A Tepid ‘Welcome Back’ for Spanish Jews
Published: December 8, 2012
Courtesy Doreen Carvajal
The Carvajal family in the early 1930s. The writer’s great-grandparents Albertina Peres and Alberto Carvajal are seated at the center. Her great-aunt Luz Carvajal is third from left, standing.
I AM conducting a global search for a missing menorah that my great-aunt Luz concealed in a commode in her cramped bedroom in a garden apartment in San José, Costa Rica. She preserved it until she died, in her 80s, in 1998, when she was buried swiftly the next day with a Sabbath-day psalm on her funeral card — cryptic signs of my Catholic family’s clandestine Sephardic Jewish identity because the prayer avoided any reference to the trinity or Jesus.
I tallied these and other Carvajal family clues a few days after the Spanish government heralded its new immigration reform last month. Five hundred and twenty years after the start of the Inquisition, Spain opened the door to descendants of Sephardic Jews whose ancestors had fled the Iberian Peninsula, forced, in order to live in Spain or its colonies, to choose between exile or conversion to Christianity. Or worse.
Top government officials pledged to speed up the existing naturalization process for Sephardic Jews who through the centuries spread in a diaspora — to the Ottoman Empire and the south of Italy; to Spain’s colonies in Central and South America; and to outposts in what are now New Mexico, Texas and Mexico.
Spain’s foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, sought to address his nation’s painful legacy when he revealed the reforms, declaring it was time “to recover Spain’s silenced memory.” But the process is much more complicated than it appears, and some descendants are discounting the offer as useless, or even insulting, as it dawns on them that they are excluded.
Some of those converts in Spain’s colonies — still within the reach of the Inquisition — led double lives for generations, as I learned from writing a book about my own family’s concealed identity. They lived discreetly, maintaining Jewish rituals that would have put them in peril if they had been discovered. They risked confiscation of wealth, prison, torture or death. Some relatives knew, some didn’t and others refused to see.
For this act of heresy, living life as Jews, a branch of Carvajal converts in the 16th century was decimated in the Spanish colony of Mexico by burning at the stake.
They are called anousim — Hebrew for the forced ones — crypto Jews or Marranos, which in Spanish means swine. I prefer a more poetic term that I read in a French book: silent Jews who lived double lives.
The Spanish offer was not as simple as it first sounded, and almost immediately evoked a mix of reactions. The Federation of Sephardic Jews in Argentina, for one, was elated. But there were some hard questions from bnei anousim, the descendants of the anousim. They were concerned about criteria that were not widely explained.
Genie Milgrom, president of the Jewish Genealogical Association of Greater Miami, researched her family’s unbroken Sephardic Jewish line through 19 generations of grandmothers to Spain. She said she had no interest in Spanish citizenship in “a country that extinguished my heritage.” But for those who want nationality, she said Spain “needs to be abundantly clear on what they are going to do with the anousim.”
The proof of Jewish identity among the anousim is often pieced together like a mosaic of broken Spanish tiles. Clues range from last names to cultural customs in the home to intermarriages among families with traditional Sephardic Jewish names.
In my case, I have a family tree ornamented with such names, since ancestors had an enduring habit of marrying among trusted distant cousins to protect their secret lives. Is it enough, though, to offer the Spanish government a family tree? Or what about Aunt Luz’s old menorah if I can ever find it? My great-grandfather had a habit of visiting a local rabbi in San José weekly. Was that evidence of interior religious lives?
When I asked Isaac Querub, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, about the criteria for anousim, I was startled by the response. To be naturalized and become citizens, secular bnei anousim Jewish applicants whose families had maintained double lives as Catholics must seek religious training and undergo formal conversion to Judaism. It is the federation that will screen and certify the Sephardic Jewish backgrounds of applicants who seek the documents that can be submitted to the government to obtain citizenship. Mr. Querub said that what the government meant by Jews is “the Sephardic descendants who are members of the Jewish community.”
The fundamental change is that the Spanish government eliminated a residency requirement, proof of financial resources and an onerous standard that applicants must renounce current citizenship.
I am pondering the next step. Mr. Querub predicted that the process would be smooth if I started formal conversion, extolling my name, “Carvajal,” as a 100 percent old Spanish name.
The good news is that perhaps I can finally close the circle with the past, deepen my ties to Spain, and learn more about Judaism and ultimately convert. I already feel that connection so profoundly that I moved one summer with my family into a village of white houses on a sandstone ridge in Andalusia to understand my family’s fear and penchant for secrecy.
But there is something about the Spanish offer of citizenship with new religious requirements that unsettles me and others in the shadowy category of bnei anousim. The anousim were the forced ones. To seek Spain’s generous gift, isn’t that happening again?
Michael Freund, who created the Jerusalem-based Shavei Foundation to aid anousim descendants seeking to reclaim their religious identity, initially praised the offer as a symbol of “modern day Spain’s efforts to make amends.”
But when he learned more about the criteria, gratitude turned to gloom about limiting the decree to Sephardic Jews while excluding bnei anousim.
It’s “as if to say that there is no need to right the historical wrong that was done to forcibly converted Spanish Jews,” he said. “This is an outrage, and it goes against the spirit of reconciliation which the Spanish government claims to cherish. How sad that instead of utilizing this opportunity to send an unequivocal message of contrition, Spain is choosing to heap further insult on injury.”
Doreen Carvajal is a reporter for The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times and the author of “The Forgetting River.”
Genes Tell Intricate Tale of Jewish Diaspora
|The Aben Danan Synagogue in Fez, Morocco, brings a North African flare to the Jewish faith.
CREDIT: Anibal Trejo, Shutterstock
A new genetic map paints a comprehensive picture of the 2,000 or so years in which different Jewish groups migrated across the globe, with some becoming genetically isolated units while others seemed to mix and mingle more.
The new findings allow researchers to trace the diaspora, or the historical migration, of the Jews, which began in the sixth century B.C. when the Babylonians conquered the Kingdom of Judah. Some Jews remained in Judah under Babylonian rule, while others fled to Egypt and other parts of the Middle East. Jewish migrations have continued into the present day.
The study researchers found that the genomes of Jewish North African groups are distinct from one another, but that they show linkages to each other absent from their non-Jewish North African neighbors. The findings reveal a history of close-knit communities prone to intermarriage, said study leader Harry Ostrer of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
“Virtually all the Jewish groups we’ve studied tend to be quite closely related to one another,” Ostrer said. “It would seem for most Jewish groups, there is a biological basis for their Jewishness which is based on their sharing of DNA segments.”
Tracing Jewish genetics
Ostrer and his colleagues have been studying the genetics of Jewish groups throughout Europe and the Middle East, both to reconstruct the history of the religion and to investigate diseases such as the genetic disorder Tay-Sachs that disproportionately affect this population. In 2010, the group reported on the genetics of seven European and Middle Eastern populations. The new study, published today (Aug. 6) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, expands the findings to a total of 15 groups, with the newest additions from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and the island of Djerba. [Photos: Ancient Jewish Treasure]
The researchers worked with local communities to get volunteers to offer blood samples for genetic analysis. The current study analyzed the genes of 509 unrelated North African individuals, comparing them across groups. Similar work has been done linking ancient Israeli and Syrian people to Ethiopia.
The results revealed close relations between North African and European Jews, Ostrer said. The researchers also found two distinct groups of North African Jews, one comprised of Libyan and Tunisian Jews and the other of Moroccan and Algerian Jews. These groups were more likely to share DNA segments than other Jewish groups, indicating more shared genetic history.
“I like to think of Jewishness as a tapestry with these DNA segments representing the threads that weave the tapestry together,” Ostrer said. Non-Jews can convert to Judaism, but membership in the group is also passed down along a matrilineal line, meaning Jewishness straddles the line between religion, ethnicity and culture.
A history of migration
The findings tended to track with what is known of the history of the Jewish Diaspora, or spread of the Jewish people, through North Africa. For example, there was evidence of gene-sharing between North African Jews and non-Jews, but generally not recently, the researchers found.
“This tends to fit the historical observation that during Islamic times from roughly the eighth century to roughly the 20th century, there was limited intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews,” Ostrer said.
Among Moroccan and Algerian Jews, there was evidence of some mixing with the Sephardic Jews who trace their roots to the Iberian Peninsula. Again, the genetic results back up the known history of Sephardic Jews leaving Spain and Portugal, with some settling in Morocco and Algeria.
The findings help create a “comprehensive view of what the Jewish Diaspora was like,” Ostrer said. Major times of movement included the classic period of Greek and Roman dominance, when Jewish groups migrated out of the Middle East and into Europe and North Africa, converting locals and intermarrying along the way. A second major migration occurred after the Spanish Inquisition in the late 1400s and early 1500s, a time when Jews and Muslims were ordered to convert to Catholicism or leave Spain. [10 Myths of Medieval Torture]
The most recent movement began in the late 1800s and continues today, with immigration to the United States, Israel, Canada, Australia and South Africa, Ostrer said.
The United States and Latin America tend to be a “melting pot” of genetics, Ostrer said — 50 percent to 60 percent of American Jews marry someone of a different religion or ethnicity — but the “Old World” genetics of European and North African Jews are helpful in understanding certain diseases.
In these populations, people married within their communities and even within their own families for centuries, allowing studies on relatively few people to be extrapolated more widely throughout the population. In a similar example, researchers recently found a gene that protects against Alzheimer’s disease in Icelandic populations. Those results were reported July 21 in the journal Nature. The same sort of research is possible in Jewish populations, Ostrer said.
“It represents an extraordinary resource that is much harder to do, for instance, in the European-American population, because there has been such a melting pot occurring there,” he said.
Marcus Wheneverand what is also very interesting is that studies are finding that present day Palestinian and Jewish DNA is identical, supporting the idea that the Palestinians are descendants from those tribes of israel who remained behind in judah after the scattering by the Babylonians and later converted to islam for self protection.
emmanusanga (signed in using yahoo)
Valentina Ciuca · Top Commenter · University of Veterinary Medicine Bucharest RomaniaThought talibans are in Pakistan, which is closer to India, has nothing to do with IsraelReply ·· Thursday at 9:40pm
David Mangan · Top Commenter · University of MichiganI was about to write what Mr. Roemer observed, as another study of the DNA of the diaspora out of Israel now confirms that there is significant evidence of Khazar and other DNA in Eastern European Jews, as well as Greek and Slav and Caucasian DNA. Koestler suffered ostracism by some Jewish writers and does to this day for raising the Thirteenth Tribe hypothesis.
davidjenkin (signed in using yahoo)Whatever study you’re referring to hasn’t passed the peer review test, which overwhelmingly – based on numerous global-scale haplogroup studies refutes the assertions you indicate.Reply ·· November 25 at 12:24am
David Roemer · NYU
davidjenkin (signed in using yahoo)The article mentions European Jews in paragraphs 5 and 7. The reason for no mention of the Khazars relates to this being a study of academic depth. As such, multiple in-depth DNA studies conducted since the 1975 release of The Thirteenth have thoroughly debunked his premise. The Khazar theory came to brief prominence as popularized by Koestler’s book “The Thirteenth Tribe” has been thoroughly debunked as having no basis in reality – other than on a very minor scale. Koestler, himself Jewish, later admitted his hidden agenda for the book. It was to dissipate the centuries-old charge of Jews being Christ killers by making a “case” that Ashkenazi Jews were/are of a different bloodline.Ironically, the shenanigans behind his book ended up serving as a key talking point for very Jew-haters he wanted to deflect, who use it to delegitimize the creation and existence of Israel. By invoking the Khazars, they make the “argument” that a large portion of Israelis have no historical basis for living in Israel. However, as this and many extensive studies have borne out, an identical genetic continuity of Middle Eastern origin exists for virtually all Jewish groups no matter where their geographical dispersion over time.
The Jewish Diaspora
Jewish communities, spread thoughout the Empire, became vehicles to spread the ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ.
Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at AustinThe Diaspora
When we see the Christians beginning to spread out beyond the original homeland environment, they’re following a pathway that had already been well trod before them by other Jews. By the middle of the first century, there are probably more Jews living outside of the homeland, than actually live back in Judah proper. This is what we call the Diaspora, that is, the dispersion of Jewish population throughout the Empire, and we know that there are major Jewish communities in most of the large cities of the Empire, all the way from the Persian Gulf on the east to Spain on the west. It’s an extensive diffusion of the Jewish population throughout the Roman.
So, what was the relationship like between Jews and [these other communities where they found themselves?]
And these these Jewish communities in the Diaspora environment faced a number of challenges. How do you maintain your traditional Jewish identity and piety, while at the same time fitting into the social and cultural traditions of Greek and Roman cities? In some localities, we find Jews participating in the theater or in normal aspects of daily life. In other cities, we find Jews experienc[ing] oppression and seeming to distance themselves from the local environment. So, it varies from city to city, on what the Jewish experience would be. On the whole, however, Judaism in the Diaspora was able to accommodate a great deal of Hellenistic culture. The normal language for Jews in the Diaspora was Greek. It was in the Diaspora that the Bible was translated from Hebrew into a Greek vernacular. So, later on, when we find Paul quoting scripture, he’s not quoting the Hebrew Bible. He may not even know the Hebrew Bible directly. He quotes the Bible in Greek.
JEWISH POPULATION IN ROME AND OSTIA
There are very large Jewish communities in some of the major Roman cities. Rome itself, seems to have something on the order of ten different synagogue congregations, and the Jewish population of the city of Rome at its zenith was perhaps 100,000. Unfortunately, we have no archaeological evidence of the actual synagogue buildings themselves from the city of Rome but fortunately, a recent archaeological discovery from the nearby port city of Ostia, shows us one such congregation, in its very real setting.
When you go through the city of Ostia, you’re seeing a kind of microcosm of the city of Rome, in the first century. It’s a little Rome, and as you go down the main streets of Ostia, and you go out the gate near the harbor, down the road, you find a little building just off to the side, and as you go in, you find a hall for assembly. From the outside, this building looks like any other along that street. You wouldn’t know it’s … a place of worship for a Jewish community until you go inside and look at the carvings over the the arches that show us a menorah. This is a Jewish synagogue. It may date from the very end of the first century and is one of the earliest that we know of, from the Diaspora.
So, here’s a Jewish congregation through several generations trying to maintain its its life, its identity, in a major Roman city. It’s interesting that … right adjacent to the hall of assembly, is a kitchen and a dining room. Apparently, they too had fellowship dinners. Apparently, they too were engaged in an active social life.
JEWISH CATACOMBS IN ROME
One of our best sources of information about the Jewish community at Rome comes from their burial places. There are several important Jewish catacombs, and they’ve yielded hundreds of inscriptions that tell us the names and identity of the the numbers of the Jewish congregations in Rome. They’re a mixed lot. Some of them seem to be predominantly Aramaic speaking, and don’t know much Greek, but the vast majority used Greek and a few even know Latin. What they show us is how thoroughly integrated the Jewish communities were in the social life of Rome. They participate in all aspects of commerce and trade. They are busy organizing their community life. We hear of people who are the mothers or fathers of the synagogues, meaning they’re the ones who actually build the buildings and support the congregations. We hear of the leadership of the Jewish groups. So, we find these Jewish communities really trying to maintain their identity, just like any immigrant group would have expected to do in their new locality.
Samuel Ungerleider Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies Brown UniversityThe Greek word “diaspora” means a scattering. And indeed there was a scattering of Jews throughout the known Greek and Roman world from the third century B.C. and on down. There’s a famous utterance by Strabo, a Greek geographer of the late first century, B.C., who says that you can’t go anywhere in the civilized world without encountering a Jew. And by his time this certainly was true. There were large Jewish communities in Egypt, especially in Alexandria, but even throughout the countryside, up the Nile Valley. There were large Jewish communities in Syria, a very large one in the city of Antioch, but throughout Syria, and there were numerous Jewish communities throughout Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, just as there were Jewish communities in Greece and throughout the Italian peninsula, most especially of course in the city of Rome. Even further west, we know about Jews in southern France, and Jews in Marseilles and perhaps even Jews in Spain….
It’s interesting to note that early Christianity first spread in those areas where there was a Jewish presence. That is, it spreads in Egypt, it spreads in Syria, it spreads in Asia Minor, it spreads in Greece and Italy. These are precisely areas where we know there were Jewish communities, there were Jewish synagogues and there were Jews in number scattered throughout all these areas. Presumably the earliest Christian travellers and missionaries like Paul would begin their travels by obviously approaching their brethren, approaching their fellow Jews, and converting some of them to the new path or the new religion, if I may use that word, or the new way of thinking, and perhaps using these communities as springboards from which to get access to the non-Jews in these very areas also. It’s clear, then, that the Diaspora communities formed the Jewish network which early Christians as Jews were able to use for their own purposes.
SYNAGOGUES IN THE JEWISH DIASPORA
The word “synagogue” is a Greek word, it means a gathering or an assembly, or perhaps a congregation. The synagogue, then, was the point of communal organization of the Jews in the Diaspora. Wherever you have a sufficient number of Jews, you would have a Jewish community. Wherever you would have a Jewish community you would have a Jewish synagogue. The synagogue, then in part, is a community building or a community place, a place where Jews would gather to discuss matters of communal concern. Sort of like a New England town square, where the citizens would gather regularly to discuss issues of importance. Among the issues that they would discuss, of course, Jews would discuss Judaism. That is to say they would discuss their sacred texts. Many of our sources tell us that Jews would gather in synagogues regularly, perhaps every Saturday on the Sabbath, or perhaps more often than that, in order to read the laws, to read the Torah, the sacred book of Moses and to expound upon it. And any reader of the New Testament knows that this is what Jesus did in the homeland, in the Galilee, entering the synagogues on the Sabbath and expounding the scriptures. And of course, we also know this from Paul, that in his travels in Asia Minor, Paul routinely went to seek out the local synagogue and therein to teach the scriptures from his peculiar perspective, but teach the scriptures to the Jewish community. So something else that happens there in a synagogue then in these public gatherings will be the communal study of the sacred texts, specifically of the Torah. We imagine also that they probably will have prayed, together….
