Thursday, January 12, 2017

Our Lost Years, From Roman Days to May 14, 1948

Nadene Goldfoot                                              

Jerusalem fell to the Romans in 70 CE.  A large Jewish community survived during this 1st century, mainly in the Galilee of Northern Israel.  There were also communities in parts of the coastal plain and in Judaea.  They lived by farming. Probably growing grapes for wine was included.  Their leaders evolved and consolidated the Jewish way of life, in teachings and scholarship. 

 The outstanding writings of this era were the Mishnah that was completed in the 2nd century, and the Jerusalem Talmud, completed between the 4th and 5th centuries. 

The Jews rose more than once in rebellion, seeing to renew their political independence.  Bar Kochba led a rebellion from 132 to 135 when he was killed in battle.  He had taken Jerusalem during those 3 years with his men.  The Romans were exceptionally brutal.  Hundred of thousands of Jews were killed or exiled.  Letters of Bar Kochba and other relics from that period were found by Israeli archaeologists in caves in the Judaean desert in the vicinity of the Dead Sea.  

We had to wait until 614 to have a Jewish force, numbering about 20,000, who aided the Persians (Iran) in the conquest of the Land.  By doing this, the Persians promised a measure of autonomy and the right to return to Jerusalem. "In the fifth and sixth centuries, the lot of the Jews who had remained in Palestine became unbearable. They were the victims of heavy taxes, confiscation of property and even forced conversions. Messianic hopes and dreams were the only thing that kept them going.
Just at this point in history, King Khosrau II (591-628) became the Sassanid king of Persia. He followed his predecessor's liberal policy towards the local Jews. Within the Persian royal circles, the Jews had recognized rights and privileges, but due to the fanaticism of some of the Persian people they were not always able to exercise these."

 This short restoration to our previous life was cut short by the Byzantines.  This was the Eastern Roman Empire, capital was Constantinople.  Justinian (537-565) wrote anti-Jewish laws in his Code, issued a decree in 553 controlling what could be in the synagogue service!  Heraclius in 614 issued an edict ordering the conversion of Jews.  Judaism was forbidden by emperors following;  Leo, Romanus Lucapenus, but Jews continued to be Jews.  By 1170 Jewish communities continued in this empire.  Jews were treated with contempt in Constantinople.  Then the Turks conquered in 1453.  

The Arabs had come along and conquered the Land in 636.  Mohammad had died in 632.  At this time, there were still many Jewish villages in parts of the country.  A few centuries passed before they became islamized and arabized.  
Rashi, Jewish Biblical commentator (1040-1105) France and Germany
Descendant of King David of Israel now in exile
By 1600 the population of Jews was about a half a million.   Therefore, Jewish life--for nearly 1,000 years, was almost entirely confined to the towns.  The main centers of Jewish life were in Jerusalem, Tiberias, Safed and Hebron.  Safed became the center of Jewish mysticism in the 16th century. About 10,000 Jews lived in Safed then.  By 1563 the Jews of Safed established the 1st printing press in the Near East, printing of course in Hebrew.
13th Century Jews in Germany, Jews had to wear such hats
The general conditions of life in the Land deteriorated and so the population declined.  The Jewish urban communities became smaller.  
1839 Palestine at Tomb of Joseph at Shecham (Nablus).
Nablus, in Jordanian hands until 1967, now Israel's.  inhabited mostly by
Moslems, center of fanatical Arab nationalism. 

At the beginning of the 19th century, the number of Jews living in the Land was estimated at 10,000.  Coincidentally, in Europe the Jews were being persecuted for their religious beliefs in one G-d.  France showed their anti-Semitism by the Dryfus trial.  Russia kept all Jews by Catherine 2nd's decree in 1791 lasting until 1915,  in the Pale of Settlement, not allowing them into Russia proper.  Jews lived in shtetls, small villages and were persecuted with pogroms-attacks by drunken Cossacks  who attacked the villages and the people.  
Members of Hashomer, a Jewish security organization dedicated to protecting pioneering Zionist settlements, pose with their rifles October 1, 1907 in the Upper Galilee during the Ottoman rule of Palestine.

