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Jewish diaspora

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Jewish diaspora

The Jewish diaspora (Hebrew: Tfutza, תְּפוּצָה) or Exile (Hebrew: Galut, גָּלוּת; Yiddish: Golus) is the dispersion of Israelites, Judahites, and later Jews out of their ancestral homeland (the Land of Israel) and their subsequent settlement in other parts of the globe.


In terms of the Hebrew Bible, the term "Exile" denotes the fate of the Israelites who were taken into exile from the Kingdom of Israel during the 8th century BCE, and the Judahites from the Kingdom of Judah who were taken into exile during the 6th century BCE. While in exile, the Judahites became known as "Jews" (יְהוּדִים, or Yehudim)—"Mordecai the Jew" from the Book of Esther being the first biblical mention of the term.

The first exile was the Assyrian exile, the expulsion from the Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) by Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria in 733 BCE, and its completion by Sargon II with the destruction of the kingdom in 722 BCE, after the end of the three-year siege that Shalmaneser V started in Samaria.

It continued with the exile of a portion of the population of the Kingdom of Judah in 597 BCE with the Babylonian exile. The biblical book of Ezra includes two texts said to be decrees of Cyrus the Great, conqueror of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, allowing the deported Jews to return to their homeland after decades and ordering the Temple rebuilt. The differences in content and tone of the two decrees, one in Hebrew and one in Aramaic, have caused some scholars to question their authenticity. The Cyrus Cylinder, an ancient tablet on which is written a declaration in the name of Cyrus referring to restoration of temples and repatriation of exiled peoples, has often been taken as corroboration of the authenticity of the biblical decrees attributed to Cyrus, but other scholars point out that the cylinder's text is specific to Babylon and Mesopotamia and makes no mention of Judah or Jerusalem. Professor Lester L Grabbe asserted that the "alleged decree of Cyrus" regarding Judah, "cannot be considered authentic", but that there was a "general policy of allowing deportees to return and to re-establish cult sites". He also stated that archaeology suggests that the return was a "trickle" taking place over decades, rather than a single event. Following the Siege of Jerusalem in 63 BCE, the Hasmonean kingdom became a protectorate of Rome, and in 6 CE was organized as the Roman province of Judea. The Jews revolted 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. This event marked the beginning of the Roman exile, also called Edom exile. Jewish leaders and elite were exiled from the land, killed, or taken to Rome as slaves.

In 132 CE, the remaining Jews, under Bar Kokhba, rebelled against Hadrian. In 135 CE, Hadrian's army defeated the Jewish armies and Jewish independence was lost. As punishment, Hadrian exiled more Jews, sold them into slavery, changed the name of Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina, turned it into a Roman pagan city and forbade the Jews from living there. Judea and Samaria were renamed by Hadrian to Syria Palaestina, after the Assyrians and Philistines respectively, both as an insult to the Jews and as a means of erasing the land's Jewish identity.

Origins of the term

The Greek word διασπορά (dispersion) first appears in Ancient Greek in Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. It was later used in the translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint: ἔση διασπορὰ ἐν πάσαις βασιλείαις τῆς γῆς (thou shalt be a diaspora (or dispersion) in all kingdoms of the earth) (Deuteronomy xxviii:25). In Talmudic and post-Talmudic Rabbinic literature, this phenomenon was referred to as galut (exile), a term with strongly negative connotations, often contrasted with geula (redemption). The modern Hebrew concept of Tefutzot תפוצות, "scattered", was introduced in the 1930s by the Jewish-American Zionist academic Simon Rawidowicz, who to some degree argued for the acceptance of the Jewish presence outside the Land of Israel as a modern reality and an inevitability. The Greek term for diaspora (διασπορά) also appears three times in the New Testament, where it refers to the scattering of Israel, i.e., the Ten Northern Tribes of Israel as opposed to the Southern Kingdom of Judah, although James (1:1) refers to the scattering of all twelve tribes.