According to the New Testament, another remarkable feature of the synagogues in the Diaspora is not only that they attracted large crowds of people, but among these crowds will have been gentiles. Gentiles apparently found these synagogues to be interesting or a place worth visiting, perhaps because they enjoyed hearing the philosophical type discussions about God, or perhaps they enjoyed hearing things being sung or chanted. We don’t know exactly why gentiles found these places attractive; modern scholars too readily assume it’s because these people were somehow believers of Judaism, or somehow were half converts… as if there’s no other rational explanation why gentiles would want to go to a synagogue if they were not almost converting to Judaism. But the fact is there are many reasons why gentiles may have come…. Gentiles found the Jewish synagogues and the Jews themselves apparently open, interesting, attractive, friendly and why not go to the Jewish synagogue, especially because there are no non-Jewish analogs. There’s nothing equivalent to this communal experience anywhere in pagan or Greek or Roman religions. And we shouldn’t be surprised if it would have attracted curious, well intentioned by-standers, who may have come in to witness, or perhaps even participate to some degree in what was going on.
William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture, Boston University
JEWISH IDENTITY AND THE DIASPORA
The Jewish way of constructing reality is through the Bible. And the center of gravity in the Jewish Bible, what pulls the story along, is getting to the land of Israel. So the land of Israel, the promise of land to Abraham, the importance of the land, the holiness that goes along with the land, is embedded in Jewish historical imagination through the medium of the Bible. This means that religiously and socially, any place outside the land is, in a sense, not home for a Jew, even if Jews can live for generations in other cities.
The Jewish designation… for territory other than the land of Israel, is the Diaspora. And by the time of the first century, there were probably then, as now, more Jews living outside the land of Israel than within the land of Israel. There’s a very energetic Jewish population in Babylon since the destruction of the first temple. There is a very wealthy, vigorous Jewish population living in the major cities around the Mediterranean. And that population, which is speaking Greek, which is the matrix of the Greek translation of the Jewish Bible, which becomes eventually the seedbed of Christianity … to make the idea of Israel available to Greek readers … to liberate it, in a sense, from its native language.
Nonetheless, despite the wide dispersion of Jewish population throughout the Roman Empire and in the east, Jews are bound together imaginatively and socially by the calendar. Jews have this trans-local imaginative community. They have every seventh day off … they’re the ones who have the weekend in antiquity. They have the Sabbath, which is a time, typically, for the community to gather wherever it is, whether they’re in a village in the Galilee, or in a suburb of Rome, and hear the law read… they have the great pilgrimage holidays. They have the calendar of the Jewish liturgical year. And therefore, Jewish populations in the Diaspora would also journey home even if their actual home was Alexandria or Rome or any place in Asia Minor. Their spiritual home and their historical home was Israel, and specifically, Jerusalem.
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Alfred Dreyfus and “The Affair”
The Dreyfus case underscored and intensified bitter divisions within French politics and society. The fact that it followed other scandals — the Boulanger affair, the Wilson case, and the bribery of government officials and journalists that was associated with the financing of the Panama Canal — suggested that the young French Republic was in danger of collapse. The controversy involved critical institutions and issues, including monarchists and republicans, the political parties, the Catholic Church, the army, and strong anti-Semitic sentiment.
Alfred Dreyfus, an obscure captain in the French army, came from a Jewish family that had left its native Alsace for Paris when Germany annexed that province in 1871. In 1894 papers discovered in a wastebasket in the office of a German military attaché made it appear that a French military officer was providing secret information to the German government. Dreyfus came under suspicion, probably because he was a Jew and also because he had access to the type of information that had been supplied to the German agent. The army authorities declared that Dreyfus’ handwriting was similar to that on the papers. Despite his protestations of innocence he was found guilty of treason in a secret military court-martial, during which he was denied the right to examine the evidence against him. The army stripped him of his rank in a humiliating ceremony and shipped him off to [life imprisonment on] Devil’s Island, a penal colony located off the coast of South America. The political right, whose strength was steadily increasing, cited Dreyfus’ alleged espionage as further evidence of the failures of the Republic. Édouard Drumont’s right-wing newspaper La Libre Parole intensified its attacks on the Jews, portraying this incident as further evidence of Jewish treachery.
Dreyfus seemed destined to die in disgrace. He had few defenders, and anti-Semitism was rampant in the French army. An unlikely defender came to his rescue, motivated not by sympathy for Dreyfus but by the evidence that he had been “railroaded” and that the officer who had actually committed espionage remained in position to do further damage. Lieutenant Colonel Georges Picquart, an unapologetic anti-Semite, was appointed chief of army intelligence two years after Dreyfus was convicted. Picquart, after examining the evidence and investigating the affair in greater detail, concluded that the guilty officer was a Major named Walsin Esterhazy. Picquart soon discovered, however, that the army was more concerned about preserving its image than rectifying its error, and when he persisted in attempting to reopen the case the army transferred him to Tunisia. A military court then acquitted Esterhazy, ignoring the convincing evidence of his guilt.
“The Affair” might have ended then but for the determined intervention of the novelist Émile Zola, who published his denunciation (“J’accuse!”) of the army cover-up in a daily newspaper. [Note: Zola was found guilty of libeling the army and was sentenced to imprisonment. He fled to England, where he remained until being granted amnesty.] At this point public passion became more aroused than ever, as the political right and the leadership of the Catholic Church — both of which were openly hostile to the Republic — declared the Dreyfus case to be a conspiracy of Jews and Freemasons designed to damage the prestige of the army and thereby destroy France.
Sometime later another military officer discovered that additional documents had been added to the Dreyfus file. He determined that a lieutenant colonel (Hubert Henry) had forged the documents — which seemed to strengthen the case against Dreyfus — in anticipation that Dreyfus would be given a new trial. Immediately after an interrogation the lieutenant colonel committed suicide. In 1899 the army did in fact conduct a new court-martial which again found Dreyfus guilty and condenmed him to 10 years detention, although it observed that there were “extenuating circumstances.”
In September 1899, the president of France pardoned Dreyfus, thereby making it possible for him to return to Paris, but he had to wait until 1906 — twelve years after the case had begun — to be exonerated of the charges, after which he was restored to his former military rank.
“The Affair” had inspired moderate republicans, Radicals, and socialists to work together, and the ultimate exoneration of Dreyfus strengthened the Republic, in no small part because of the conduct of its enemies, most notably the army and the Catholic hierarchy. In 1905 the Radical party, emphasizing the role of the Catholic leadership in the Dreyfus case, succeeded in passing legislation separating church and state.
Source: The Affair – The Case of Alfred Dreyfus. Homepage of Michael Sinclair
|This article may be expanded with text translated from the corresponding article in the German Wikipedia. (July 2012)|
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The Dreyfus affair (French: l’affaire Dreyfus, pronounced: [a.fɛʁ dʁɛ.fys]) was a political scandal that divided France in the last and first decades of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries respectively. It involved the conviction for treason in November 1894 of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Alsatian Jewish descent. Sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly having communicated French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris, Dreyfus was sent to the penal colony at Devil’s Island in French Guiana and placed in solitary confinement, where he was to spend almost 5 years.
Two years later, in 1896, evidence came to light identifying a French Army major named Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy as the real culprit. After high-ranking military officials suppressed the new evidence, a military court unanimously acquitted Esterhazy after the second day of his trial. The Army accused Dreyfus of additional charges based on false documents fabricated by a French counter-intelligence officer, Hubert-Joseph Henry, who was seeking to re-confirm Dreyfus’s conviction. Henry’s superiors accepted his documents without full examination.
Word of the military court’s framing of Alfred Dreyfus and of an attendant cover-up began to spread, chiefly owing to J’accuse, a vehement open letter published in a Paris newspaper in January 1898 by the notable writer Émile Zola. Progressive activists put pressure on the government to reopen the case.
In 1899, Dreyfus was brought to Rennes from Guiana for another trial. The intense political and judicial scandal that ensued divided French society between those who supported Dreyfus (the Dreyfusards), such as Anatole France, Henri Poincaré and Georges Clemenceau, and those who condemned him (the anti-Dreyfusards), such as Hubert-Joseph Henry and Edouard Drumont, the director and publisher of the anti-semitic newspaper La Libre Parole. The new trial resulted in another conviction and a 10-year sentence, but Dreyfus was offered a pardon and set free.
Eventually, all the accusations against Alfred Dreyfus were demonstrated to be baseless. In 1906, Dreyfus was exonerated and reinstated as a major in the French Army. He served during the whole of World War I, ending his service with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
Arrest, trial and cover-up
A 1898 cartoon by Caran d’Ache depicts a fictional family dinner. At the top, somebody remarks, “Above all, let’s not discuss the Dreyfus Affair!” At the bottom, the family is fighting and the caption reads, “They have discussed it.”
In 1894, the French Army’s counter-intelligence section, led by Lt. Col. Jean Conrad Sandherr, became aware that new artillery information was being passed to the German embassy in Paris by a highly placed spy likely to be posted in the French General Staff. Suspicion quickly fell upon Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who was arrested for treason on 15 October 1894. On 5 January 1895, Dreyfus was summarily convicted in a secret court martial, publicly stripped of his army rank, and sentenced to life imprisonment in a penal colony on Devil’s Island in French Guiana.
In August 1896, the new chief of French military intelligence, Lt. Col. Georges Picquart, reported to his superiors that he had found evidence to the effect that the real traitor was Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. Picquart was silenced by a transfer to the southern desert of Tunisia in November 1896. When reports of an army cover-up and Dreyfus’s possible innocence were leaked to the press, a heated debate ensued about antisemitism, France’s identity as a Catholic nation and a republic founded on equal rights for all citizens. Influential novelist Émile Zola wrote a famous open letter entitled “J’accuse” (“I accuse”) which appeared on the front page of the newspaper L’Aurore on 13 January 1898 and was addressed to French President Félix Faure, accusing the government of unlawfully imprisoning Dreyfus and certain highly placed members of the Army’s general staff as guilty of a cover-up. Zola also pointed out judicial errors and the lack of serious evidence. This highly publicized letter caused a major commotion in France and abroad. Zola was prosecuted and found guilty of libel on 23 February 1898. To avoid imprisonment, he fled to Britain, not to return home until June 1899.
Other pamphlets proclaiming Dreyfus’s innocence include Bernard Lazare’s A Miscarriage of Justice: The Truth about the Dreyfus Affair (November 1896).
A second trial, in 1900, again resulted in a conviction, but Dreyfus was pardoned later that year and in 1906 was at last fully exonerated, reinstated and restored to the rank of major in the French Army.
The affair saw the emergence of the “intellectuals” – academics and others with high intellectual achievements who took positions on grounds of higher principle – such as Émile Zola, novelists Octave Mirbeau and Anatole France, mathematicians Henri Poincaré and Jacques Hadamard, and Lucien Herr, librarian of the École Normale Supérieure. Constantin Mille, a Romanian socialist writer and émigré in Paris, described the anti-Dreyfusard camp as a “militarist dictatorship”.
Alfred Dreyfus after the Dreyfus Affair
Alfred Dreyfus was reinstated into the French Army with his prior rank of Major, and made a Chevalier of the French Légion d’honneur in July 1906. However, his health had deteriorated during his imprisonment on Devil’s Island and, at his request, he was granted an honorable discharge in 1907. In 1908, at the burial of Zola at the Panthéon, he was slightly wounded in an assassination attempt. Célestin Hennion, the head of the French Police, was on hand to arrest the would-be assassin, who was tried but found not guilty.
Dreyfus volunteered for military service again in 1914, at the beginning of World War I, and served despite advancing age in a range of artillery commands, first as a major and finally as a lieutenant-colonel. Ironically he was the only soldier involved in the Affair to serve in the First World War. He was promoted to the rank of Officer of the Légion d’honneur in 1919. His son, Pierre Dreyfus, also served in World War I as an artillery officer and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. Alfred Dreyfus’s two nephews also fought as artillery officers in the French Army during World War I, but both were killed. The same artillery piece, secrets of which Dreyfus was accused of revealing to the Germans, was used in blunting the early German offensives, because of its ability to maintain accuracy during rapid fire.
The factions in the Dreyfus affair remained in place for decades afterward. The far right remained a potent force, as did the moderate liberals. The liberal victory played an important role in pushing the far right to the fringes of French politics. It also prompted legislation such as a 1905 law separating church and state. The coalition of partisan anti-Dreyfusards remained together, but turned to other causes. Groups such as Maurras’s Action Française, formed during the affair, endured for decades.
The despised Nazi collaborators of the Vichy Regime contained many anti-Dreyfusards and their descendants. The anti-semitic Vichy Regime would later close its eyes to the arrest of Dreyfus’s Jewish granddaughter, Madeleine Levy, by the Gestapo. Madame Levy was imprisoned in Camp Drancy on 3 November 1943, and on 20 November of the same year she was deported to Auschwitz, where she died of typhus in January 1944.
Antisemitism and birth of Zionism
The Hungarian-Jewish journalist Theodor Herzl had been assigned to report on the trial and its aftermath. Soon afterward, Herzl wrote Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State, 1896) and founded the World Zionist Organization, which called for the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine. The antisemitism and injustice revealed in France by the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus had a radicalizing effect on Herzl, persuading him that Jews, despite the Enlightenment and Jewish assimilation, could never hope for fair treatment in European society. While the Dreyfus affair was not Herzl’s initial motivation, it did much to encourage his Zionism.
However, not all Jews saw the Dreyfus Affair as evidence of antisemitism in France. It was also viewed as the opposite. The Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas often cited the words of his father: “A country that tears itself apart to defend the honor of a small Jewish captain is somewhere worth going.“
Commission of sculpture
In 1985, President François Mitterrand commissioned a statue of Dreyfus by sculptor Louis Mitelberg. It was to be installed at the École Militaire, but the Minister of Defense refused to display it, even though Alfred Dreyfus had been rehabilitated into the Army and fully exonerated in 1906. Today it can be found at Boulevard Raspail, n°116–118, at the exit of the Notre-Dame-des-Champs metro station. A replica is located at the entrance of the Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris.
On 12 July 2006, President Jacques Chirac held an official state ceremony marking the centenary of Dreyfus’s official rehabilitation. This was held in the presence of the living descendants of both Émile Zola and Alfred Dreyfus. The event took place in the same cobblestone courtyard of Paris’s École Militaire, where Capitaine Dreyfus had been officially stripped of his officer’s rank. Chirac stated that “the combat against the dark forces of intolerance and hate is never definitively won,” and called Dreyfus “an exemplary officer” and a “patriot who passionately loved France.” The French National Assembly also held a memorial ceremony of the centennial marking the end of the Affair. This was held in remembrance of the 1906 laws that had reintegrated and promoted both Dreyfus and Picquart at the end of the Dreyfus Affair.
Tour de France and L’Auto
The roots of both the Tour de France bicycle race and the daily sporting newspaper L’Auto (now L’Équipe) can be traced to the Dreyfus Affair. Le Velo, then the largest sports daily in France, was Dreyfusard. In 1900 a group of anti-Dreyfusards started L’Auto to compete with Le Velo. L’Auto in turn created the Tour de France race in 1903.
The trigger for these events was a brawl between Dreyfusards and anti-Dreyfusards at the Auteuil racetrack in Paris in 1899. In this incident, the President of France, Émile Loubet, was struck on the head with a walking stick by Count Albert de Dion, owner of the De Dion-Bouton motor car company.
De Dion served 15 days in jail and was fined 100 francs. De Dion’s behavior was savagely criticised by Le Vélo and its Dreyfusard editor, Pierre Giffard. De Dion responded by starting L’Auto. He was supported by other wealthy anti-Dreyfusards such as Adolphe Clément and Édouard Michelin. (They were also concerned with Le Vélo because its publisher was their rival, Automobiles Darracq SA.)
L’Auto was not the success its backers wanted. By 1903, its circulation was declining. To boost its circulation, L’Auto launched the Tour de France, a new long-distance bicycle race with distances and prizes far exceeding any previous race.
Portraits of the affair in various media
- The Dreyfus Centenary Bulletin, London/Bonn 1994; The Dreyfus Centenary Committee.
- The Dreyfus affair plays an important part in In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust, especially Vols. 3 and 4.
- L´Affaire en Chanson, 1994 by George Whyte; Paris Bibliothèque de documentation internationale contemporaine BDIC; Paris, Flammarion.
- A satirical take on the Dreyfus affair appears in L’ile Des Pingouins by Anatole France.
- The Dreyfus Affair is mentioned several times in The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt.
- The Dreyfus Trilogy by George Whyte, Inter Nationes, 1996.
- The Dreyfus Affair, A Chronological History by George Whyte, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
- Admission is not Acceptance – Reflections on the Dreyfus Affair. Antisemitism. George Whyte. London Valentine Mitchell, 2007; Paris Editions Le Manuscript/Unesco 2008, Buenos Aires Lilmod 2009, Moscow Xonokoct 2010.
- A Man in Uniform, by Kate Taylor, 2010.
- The Dreyfus Affair is woven into the plot of Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery (2010).
- Die Dreyfus Affaere – Die Macht des Vorurteils, Peter Lang, Frankfurt, 2010, ISBN 978-3-631-60218-8
- The Dreyfus Affair – A Trilogy of Plays, Oberon Books, London, January 2011.
- Poems written by Philadelphia poet Florence Earle Coates (1850–1927) about the affair:
- “Dreyfus” – published in Poet Lore (September 1898) and subsequently in Mine and Thine (1904).
- “Dreyfus” – a fugitive poem published in The Independent (16 February 1899).
- “Picquart” – published in The Century Magazine (July 1902) and subsequently in Mine and Thine (1904) and Poems Vol II.
- “Le Grand Salut” – published in The Living Age (25 August 1906) and subsequently in Lyrics of Life (1909) and Poems Vol II.
- Seymour Hicks wrote a drama called One of the Best, based on the Dreyfus trial, starring William Terriss. It played at the Adelphi Theatre in London in 1895. The idea was suggested to Hicks by W. S. Gilbert.
- AJIOM/Captain Dreyfus, Musical. Music and text by George Whyte, 1992.
- The Dreyfus Trilogy by George Whyte (in collaboration with Luciano Berio, Jost Meier and Alfred Schnittke) comprising the opera Dreyfus-Die Affäre (Deutsche Oper Berlin, 8 May 1994; Theater Basle, 16 October 1004; The Dreyfus Affair New York City Opera, April 1996); the dance drama Dreyfus-J’accuse (Oper der Stadt Bonn, 4 September 1994) and the musical satire Rage et Outrage (Arte, April 1994; Zorn und Schande, Arte 1994; Rage and Outrage Channel 4, May 1994.
- Dreyfus Intime by George Whyte, Opernhaus Zurich, December 2008; Jüdisches Museum Berlin, May 2009. Also in German, English, French, Hungarian, Hebrew and Czech.
