year High CNSNews.com, December 30, 2005
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Jewish diaspora|
- The Arizal on the four exiles
- Jewish Diaspora at the JewishEncyclopedia.com
- Livius.org: The Jewish diaspora in Rome
- How ALL ISRAEL will be saved, about Paul's apostleship to the diaspora (including the Gentiles)
- The Diaspora and Israel – Rich Cohen
- Research and articles about the diaspora experience and Israel-Diaspora relations on the Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner
- World Jewish Congress – Jewish Communities
- The film Exile - a Myth Unearthed by Ilan Ziv, which examines historical evidence for different theories of the jewish exile