Jewish diaspora

Jewish diaspora

The Jewish diaspora (or simply the Diaspora) is the English term used to describe the Galut גלות (Yiddish: 'Golus'), or 'exile', of the Jews from the region of the Kingdom of Judah and Roman Iudaea and later emigration from wider Eretz Israel.

The modern Hebrew term of Tefutzot תפוצות, "scattered", was introduced in the 1930s by the German-American Zionist academic Simon Rawidowicz,[1] 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.

The diaspora is commonly accepted to have begun with the 6th century BC conquest of the ancient Kingdom of Judah, destruction of the First Temple (c. 586 BC), and expulsion of the population, which is recorded in the Bible. The second major event in the dispersal is popularly thought to be the destruction of the Second Temple and aftermath of the Bar Kokhba revolt during the Roman occupation of Judea in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, although scholars generally believe that the effect of these events on the dispersal of the Jewish community was much less than their role in later communal narratives would indicate.[2]

A number of Jewish communities were then established in the Middle East—such as in Persia, when Cyrus the Great invited them as a result of tolerant policies—and remained notable centers of Torah life and Judaism for centuries to come. The defeat of the Great Jewish Revolt in the year AD 70 and of Bar Kokhba's revolt against the Roman Empire in AD 135 notably contributed to the diaspora as many Jews were scattered after losing control over Judea or were sold into slavery throughout the Empire. After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the term Jewish diaspora came to refer to all Jews living outside Israel.


Pre-Roman Diaspora

In 722 BC, the Assyrians under Shalmaneser V conquered the (Northern) Kingdom of Israel, and many Israelites were deported to Media and Persia.

After the overthrow of the kingdom of Judah in 586 BC 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 BC Pompey invaded Jerusalem, and Gabinius subjected the Jewish people to tribute.

Early diaspora populations

As early as the middle of the 2nd century BC 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, 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 BC 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.[citation needed]

Roman destruction of Judea

In Rome the Arch of Titus still stands, depicting the enslaved Judeans and objects from the Temple being brought to Rome.

Roman rule which began in 63 BC continued until a revolt from 66–70 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".[3]

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), and under Hadrian the same fate befell the attempt of the Jews of Israel to regain their independence (133–135). From this time on, in spite of unimportant movements under Antoninus, Marcus Aurelius, and Severus, the Jews of Palestine, 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. Nevertheless, 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.[4]

Dispersion of the Jews in the Roman Empire

Following the 1st century Great Revolt and the 2nd century Bar Kokhba revolt, the destruction of Judea exerted a decisive influence upon the dispersion of the Jewish people throughout the world, as the centre of worship shifted from the Temple to Rabbinic authority.

Many Jews entered the Diaspora as slaves, after the destruction of the Temple. Evidence for Jews in the Diaspora is scanty, until the fourth century. Presumably, many of these slave populations served as the basis of later communities.

While more Jews lived outside Judea than in[citation needed], 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. Communities in Egypt, Libya and Crete revolted in 115–117 CE, which likely decimated the Jewish Diaspora population. The Christian empire continued the punishment, by which time the church fathers and imperial law argued that, not only were the Jews a distinct, reprehensible ethno-national group, they were a group largely exiled or dispossessed of temple, city and land, for their rejection of Christ, a state it was deemed in which they were to remain in perpetuo.

This notion evolved even though substantial numbers of Jews lived in the land, now under increasingly harsh imperial Roman Christian law, further alienating and marginalizing Jews, and favouring the settlement of largely gentile Christians, of culturally pagan Greco-Roman or Aramaic provenance. It was in this period that Judea became normatively known as Syria Palestina, a name reflecting both the large scale killing of the suppression of the 2nd Jewish revolt, and a Roman policy, pagan, then Christian, to further alienate Jews from the land, ensuring that no Jewish temple, Jerusalem or state ever rose again. During this time the Talmudic thesis of a Jewish people in exile evolved, even as Imperial Christian degrees laid further burdens of taxation, discrimination and social exclusion on Jews in the land and without.

Over the centuries, rather than a few individual events, Jews were eroded into a minority in their historical patria, while the rabbis "Judaized" Judaism, by prescribing only the Hebrew Bible as authoritative, and Hellenistic-Jewish literature, culture and discourse declined sharply from the 2nd century, not only from Imperial Roman suppressions, but also Christian appropriation of the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, as its authorized version. 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", when the emperor granted citizenship to all, and "Greek" became in patristic discourse synonymous with "pagan".