- Dreyfus: Prisoner of Devil’s Island – Music Theatre piece – Music and Lyrics by Bryan Kesselman, St Giles Cripplegate, London, November 1998; Part of the 9th London international Jewish Music Festival.
- The court proceedings on the Dreyfus affair were the first to be documented in cinema.
- L’Affaire Dreyfus, Georges Méliès, France, 1899.
- Trial of Captain Dreyfus USA, 1899.
- Dreyfus, Richard Oswald, Germany, 1930.
- The Dreyfus Case, F. W. Kraemer, Milton Rosmer, United Kingdom, 1931.
- The Life of Emile Zola, USA, 1937.
- I Accuse!, José Ferrer, United Kingdom, 1958.
- Prisoner of Honor, directed by Ken Russell, historical advisor George Whyte, focuses on the efforts of Colonel Picquart to have the sentence of Alfred Dreyfus overturned. Colonel Picquart was played by American actor Richard Dreyfuss, who “grew up thinking that Alfred Dreyfus and [he] are of the same family.” USA, 1991.
- L’Affaire Dreyfus (released in Germany as Die Affäre Dreyfus), Yves Boisset, 1995.
- The Majestic, Discussed by Jim Carrey’s character in this film. USA, 2001
- BBC Radio, J’Accuse, UK, Hattie Naylor. Radio dramatisation inspired by a newspaper article written by Emile Zola in response to the Dreyfus Affair of the 1890s. BBC Radio 4, broadcast on 13 June 2009.
- L’Affaire Dreyfus, interview with George Whyte, France Culture, 25 March 1995.
- J’accuse, George Whyte, Canadian Broadcasting Service (CBS), 10 October 1998.
- The Dreyfus Affair, interview with George Whyte, BBC Radio 3. By John Pilgrim, 28 October 2005.
- The Time Tunnel, episode Devil’s Island. Story in which Drs. Newman & Phillips encounter Captain Dreyfus, newly arrived on Devil’s Island. ABC, broadcast on 11 November 1966.
- Affaire Dreyfuss, a television film broadcast in Germany on ZDF, 8 November 1968.
- Dreyfus in Opera and Ballet/The Odyssey of George Whyte, September 1994, WDR, Swedish, Hungarian and Finnish television.
- Rage and Outrage – a musical satire by George R. Whyte, broadcast on Arte and Channel 4, May 1994.
- Dreyfus-J’Accuse Dance drama by George Whyte. Oper der Stadt Bonn, 4 September 1994. WDR, Sweden STV1, Slovenia RTV, SLO, Finland YLE.
- In the first season episode “Rock-a-Bye Munster”, of the TV show “The Munsters”, Herman and Lilly mention meeting ‘that charming Captain Dreyfus’ on their honeymoon at Devil’s Island.
- Radio discussion
- “In Our Time, The Dreyfus Affair” Downloadable discussion on BBC Radio 4. Melvyn Bragg; Robert Gildea, Professor of Modern History at Oxford University; Ruth Harris, Lecturer in Modern History at Oxford University; Robert Tombs, Professor of French History at Cambridge University.
- Interview with Ruth Harris about her book Dreyfus: Politics, Emotion, And the Scandal of the Century (2010).
- Trial and conviction of Alfred Dreyfus
- Picquart’s Investigations of the Dreyfus Affair
- Others look into the Dreyfus Affair
- The public scandal of the Dreyfus Affair
- Resolution of the Dreyfus Affair
- Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy
- History of Jews in Alsace
- ^ See, for example, Jean-Denis Bredin, The Affair: the Case of Alfred Dreyfus. (New York: George Braziller, 1986).
- ^ The term post-dates the start of the affair.
- ^ (Romanian) Constantin Antip, “Émile Zola: «Adevărul este în marş»” (“Émile Zola: «Truth Is Marching On»”), in Magazin Istoric
- ^ Minutes of the induction of Dreyfus into the Legion of Honor, French Ministry of Culture and Communication, Culture.fr
- ^ Alfred Dreyfus: Chronology, French Ministry of Culture and Communication, Culture.fr
- ^ George R. Whyte, The Dreyfus affair: a chronological history, Basingstoke 2008, p 331
- ^ Lewis, Bernard (1986). Semites and Anti-Semites. Pg. 133
- ^ Secularism, the French & Alfred Dreyfus – July 7, 2006 – The New York Sun
- ^ Harp, Stephen L. (2001). Marketing Michelin: Advertising & Cultural Identity in Twentieth-Century France. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 20. ISBN 0-8018-6651-0.
- ^ Weber, Eugen; Hare, Geoff; Dauncey, Hugh (editors) (2003), “Foreword”, The Tour de France, 1903–2003: a century of sporting structures, meanings and values, London: F. Cass, p. xi, ISBN 0-7146-5362-4
- ^ Boeuf, Jean-Luc; Léonard, Yves (2003). La République du Tour de France. Paris: Editions du Seuil. p. 23. ISBN 978-2-02-058073-1.
- ^ Nicholson, Geoffrey (1991). Le Tour: the rise and rise of the Tour de France. London: Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-54268-2.
- ^ The Prague Cemetery
- ^ Yosef Lang. The Life of Eliezer Ben Yehuda. Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi, Jerusalem 2008. p. 373.
- ^ Brozan, Nadine. Chronicle. New York Times. 20 November 1991.
- ^ “Aiffaire Dreyfuss” Fernsehserien. Retrieved March 19, 2012 (German)
- ^ “In Our Time – The Dreyfus Affair” BBC Radio 4 (8 October 2009). Melvyn Bragg; Robert Gildea, Professor of Modern History at Oxford University; Ruth Harris, Lecturer in Modern History at Oxford University; Robert Tombs, Professor of French History at Cambridge University
- ^ Podcast interview New Books in History (17 June 2010).
- General Andre Bach, 2004, “L’Armée de Dreyfus. Une histoire politique de l’armée française de Charles X a l’”Affaire”. Tallandier,Paris, ISBN 2-84734-039-4
- Pierre Birnbaum,1998,”L’Armée Française était elle antisemite?”, pp 70–82 in Michel Winock: “L’Affaire Dreyfus”, Editions du Seuil, Paris, ISBN 2-02-032848
- Jean-Denis Bredin, 1986, “The Affair: the Case of Alfred Dreyfus.” George Braziller, New York, ISBN 0-8076-1175-1
- Jean Doise, 1984, “Un secret bien gardé. Histoire militaire de l’Affaire Dreyfus.” Editions du Seuil, Paris, ISBN 2-02-021100-9
- Vincent Duclert,2006,”Alfred Dreyfus”,Librairie Artheme Fayard,ISBN 2-213-62795-9
- George R. Whyte, The Accused – The Dreyfus Trilogy, Inter Nationes 2006, ISBN 3-929979-28-4
- Adam Kirsch (11 July 2006), The Most Shameful of Stains, The New York Sun
- Stanley Meisler (9 July 2006), Not just a Jew in a French jail, The Los Angeles Times
- Ronald Schechter (7 July 2006), The Ghosts of Alfred Dreyfus, The Forward.
- George R. Whyte, The Dreyfus Affair – A chronological history, Palgrave Macmillan 2008, ISBN 978-0-230-20285-6
- Kim Willsher (27 June 2006), Calls for Dreyfus to be buried in Panthéon, The Guardian
- Pierre Touzin et Francois Vauvillier,2006, “Les canons de la Victoire 1914–1918.Tome1. L’artillerie de campagne”. Histoire et Collections, Paris.ISBN 2-35250-022-2
- (English) (French) 1906 : Dreyfus rehabilitated. Site of the French Ministry of Culture
- (French) Site of the National Assembly
- Text of J’accuse! (in French)
- Text of J’accuse! (in English and French)
- Alfred Dreyfus and “The Affair”
- America’s Dreyfus Affair, by David Martin
- Greatest Newspaper Article of all Time (Journalistic retrospective of Zola’s “J’accuse!”)
- Prisoner of Honor at the Internet Movie Database
- JewishEncyclopedia.com – Andre Cremieu-Foa
- Temporal and Eternal by Charles Péguy, translated by Alexander Dru
- The Life of Emile Zola at the Internet Movie Database
- Jean-Denis Bredin, The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus (1986), ISBN 0-8076-1175-1
- George R. Whyte, The Dreyfus Affair – A Chronological History, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, ISBN 978-0-230-20285-6
- Anya Rous The Rising Celebrity and Modern Politics—The Dreyfus Affair
Decline and Fall of the Third Republic, William Shirer – asserts that pro and anti Dreyfusards formed the heart of liberal and extreme right-wing French politics through WW II.
- Dreyfus Rehabilitated
- Dreyfus Society for Human Rights
- George R. Whyte and The Dreyfus Affair
- Ephemera and Original Art Documenting the Dreyfus Affair
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Journal for the study of the Pseudepigrapha
Vol 16.2 (2007): 91-137
© 2007 Sage Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA, and New Delhi)
A Split Jewish Diaspora:
Its Dramatic Consequences*
ARYE EDREI AND DORON MENDELS
Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel
The Department of History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus,
Jerusalem 91905, Israel
This article proposes that a language divide and two systems of communication have
brought to a serious gap between the western Jewish Diaspora and the eastern one. Thus
the western Greek-speaking Jews lost touch with the Halakhah and the Rabbis, a condition
that had far-reaching consequences on Jewish history thereafter. The Rabbis paid a
high price for keeping their Halakhah in oral form, losing in consequence half of their
constituency. An oral law did not develop in the western diaspora, whereas the existing
eastern one was not translated into Greek. Hence it is not surprising that western Jews
contributed nothing to the development of the oral law in the east. The Jewish communities
that were isolated from the Rabbinic network served as a receptive basis for the
development of an alternative Christian network by Paul and the apostles, which enabled
it to spread throughout the Mediterranean basin. The Jews that remained ‘biblical’
surfaced in Europe in the Middle Ages.
Keywords:Eastern diaspora, western diaspora, Land of Israel, language divide, systems
* This study was written within the context of a research group of the Institute for
Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University of which we were members during the
academic year of 2004/2005. We would like to thank the institute on the opportunity that
it afforded to us. We would also like to thank the members of the group, in particular
Menahem Blondheim, Haym Soloveitchik, Yaron Eliav, and Elihu Katz, for their helpful
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
The Jewish world during the Hellenistic period was noticeably dispersed.
In addition to the center in the Land of Israel, there were diaspora
communities in both the east and the west. The eastern diaspora extended
from Trans-Jordan to Babylonia, and the western diaspora included Asia
Minor, Greece, Italy and the Mediterranean islands. Most of the scholars
who have dealt with the Jewish diaspora during this period have blurred
the distinction between the eastern and western diasporas, explicitly or
implicitly assuming that knowledge about one disapora could inform the
other.1 In this article, we wish to re-examine this topic, and to suggest
that the distinction between the two diasporas was not only geographic,
but actually reflected a much more substantive split. The centrality of
Jerusalem and the Land of Israel as a unifying force was a significant
factor in the Jewish world prior to the destruction of the Temple. This
was not so after the destruction. Our study will focus on the period
following the destruction and the split that grew in its wake. The Jewish
world had already been divided with regard to language in the early
Hellenistic period. In the west, Jews wrote and spoke only Greek, while
in the east, Hebrew and Aramaic prevailed. Israel served as the border
between the two diasporas. Even in the Land of Israel, there were
communities that wrote and spoke Greek. Our argument is that the
language gap between the two diasporas led to a much deeper cultural
comments. This article was read at various stages by Berachyahu Lifschitz, Ruth
HaCohen, Aharon Oppenheimer and Aharoni Rabinowitz, and we thank them for their
comments. A special thanks to Shmuel Peerless for his translation of the article, and the
Cegla Institute of the Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law for its financial support.
1. For a good summary of various approaches regarding the nature of the relationship
between the diasporas and the center in the Land of Israel, see Levine 1996. In his
1979 doctoral dissertation, written under the guidance of Professor M. Stern, David
Solomon concludes that the Rabbinic center in Israel exercised control over the entire
diaspora. However, when we examine the sources on which he bases his conclusion, the
vast gap between the eastern and Egyptian diaspora and the western diaspora is evident.
The sources from the western diaspora are very sparse. Solomon also derives assumptions
about the western diaspora from sources relating to the eastern diaspora without
making the distinction that we are suggesting. Tessa Rajak (2001) discusses the
connection between the Greek Jewish diaspora and the Rabbinic community in the Land
of Israel (and see there much of the older bibliography). She claims that we do not have
enough evidence to make a determination regarding this subject. Her discussion of the
issue is insufficient and does not provide a clear answer. Other scholars dealing with the
Jewish diaspora did not tackle this problem. See, for instance, Barclay 1996; Gafni 1997;
and Gruen 2002. We would like to go a step further and argue that a dichotomy developed
between the two diasporas which became catastrophic.
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 93
gap than we tend to think, and also led in practice to a division from a
normative perspective. Later in our discussion, we will challenge the
accepted scholarly claim that the rabbis in the center, that is, the Land of
Israel, maintained contact with the entire Jewish diaspora and affected
practice related to religious and cultural life. We will see that there are
clear and unequivocal proofs that this connection existed with the eastern
diaspora, but with regard to the western diaspora, there is a deafening
silence on this issue in Jewish sources. We will explain this gap against
the background of the ever widening gap between the eastern and
western diasporas. This fact must be taken into account when considering
not only the relationship between the diasporas, but also on a deeper
level, the similarities and differences between the Judaisms of each
Diaspora communities naturally vacillate between the desire to preserve
both their unique identity and their connection to their cultural
center and their desire to integrate into the broader cultural context in
which they live (Barclay 1996; Barclay [ed.] 2004). The destruction of
the Temple by its very nature upset the balance between these two
aspirations,2 as the connection to the center became an unclear, and even
irrelevant, concept. The loss of the center has far-reaching implications
for communication, which is enhanced by a strong center that controls a
defined system of communication. As we know, the Temple constituted a
clear and unequivocal center for the entire Jewish world. Its status
derived from both its imposing physical symbolism and its recognized
functions, as well as from a long supportive tradition.3 When the Temple
disappeared in 70 CE, an alternative center was established in Israel. As
we will argue, however, this new center was inaccessible to the Greek
Jewish diaspora. The messages that emanated from this center were
essentially different from those that emanated from the previous center,
and could not be deciphered by the Hellenistic Jewish diaspora. Our
discussion in this study does not review the differences that developed
between the motherland and Hellenistic Judaism, nor the distinction
between the syncretic Judaism that developed in the diaspora and the
less-syncretistic Judaism in the Land of Israel. Rather, our focus is on the
2. Safrai 1994. Later on, however, he claims that the connection with the diaspora
was renewed in the time of Rabban Gamliel. We will discuss his sources below.
3. On the centrality of the Temple in the relationship with the diaspora and in the
national consciousness before the destruction, see Kasher 1980; Rappaport 1996;
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
loss of communication and the clear gap in Jewish practice that developed
in the aftermath of the destruction of the Temple.
Our argument might be better understood when contrasted with the
situation in the Middle Ages in which the Mishnah and the Talmud,
which had already been committed to writing, served as the basis for
both a common learning curriculum and a common normative practice.
These works were both accessible and studied extensively during this
time period. Scholars throughout the Middle Ages wrote about the
Talmud. Their works were written exclusively in Hebrew, with some
intermittent Aramaic, the language of the Talmud that everyone knew.4
4. In Christian Europe, all rabbinic literature was written exclusively in Hebrew. This
was true of the commentaries on the Talmud, biblical commentaries, and halakhic
literature (Ta-Shma 1999: 25). This fact remained constant until the onset of the Enlightenment.
There were, however, different levels of writing. Some of the literature, halakhic
writing in particular, were written in ‘Rabbinic Hebrew’ that integrated Hebrew and
Aramaic. The critical factor was not only that they were written in Hebrew, but perhaps
more importantly, that this canon was not translated into other languages. Thus, the
Bible, Talmud, and prayer book were published only in their original languages throughout
the Middle Ages in Christian Europe. In reality, Hebrew was also the dominant
language of writing and creativity in all disciplines in Moslem Spain, even if we can
detect influences of Gaonic writings at the beginning of the eleventh century. The first
Spanish scholars, such as R. Shmuel Ha-Nagid and Ritz Ge’ut, wrote a mixture of
Hebrew and Arabic (Ta-Shma 1999: 157-59). It is perhaps for this reason that these
works were lost to a great degree and had less influence. This is true as well of Gaonic
literature that was composed in Judeo-Arabic (Arabic written in Hebrew characters with
some Hebrew words included), particularly the halakhic monographs of the Gaonim that
were written in Arabic and undeniably had little influence on the halakhic discourse. This
phenomenon can be attributed to the fact that they were written in Arabic, a language that
lost its importance in the Jewish world from the beginning of the twelfth century (Assaf
1955: 185; Brody 1998: 150). R. Saadia Gaon, in the tenth century, was the first scholar
to write a book of Jewish law in Arabic. This phenomenon continued throughout the
Gaonic period and in Spain throughout the eleventh century, as stated. Yet, those who
wrote in Arabic utilized Hebrew characters. This clearly indicates that the target population,
Jews whose primary language was Arabic, were able to read Hebrew letters and,
therefore, able to read the Torah in Hebrew and pray from a Hebrew prayer book, even if
they did not fully understand what they were reading. In the area of philosophy, a number
of important works were written in Arabic until the middle of the twelfth century (Hovot
Ha-Levavot of Rabeinu Bahya ibn Pakuda, The Kuzari of R. Yehuda Halevi, and The
Guide for the Perplexed of Maimonides), but all of them were translated into Hebrew
soon after they were written. Works that were not translated into Hebrew became
marginal and less important (e.g. Mekor Haim of Shlomo ibn Gabirol). Maimonides
wrote his early halakhic works, The Commentary on the Mishnah and The Book of
Commandments, in Arabic, and only made the transition to Hebrew in the writing of the
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 95
As a result, in spite of the development of different academic approaches
and different customs, everything flowed from community to community
because there was no language barrier.5 This was not the case in the
period that we are discussing. We claim that during the period after the
destruction of the Temple, there emerged in the eastern Jewish diaspora a
hierarchical system of communication that included leadership, institutions,
a bureaucracy, and a clear message. This system did not encompass
the western diaspora. On the other hand, the western diaspora itself
developed a flat system of communication, lacking both institutions that
paralleled those in the Land of Israel and a leadership that spoke their
The distinction between the eastern and western diasporas is reflected
in the Jewish literature that prevailed in each community. The Bible was
the common literature of the entire Jewish community, with each
separate community maintaining access to it in their own language. Yet,
in the Land of Israel, a new Jewish literature developed during this
period—the Mishnah, the Midrash, and subsequently the Talmud. This
literature spread eastward, and the Babylonian community became full
partners in its development. It could not, however, reach the west
because the Jews of the western diaspora were unable to decode it.