Pre-Roman diaspora

In 722 BCE, the Assyrians, under Sargon II, successor to Shalmaneser V, conquered the Kingdom of Israel, and many Israelites were deported to Mesopotamia.

After the overthrow of the Kingdom of Judah in 586 B.C. 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.

Although most of the Jewish people during this period, especially the wealthy families, were to be found in Babylonia, the existence they led there, under the successive rulers 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 Judah / the Land of Israel 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 once again for national independence and political enfranchisement and sovereignty.

After numerous vicissitudes, and especially owing to internal dissensions within the Seleucid dynasty on the one hand and to the interested support of the pre-Roman Empire, the pre-autocratic Roman Republic 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 within the royal family and the growing disaffection of the pious, the soul of the nation, towards rulers who no longer evinced any appreciation of the real aspirations of their subjects made the Jewish nation easy prey for the ambitions of the now increasingly autocratic and imperial Romans, the successors of the Seleucids. In 63 B.C. Pompey invaded Jerusalem, the Jewish people lost their political sovereignty and independence, 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-) diasporic 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 the ancient Jewish historian 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. The ancient Jewish philosopher 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. The Jews in the Egyptian diaspora were on a par with their Ptolemaic counterparts and close ties existed for them with Jerusalem. As in other Hellenistic diasporas, the Egyptian diaspora was one of choice not of imposition.

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 (though this is only the number that is said to have escorted the envoys who came to demand the deposition of Archelaus; compare: Bringmann: Klaus: Geschichte der Juden im Altertum, Stuttgart 2005, S. 202. Bringmann talks about 8,000 Jews who lived in the city of Rome.). Many sources say that the Jews constituted a full one-tenth (10 %) of the population of the ancient city of Rome itself. 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.

"No date or origin can be assigned to the numerous Jewish settlements eventually known in the West. While some were surely founded (and many certainly greatly increased) as a result of the dispersal of Judaean Jews from the Land of Israel and their expulsion from Jerusalem after the revolt of CE 66–70 (The First Jewish–Roman War, known as the Great Revolt) and the revolt of 132–135 (the Second Jewish–Roman War, known as the Bar Kochba Revolt), it is also known that there were already many Jews living outside of the Land of Israel before the Roman imperial oppression and decidedly before the Jewish uprisings for independence and freedom from Roman rule in their homeland—and before their uprisings were crushed. It is reasonable to conjecture that many, such as the settlement in Puteoli attested in 4 B.C., went back to the late (pre-Roman Empire) Roman Republic or early Empire and originated in voluntary emigration and the lure of trade and commerce."

Roman destruction of Judea

Roman rule, which began in 63 BCE, continued until a revolt from CE 66–70, a Jewish uprising to fight for independence, was eventually crushed after four years, culminating in the capture of Jerusalem and the burning and destruction of the Temple, the centre of the national and religious life of the Jews throughout the world. Jerusalem was also destroyed.

The Jewish Diaspora at the time of the Temple’s destruction, according to Josephus, was in Parthia (Persia), Babylonia (Iraq), Arabia, as well as some Jews beyond the Euphrates and in Adiabene (Kurdistan). In Josephus’ own words, he had informed “the remotest Arabians” about the destruction.

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 Judah/Judaea and the Land of Israel (and the changing of its name to Palestina and of Jerusalem's name to Aelia Capitolina), indicated the intention of the Roman government to prevent the political regeneration of the Jewish nation and sever the connection to their homeland. 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 were suppressed by Trajan (115–117 CE), and under the Emperor Hadrian the same fate befell the attempt of the Jews of Israel in a new uprising to regain their independence (133–135 CE). 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 their own homeland. 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. Yet despite the decree, there has been an almost 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 desert, and east of the Jordan, and 31 villages in Galilee (in the northern Land of Israel) and in the Jordan Valley. Yavne on the coastal plain, associated with Yochanan ben Zakai, was an important center of Rabbinic Judaism.

