Saturday, March 28, 2015

Jews During Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) and the European Union

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                

As I watch what is happening in the UN and Europe to Israel, I am reminded to the Byzantium position towards Judaism and Jews of long ago.  There's not much difference between how Europeans feel towards the resumption of Israel and Jews today. 

 Today's difference is that many Arab countries such as Iran would like to take over Israel and the European Union most likely would like to do the same, just as the Byzantine suzerainty did in the year 390.  That's when Palestine, named as Palaestina by the Romans in 135, divided the land into the provinces of Palestina Prima, Palestina Secunda and Palestina Tertia.  These provinces were part of the Diocese of the East.  The difference is that back in the ancient days, the Empire's people spoke Greek but called themselves the Roman Empire.
Byzantine Empire 527-566
What's the difference between an EMPIRE and the European UNION?  An EMPIRE has ABSOLUTE authority and is a major political unit having a territory of great extent or a number of territories or peoples under a single sovereign authority.  An emperor acts as chief of state.  It can be something held to resemble a political empire, an extensive territory or enterprise under single domination or control   

The European Union is a group of European countries that participates in the world economy as one economic unit and operates under one official currency, the euro. The EU's goal is to create a barrier-free trade zone and to enhance economic wealth by creating more efficiency within its marketplace.The current formalized incarnation of the European Union was created in 1993 with 12 initial members. Since then, many additional countries have since joined. The EU has become one of the largest producers in the world, in terms of GDP, and the euro has maintained a competitive value against the U.S. dollar.

EU and non-EU members must agree to many legal requirements in order to trade with the EU member states.   It's an association of European nations formed in 1993 for the purpose of achieving political and economic integration. Incorporating the European Community, the European Union's member states are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France,Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia,Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands,Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia,Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

  1. Today the leader of the EU is the German Angela Merkel, born July 1954, who grew up in East Germany, and was elected in 2005 as the first female German chancellor and clinched a third four-year term last December, making her the longest-serving elected EU head of state.  
  2. The EU position today regarding Israel continues to be the 2 State solution regardless of the past 66 years of non-negotiable Arab position.  They do not understand why Netanyahu feels that there is no way to go around this at this time.  
  3. "Borders: the EU considers that the future Palestinian state will require secure and recognised borders. These should be based on a withdrawal from the territory occupied in 1967 with minor modifications mutually agreed, if necessary, in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242, 338, 1397, 1402 and 1515 and the principles of the Madrid Process. ( The reference found had nothing to say about the borders for a secure Israel). 
  4. Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory: on 8 December 2008 the EU confirmed its deep concern about recent accelerated settlement expansion. This expansion prejudges the outcome of final status negotiations and threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution. The EU considers that settlement building anywhere in the occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law.   (Notice their website mentions towns in so called Palestinian territory that is occupied.)  It's dodging the bullet on the fact that the Palestinian Arabs attacked and caused a war that ended with Israel winning back land officially deemed by the League of Nations and UN to be the Jewish National Homeland-with Britain holding the mandate and then changing their minds in allowing Abdullah I to have it in 1948.  The Arabs lost the land to Israel.  Israelis were building in their own land, not occupied Palestinian territory!    The Byzantium Empire reasoning is entering the EU's minds again on this point.  
  5. "12 March 2015 – Strasbourg – The AJC Transatlantic Institute is dismayed at a European Parliament resolution that calls on EU member states to back discriminatory policies against Israel at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC).
    In its resolution, the European Parliament called on the EU to “re-engage with Item 7 of the HRC.” Agenda item 7 indicts Israel alone among all the nations of the world for special scrutiny in violation of the UN’s own charter commitment to “equality of all nations large and small.” Because of this and other discriminatory policies, which both UN Secretaries General Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon criticized, Israel stopped cooperating with the HRC in May 2012. As part of the agreement for Israel to return to the HRC, EU Member States agreed to no longer participate in the Agenda Item 7 proceedings."
  6. "It is equally deplorable that the European Parliament urged EU governments to publicly support the UN Commission of Inquiry into the Gaza War. In July 2014, EU Member States had refused to back the HRC resolution setting up the Gaza War inquiry because, in the EU’s own words, it is “unbalanced, inaccurate, and prejudges the outcome of the investigation.The UN resolution creating this inquiry condemned Israel 18 times but, as the EU also pointed out at the time, “fails to condemn explicitly the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israeli civilian areas as well as to recognize Israel´s legitimate right to defend itself.”  In other words, they condemn Israel but not the Palestinians and would not even admit that Israel had the right to defending itself.  That's as low as you can get.                              
    Constantinople, which is Istanbul, Turkey today
  7.   The Byzantine Empire is also known as the Eastern Roman Empire, for it was in fact a continuation of the Roman Empire into its eastern part. At its greatest size, during the 500's AD/CE, Byzantine included parts of southern and eastern Europe, the Middle East, and northern Africa.
The Byzantine people called themselves Romans although they were actually descendants of various ancient peoples and they spoke Greek.  In A.D./CE 324 the Emperor of the West, Constantine I, defeated the Emperors of the East, Maxentius and Licinius, in the civil wars of the Tetrarchy.