Simultaneously, the western diaspora adopted a very different collection
of literature—the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha—which was rejected
by the Sages of the east.
A comparison of the two different and separate corpuses preserved in
the two diasporas will illuminate and strengthen our theory regarding the
Mishneh Torah. In a responsum that Maimonides wrote to a scholar in Tyre, he related to
his Book of the Commandments as follows: ‘I regret that I wrote in Arabic since everyone
should read it, and I am waiting to translate it into the holy tongue, with God’s help’
(Maimonides 1986: II, no. 447, 725). Maimonides continued to write in Arabic only in
works that were designed for an Arabic-speaking population. The Meiri wrote in a clear
Hebrew, and not in the mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic that was accepted in rabbinic
literature, apparently because of the influence of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah.
5. It is possible that the transition to a common language during the Middle Ages was
influenced by the Catholic Church, which used Latin as its common language. The
concept of a unified academic Jewish language was a new phenomenon in the Middle
Ages. In the ancient Jewish world, there was Jewish literature in Aramaic, Greek, Latin
and other translations. In addition, in Babylonia and Moslem Spain, a considerable
number of the Gaonim and rabbis wrote in Arabic. The transition to national languages
during the course of the Middle Ages and the period of the Renaissance caused a crisis in
the Catholic Church as reflected in the movements of Wyclif (Allmand [ed.] 1998: 23),
Hus (Allmand [ed.] 1998: 23, 377), and later Luther (Scribner 1994, in particular, p. 13
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
isolation of the western diaspora. The halakhic and aggadic corpus built
upon Hebrew and Aramaic was preserved as an oral tradition in the
eastern diaspora (Sussmann 2005). In contrast, the corpus preserved in
the west was a written tradition. The eastern corpus was not translated
into Greek, and to the best of our knowledge, there was no attempt to
translate it into Greek or Latin. This fact strengthens the hypothesis that
the vast majority of Jews in the western diaspora had no access to this
literature. In contrast, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, which
developed in the early Hellenistic period, were fundamentally different
from the eastern literature in both content and genre. Some of this
literature was originally written in Greek (such as 2 Maccabees), while
some others were written in Hebrew and subsequently translated into
Greek (such as 1 Maccabees6), and distributed in the Greek-speaking
community. Just as the halakhic and aggadic literature preserved in the
east was not made accessible by translation in the west, most of the
Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha did not continue to be preserved in the
Hebrew–Aramaic speaking eastern diaspora (some exceptions are the
Aramaic Testament of Levi, Tobit, the Ben Sira and Jubilees in Hebrew;
but they were not accepted by the Rabbis). It is clear that in Babylonia
they were similarly unable to access the literature written in Greek. This
literature is practically not mentioned in the Rabbinic literature, and
when it is mentioned, it is referred to as ‘external’ literature in order to
distinguish it from the biblical canon.7 One thus gets the sense of two
very different communities on either side of the Mediterranean Sea,
serviced by two diverse bodies of literature that were distinct in terms of
content, genre, language, worldview, and normative practice. On one
side, the Bible and Rabbinic literature that was still transmitted orally—
on the other side, the Greek translation of the Bible and the ‘external’
literature. This created a reality characterized by two distinct universes of
discourse, two different systems of communication, and the different
ideologies that developed as a result.
Even before the destruction of the Temple, the normative system that
was in force in the western diaspora differed from the practices that
prevailed in the Land of Israel. For example, there were areas of practice
6. On the centrality of Greek and the almost complete disappearance of Hebrew from
Jewish life in the Greek diaspora, see de Lange 1996.
7. Licht 1978. For Rabbinic sources that oppose the use of external literature, see
Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1; Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 90a, 100b; Jerusalem Talmud,
Pe’ah ch. 1, p. 16b; Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin ch. 10, pp. 27b, 28a; Bamidbar
Rabbah 14.4, 15.22. See also Lieberman 1962: 1.
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 97
that were relevant to Jewish life in the Land of Israel but were irrelevant
in the diaspora, such as laws relating to agriculture and working the land
(Seder Zeraim) or laws relating to purity and impurity and the Temple
service. There is no doubt that prior to the destruction of the Temple,
these laws constituted a majority of the normative Jewish legal system.
This fact accentuates the gap between the Land of Israel and the
Diaspora, and the benefit that the Sages saw in living in the Land of
Israel—the opportunity to fulfill the entire Torah. This gap should have
narrowed after the destruction of the Temple, but in reality the opposite
occurred—many normative areas that had previously been identical
became different. Thus, for example, laws relating to the holidays and to
prayer were transformed following the destruction because of the
circumstances of the period. We claim that it is specifically this area of
the normative system, which was adopted in the eastern diaspora as in
the Land of Israel, that could not reach the western diaspora because of
the communication and language barrier. After the destruction, when the
leaders of the Jewish community in the Land of Israel struggled for their
future survival, the normative gap between the community in the land of
Israel and the community in the western, Greek-speaking diaspora almost
developed into an ideological gap. For example, the concept of ‘the
impurity of foreign lands’ developed in Rabbinic literature in the middle
of the second century,8 relegating Jewish life in the diaspora in principle
to an inferior status. There is even a Rabbinic opinion claiming that the
fulfillment of the commandments of the Torah outside of the Land of
Israel had no inherent value, but served only as a method of remembering
8. See Mishnah Nazir 7.3; Tosefta Ohalot 18.1-5; Tosefta Parah 3.5. This law is not
mentioned at all in the Bible. Although the Rabbis derived this law from verses in the
Prophets (such as ‘and you shall die in foreign land’ in Amos when he spoke to the exiled
king of Babylonia), it is clear that it is tannaitic in origin. Numerous references in both
Talmuds indicate that this was an enactment of R. Yosi ben Yoezer and R. Yosi ben
Yohanan. This impurity was considered to be very severe, similar to the impurity caused
by a dead body. It is mentioned several times by Philo and Josephus. The formal reason
given for this impurity is that bodies were buried everywhere. Gedaliah Alon, however,
contends that the law is based on the perception that all of the nations were impure from
worshipping idols, and that their land was thus also impure. This law grants a special
status to the Land of Israel as the only place that a person can live a complete Jewish life
without being influenced by idolatry. A person who returns to the Land of Israel from the
diaspora must therefore purify him/herself from the impurity that he contracted there
(Alon 1977: I, passim). See also H. Albeck, Hashlamot le-Perush ha-Mishnah, Ohalot
2.3 (p. 536); Safrai 1994: II, 632-34; Neeman 1997: 256-61; Lieberman, Tosefta ki-
Fshutah, Nezirut, p. 510 n. 34.
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
the commandments for the eventual return to Zion: ‘Place markers for
yourself’.9 From this perspective, the Torah was given only to be fulfilled
in the Land of Israel, and its performance in the diaspora was only to
prevent it from being forgotten in the interim before returning to Israel.
Sanders has already demonstrated at length that during the Second
Temple period, the Jews of the diaspora did not passively obey instructions
from the pharisaic leadership in Israel, even though they attributed
great importance to Jewish law and wished to observe it. He believes that
the view held by many scholars that the Rabbis held sway over the entire
diaspora is a baseless illusion. Sanders bases his opinion primarily on
sources that preceded the destruction of the Temple, and it is logical to
conclude that this would be even more accurate after the destruction
when diaspora Jews traveled less often to Israel and the connection
weakened. Thus, for example, Sanders claims that Jews who made
pilgrimages to Israel for the festivals certainly purified themselves before
entering the Temple and were familiar with the ritual baths of Israel.
Nevertheless, we have no evidence of the existence of ritual baths in the
diaspora at that time. This would certainly be the case as well in areas of
Jewish law that were not noticeable from visits to Israel. The Jews of the
Greek diaspora read the Bible and followed its commandments, as they
understood them and according to the tradition that they had received. It
is therefore obvious that these Jews observed the laws of kashrut, an area
of Jewish law that is quite clear from the biblical injunctions themselves,
as is confirmed in Jewish and non-Jewish sources:10
The diaspora Jews, left entirely to their own devices, without Pharisees
whizzing around the Mediterranean telling them what to do, read the Bible
and did what they thought was appropriate…. Diaspora Jews too loved the
law and wanted to obey it, and they did not depend on Pharisees to tell them
to do so. (Sanders 1990: 298-99)
9. See Sifre Devarim 43 (ed. Finkelstein, p. 102): ‘Although I am banishing you
from the land and sending you into exile, keep yourselves identified with the mitzvot,
such that when you return they will not be new to you. It is similar to a human king who
got angry with his wife and banished her to her father’s home. He said to her: “Bedeck
yourself with your jewelry so that they will not be new to you when you return”. So too,
God said to Israel: “My son, excel in the performance of the mitzvot, such that when you
return they will not be new to you”. As Jeremiah said (Jer. 31.20), “Place markers for
yourself”—these are the commandments in which Israel excels; “make for yourself roadsigns”—
this is the destruction of the Temple…’ See in general Ravitzky 1991.
10. Sanders 1990, in particular Chapters 1 and 3.
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 99
Prior to the destruction of the Temple, pilgrimages and the donation of
funds to the Temple were instrumental in maintaining a strong
connection with the national and spiritual center in the Land of Israel.
Even after the destruction, the Jews of the diaspora continued to send
contributions to support the institution of the Nasi.11 There are, however,
convincing proofs that with time and the slackening of the connection,
they viewed this as an outdated and unnecessary practice that did not
serve to maintain the link. Two Roman laws dated to the years 363 and
399 CE deal with the cancellation of the tax that was collected on behalf
of the Nasi in Israel.12 In the latter law, Law 30, it states:
It is a matter of shameful superstition that the Archsynagogues, the presbyters
of the Jews, and those they call apostles, who are sent by the patriarch on a
certain date to demand gold and silver, exact and receive a sum from each
synagogue, and deliver it to him. Therefore everything that we are confident
has been collected when the period of time is considered, shall be faithfully
transferred to our Treasury, and we decree that henceforth nothing shall be
sent to the aforesaid.
On the one hand, it is clear from these laws that until that point, the Jews
had sent money to the Nasi administration. On the other hand, however,
the fact that the Romans believed that it was possible to break the bonds
between the Greek- and Latin-speaking diaspora and the Nasi in Israel
indicates that they perhaps viewed the connection as purely bureaucratic.
These two laws were apparently passed to serve the needs of the Jews
who viewed the tax as an unnecessary yoke. The tax was demanded by
the administration of the Nasi and was collected by means of Roman
law. At a certain stage, however, the law was annulled and the Nasi
could no longer collect the tax.13 This supports the argument that the
connection between the western diaspora and the Land of Israel became
progressively weaker. For part of the Jewish communities in the eastern
Aramaic-speaking diaspora who happened to be under Roman rule, the
abolishment of the tax did not hamper their strong ties with the Rabbis.
Yet if the administration of the Nasi was an institution with spiritual and
11. Funds collected in the diaspora were called dmei klila, or ‘the collection of the
Sages’. See Alon 1977: I, 156-59. There he also cites sources from after the destruction
of the Temple. See also Rosenfeld 1988.
12. Linder 1987: Laws 13 and 30.
13. In the law from 363 CE, the emperor stated explicitly as follows: ‘That which is
termed by you the tax of the emissaries is nullified. In the future, no one will be able to
harm your multitudes by exacting these taxes. You are thus freed from worry…’ (Linder
1987: Law 13).Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
halakhic significance and influence on the Jews of the western diaspora,
they would have undoubtedly been strongly interested in the continuation
of the tax. It thus seems that by the third and fourth centuries, this
tax was a remnant of the past, and that it was no longer clear to the Jews
of the western diaspora why they should contribute these funds. The
emperor intervened because he understood the reality. He was not
working against the Jews, but was rather working on their behalf. The
gap between the two normative worlds widened, and the strength of the
bond between them correspondingly weakened. It appears from the
language of the law of 399 that the ‘apostles’ were merely emissaries
whose job was the transferal of silver and gold.
We base our theory on the assumption that is accepted by most
scholars that the Jews of the west did not know Hebrew or Aramaic, and
that their religious lives, including the reading of the Torah and prayer,
were conducted only in Greek.14 The Torah was translated into Greek in
the third century BCE, and in subsequent centuries the rest of the Bible
was translated as well. It should be pointed out that in certain Rabbinic
circles, the translation to Greek was viewed as a necessity of the reality
of the times. The Sages recognized that there were entire diaspora communities
that spoke only Greek, and that would be lost to the Jewish
people in the absence of an authentic translation. While the Sages struggled
for the preservation of Hebrew as the sole language for religious
activity, that is, prayer and Torah study, they simultaneously provided
for an authorized translation of scripture for the Greek-speaking communities.
A conspicuous example is the biblical translation of Aqilas,15 the
student of R. Akiva, who modified the Septuagint according to the unique
approach of R. Akiva that attributed importance to every letter and
word.16 The Sages generally approved of this translation. Nevertheless,
14. See Tov 2003, who argues that there is ample literary evidence for the notion that
Scripture was read in Greek in religious gatherings of the Greek-speaking communities in
the diaspora from the first century onward. On the other hand, there are those who argue
that the Greek translation of the Torah and the Psalms were read along with the Hebrew
original. In our opinion, there is no solid evidence. For those who hold that the Greek
Jews also read the Hebrew, see Baumgarten 2002. The fact that we do not know of any
Hebrew manuscript of the Old Testament from the western diaspora of before the ninth
century CE, perhaps supports our view.
15. Jerusalem Talmud, Megillah 1.8 (71c): ‘Aqilas the convert translated the Bible
before R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua, and they praised him, saying: “You are the most
beautiful among men”’. See also Zunz 1954: 41.
16. Tov 1997b: 116. In general, see Tov 1997a, passim.
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 101
the Rabbinic literature of the time, namely, the Midrash and the Mishnah,
whether preserved orally or in written form, was not translated.
Therefore, as the years progressed, these works remained obscured from
the Greek-speaking Jews.17 We wish to emphasize that although scholars
agree that the Sages in Israel knew Greek to varying degrees (Lieberman
1962: 1-21), one cannot conclude from this that Jews in the Greek
diaspora knew Hebrew.
Research regarding inscriptions found in synagogues in Israel and in
the Greek diaspora lends support to our contention. These discoveries
lead to dramatic conclusions about the differences between the Jewish
communities of Israel and the diaspora, differences that primarily can be
assumed to be the result of a language barrier. Approximately 100
synagogue inscriptions were found in the Greek diaspora. These finds
have greatly enriched our knowledge about the Greek diaspora, largely
because of the discovery of communities that had previously been
unknown (Roth-Gerson 1987). All of the inscriptions are in Greek, in
contrast to the findings in synagogues in the Land of Israel that included
inscriptions in Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew. Of greater significance,
however, are the differences in the content of the inscriptions found in
the Land of Israel and those found in the Greek diaspora. Lea Roth-
Gerson very convincingly demonstrated that the Greek concept soteria
(‘salvation’) is found notably in the inscriptions of the Greek diaspora
and at times in the Greek inscriptions in the Land of Israel, but never in
Hebrew and Aramaic inscriptions. Similarly, the Greek inscriptions tend
to emphasize the Hellenistic focus on the individual donor, while the
Aramaic and Hebrew inscriptions reflect the Rabbinic worldview that
places the community at the center. Roth-Gerson also points out that
contributors are praised differently in the eastern inscriptions than they
are in the inscriptions in the Greek diaspora. For example, the Greek
inscriptions in the Land of Israel state that ‘He should be remembered for
good and for blessing’, which is a direct translation of the Hebrew and
Aramaic terminology. In contrast, the Greek diaspora inscriptions utilize
the term eulogia (‘blessing’), but not in the context that it is used in
Israel. On this point, Roth-Gerson comments as follows: ‘While in Israel
they related to the contributor with words of good wishes and blessing,
they are honoured in the inscriptions in the diaspora in another style’
17. The question of the influence of Rabbinic law on the Septuagint has been raised
frequently. It is clear that the controversy flows primarily from the fact that there are very
few proofs of such influence. See, e.g., Grabbe 1982; Jobs and Silva 2001: 294-96
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
(1987: 142). These three examples indicate three facts. First, that there
was a difference between the character of the synagogues of the Land of
Israel and those of the Greek-speaking diaspora as expressed in the
synagogue inscriptions. Second, and even more important, in the Land of
Israel there was a strong influence of the Rabbinic worldview, while the
western diaspora was noticeably influenced by Hellenistic culture.
Moreover, we see that the synagogue in the Land of Israel was actually
influenced by both cultures, drawing from both the Hebrew and Greek
concepts. The western synagogue, however, did not draw at all from the
eastern synagogue model. This third astonishing fact indicates that even
in the Greek Jewish world, influence went from west to east and not vice
versa. The Greek inscriptions in the Land of Israel reflect motifs from the
inscriptions in the western diaspora, but the Greek inscriptions in the
western diaspora were not influenced by the Greek inscriptions in the
Land of Israel. Thus, components of the Greek inscriptions in the Land
of Israel that were clearly translations from the Hebrew and Aramaic
inscriptions did not find their way to the west. Greek inscriptions from
the west, however, did influence Greek inscriptions in the Land of Israel.
In contrast to the accepted opinion among most scholars, we believe that
the Rabbis also did not view the western communities as an integral part
of the diaspora as they defined it. We will attempt to demonstrate this
point through an examination of relevant Rabbinic literature.