Dispersion of the Jews in the Roman Empire

Following the 1st century Great Revolt and the 2nd century Simon Bar Kochba revolt, the destruction of Judaea exerted a decisive influence upon the Jewish people, both those in Israel and those who were dispersed throughout the world. One of the most significant changes was the shift of the center of religious authority from the Temple Priesthood to Rabbis.

Many Jews entered the Diaspora as slaves after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and 135 CE. Although evidence for Jewish communities in the Diaspora is scanty until the fourth century, most scholars argue that these slave populations formed the basis for the later Jewish communities in Europe.

The majority of Jewish people were already living in the Diaspora before the destruction of the Second Temple, with perhaps as many as a million in Alexandria for example—the Romans did not distinguish between Jews inside and outside of the Land of Israel/Judaea. They collected an annual temple tax from Jews both in and outside of Israel. The revolts in and suppression of diaspora communities in Egypt, Libya and Crete in 115–117 CE had a severe impact on the Jewish Diaspora population.

After the Bar Kochba Revolt of 132-135 CE, the Romans engaged in mass executions, expulsions, and enslavement, destroying large numbers of Judean towns and forbidding Jews from settling in Jerusalem or its environs (Dio Cassius, Roman History 69.12-14); there was no further Jewish government or overarching legal system thereafter in Judaea; this effectively turned the expatriate Jews of the Diaspora into a permanently exiled people, deprived of their homeland. Restrictions (taxation, discrimination, social exclusions) further alienated and marginalized remaining Jews in the Negev and Galilee and favored the settlement of culturally pagan Syro-Phoenicians and others. It was at this time that Judaea became normatively known as Syria Palestina.

After this failed Jewish uprising, the majority of Jews in Israel were sold as slaves, killed or forced to seek refuge outside Palestine. In addition, Hadrian encouraged non-Jews to settle the land. Although some Jews maintained their presence in Syria-Palestina, they became a disposed and dispersed people. Memory of the Jewish exile was normative in medieval Jewish discourse, and also made its way into Christian and Islamic thought and discourse.

The widespread popular belief that there was a sudden expulsion of Jews from Judea/Syria Palaestina in 70 or 135 CE that led to the creation of the Diaspora is not accepted by historians. The concept of exile is negligible in serious Jewish historical discussions. Instead, historians argue that the diaspora was a gradual process that occurred over the centuries, starting with the Assyrian destruction of Israel, the Babylonian destruction of Judah, the Roman destruction of Judea, and the subsequent rule of Christians and Muslims. After the revolt, the Jewish religious and cultural center shifted to the Babylonian Jewish community and its scholars. For the generations that followed, the destruction of the Second Temple event came to represent a fundamental insight about the Jews who had become a dispossessed and persecuted people for much of their history.

According to Israel Yuval, the Babylonian captivity created a promise of return in the Jewish consciousness which had the effect of enhancing the Jewish self-perception of Exile after the destruction of the Second Temple, albeit their 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 the 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 massacres, persecutions and expulsions, such as the expulsion from Spain in 1492, the expulsion from England in 1290, and the expulsion from Arab countries in 1948–1973. Although the two branches comprise many unique ethno-cultural practices and have links to their local host populations (such as Central Europeans for the Ashkenazim and Hispanics and Arabs for the Sephardim), their shared religion and ancestry, as well as their continuous communication and population transfers, has been responsible for a unified sense of cultural and religious Jewish identity between Sephardim and Ashkenazim from the late Roman period to the present.

By 1764 there were about 750,000 Jews in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The worldwide Jewish population (comprising the Middle East and the rest of Europe) was estimated at 1.2 million.

Classic period: Jews and Samaritans

The Jews (Hebrew: יְהוּדִים, Yehudim), also known as the Jewish people, are an ethnoreligious group who mainly trace their origins to the ancient Israelites of the Levant, as well as other contributory peoples/populations. The Samaritans consider themselves to be the remaining population of the Northern Kingdom of Israel who were not expelled during the ten tribes exile, and who joined with the incoming Assyrian populations to form the Samaritan community. Some biblical scholars also consider that parts of the Judean population had stayed to live in their homes during the exilic period and later joined the returning Israelites from Babylon and formed the Jews of the classic and Hasmonean era.