Golda Meier (May 3,1898- Kiev, Ukraine of Pale of Settlement- 1978 Israel) lived through many causing her to immigrate to the USA when a child. In 1921 she made aliyah to Palestine.  
Golda Meier, 1948 declaration of Statehood of Israel
Prime Minister of Israel in 1969 and again 1973 but retired in 1974.


 Jews in desperation made their way back to Palestine where Israel had been and set up communities during the Ottoman Empire.  There were 5 groups of Jews who went back in what was called "making aliyah."   The 1st aliyah took place in 1880.  

Jews of Europe had always kept contact with Jews of Palestine who had remained.  The exiled Jews longed for the day they would be able to return.  It was in part of the daily prayers, the subject of poems and books.  They all mourned together on the 9th of Ab, the destruction of the Temple, by fasting and prayers.  They suffered and were persecuted by the Christians, and this gave rise to messianic movements calling for mass returning to the Land.  Entire Jewish communities in Europe prepared for the Return-especially followers of Shabbetai Zevi in the 17th century.   Many Jews went through a deep depression when this fell through.  

During the talmudic period as well as all through the centuries, Jews returned somehow to the Land, either as individuals or in groups.  Jews constantly moved from today's Iraq (Mesopotamia) to the Land.  In the Middle Ages, Jews went from Europe, North Africa and other Middle East countries back to the Land and settled.  
Jewish Aliyah started farming on Kibbutz Degania Aleph est. 1909, 1st kibbutz in Israel. lies between the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan Rivewith 534  in 2015.
I visited there between 1980-1985.  It was beautiful!
3rd Aliyah (1918-1921) collective village took name of Kibbutz
Those of us who were living outside the Land were living in the Diaspora.  It became a tradition to assist those living in the Land financially.  A relay of emissaries (Shelichim) went back and forth between the Land and the Jewish communities of the Diaspora, doing whatever was needed.  By May 14, 1948, the population of the new statehood of Israel was 650,000, a little over the population that Moses had arrived with from Egypt.  By 1971, the population was about 3 million;  the population they had in the 1st Century CE.  

One way we know all this because our Talmud, compiled during this period, mentioned more than 4oo Jewish localities.  Most of them were villages.  By the 1st century CE, the population of Jews in their ancient land of Israel was over 3 million, most likely a fraction of its original count at the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE.  

The Talmud referred to would be the Palestinian Talmud.  We had two:  the other one was written in Babylon by the exiled Jews taken there.  Both were great compilations of collected records of academic discussion and of judicial administration of our Jewish Law, given to us by Moses,  by generations of scholars and jurists in many academies and in more than one country during several centuries after 200 CE.  They also consisted of the non- legal or aggadic digressions. The authorities mentioned by name in the Palestinian Talmud all lived before 400 CE.

The Catholic Church was out to destroy any Jewish records.  The 1st official destruction of rabbinic literature by them was in Paris on June 17, 1242 when 24 cartloads of Talmuds  were burned as a sequel to the religious Disputation there 2 years earlier.  Attacks like this continued to happen: like in Italy in 1322.  In Rome on September 9, 1553, many  volumes of all types of Jewish literature were destroyed.  This led to more destruction in northern Italy.  Rabbinic works found in raids on Jewish quarters were thereafter burned sporadically.  Thousands of volumes of the Talmud were burned in Poland by order of Bishop Dembowski after a disputation between the rabbis and the "Zoharists" led by Jacob Frank at Kamenetz-Podolsk in 1757.  Jacob Frank had declared himself the messiah, successor another pseudo messiah, Shabbetai Tzevi, attracting many followers in Podolia.  Rabbis excommunicated Frank and his followers. The Zohar was a part of the Spanish Kabbalah, commentary on sections of the Song of Songs, Ruth, and Lamentations.

Resource:  Facts About Israel, Division of Information, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Jerusalem 1973, pages 30-31
The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia

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