First, it is important to note that the evidence from Rabbinic literature
would indicate that the western diaspora developed no spiritual centers
dedicated to the study of oral law, no yeshivot (‘academies’), and no
Torah centers. There are practically no laws or sayings attributed to sages
from the western diaspora in the entire corpus of the oral law (Mishnah,
Tosefta, both versions of the Talmud, and the Midrash).18 It is not
18. R. Abba the Carthaginian, a third-century amora in the Land of Israel, is mentioned
approximately ten times in the Jerusalem Talmud. Carthage is located in North
Africa. See Y. Felix, Jerusalem Talmud, Shevi’it II, 23. Similarly, we find a sage named
R. Shmuel Kapadocia, also from the third century, mentioned three or four times in the
Jerusalem Talmud, as well as R. Yudan Kapadocia, a fourth-century amora who studied
under R. Yosi. We have no information regarding these sages, but we can assume that
they were from Cappadocia in Asia Minor. There are a number of similar sages who were
mentioned once in the Jerusalem Talmud. In all instances, it is clear that we are talking
about sages of marginal importance, who are rarely mentioned and about whom we know
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 103
surprising that no literature parallel to the Talmud, that compiled the oral
law, developed in the west. We do know of Matya ben Heresh who went
from the Land of Israel to Rome to establish a yeshivah, but there are
hardly references to his Torah teachings in the Rabbinic corpus. Apparently,
he did not foster protégés, and we know nothing about the
proceedings of his academy or its fate. Furthermore, according to the
testimony of the Sages, there were no yeshivot in the Greek-speaking
communities. For example, as the following source demonstrates, two
agents who were sent by the Roman authority to learn the oral law had to
come to Usha for that purpose:
The government sent two agents and told them to disguise themselves as Jews
and observe the nature of their Torah. They went to Rabban Gamliel in Usha
and studied the Bible, the Mishnah, the Midrash, the laws, and the Aggadah
(lore). When they left, they [the agents] said to them: ‘All of the Torah is
pleasant and praiseworthy except for one thing—that you say that something
stolen from a non-Jew is permissible, but not something stolen from a Jew.
But we will not inform the government of this.’19
It would have been natural for the two agents to have gone to a closer,
Greek-speaking institution. It is thus clear that the closest opportunity for
them to study Mishnah and Aggadah was in Usha. It was apparently
impossible to study these texts in Rome, and if this was true of Rome, we
can assume that it was surely the case in Greek- and Latin-speaking
communities east and west of Rome.
A second indication is that the tension between the Land of Israel and
the diaspora over the sanctification of the new moon and the ordination
of rabbis recorded in the Talmud is clearly only with the eastern diaspora.
We do not find any source in which sages from the western
diaspora wished to assume responsibility for the sanctification of the new
moon or the ordination of rabbis. This reflects the reality described above
that the western diaspora was not familiar with the oral law. In addition,
the information about the sanctification of the new moon that was
decided by the court in Israel was important for the diaspora, as well, and
was publicized by means of a system of fire signals or by emissaries. In
very little. Apparently, we are talking about individuals who came from the diaspora, or
whose families came from the diaspora, but who clearly learned their Torah in the Land
of Israel. This might hint to the fact that there was a degree of immigration to the Land of
Israel from the diaspora at the end of the second century and in the third century. See
Safrai 1994: I, 305.
19. Sifre Devarim 344 (ed. Finkelstein, pp. 400-401). See Heszer 1993: 15-24
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
all of the sources that deal with this issue, we find no reference to the
western diaspora. One gets the impression from these sources that only
the eastern diaspora was within the Rabbinic communication system.
This is demonstrated, for example, in the following source:
There are two matters that constitute prima facie evidence that a person is a
member of the priesthood in the Land of Israel: raising one’s hands [during
the priestly benediction], and receiving [heave-offerings] at the threshing
floor. In Syria up to the place where the messenger who reports about the new
moon reaches: raising one’s hands [during the priestly benediction], but they
do not receive the [heave-offerings] at the threshing floor. And Babylonia is
like Syria. R. Shimon ben Elazar says: ‘Also Alexandria [was like Syria] in
the early days when there was a court there’.20
In a different context, mention is made of a letter that the Sages sent
from Jerusalem to the diaspora that dealt with a number of issues,
including the intercalation of the month. Here too, it is evident that the
western diaspora was not included in the system of distribution. In
addition, the letter was written in Aramaic, which implies that it was
directed to the eastern diaspora:
There was an incident in which Rabban Gamliel and the Sages were in
session on the steps of the Temple, and Yohanan the scribe was before them.
He said to them, ‘Write: To our brethren, residents of the Upper Galilee and
residents of the Lower Galilee, may your peace increase. I inform you that the
time of the removal has come, to separate the tithes from the olive vats. To
our brethren, residents of the Upper South and residents of the Lower South,
may your peace increase. We inform you that the time of the removal has
come, to separate the tithes from the sheaves of grain. To our brethren,
residents of the Exile of Babylonia, and residents of the Exile of Media and of
all the other Exiles of Israel, may your peace increase. We inform you that the
20. Tosefta Pe’ah 4.6 ( and parallel sources in Tosefta Ketubot 3.1; Babylonian
Talmud, Ketubot 25a). For a description of the fire signals and emissaries, see also
Mishnah Rosh Hashanah, 2.2-4, which clearly indicates that the fire signals were directed
only toward the eastern diaspora. See also Lieberman, Tosefta ki-Fshutah, Rosh Hashanah,
Part 5, 1028-30. Lieberman cites the opinion of the Raavad (died 1198) that the fire
signals were only directed toward the east, but that the messengers went out to the entire
diaspora, but he rejects his claim, arguing that according to the order of the fires, it seems
they were directed to the north and the east: ‘And it is also difficult to understand why
they discriminated against the rest of the diaspora’. See also Tabory 1995: 30-34, which
includes a map of the fires on p. 31; cf. further Alon 1977: I, 149-56. On the importance
of communication in the sanctification of the month, see: Safrai 1994: I, 460 : ‘The
emissaries were often Torah scholars, and they created a strong bond, regular contact, and
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 105
pigeons are still tender, the lambs are thin, and the spring tide has yet not
come. So it is proper in my view and the view of my colleagues, and we have
added thirty days to this year. (Tosefta Sanhedrin 2.6)21
There is, however, another source that discusses a visit by R. Meir to
Asia in order to intercalate the month:
There was an event in which R. Meir went to Asia to intercalate the year, and
he did not find a Scroll of Esther written in Hebrew, so he wrote one from
memory and read from it. (Tosefta Megillah 2.5)22
Gedaliah Alon has argued that this source refers to Etzion Gever, a place
that was very close to southern Israel and was considered to be part of
the Land of Israel because of its proximity.23
A third indication relates to the separation of tithes outside of the Land
of Israel. Safrai (1994: II, 632) and others claim that the Jews of the
diaspora were accustomed to sending tithes and terumot to Israel, even
during the time of the Temple. Sanders disagrees and contends, based on
his understanding of the source, that there is no proof for this argument.
On the contrary, he claims that the opposite is the case. It is possible that
they sent voluntary monetary contributions, and it is certain that they
paid a Temple tax, but they did not send tithes and terumot. There is a
relevant source in Rabbinic literature relating to the borders of the Land
of Israel that discusses whether Syria is or is not part of Israel. This
discussion clearly demonstrates that the obligation of giving terumah
was in force only in areas that were considered part of the Land of Israel.
Similarly, there are no Greek sources that indicate conclusively that
21. See Klein 1939: 210ff. In the Jerusalem Talmud, Maaser Sheni 5.8 (56c), after
the ‘Median exile’ the ‘Greek exile’ was added. Yet, it appears that this wording is less
genuine than that of the Tosefta.
22. For the possibility that the Jews of the western diaspora were not aware of the
Rabbinic calendar, see Wasserstein 1991–92.
23. Alon 1977: I, 144-46. Oppenheimer (1997: 411-13) supports this view, and so did
many others. B. Bar-Kochva (1997: 395-402) argues that in contradistinction with other
passages where this term is used it may refer to Asia-Minor. Since in other instances
where the term Asia is mentioned it does not refer to Asia-Minor, we have doubts about
Bar-Kochva’s hypothesis concerning this particular reference. Bar-Kochva himself holds
the opinion that in the other instances where Asia is mentioned the reference is to a place
in the Land of Israel. Moreover, even if we would accept Bar-Kochva’s opinion, it should
be noted that it is the sole account of one single rabbi going to one particular place in the
west in order to intercalate the month within the whole corpus of Rabbinic literature. If
we accept the version that our baraita mentions the word ‘Hebrew’, then our argument is
strengthened; in a place in the western diaspora there is no Hebrew text
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
members of the Greek diaspora were obligated to give terumot. The following
Mishnah from tractate Yadayim discusses a controversy between
the Sages regarding the giving of tithes in the sabbatical year outside of
the borders of Israel:
On that day they said: ‘What of Ammon and Moav in the seventh year?’ R.
Tarfon decreed: ‘They must give the poor man’s tithe’. And R. Elazar ben
Azaryah decreed: ‘They must give the second tithe’. R. Yishmael said to him:
‘Elazar ben Azaryah, you must bring proof since you issued the more stringent
ruling, and the one who gives a more stringent ruling must bring proof’. R.
Elazar ben Azaryah said to him: ‘Yishmael my brother, it is not I who has
changed the order of the years, but Tarfon my brother has changed it, and he
must bring proof’. R. Tarfon responded: ‘Egypt is outside the Land of Israel,
and Ammon and Moav are outside of the Land of Israel. Therefore, just as in
Egypt the poor man’s tithe must be given in the seventh year, so too in Ammon
and Moav poor man’s tithe must be given in the seventh year’. R. Elazar ben
Azaryah answered: ‘Behold, you are as one who would bestow on them
worldly gain, but you suffer souls to perish, you rob the heavens so they send
down neither rain nor dew, as it is written: “Will a man rob God ? Yet you rob
me. But you say, wherein have we robbed you? In tithes and heave offerings” ’
(Malachi 3:8). R. Yehoshua said: ‘Behold, I am as one who will answer on
behalf of Tarfon my brother, but not according to the subject of his words. [The
rule relating to] Egypt is a new work, and [the rule relating to] Babylonia is an
old work. Let us argue concerning a new work from a new work, but let us not
argue concerning a new work from an old work. [The rule relating to] Egypt is
the work of the elders, and [the rule relating to] Babylonia is the work of the
prophets, and the argument before us is the work of the elders. Let us argue
concerning the work of the elders from the work of the elders, but let us not
argue concerning the work of the elders from the work of the prophets’. They
voted and decided that Ammon and Moav should give poor man’s tithe in the
seventh year. And when R. Yosi ben Dormaskit came to R. Eliezer in Lod, he
said to him: ‘What new thing was learned in the house of study today?’ He
responded: ‘They voted and decided that Ammon and Moav should give poor
man’s tithe in the seventh year’. R. Eliezer wept and said: ‘‘The secret of the
Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant’. Go and
tell them: ‘Be not anxious by reason of your voting, for I have received a
tradition from Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, who heard it from his teacher, and
his teacher from his teacher, as a law given to Moses on Sinai that Ammon and
Moav should give poor man’s tax in the seventh year. (Mishnah Yadayim 4.3)
Whether we see this source as a reflection of a reality in which tithes
were sent to Israel from the far reaches of the diaspora or as a ‘romantic’
portrayal of the ideal,24 the Mishnah clearly mentions each part of the
24. Safrai derived historical lessons from the Mishnah. He saw in it a certain proof
that in Egypt tithes were gathered and sent to the Temple in Jerusalem. Sanders (1990
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 107
eastern diaspora—Ammon, Moav, Egypt, and Babylonia—while locations
in the western diaspora were apparently not on the halakhic radar
screen of the author of the Mishnah.
A fourth indication relates to the manner in which the western
diaspora is referred to in Rabbinic sources. At the beginning of this study
we mentioned the fact that scholars generally equate the relationship
between the Rabbis and the two diasporas. This equation is based on the
fact that the western diaspora is mentioned in Rabbinic literature. From
both a qualitative and quantitative perspective, however, there is no
comparison between the references to the eastern diaspora and the
western diaspora. In fact, the Rabbinic sources that mention the western
diaspora actually demonstrate the weakness of the connection between
the center in Israel and the Greek diaspora. We will examine a number of
those sources below. Before doing so, however, we bring a quote from
S. Safrai, one of the experts on the Jewish diaspora who ascribes to the
reading of the sources that equates the two diasporas. In his article
entitled ‘The Land of Israel and the Jewish Diaspora’, Safrai deals with
the connection between the leadership in Israel and the diaspora communities
following the destruction of the Temple, a period of significant
growth in the diaspora both because of emigration from Israel and a
wave of conversion:
The oral law did not coalesce and was not recorded in books of Halakhah,
Midrash, and Aggadah until the end of the tannaitic and the amoraic periods.
The prayer book and the regular reading of the Torah were set during the
period of the tannaim, while the Hebrew calendar was set during the amoraic
period. There are many similar phenomena. The matters that were innovated in
the Land of Israel, particularly in the council chambers or the High Court when
it was located in Yavneh, and subsequently in the cities of the Galilee, were
transmitted and accepted in the Jewish diaspora. The Mishnah, which was
redacted in the end of the second century and the beginning of the third
century, became the foundation of the oral law and of Jewish law both in the
Land of Israel and the Babylonian diaspora. Similarly, the approach of
Midrash Halachah, formulated in the academies of R. Yishmael and R. Akiva
became the basis for Midrashic study for generations in Israel and Babylonia.
301) disagreed with him, demonstrating in detail that this thesis has no basis. Sanders
agrees that perhaps in the sabbatical year, Jews sent more donations to Israel in order to
support the farmers that could not work the land. However, it is logical to assume that
this Mishnah presents only a romantic description of the nature of the relationship with
the diaspora. In light of his comments, the sense is strengthened that even in this
‘romantic’ picture, the western diaspora does not appear as an potential source of support
for the community in the Land of Israel.Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
The life style that was established after the destruction in Israel, such as the
holidays, fasts, and the remembrance of the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction
of the Temple, and the laws in general that were formulated in Israel,
became the law for all of Israel to the far reaches of the diaspora. Most of the
sources on this matter are from Babylonian Jewry, but one can assume
that this was the reality, at least in principle, in the other diasporas.25
Thus, ‘we know’ for certain with regard to the Babylonian community,
while ‘we can assume’ with regard to the western diaspora. We question
whether this is really so. Is there any basis in the sources to support
Safrai’s conjecture that the knowledge that we have about Babylonia is
true of the western diaspora? Let us examine the sources upon which the
scholars base their opinion on this matter.
(1) There are a number of sources in which Rabban Gamliel of
Yavneh traveled to other communities in order to answer Jewish legal
R. Yehudah said: ‘There was an event in which Savion, the head of the
synagogue in Achziv purchased a vineyard in its fourth year of growth from a
gentile in Syria, and he gave him payment. Then he came and asked Rabban
Gamliel who was passing from place to place [whether the produce of that
field is liable to the restriction of the fourth year]. He said to him: ‘Wait until
we can dwell upon the law’.27
R. Yehudah said: ‘Even though both of its witnesses are Samaritans, it is
valid’. R. Yehudah said: ‘There was an incident in which they brought before
Rabban Gamliel in Kfar Otenai the writ of divorce of a woman, and its
witnesses were Samaritans, and he declared it valid’. R. Akiva declares valid
in the case of all [documents], and the sages declare invalid…28
There are also sources in which we find Rabban Gamliel in Tiberias and
Lod. Yet, we do not see from these sources that Rabban Gamliel traveled
overseas.29 In fact, the opposite is the case. All of the locations mentioned
25. Safrai 1994: I, 294 (bold emphasis added). Safrai’s article was written in 1982,
but it appears that he later softened his position on this matter. He wrote the following in
a 1996 article: ‘While during the Temple period until the Jewish war in the days of Trajan
in 115–117 C.E., the primary contact was with the Hellenistic diaspora, after that time, the
primary contact was with the eastern diaspora, the Jewish community of Babylonia’
(Safrai 1996: 26).
26. See Alon 1977: I, 146-47; Mantel 1969: 214; in general Safrai 1994: I, 294-310.
27. Tosefta Terumot 2.13. According to tradition, the immigrants from Babylonia
occupied the land almost to Achziv, and it is therefore beyond the borders of the Land of
Israel, just north of the border. See Mishnah Shevi’it 6.1; Demai 1.3.
28. Tosefta Gittin 1.4. Kfar Otenai is situated near Megiddo.
29. For Gamliel’s circuits in the Land of Israel, see Oppenheimer 2005: 145-55
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 109
are either in Israel or in close proximity (Kfar Otenai, Achziv), and there
is no indication that Rabban Gamliel traveled outside of Israel for
halakhic consultations with communities.
(2) It has also been argued that halakhic inquiries were sent to Rabban
Gamliel from overseas.30 This claim is based on the Gemara in the
Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 34b:
R. Yehudah said in the name of Shmuel: ‘The Jews from overseas sent to
Rabban Gamliel the following inquiry: If a man comes to the Land of Israel
whose name is Yoseph but is known as Yohanan, or whose name is Yohanan
but who is known as Yoseph, how is he to divorce his wife?’ Rabban Gamliel
thereupon made a regulation that they should write in the writ of divorce ‘The
man so-and-so or by whatever names he is known, the woman so-and-so or
by whatever names she is known’ in order to prevent abuses.
It should be noted, however, that this source is a Babylonian source from
a period much later than Rabban Gamliel, and that there is no parallel
source in Rabbinic literature in Israel or from the time of Rabban
Gamliel. It seems that we can say with some certainty that the amora
Shmuel did not intend here to convey an historical tale, and that this
source does not constitute, therefore, an historical document. Rather, it is
a didactic explanation of the decree of Rabban Gamliel discussed in the
(3) It has also been argued that when the Sanhedrin was housed in
Yavneh, halakhic inquiries were sent from all of the far reaches of the
dispersion to Yavneh.31 An orderly examination of the sources, however,
reveals that all of the locations mentioned are within the borders of the
Land of Israel or in close proximity (Tivon, Gennosar, Tsidon, Tsippori,
Hamat Gader). There is only one source that appears in three places with
the following wording:
Concerning this law, the men of Asia went up for three successive festivals to
Yavneh, and on the third festival, they [the authorities of Yavneh] declared it
valid for them. (Tosefta Hullin 3.10)
This is apparently an important source that indicates that residents of
Asia went to Yavneh to ask halakhic questions. This same expression
appears in two other places in the Tosefta, in relation to the law of the red
heifer and the regulations of ritual baths:
30. Mantel 1969: 215. See Goodblat 1994–95. Goodblat holds that the meaning of
the phrase ‘medinat ha-yam’ is the coast of the Land of Israel. If so, this story does not
refer at all to the Greek diaspora.
31. Mantel 1969: 214-15 and n. 101; Safrai 1994: I, 298
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
Concerning this law, the men of Asia went up for three successive festivals to
Yavneh, and on the third festival, they [the authorities of Yavneh] declared it
valid for them as a special dispensation [based on a temporary need]. R. Yosi
said: ‘Not for this [law] did they give dispensation, but for…’ (Tosefta Parah
A reservoir that distributes water among the villages, if it was perforated by a
hole the size of the stopper of a water skin, it does not spoil the immersion
pool, and if not, it spoils the immersion pool. Concerning this law, the men of
Asia went up for three successive festivals to Yavneh, and on the third festival,
they [the authorities of Yavneh] declared it fit even if it was perforated by
a hole the size of a needle. (Tosefta Mikvaot 4.6)32
It appears that these sources are dealing with a practical halakhic question.