*The East was ruled by the Sasanids who was the Persian Empire, today's Iran.  They controlled both sides of the Caspian Sea, the eastern part of the Fertile Crescent, and the whole territory between the Tigris and Indus rivers.  Their religion was Zoroastrianism and they spoke Pahlavi, or middle Persian.  Both the Sasanian and Byzantine empires were autocratic, and both used religion as a tool of the state.  

The EU in the UN go along with ignoring the faults of all the countries in the world except one who they pile on imaginary faults;  Israel.  When the Byzantine Empire began to rule, this legally recognized religious group of Jews were generally tolerated, but then were put into periods of tensions and persecutions.  After the Arab conquests, about in 632, the majority of Jews found themselves outside the Empire.  Those inside the borders lived in relative peace from the 10th century on.

Constantinople was founded in 330.  Back in 212, a Roman emperor named Marcus Antoninus Aurelius Caracalla  bestowed citizenship on all its residents including the Jews.  He was a lot like his father, Septimius Severus who tended to favor the Jews.  He has been identified by some with Antoninus, the friend of Judah Ha-Nasi( 135-220) , a Palestinian Jew and redactor of the Mishnah.  He was the son and successor of Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel II.  He was the political as well as religious head of the Palestinian Jewish community and was obliged to maintain close relations with the Roman authorities.  One catch, the Jews could practice their faith as long as they paid the Fiscus Judaicus.  For example, circumcision was considered mutilation and therefore punishable by death if performed on a NON-JEWISH CHILD, and punished by exile if performed on a non-Jewish adult, but was legal within Jewish religious practices.

Constantinople was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire which  then went by the title of the Byzantium Empire.  This lasted until the year 637 and its holdings included Palestine.  Jews were present in Byzantium from its foundations in the 4th century.  As the Eastern emperors developed their specific religious attitudes, the position of the Jews, especially their religious life, deteriorated.

The Roman Empire practiced Roman polytheism until 380 when they adopted Orthodox Christianity.  It survived the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD/CE and continued to exist for an additional thousand years until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453..

Jews were unique during the entire history of the Byzantine Empire just as they are today.  They didn't belong to the Christian Eastern Orthodox faith which was the state religion, nor were they grouped together with heretics and pagans.  Their legal position was somewhere in the middle and varied with time and the theological desire of the state to maintain the Jews as a living testament to the victory of Christianity, the desire of the state to strengthen its control, and the ability of centralized rule from Constantinople to enforce its legislation.

THEODOSIAN CODE: 404-527.    In 404 Jews were excluded from some governmental posts.  In 418 they were barred from the civil service and from all military positions.  In 425 they were excluded from all remaining public offices, both civilian and military.  Justinian I repeated these.

Justinian (527-565) had a code.  It included elaborate anti-Jewish laws.  He issued a decree in 553 which interfered with the conduct of the synagogue services.

Heraclius was reported in about 614 to have issued an edict ordering the conversion of the Jews.

The practice of Judaism was formally forbidden by successive emperors-by Leo in 723, by Basil 1 in 873-4, by Romanus Lucapenus in 932-6, etc.

It wasn't until about 1170 that Jewish life reestablished itself and Benjamin of Tudela found communities throughout the Empire, though he emphasized that in Constantinople itself they were treated with contempt.  Jews remained in the Byzantine Empire until the last remnant was conquered by the Turks in 1453.

The Byzantine Empire was very unfair to Jews. It was a conglomeration of many countries under one rule.   Now the EU, also a conglomeration of many countries under one rule,  has become unfair to the Jews of Israel, 6 million of them.  

The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia
*Updated 3/29/15 About the East;  Middle East-Past & Present  textbook, Yahya Armajani and Thomas M. Ricks

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