It would enter Arabic, Islamic discourse as "Rumi", the Quranic term for "Roman" or "belonging to the Roman Empire". In the meanwhile, the meme of a Jewish people in exile entered normative mediaeval Jewish, Christian and, in time, Islamic thought and discourse, when Muhammed would address the Jews of Makkah and Madinah as though they themselves had been expelled from the land, twice, by the servants of Allah, as a punishment for their rejection of Jesus and the prophets.[citation needed]

Experts dismiss the popular notion that the Jews were expelled or exiled from Palestine in the 1st century AD, in particular that this would have been a sudden event. The myth of exile from Palestine receives only minimal treatment in serious Jewish historical scholarship.[2]

Post-Roman period Jewish populations

During the Middle Ages, 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, North Africa and the Middle East. These groups have parallel histories sharing many series of persecutions and forced expulsions.

By 1764 there were about 750,000 Jews in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The worldwide Jewish population was estimated at 1.2 million.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7]

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".[8]

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 post-colonial account of the diaspora is given by a scholar 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..."[9]

The Diaspora in Contemporary Jewish life

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).[10]. 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."

The Jewish Autonomous Oblast continues to be an Autonomous Oblast of Russia.[11] The Chief Rabbi of Birobidzhan, Mordechai Scheiner, says there are 4,000 Jews in the capital city.[12] Governor Nikolay Mikhaylovich Volkov has stated that he intends to, "support every valuable initiative maintained by our local Jewish organizations." [13] The Birobidzhan Synagogue opened in 2004 on the 70th anniversary of the region's founding in 1934.[14] An estimated 75,000 Jews live in the vast Siberia region.[15]

Metropolitan areas with the largest Jewish populations are listed below, though one source at[16] 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." [10]

  1. Gush Dan (Tel Aviv and surroundings)Israel – 2,979,900.
  2. New York – U.S. – 2,007,850.
  3. Jerusalem – 705,000.
  4. Los Angeles – U.S. – 684,950.
  5. HaifaIsrael – 671,400.
  6. Miami – U.S. – 485,850.
  7. Be'er Sheva – Israel – 367,600.
  8. San Francisco – U.S. – 345,700.
  9. ParisFrance – 284,000.
  10. Chicago – U.S. – 270,500.
  11. Philadelphia – U.S. – 263,800.
  12. Boston – U.S. – 229,100.
  13. Washington, DC – U.S. – 215,600
  14. LondonUnited Kingdom – 195,000.
  15. TorontoCanada – 180,000.
  16. Buenos AiresArgentina – 165,000.
  17. Atlanta – U.S. – 119,800.
  18. MoscowRussia – 95,000.
  19. Baltimore – U.S. – 91,400.
  20. San Diego – U.S. – 89,000.
  21. Denver – U.S. – 83,900.
  22. Phoenix – U.S. – 82,900.
  23. Cleveland – U.S. – 81,500.
  24. MontrealCanada – 80,000.

See also


  1. ^ Simon Rawidowicz, Benjamin C. I. Ravid, Israel, the ever-dying people, and other essays‎, Associated University Presses, Inc., Cranbury, NJ., note p.80
  2. ^ a b Book Calls Jewish People an ‘Invention’ (New York Times, November 23, 2009 ) (page 2)
    Inventing an Invention (Haaretz, 7/2008) "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)
  3. ^ H.H. Ben-Sasson, A History of the Jewish People, Harvard University Press, 1976, ISBN 0674397312, 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."
  4. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia: Academies in Palestine
  5. ^ Timeline: Jewish life in Poland from 1098, Jewish Journal, June 7, 2007
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ Z. Sternhell, 'The founding myths of Israel', 1998, p. 3-36, ISBN 0-691-01694-1, p. 49-51
  9. ^ Ilan Pappe in Prem Poddar et al , Historical Companion to Postcolonial Literatures—Continental Europe and its Empires, Edinburgh University Press, 2008
  10. ^ a b 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
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ [2]
  13. ^ [3]
  14. ^ [4]
  15. ^ Planting Jewish roots in Siberia
  16. ^ World Jewish Population


  • Immigration to Israel from North America hits 22-Year High ([5])

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