Yet, how could the red heifer have been relevant to the diaspora
when it relates to issues of purity and impurity that were practiced only
in Israel and in the Temple. This idiosyncrasy supports the conclusion of
Alon which we discussed above that Asia actually refers to Etzion
Gever,33 which was in close proximity to the border of Israel, and was
considered from a Jewish legal standpoint to be part of the Land of
Israel. It is clear that the diaspora with which they were in contact was
close to Israel, and in any case was not the western diaspora. This leaves
us with no Rabbinic sources that indicate that halakhic inquiries were
sent from the western diaspora to the academy in Yavneh.
(4) One of the well-known arguments is that the Sages from the Land
of Israel traveled throughout the diaspora in order to teach halakhah.34
Here too, however, a thorough examination of the sources available to us
indicates that a majority of the places to which the Sages traveled was
across the Jordan, on the Mediterranean coast just north of Israel up to
Tyre and Sidon, in Syria, or in Egypt. Testimony regarding a connection
with the diaspora overseas is practically non-existent:
R. Akiva expounded when he came from Tsiprin [apparently a place in
Syria]… (Tosefta Bava Kama 10.17)
32. The continuation of the Tosefta reads: ‘R. Elazar the son of R. Yosi said: “I
taught this law in Rome, deeming it pure, and when I came to my colleagues, they said:
you have ruled well” ’. The main purpose of R. Elazar’s trip was apparently for political
purposes. See Babylonian Talmud, Me’illa 17a-b. The relevance of this question in Rome
requires clarification, as we have not found that there was a pure immersion pool in that
33. See n. 23 above. It should be noted that according to Bar-Kochva the references
here is to a place in the Land of Israel with the name .
34. Alon 1977: I, 147-49; Mantel 1969: 217-22.
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 111
R. Yehoshua ben Levi once visited Gabla where he saw vines laden with
clusters of ripe grapes that appeared like calves. He remarked: ‘Calves among
the vines!’ (Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 112a)
Gabla, in eastern Transjordan, is mentioned as well in a source relating to
R. Hiyya bar Abba:
R. Hiyya bar Abba once came to Gabla where he observed Jewish women
who conceived from proselytes who had been circumcised but had not performed
the required ritual immersion. He also noticed that idolaters were
serving Jewish wine and Israelites were drinking it, and that idolaters were
cooking lupins and Israelites were eating them. Nevertheless, he did not speak
to them on the matter. He called, however, on R. Yohanan who instructed
him: ‘Go and announce that their children are bastards, that their wine is
forbidden as wine of libation, and that their food is forbidden as food cooked
by idolaters because they are ignorant of Torah.35
This source demonstrates that in these places the law was very different.
R. Yehoshua ben Levi was in Laodecia and R. Yudan said to him: ‘Wait
while we immerse this female convert tomorrow’. The next day, R. Zeira
asked R. Yitzhak bar Nahman: ‘Why? Was it because of the honor due to an
elder, or was it because they did not immerse a female convert at night?’ He
said to him: ‘It is because they did not immerse a female convert at night’.
(Jerusalem Talmud, Yevamot 8.1 [8d])
Laodecia is located on the Mediterranean coast south of Antiochia and
north of Tyre–Sidon. We see again that the places on the itineraries and
halakhic dealings of the Sages were close to the Land of Israel.
R. Yehudah said: ‘There was an event in which Savion, the head of the
synagogue in Achziv purchased a vineyard in its fourth year of growth from a
gentile in Syria, and he gave him payment. Then he came and asked Rabban
Gamliel who was passing from place to place [whether the produce of that
field is liable to the restriction of the fourth year]. He said to him: ‘Wait until
we can dwell upon the law’. (Tosefta Terumot 2.13)
Not a few scholars also built their arguments on this source. It does
indeed state that Rabban Gamliel traveled ‘from place to place’, but in
reality all that we know is that he arrived at Achziv, which is north of
There are many sources about sages from Israel that were in places
such as Tyre and other locations around Syria. Here too, the sources
prove that the reach was particularly to places that were close to the Land
35. Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 46a; see also a parallel source in Babylonian
Talmud, Avodah Zarah 59a. The law, here, however is quite different
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
of Israel, as we stated above, but that there was either no contact or little
contact with more remote overseas communities.36
In addition to the previous sources cited, there are a very limited
number of sources that apparently testify to a link with the western
diaspora. It appears from the following two sources that the Sages in the
generation of Yavneh and following went to a variety of places
throughout the Jewish diaspora, including the Greek diaspora, to deal
with a number of matters including halakhic issues:
R. Akiva said: ‘When I was travelling on the sea, I saw a ship struggling in
the waves, and I was saddened at the fate of a disciple of sages who was on
board. And when I came to Caesarea-Mazaca in Cappodocia, I saw him in
session and asking questions of law before me. I said to him: ‘My son, how
did you escape from the ocean?’ He said to me: ‘One wave tossed me to the
next, and the next to the next, until I came up on dry land’. I said: ‘How great
are the words of the Sages, for they have said: If it is within the sight of the
shore, his wife is permitted [to remarry]. If it is not in sight of the shore, his
wife is not permitted. (Tosefta Yevamot 14.5)
As it has been taught in a baraita: R. Akiva said: ‘When I went to Arabia, they
used to call a ram yobla’. R. Akiva further said: ‘When I went to Gallia, they
called a menstruant woman galmudah. Why galmudah? Gemula da—this one
is isolated from her husband’. R. Akiva further said: ‘When I went to Africa,
they used to call a ma’ah (a small coin) kesituh.’ What is the practical importance
of this?—For explaining the Biblical expression: a hundred kesituh
means a hundred danki. R. Yehudah said: ‘When I went to the seaports, they
called selling kirah’. What is the practical importance of this?—For
36. In this context, it is important to distinguish between Egypt and the rest of the
Greek diaspora. It is clear that during the time of the Temple, there was a long-standing
and strong connection between the Greek-speaking Jewish community of Egypt and the
center in the Land of Israel. For example, we find high priests during the time of Herod
who came from Alexandria (see Mendels 1997: Chapter 10); 2 Macc. 2 opens with a
letter from the Jews of Jerusalem and Judea to the Jews of Egypt (see D.R. Schwartz
2004: ad loc); Tosefta Megillah 2.17 (ed. Lieberman, p. 352) mentions a synagogue of
Alexandrians in Jerusalem; and Babylonian Talmud, Niddah 69b discusses questions that
were asked of R. Yehoshua ben Hananya by the Jews of Alexandria. In the last example,
it is possible that the questions were still from the time of the Temple, as R. Yehoshua
was a recognized scholar at that time (see Tosefta Eduyot 3.3). This situation changed
after the destruction of the Temple. The close relationship was the result of geographical
proximity and the existence of a land route between the communities, as well as the fact
that Alexandria was a very old community with a long-standing history of contact with
the community in the Land of Israel. If we were to draw up a scale depicting the gap
between the communities, with the eastern diaspora in white and the western diaspora in
black, Egypt would probably be depicted in gray. This is true in spite of the fact that the
Jews in Egypt spoke Greek.
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 113
explaining the Biblical expression: asher karithi. R. Shimon ben Lakish said:
‘When I went to the district of Ken Nishraya, they used to call a bride ninfe
and a rooster sekhvi’. Where do we find a bride referred to as ninfe in the
Bible?—‘Yefeh Nof—the joy of the whole earth’. (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh
Yet, we must question whether these sources are reliable from an
historical perspective. It should be noted that both of these sources deal
with legendary stories that are suspect as historical documents.37
Another source that seems doubtful is the following:
Come and hear what Ben Yasyan related: ‘When I went to the coastal towns, I
came across a certain proselyte who had married the wife of his maternal
brother. I said to him: “Who, my son, permitted [this marriage] for you?” He
replied: “Behold the woman and her seven children. On this bench sat R.
Akiva when he made two statements: ‘A proselyte may marry the wife of his
maternal brother’, and ‘And the Lord came to Yonah a second time, saying’ —
only a second time did the Divine Presence speak to him, but a third time the
Divine Presence did not speak to him.”’ (Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 98a)
There is no parallel to this source in the rest of Rabbinic literature, and
we do not even know who Ben Yasyan, the narrator of the story, is. The
story relates to second hand testimony, and the Talmud itself questions
whether the witness is reliable since he is affected by the decision.
Nevertheless, we have here an historical source which documents a visit
of R. Akiva to the western diaspora in which he deals with the laws of
conversion, an issue of relevance to them given the large number of converts
at that time. Another source that seems more credible is the story in
the Tosefta regarding R. Natan who was in ‘mizgat shel kapotkiyah’ and
issued a ruling there relating to circumcision.38
As we have stated, these sources in general are somewhat suspect, but
even if we accept their historical validity, their paucity in contrast to the
large number of sources that deal with visits to Babylonia, Egypt, and
locations in close proximity to northern Israel support the argument that
there was a significant disconnection between the center in Israel and the
In addition, it should be noted that although we are aware of the
existence of many synagogues throughout the Hellenistic diaspora, we
have almost no documentation of scholars who spoke or taught Torah in
any of them. In contrast, we do have a good amount of documentation of
37. See in general Safrai 2001: especially p. 216 n. 91; Alon 1977: I, 352-54.
38. Tosefta Shabbat 15.8 (ed. Lieberman, pp. 70-71) and parallelsJournal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
visits to Rome for political purposes, and of meetings with the leaders of
the empire. It is possible that at the same time, the Rabbis met with the
Jewish community there.39 It is also possible that emissaries were sent to
these communities for the purpose of fundraising.40
In summary, we can say that even if we assume that the above sources
relate to locations in the western diaspora and that they recount the visit
of a particular sage, we can draw the following conclusions:
1. Sources relating to a rabbinic visit to the western diaspora are
sparse and questionable, particularly in contrast to the number of
sources that deal with the connection between the center in Israel
and the eastern diaspora.
2. The number of places in the western diaspora mentioned in
Rabbinic literature are severely limited. Rabbinic literature
almost totally ignores the vast western diaspora that existed at
the time. This is particularly noticeable when compared with the
relatively large number of places mentioned in ch. 2 of Acts , and
in the chapters describing the journeys of Paul (Acts 13–28), as
well as the Pauline epistles which give a comprehensive picture
of the geography of the western Jewish diaspora.
3. The Rabbinic corpus testifies that the western diaspora was not
consistently connected to the system of communication or the
rabbinic authority in the east. The Sages admit and mention this.
4. It is our contention that the significance of these points is that
during the period under discussion, two Judaisms arose with an
ever-growing gap developing between them. As a generalization,
we could label these Judaisms the western ‘Written Torah
Judaism’ and the eastern ‘Oral Law Judaism’. While in the east,
a new normative standard, the Oral Law, developed, in the west,
the Jewish communities remained biblical, maintaining the tradition
as it existed before the rise of the Rabbis and their teachings.
39. See Safrai 1994: II, 365-81. Safrai deals with trips to Rome by the Sages of
Yavneh, but it is clear that rabbis also traveled to Rome in later periods for political
purposes. See, e.g., Babylonian Talmud, Me’illah 17b. It is important to note that a
number of sources that mention Rome are referring to Kfar Roma located in the Galilee,
as mentioned in Josephus Flavius, War 3.233. See the commentary of Y. Felix, Shevi’it I,
233; Lieberman, Tosefta ki-Fshutah, Eruvin, p. 360, n. 80.
40. Thus, for example, it is recorded: ‘There was an incident in which R. Eliezer, R.
Yehoshua and R. Akiva went up to Hulat Antiochia for the purpose of raising funds for
the sages’ (Jerusalem Talmud, Horayot 3.3 [48a]). This source also refers to Syria and
not to the overseas Greek diaspora. In this context, see also the Roman laws cited above
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 115
We will now try to concretize the gap that developed in the Jewish
lifestyle as a result of the language barrier described above through a
demonstration of two aspects of Jewish daily life—the festivals and
The Biblical Passover consists of the prohibition of having hametz
(‘leavened products’) in one’s possession and of the injunction to eat
matzah (‘unleavened bread’), as well as of the sacrificing of the Passover
offering (korban pesah). The pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the public
offering of the sacrifice were central events in the celebration of the
festival in the time of the Temple that were considered to be important
by the entire people. Clearly, the focal point of the Passover celebration
at that time was Jerusalem (Safrai 1965; Jeremias 1969). After the
destruction of the Temple, the Rabbinic leadership intervened to try to
reformulate the holiday so that it should not revolve around the Temple.
Let us briefly mention what we know about the activities of the Rabbis in
this regard during the first generations following the destruction. The
significant question relating to our deliberation is whether or not the
Rabbinic innovations were accepted in the Hellenistic diaspora overseas.
The silence of the Greek sources regarding the content of the holiday and
the fact that these communities did not speak Hebrew suggest that they
remained with the law as described in the Greek corpus that was known
to them—the Septuagint. It is important to emphasize that during the
period that the Temple existed, pilgrims would travel from the overseas
diaspora communities to participate in the Passover offering. This
connection obviously ended after the destruction. Let us examine each
source available to us individually.
Philo (The Special Laws 2.144-49), in describing the festive meal on
Passover night, indicates that the food was not of primary importance.
Rather, the significance of the occasion was the addition of ‘prayers and
songs of praise (hallel)’.41 It is certain that his description relates not only
to the Passover meal in Jerusalem, but to any place that the holiday was
41. The Greek source refers to ‘prayers and hymns’. See Philo, The Special Laws
2.148; see in general Tabory 1995: 84-95.
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
celebrated. In the Land of Israel, in the wake of the destruction of the
Temple, the Rabbis decreed many injunctions that reformulated the
festive meal. There were two central elements of this newly designed
celebration—the text of the haggadah and the various symbols designed
to retain the memory of both the exodus from Egypt and the celebration
of the festival in the Temple. The haggadah focused on the commandment
of ‘retelling the story of the exodus’ (sippur yetsiat mitsrayim), a
practice that is not known to us from the period in which the Temple
existed.42 Some of the new symbols instituted included the eating of
bitter herbs in the absence of the Passover offering, drinking four cups of
wine, dipping, etc. We might assume that the new symbols were adopted
by the western diaspora, but that the haggadah did not find its place in
the Greek and Latin speaking communities because it was written in
Hebrew. Even if we assume that there were scholars or intellectuals in
these communities who knew Hebrew, this would not impact on the
Passover celebration, which was a family-based celebration and not a
synagogue-based event, such as prayer or the reading of the Torah. There
was certainly not a Hebrew speaker in every family. We must assume,
therefore, that the haggadah and the commandment of sippur yetsiat
mitsrayim were not central components of the Passover celebration in the
In the time of the Temple, the Passover offering was slaughtered in the
Temple courtyard and eaten throughout Jerusalem, as is the case with all
sacrifices categorized as kodashim kalim (lit. ‘light sanctified sacrifices’).
43 In fact, there is much evidence that the Passover offering was
grilled and eaten in all of Jerusalem. For example, we learn that ‘no man
was able to say to his friend: “I did not find an oven in Jerusalem on
which to roast the Passover offering”’.44 Similarly, with regard to the
‘last supper’, which was a Passover meal, it states that ‘after they sang
songs of praise, they went out to the Mount of Olives’ (Mt. 26.30). In
42. Safrai and Safrai 1998: 13-18; see in general Tabory 1996: 350.
43. Mishnah Zevachim 5.8; Safrai and Safrai 1998: 14 n. 14; Jub. 49.16-20; Temple
44. Avot de-Rabbi Natan, version A, 35 (ed. Schechter), p. 52a.This also finds
expression in Philo (The Special Laws 2.148). Jesus also said to his students as follows:
‘Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where
will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a
certain one, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the
Passover at your house with my disciples’.” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed
them, and they prepared the Passover’ (Mt. 26.17-19
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 117
other words, the Passover celebration is described here as consisting of
two elements—the singing of songs of praise and the eating of the
sacrifice. There is no mention of the haggadah or of the commandment
of sippur yetsiat mitsrayim. The book of Jubilees also describes the
Passover meal as consisting of meat, wine, and the singing of songs of
praise. Philo, as well, describes the celebration as follows: ‘They did not
gather as in other meals to fill themselves with wine and food, but to
fulfill the custom of their ancestors with prayer and song’ (On the Law
2.148). The eating of the sacrifice accompanied by songs of praise is also
indicated in tannaitic sources.45 Furthermore, the centrality of Jerusalem
in the celebration of Passover prior to the destruction of the Temple
manifested itself in the fact that thousands flocked to Jerusalem on the
eve of Passover from all over the Jewish world. Nevertheless, those who
arrived were a small percentage of the total number of Jews living in the
Land of Israel, and certainly a very small percentage of the number of
Jews in the diaspora (Safrai 1965: 71-74). Apparently, as indicated in the
sources cited, the singing of songs of praise was an integral part of the
Passover offering. It is logical to assume that those who did not come to
Jerusalem celebrated the evening with a normal meal, without hallel or
the Passover offering.
The haggadah was created during the first generations of tannaim
after the destruction of the Temple as a substitute for the Passover
offering and the celebration surrounding it. The Mishnah, in the tenth
chapter of Pesahim, parallels the haggadah, and all of the tannaim
mentioned there are from the generation of Yavneh (Rabban Gamliel, R.
Akiva, R. Tarfon, R. Elazar b’R. Zadok). While Finkelstein suggested
that the haggadah is a more ancient text that existed already during the
time of the Maccabees, all of his proofs have been refuted by other
scholars (Goldschmidt 1960: 30-37). It seems clear that we have no evidence
that the commandment of sippur yetsiat mitsrayim was part of the
Passover ritual, and certainly no evidence regarding the existence of a
text for Passover night prior to the destruction of the Temple. In fact, on
the contrary, most of the evidence supports the fact that the holiday was
celebrated only with the sacrifice and songs of praise, as we noted above.
Interestingly, a number of rishonim claim that the tenth chapter of
Pesahim, which serves as the foundation of the haggadah and contains
its basic structure, was originally connected to the first four chapters of
45. See Mishnah Pesahim 10:6-7; Tosefta Sukkah 3.2; Tosefta Pesahim 3.11
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
the tractate as a separate tractate called Pesah Rishon. Chapters 5 through
9, which deal with the offering of the Passover sacrifice, constituted
tractate Pesah Sheni. In other words, the tenth chapter was not included
in the description of the celebration of Passover in the time of the
Temple.46 This structure would indicate that the tenth chapter, which
delineates the text of the night of Passover and its symbols, was not in
force during the time of the Temple. It is worth noting, as well, that the
literature of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha from the Land of Israel
and the western diaspora make no mention of the haggadah or of the
commandment of sippur yetsiat mitsrayim on the night of Passover.
Since we have no evidence of a change in the manner that Passover
was celebrated in the western diaspora, it is logical to assume that it was
celebrated after the destruction in the same way that it was celebrated
before—according to the Bible and the Septuagint. It apparently involved
a meal in which matzah was eaten, and, as indicated by Philo, songs of
praise were sung. If, in fact, the story of the exodus was recounted, it was
told in Greek according to the narrative in the biblical account in the
book of Exodus. Philo, in his description of the Passover celebration,
utilizes the term ‘symposium’ which refers in the apocryphal literature to
a meal with wine. Indeed, we can assume that the haggadah was initially
preserved only as an oral tradition, as was the Mishnah. This assumption
has contradictory implications. On the one hand, it would indicate that
the text of the haggadah, even in contrast to the Mishnah, was less
organized and set, as a closed text might be. The tenth chapter of
Pesahim presents general instructions for conducting the Passover night
celebration, without a closed text that includes specific blessing or
prayers. Thus, the essence of the haggadah as we know it is comprised
of Midrashim on the biblical verses relating to the first fruits ceremony
(Deut. 26.5-8). The Mishnah merely indicates that one should start reading
and interpreting ‘my father was a wandering Aramean’, and in its
initial stages probably allowed for a more free discussion. If so, even a
Greek-speaking Jew could perform this ceremony. Interestingly, the
Midrashim in the final text of the haggadah are comprised largely of
verses from the book of Exodus that recount the story of the exodus from
Egypt. On the other hand, the fact that the material was transmitted orally
could cause greater difficulty for a non-Hebrew-speaking community.
Oral transmission forces complete reliance on individuals who know the
46. See H. Albeck, Perush ha-Mishnah, Seder Moed, 140 n. 9; Lieberman, Tosefta
ki-Fshutah Pesahim, p. 647; Safrai and Safrai 1998: 19-32
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 119
language, who can remember and transmit the material to others.
Paradoxically, a written text might be more accessible to a community
that does not speak the language, as the text can be read without understanding,
or with partial understanding. As we know, the Hebrew prayers
were preserved in later generations in various diaspora communities, in
which the prayers were recited without understanding from the prayer
The uniqueness of the text of the haggadah goes well beyond the
ritual compensation that it effected—that is, prayer in place of the sacrifice
that could no longer be offered. It also compensated for the center
that was lost. Prior to its destruction, the Temple served as the national
center for the entire nation (Mendels 1997: Chapters 5 and 10). Even
those who were not able physically to go to Temple fixed their gaze
toward Jerusalem. There the national events took place. This was the
place that defined and directed the community. The liturgy created by the
Sages sought not only to substitute new rituals, but also to create a new
way of defining the community. A person in any location who sat on that
day and read that text defined himself as a member of the community.
This new method of defining community, and connection to the community,
was particularly well-suited for dispersed communities. Even
though there was a diaspora during the time of the Temple, the big
change after its destruction was the disappearance of the center. The text
was the substitute for the center that had defined the community. It is
therefore clear that one who could not read the text could not be part of a
community of readers for whom the text was the means of connecting to
Thus, our claim is not only that the western diaspora lacked the means
to remain connected to the center after the destruction of the Temple, but
that the newly created center gave rise to an entirely new medium for
connectedness—that is, a common text. If, however, the text was to
serve, among other functions, as the new medium for defining community,
it was incumbent on everyone in the community to recite it in a
common language. Ironically, the Greek-speaking, Hellenistic diaspora,
which was so much in need of connectedness to the center, was essentially
cut off from the community as a result of this new medium because
of their inability to read Hebrew and the lack of translations into Latin or
Greek in ancient times. This same phenomenon relates to the development
of Jewish prayer, as we will discuss below.
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
In other words, prior to the destruction of the Temple, connectedness
to the community was achieved through an emotional identification with
the Temple through an ongoing awareness of what transpired there and
an anticipation of traveling there on pilgrimages. Following the destruction,
the haggadah became one of the primary means of identification
with the community. Since it was not translated, the Greek-speaking
communities were left dangling, and their level of connectedness weakened
progressively. They lost the old method of bonding with the center,
but were unable to adapt to the new method.
The institution of a set prayer service was quite revolutionary. We do not
find such a practice in biblical sources or in other ancient cultures (J.
Heinemann 1966: 17-28). In the time of the Temple, we are aware of
prayers that accompanied the sacrifices that were comprised of verses
from the Bible, primarily from the book of Psalms. The concept of prayer
as a form of divine worship in itself was an innovation of the Rabbinic
leadership in the generations following the destruction of the Temple.
The magnitude of this innovation was not just in the recognition of the
value of prayer independent of the Temple ritual, but also in that it
became obligatory and structured. The establishment of an obligatory
prayer service with set times and a predetermined and closed liturgy was
implemented in place of spontaneous prayer that flowed from the
emotions of the individual and his internal spiritual need to communicate
with his God. Obligatory and set prayer is not mentioned in sources from
the time of the Temple, in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, in the
writings of Philo or Josephus, or in the New Testament (Fleischer 1989–
90: 402). Research also indicates that ancient synagogues during the time
of the Temple were not places of worship, but were primarily for the
reading of the Torah (Levine [ed.] 1987). Fleischer demonstrated that the
New Testament includes numerous references in which Jesus appears in
a synagogue where he teaches, answers questions, and reads from the
Torah, but never prays. The same is true of the visits of Paul and the
Apostles to diaspora synagogues. The recurring theme is that the synagogue
was a place for reading the Torah and for delivering sermons, but
not for prayer (Fleischer 1989–90: 402-11). Prayer in the New Testament
appears in a very individualized and intimate format, rather than in an
institutionalized context. The new format of set prayer thus represented a
significant shift in religious life. The formulation and organization of the
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 121
prayer service was part of a larger attempt by the Rabbis to construct an
orderly and structured form of divine worship to replace the Temple
service. Order was also needed as a means of creating structure for the
people. Set ritual helps to create an organized community around it. Just
as the worship in the Temple was not spontaneous, the new form of
worship was similarly designed in a structured format. We have clear
information from the generation of Yavneh that the Sages worked
intently to formulate and establish structured prayer.47
There are many Rabbinic sources that claim that the source of the
adopted prayer service was ancient, pre-dating the Temple period.48
These sources prove that the Sages wished to attribute an ancient
character to the prayers, but they do not prove that they actually existed
prior to their time. Just as the history of halakhah during the Temple
period is clouded with uncertainty, so too is the history of prayer. The
one fact that is clear is that a central activity of the Sages during the
generation of Yavneh was undoubtedly the creation of structured prayer
as part of a reformulation of Jewish identity and the fashioning of a new
form of divine worship to compensate for the loss of the Temple.49 In
prayer, as in other areas, the powerful innovations of the generation of
Yavneh saved Judaism by refashioning its world anew. It is possible that
they did not create this world ex nihilo. The degree to which the prayers
established by the Rabbis were based on pre-Temple antecedents is a
point of controversy in scholarly literature. It seems to us, however, that
this very argument was contained in the deliberations in the study halls
of Yavneh. The preponderance of evidence that the issue of prayer
engaged so much of the attention of the Sages indicates that they viewed
it as a significant innovation from recognized practice. This is demonstrated,
for example, in the following Talmudic source regarding the
amidah prayer, which represents the heart of the prayer service:
47. There are scholars who claim that the process of formulating set prayer was
unrelated to the Temple service, but they admit that we have no sources from the Temple
period that prove that there was prayer outside of the Temple. See Heinemann 1966: 22.
48. For example, ‘The prophets established them’ (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah
18a); ‘The men of the Great Assembly established them’ (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot
33a); ‘Moses established the prayer “Ha-El ha-Gadol ha-Gibor veha-Nora”…and when
the men of the Great Assembly stood, they returned the greatness to its proper place…’
(Jerusalem Talmud, Megillah 3.7 [74c]).
49. See, in general, Reif 1993.
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
R. Gamaliel says, ‘Each day one should recite the Prayer consisting of
eighteen [benedictions]’. R. Yehoshua says, ‘[Each day one says] an abbreviation
of the eighteen benedictions’. R. Akiva says, ‘If one’s prayer is fluent
he says the eighteen benedictions. And if not, [he says] an abbreviation of
them’. R. Eliezer says, ‘One who recites his prayers in a routine manner—his
prayers are not supplications’. (Mishnah Berakhot 4.3-4)
It appears in this source that Rabban Gamliel is strongly advocating that
a newly formulated prayer be adopted as a set prayer. His colleagues, R.
Yehoshua and R. Akiva, take a softer and somewhat equivocal stand. On
the other hand, R. Eliezer, the conservative tanna, challenges the very
concept of set prayer. R. Eliezer wishes to preserve prayer that constitutes
‘supplication’—an intimate personal prayer that was known from
the time of the Temple.50 He therefore objects fundamentally to any
prayer in which the text is predetermined.51 R. Yehoshua and R. Akiva
take a more compromising position. Yet, this fact in itself demonstrates
that Rabban Gamliel, the nasi, sought to introduce a fixed structure.
From the fact that R. Akiva raises the issue as to whether he has a fluent
knowledge of the prayer, it is clear that Rabban Gamliel was lobbying
for the adoption of a prayer with a set text. The following Baraita
supports the contention that this prayer was created during the time of
Shimon Happakuli in Yavneh laid out the eighteen benedictions before
Rabban Gamaliel in proper order.52
50. For the meaning of the word keva as a form of the word kavua (‘set’), see Ginsberg
1971: III, 333-37; Heinemann 1981: 77-79. Heinemann is correct that R. Eliezer
follows in the footsteps of R. Shimon in Mishnah Avot 2.13, and essentially says the same
thing—expressing opposition to a set format for prayer. It might be that both of them
agree that one should recite the eighteen benedictions (amidah) each day, but oppose the
idea of a set prayer service that was in the process of being formulated and becoming part
of the Rabbinic world. See Aderet 1999: 95.
51. The Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 29b brings three opinions as to the meaning of
the concept ‘set prayer’ in R. Eliezer’s statement: ‘That his prayer is like a weight upon
him’; ‘Any prayer in which the person does not make supplication’; and ‘Any prayer in
which the person cannot innovate’. The first two opinions clearly relate to a prayer that
has a set wording that the person praying simply recites, which is therefore like a weight
upon him or which does not represent true supplication. The third opinion also relates to
prayer that is already set, and that he therefore cannot introduce innovations because
everything is already set.
52. Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 28a. See Fleischer 1989–90: 425-33. See also Reif
1993: 60, who states: ‘There is, however, no convincing evidence that even the earliest
known text of the amidah itself predates the destruction of the Temple and only on the
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 123
Even if we accept the contention of many scholars that the source of the
amidah prayer was from the latter part of the Temple period, the Baraita
certainly confirms the importance that the Sages of Yavneh attributed to
its adoption as an obligatory prayer with a set time.53
The following examples also indicate that prayers that had not existed
earlier were adopted in the generation of Yavneh:
Mishnah, Berakhot 1.4-5: ‘In the morning one recites two
[blessings] before it [the Shema] and one blessing after it. And
in the evening two blessings before it and two blessings after it,
one long and one short [blessing]: Where sages have said to say
a long one, one is not permitted to say a short one. [Where they
said] to say a short one, one is not permitted to say a long one.
[Where they said] to conclude [with an appropriate blessing] one
is not permitted not to conclude with one. [Where they said] not
to conclude with a blessing, one is not permitted to do so. They
mention the exodus from Egypt at night. Said R. Eleazar ben
Azariah, ‘I am about seventy years old and I have not been
worthy [of understanding why] the exodus from Egypt is
recounted at night, until Ben Zoma expounded it. ‘As it says,
“So that you may remember the day on which you left Egypt all
the days of your life” (Deut. 16.3). “The days of your life”
[implies only] the days. “All the days of your life” [includes] the
nights”. And sages say, “The days of your life” [includes only]
this world. “All the days of your life”—encompasses the messianic
age.’ This means that the evening prayer was still not fixed
in the generation of Yavneh.
In the Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 27b, we learn of the controversy
as to whether the evening prayer is obligatory or simply
basis of intelligent and informed speculation can it be argued that some of the introductory
and concluding benedictions were in existence as such at that time’.
53. There is a controversy among scholars as to the precise meaning of this Braita.
The accepted view, that of Heinemann, that we are talking about the final editing and
formulation is based on the sources available to him (see Heinemann 1966: 22-26). This
is difficult to accept in our opinion, as he himself admits that we do not have any proofs
regarding organized prayer during the time of the Temple. The use of the term shemoneh
esrei (‘eighteen benedictions’) does not prove anything. Why would we not say, as is
apparent from the simple meaning of the words, that they established and edited the
shemoneh esrei? This is the position of Fleischer (1989–90: 426). In this context, we
must also pay attention to the fact that we have much evidence regarding the work of the
Sages of this generation on formulating many other prayers
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
permissible. The protagonists in this argument are scholars from
the generation of Yavneh, but their argument rests on the correlation
between the prayer and the Temple service. The one who
contends that the evening service is not obligatory bases his
position on the fact that it has no parallel in the Temple service.
Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 4.5: ‘Regarding the order of the blessings:
one recites the Patriarchs, Powers, and the Holiness of the
Name, and includes Malkhuyot, but he does not blow [the
shofar]; the Sanctity of the Day, and he blows [the shofar];
Zikhronot, and he blows [the shofar]; Shofarot, and he blows
[the shofar]; and he recites Service, and Thanksgiving, and the
Priestly Blessing; so says Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri. Rabbi Akiva
said to him, If he does not blow for Malkhuyot, why does he
mention it? Rather he recites Patriarchs, Powers, and the
Holiness of the Name, and includes Malkhuyot in the Sanctity of
the Day, and he blows [the shofar]; Zikhronot, and he blows [the
shofar]; Shofarot, and he blows [the shofar]; and he recites
Service, Thanksgiving, and the Priestly Blessing.’ From this text
It becomes clear that the rabbis are still in a process of formulating
the set prayer of Rosh ha-Shanah.
Let us additionally emphasize two important points regarding prayer:
First, the prayers adopted by the Rabbis represent the ultimate text in
terms of the triumph of the Hebrew language. There is a recognizable
Greek influence in Rabbinic literature, indicating that the Sages were
aware of Greek and that some were proficient in the language. Nevertheless,
this does not find expression, as we find practically no Greek
expressions or words in Jewish prayer.54
54. In fact, with regard to the shema prayer, we find that in Caesaria, it was recited in
Greek: ‘Rabbi said: “I say that kriat shema should only be recited in the holy language
[Hebrew]. What is the reason? For it states: And these words shall be…” R. Levi bar
Hayta went to Caesaria and heard them reciting the shema in Greek. He wanted to stop
them. R. Yosi heard and was adamant, saying: “I say that a person who cannot read
ashurit should not read it, but should say it in any language that he knows”. R. Berachya
responded: “With regard to the Scroll of Esther, if he reads in ashurit and in the
vernacular, he only fulfils the requirement in ashurit”. Rabbi said: “How do we know that
if he knows how to read the Scroll of Esther in ashurit and in the vernacular, he only
fulfils the requirement in ashurit? Rather, if he reads the vernacular, he fulfils the
obligation in the vernacular. Similarly, he prays in any language that he knows so that he
can request his needs and make the blessing over food. So he knows who he is blessing,
we make him swear an oath of testimony or an oath on a deposit in his language
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 125
Second, the prayers are essentially part of the Oral Law in that they
were transmitted orally and were not committed to writing until the Oral
Law itself was committed to writing. The first evidence of a written
prayer book appears in tractate Sofrim, which was written in the seventh
or eighth century. We also have clear proofs that the Sages opposed the
publication of the prayers in written form, as reflected in the following
If they were written in paint, red ink, gum ink, or calcanthum, they save them
and store them away. As to the scrolls containing blessings, even though they
include the Divine Name and many citations from the Torah, they do not save
them, but they are allowed to burn where they are. On this basis, they have
stated that those who write blessings are as if they burn the Torah. A certain
person would write blessings and they told R. Yishmael about him. R. Yishmael
went to examine him. When he climbed the ladder, he [the writer] sensed
that he was coming. He took the sheaf of blessings and put it in a dish of water.
And in accord with the following statement did R. Yishmael address him: ‘The
punishment for the latter deed is harder than for the former’. (Tosefta Shabbat
We see that the Rabbis took dramatic steps to create a new prayer
service. This form of prayer took shape during the period of the tannaim
and became a set ritual for Jews in the Land of Israel and the eastern
diaspora. As such, it also served as the glue that bonded people to the
community. The Rabbis insisted on the use of pure Hebrew in the
prayers, and that they not be committed to writing, and certainly not
translated. These facts lead to the unequivocal conclusion that these
prayers could not penetrate into the synagogues in the Greek-speaking
diaspora. This means that the dramatic development of the liturgy that
took place in the first generations following the destruction of the
Temple and that became a significant component in the definition of
Jewish identity from both a religious and a social perspective was essentially
inaccessible to the Jews of the western diaspora. Apparently, the
western diaspora remained with non-institutional prayer, and without a
clear liturgical structure. The gap between the diasporas, caused by the
deep language barrier, left the western diaspora beyond the reach of the
new prayer structure developed by the Rabbis. It seems clear that there
(Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 7.2 [21b]). It should be noted that this source is talking about
kriat shema that is comprised of a number of biblical sections that had certainly been
translated into Greek hundreds of years earlier. What interests us in this study are those
prayers that were formulated and written by the Sages, particularly during the generation
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
was no parallel liturgical development in the Greek-speaking diaspora
because there was no recognized body that had the authority to create
such a structure. We find support for this thesis from sources emanating
from the western diaspora:
First, we find no reference to the amidah prayer in the Apocrypha and
Second, the lack of an accepted version of the amidah in the Greekspeaking
diaspora is ironically supported by the Christian Apostolic
Constitution from the fourth century (Book 7, Chapters 33–38). It
includes a hint that the author was aware of the amidah prayer that was
recited on the Sabbath. This work is written in Greek, and recent studies
have clarified that the source of these chapters of the Apostolic Constitution
is from the Syrian Church, and that it was originally written in
Syriac and translated later to Greek. It is known that the Syrian Church
had close contacts with Jews in the Land of Israel and Syria. We can
therefore assume that the prayer that was known to the author was not
practiced in Greek-speaking communities, but from Hebrew renditions in
communities in Israel.56 The fact that the author of the Apostolic
Constitution mentions only the amidah of the Sabbath relates to the
reality that he was writing for a Christian population that meets for
prayer only on the Sabbath.
There is no need to elaborate further on the impact of the everwidening
gap between the nature of prayer and of the synagogue in the
eastern and western diasporas, and the deepening bifurcation into two
distinct Judaisms that resulted.
* * *
We would like to bring four more proofs for our thesis:
(1) In the Antiquities, Josephus Flavius makes numerous references
to Jewish Law. A. Shalit, in his excellent introduction to his Hebrew
translation of Antiquities, claims that Josephus drew on two main
sources: (1) his memory of the teachings of the Sages in Jerusalem, and
(2) literary sources classified as ‘external literature’—the book of
Jubilees, addenda to Megillat Esther based on the Septuagint, Alexander
Polyhistor, Philo, etc. (Shalit 1967: I, 36-49). Yet, when we examine his
55. See Chesnutt and Newman 1997. They speak rightfully about the ‘scripturization
of prayer’ in the Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha.
56. David A. Fiensy, ‘Prayers, Hellenistic Synagogal’, in ABD, V, cols. 450-51
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 127
writings, we could say that Josephus was not influenced by the halakhah
that was developed after the destruction of the Temple.57 It is astounding
that most of the laws that he cites are biblical, and not based on Rabbinic
teachings. Apparently, these teachings did not reach Rome, where
Josephus took up residence after the destruction. Based on his abundant
citation of Jewish sources, we would have expected Josephus to cite
Rabbinic law had he been aware of it.
The legal corpus of Philo also demonstrates that he relied strongly on
the Septuagint. There is no indication that Philo drew on the Rabbinical
Law. David Rokeah claims justifiably that the influence of Greek
philosophy on Philo was particularly strong since his foundations in
Judaism were built on the Septuagint, that is, on the written Torah as it
appears in Greek translation through a philosophical prism (Rokeah
1976: 13-16). Philo was not familiar with other Jewish sources. Rokeah
demonstrates that he only knew Jewish biblical sources through the
Septuagint. In the controversy between Wolfson and Heinemann as to
the similarity between the philosophy of Philo and medieval Jewish
philosophy, Heinemann claims that there was a significant gap between
them because Philo did not know the Rabbinic Jewish tradition (Heinemann
(2) A law enacted by Justinian in 8 February 553 CE supports our
claim that the Jewish world was divided between Greek and Hebrew
based communities (Linder 1987: law no. 66). The reality reflected in
this law has far reaching implications regarding the duality of the community.
As indicated by the law, Justinian is intervening in an internal
Jewish matter at the behest of the community. The emperor states explicitly
that the Jews presented him with a petition requesting his involvement:
‘However we could not bear to leave them with an unresolved
controversy. We have learned from their petitions.’ We emphasize this
point to negate the interpretation that this represented a Jewish–Christian
conflict. It is logical to assume that the unresolved controversy was
between the Jews of Israel and the Greek-speaking diaspora. This is
indicated by the fact that the legislation permits reading in Greek and
other languages, gives preference to the Septuagint translation over that
of Aqilas, and negates the Oral Law.58 The document reflects the tension
57. Regarding laws in Antiquities, see several laws cited in Goldenberg 1976. In
general, however, one can assume that Josephus was not acquainted with oral Halakhah.
58. ‘…Those who read in Greek shall use the Septuagint tradition, which is more
accurate than all the others, and is preferable to the others particularly in reason of what
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
between the two diasporas and the conflict over issues of language and
The Justinian law takes a clear anti-Rabbinic position. It permits the
use of Greek in prayer, explicitly prefers the Septuagint translation over
that of Aqilas that was preferred by the Rabbis (Lieberman 1962: 14-15),
unequivocally negates the Mishnah which is mentioned explicitly, and
apparently negates the Oral Law in general. We can assume that the law
addresses overseas Greek-speaking communities, for if not, it would be
difficult to understand the conflict. The issue of the validity of the Oral
Law had long been decided in the region of Israel by the sixth century.
The Sadducees had already disappeared, and the Oral Law already stood
at the center of Jewish activity and creativity. In fact, the Jerusalem
Talmud had already been redacted.
(3) The impression of the Jew in Pagan, Greek and Latin literature is
of one who lives according to the laws of the Torah, but not the Oral
Law. For example, in the writings of Tacitus and others up until the sixth
century, Jews are described according to the model known to us in the
Bible. The characteristics of the Jew found in this literature include
Sabbath observance, celebration of Passover, the prohibition of statues,
circumcision, and separation with regard to marriage and eating. These
are classical biblical motifs. Through them, we also find a shallow
encounter with certain biblical characters such as Abraham and Moses.
For example, the laws are referred to as the ‘Mosaic Law’. On the other
hand, we do not find in the literature of Tacitus or other Pagan literature
references to innovations that took place in Rabbinic academies, including
new practices such as prayer or novel holiday observances. Their
descriptions could not rely on anything other that the Bible because the
Oral Law was not written and was not translated to Latin or Greek. The
Pagan writers usually relied on their surface knowledge of local Jews.
Thus, their use of the term ‘Mosaic Law’ reflects the fact that they did
not know of the existence of any other literature beyond the Bible (Stern
1976–80, passim). The fact that the Rabbis ignored Moses to a degree
because he was emphasized in Pagan literature demands explanation.
happened while the translation was made… We give permission to use also Aqilas’
translation, although he was a gentile and in some readings differs not a little from the
Septuagint. What they call Mishnah…we prohibit entirely, for it is not included among
the Holy Books, nor was it handed down from above by the prophets, but it is an invention
of men in their chatter, exclusively of earthly origin and having in it nothing of the
divine’ (Linder 1987: 409, and see his commentary concerning the term Mishnah,
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 129
Apparently, it reflected a hidden debate over the centrality of a legislator
because the Greeks and Romans viewed him as a Pagan legislator.
(4) The Jewish Rebellion (115–117 CE) might also support our argument.
It is a surprising fact that the Jews were divided in their participation
in the revolt. While the eastern diaspora from Mesopotamia to Egypt
(doubts regarding the community in the Land of Israel as to the ‘war of
Kitos’ are unjustified) actively participated in the rebellion, the western
diaspora was completely passive, except for Cyprus and Libya, which
were anyhow in close proximity to the east.59
We contend that Paul and the first Apostles, and subsequently the Church
Fathers, took advantage of the vacuum that developed in the western
diaspora as a result of the fact that it was cut off from the hierarchical
systems of administration and communication of the eastern Jewish
community. They worked toward spreading their beliefs in the western
Jewish diaspora. It is a fact that Paul never considered going eastward,
and that the only population that he thought might possibly accept his
teachings was the Jews of the Greek-speaking diaspora (Mendels 1998:
394-419). Greek-speaking Jews who became part of the western diaspora
could easily have perceived Paul, who was a student of R. Gamliel I, as a
rabbi who came to teach the Oral Law. The big advantage for Paul, and
consequently the Church Fathers, was that they taught in Greek. Paul’s
ability to enter the public sphere of the Jewish community via the synagogue
was related to the fact that these Jews were spiritually cut off from
the center in the Land of Israel and from Babylonia:
Now Paul and his company set sail from Paphos, and came to Perga in Pamphylia…
[B]ut they passed on from Perga and came to Antioch of Pisidia.
And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the
reading of the law and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them,
saying, ‘Brethern, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it’.
So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said: ‘Men of Israel, and you
that fear God…’ As they went out, the people begged that these things might
be told them the next sabbath. And when the meeting of the synagogue broke
up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas,
who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.’ (Acts
59. Regarding the Jewish rebellion of 115–117 CE, see Mendels 1997: 385-86, and
Pucci Ben Zeev 2006: 93-104.
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
The same is true of the later Church Fathers who could have been
perceived by some Jews as Rabbinic authorities.60 The lack of hierarchical
and structured communication within the western diaspora, and its
isolation from the east, created a place for early Christianity to establish
a foothold, and to build a structured Christian hierarchy. The people who
attached themselves to this hierarchy were Jews who were estranged
from their brethren in the east. 61
1. The Jewish world during the period under discussion began to
separate into two worlds with an ever-widening gap between
2. This gap was the result of a geographical divide as well as a
language barrier of Hebrew and Aramaic vs. Greek.
3. In the course of time, two different knowledge bases and two
distinct literatures were created—in the west, the Bible in its
Greek translation along with the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha,
and in the east, Rabbinic literature.
4. This gap naturally led to a normative gap of distinct diasporas.
While the east developed a normative standard presented by the
Rabbis, the west maintained a biblical normative system based
on the Septuagint. This gap came to expression particularly in the
areas of prayer and synagogue life, and holiday celebration.
5. The scholarly claim of an ongoing connection between the
Greek-speaking diaspora in the west and the center in Israel has
been challenged in the present study.
6. In contrast, Talmudic sources point to a strong and clear connection
between the center in the Land of Israel and the eastern
7. The Jewish communities that were isolated from the Rabbinic
network served as a receptive basis for the development of an
60. With regard to stories in the New Testament about the emissaries, the Christian
emissaries were called ‘apostles’. Jewish emissaries from the nasi were referred to in this
way as well in Roman law. It is therefore possible that scholars did not always distinguish
between the different emissaries, and claim that a source is referring to Jewish emissaries
when it is actually referring to Christian apostles.
61. Regarding the development of a Christian system of communication at that time,
see Mendels 1999.
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 131
alternative Christian network by Paul, which enabled it to spread
throughout the Mediterranean basin.
8. An Oral Law did not develop in the western diaspora, and
western Jews contributed nothing to the development of the Oral
Law in the east.
9. The codex of Roman laws dealing with Jews confirms in a variety
of places the gap between the eastern and western diasporas.
10. Archaeological findings also demonstrate that such a gap existed
in a number of areas of life. The gap was not just a language
barrier, but was also theological and cultural. This reality is
contrary to the reality of later diasporas in which all of the
diaspora communities were based on the Oral Law, and the
‘official’ Jewish language was Hebrew.
11. Sources that discuss rabbinic travels to western diaspora communities
point to the fact that these visits were chance occurrences.
The Church tried to create a communication network,
bureaucratic unity, and a church law in order to impose standards
in every place. Even the early apostles traveled to many places to
preach. Such an approach did not exist among the Jews in the
west, which fostered only a flat system of communication. There
was no bureaucratic system that imposed, or even transmitted
information about the halahkah. There were no emissaries who
went out to preach.62 In contrast, it is clear that the eastern
diaspora did create a communication system that transmitted
laws systematically. The Talmud is filled with stories of Sages
who travel between the land of Israel and Babylonia, carrying
with them laws and traditions. The Mishnah itself was transferred
from Israel to Babylonia and there became the corner
stone of Torah study. The comments of well-known scholars
from Israel are quoted frequently in the Babylonian Talmud, and
vice versa. No such thing is recorded in the western diaspora.
The few sources that do exist demonstrate that the connection
12. Pagan literature paints a picture of Jews who live according to
the Torah, and not according to the Oral Law.
In this study, we have described a phenomenon that challenges the
accepted scholarly view of the Jewish diaspora in the period following
62. With regard to the Church, see Mendels 1999
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007)
the destruction of the Temple. We dealt with the divide that developed
between the eastern and western diasporas, and that continued to widen
until it seemed unbridgeable. We focused on the language barrier
between the Hebrew- and Aramaic-based east and the Greek-speaking
west. Yet, we did not deal with the roots of this phenomenon, or its
branches. We did not deal with the causes of this bifurcation, or with its
implications for the future. We did not address a number of critical
questions that flow from our analysis: Why did the Rabbinic leadership
allow this fissure to develop and grow? Did they relinquish the western
diaspora intentionally, and if so, why? On the other hand, why did the
western Jews forfeit their connection with the center in Israel? Perhaps
the language barrier that we described was not a cause but a symptom,
reflecting a cultural divide that severed the relationship between the two
communities. Or, perhaps the divide simply became so large in reality
that it could not be bridged. What we can say for sure is that the Jews
paid a high price for keeping their Halakhah in oral form, losing in consequence
half of its constituency. In communication theory terms, orality is
considered time-biased, effective in orienting society to its past; script is
space-biased, effective in bridging distance but not in time. Opting for
orality and time, the Rabbis had to surrender space; in the present case—
the western half of the Jewish world.63 We also did not ask what were the
ultimate results of this bifurcation. What became of the Greek diaspora?
Did it simply assimilate into the Christian community that captured
Roman society? Or, did it remain an isolated and distinct community, a
type of Biblical community that later influence the development of
Karaism? We leave all of these questions open for future research.
It is also possible that future scholars will choose to see this divide as
part of a larger context of similar schisms that occurred throughout the
generations in Jewish history. It is not unlikely that the potential forces
which drove the Jewish nation to such a rift, were immanent in Judaism
all along from Biblical times. These forces conflict with the Rabbinic
notion of kol Yisrael arevim ze ba-ze (‘all Jews are responsible for each
other’, a notion that comes to the fore in the narrative of 1 Macc. 5). Rifts
in Judaism were of social, political, religious, and Halakhic nature and
became a driving force in the trial and error processes of Jewish history.
We hope that our analysis will serve as a catalyst for further research,
and will ultimately lead us to a deeper understanding of Jewish history
63. See Innis 1951 and Blondheim 2003.
EDREI AND MENDELS A Split Jewish Diaspora 133
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The Jewish diaspora (or simply the Diaspora; Hebrew Galut גלות; Yiddish Golus) was the historical exile 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. 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 settled in Northern and 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), and Russia (~ 200,000).
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). The modern Hebrew concept of Tefutzot תפוצות, “scattered”, was introduced in the 1930s by the German-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 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, 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 favoring 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 suppression, 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 medieval 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.
Experts have rejected the 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. (See also: Genetic studies on Jews) 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. This had the effect that after the destruction of the Second Temple, the dispersal of Jews came to be seen as exile. This notion strengthened over the centuries even though he argues that no mass deportation occurred after 70 AD and the dispersion was 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.
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). 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 – U.S. – 2,007,850.
- Jerusalem – 705,000.
- Los Angeles – U.S. – 684,950.
- Haifa – Israel – 671,400.
- Miami – U.S. – 485,850.
- Be’er Sheva – Israel – 367,600.
- San Francisco – U.S. – 345,700.
- Paris – France – 284,000.
- Chicago – U.S. – 270,500.
- Philadelphia – U.S. – 263,800.
- Boston – U.S. – 229,100.
- Washington, DC – U.S. – 215,600
- London – United Kingdom – 195,000.
- Toronto – Canada – 180,000.
- Atlanta – U.S. – 119,800.
- Moscow – Russia – 95,000.
- San Diego – U.S. – 89,000.
- Phoenix – U.S. – 82,900.
- Cleveland – U.S. – 81,500.
- Montreal – Canada – 80,000.
- ^ a b “Book Calls Jewish People an ‘Invention’”. The New York Times: p. 2). November 23, 2009.
- ^ “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).
- ^ Simon Rawidowicz, Benjamin C. I. Ravid, Israel, the ever-dying people, and other essays, Associated University Presses, Inc., Cranbury, NJ., note p.80
- ^ 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.
- ^ Bartal, Israel (July 6, 2008). “Inventing an Invention”. Haaretz. Archived on April 16, 2009. Error: If you specify
|archivedate=, you must also specify
|archiveurl=. “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)”
- ^ 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
- ^ 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
- ^ “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 Forgetting River: A Modern Tale of Survival, Identity, and the Inquisition
Bnei Anousim in Spain
In the early Middle Ages, Spanish Jewry was one of the oldest and most successful Diaspora Jewish communities. But from 1391 onwards, a series of terrible disturbances and great tribulations befell the Jews of Iberia, resulting in unprecedented waves of expulsion, persecution and forced conversions. These tragic events culminated in 1492, when the remaining Jews were formally expelled by Spanish monarchs. Many of those who had been compelled to convert to Catholicism – known by the Hebrew term Bnei Anousim – remained behind, where they nonetheless continued to preserve their Jewish identity and to practice Jewish tradition covertly, away from the prying eyes of the Inquisition and its enforcers. One of the most famous examples was the converted Jews from Palma de Mallorca know till today by the name “chuetas”(pig).
Bnei Anousim in Portugal
In 1497, the Portuguese king presented the Jews living in his realm with a dastardly choice: convert or die. Some chose death, but most of Portuguese Jewry were dragged to the baptismal font and compelled to accept Catholicism against their will. But many of these “New Christians” did their utmost to remain loyal to their Jewish roots, passing down the faith and practices of their ancestors across the generations. And while many were made to pay a heavy price by the Inquisition for their continued fidelity to Judaism, many others somehow succeeded in preserving their Jewish identity. Perhaps the most famous example was the community of Belmonte, in northern Portugal, where some 150 Bnai Anousim were formally restored to the Jewish people two decades ago by a rabbinical court sent from Israel.
Bnei Anousim in Brazil
When the doors of the New World swung open in the 16th and 17th centuries, Brazil came to play an important role for the Bnei Anousim. Seeking to distance themselves from Iberia, where the hand of the Inquisition was heaviest, the Bnei Anousim actively participated in the colonization and development of the new continent. Brazil offered the possibility of a new life, and the hope of one day returning to the faith of their ancestors. But the long arm of the Inquisition reached across the Atlantic, and continued to pursue the Bnei Anousim, hunting down those accused of secretly practicing Judaism and remaining faithful to the laws of Moses. But even the heartless cruelty and ruthless efficiency of the Inquisitors could not extinguish the flame of Judaism, and countless thousands of families, especially in the interior of northern Brazil, continued to preserve Jewish rituals and traditions. This flame is still very much alive today, and in cities such as Recife, Fortaleza and Natal, the descendants of Brazil’s Bnei Anousim are once again clamoring to rejoin their people, the nation of Israel.
In recent years, throughout Spain, Portugal and South America, a growing number of their descendants are emerging from the shadows of history, looking to reconnect with the Jewish people and return to the faith which was so cruelly taken away from their forefathers five centuries ago.