After the Persian conquest of Babylon in 539 BCE Judah (Hebrew: יְהוּדָה Yehuda) became a province of the Persian empire. This status continued into the following Hellenistic period, when Yehud became a disputed province of Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria. In the early part of the 2nd century BCE, a revolt against the Seleucids led to the establishment of an independent Jewish kingdom under the Hasmonean dynasty. The Hasmoneans adopted a deliberate policy of imitating and reconstituting the Davidic kingdom, and as part of this forcibly converted to Judaism their neighbours in the Land of Israel. The conversions included Nabateans (Zabadeans) and Itureans, the peoples of the former Philistine cities, the Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites. Attempts were also made to incorporate the Samaritans, following takeover of Samaria. The success of mass-conversions is however questionable, as most groups retained their tribal separations and mostly turned Hellenistic or Christian, with Edomites perhaps being the only exception to merge into the Jewish society under Herodian dynasty and in the following period of Jewish-Roman Wars. While there are some references to maintaining the tribal separation among Israelites during the Hasmonean period, the dominant position of the tribe of Judah as well as nationalistic policies of Hasmoneans to refer to residents of Hasmonean Judea as Jews practically erased the tribal distinction, with the exception of the priestly orders of Levites and Kohanim (tribe of Levi).

The Babylonian Jewish community, though maintaining permanent ties with the Hasmonean and later Herodian kingdoms, evolved into a separate Jewish community, which during the Talmudic period assembled its own practices, the Babylonian Talmud, slightly differing from the Jerusalem Talmud. The Babylonian Jewry is considered to be the predecessor of most Mizrahi Jewish communities.

Ashkenazi Jews

Ashkenazi Jews is a general category of Jewish populations who immigrated to what is now Germany and northeastern France during the Middle Ages and until modern times used to adhere to the Yiddish culture and the Ashkenazi prayer style. There is evidence that groups of Jews had immigrated to Germania during the Roman Era; they were probably merchants who followed the Roman Legions during their conquests. To a larger degree, modern Ashkenazi Jews are the descendants of Jews who migrated into northern France and lower Germany around 800–1000 CE, later migrating into Eastern Europe, as well as local Europeans who intermixed with Jews. Many Ashkenazi Jews are also descended from Sephardi Jews exiled from Spain, first during Islamic persecutions (11th-12th centuries) and later during Christian reconquests (13th-15th centuries) and the Spanish Inquisition (15th-16th centuries). In this sense, the modern term "Ashkenazi" refers to a subset of Jewish religious practices, adopted over time, rather than to a strict ethno-geographic division, which became erased over time.

In 2006, a study by Doron Behar and Karl Skorecki of the Technion and Ramban Medical Center in Haifa, Israel demonstrated that the vast majority of Ashkenazi Jews, both men and women, have Middle Eastern ancestry. According to Nicholas Wades' 2010 Autosomal study Ashkenazi Jews share a common ancestry with other Jewish groups and Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews have roughly 30% European ancestry with the rest being Middle Eastern. According to Hammer, the Ashkenazi population expanded through a series of bottlenecks—events that squeeze a population down to small numbers—perhaps as it migrated from the Middle East after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, to Italy, reaching the Rhine Valley in the 10th century.

David Goldstein, a Duke University geneticist and director of the Duke Center for Human Genome Variation, has said that the work of the Technion and Ramban team served only to confirm that genetic drift played a major role in shaping Ashkenazi mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is inherited in a matrilineal manner. Goldstein argues that the Technion and Ramban mtDNA studies fail to actually establish a statistically significant link between modern Jews and historic Middle Eastern populations. This differs from the patrilineal case, where Goldstein said there is no doubt of a Middle Eastern origin.

In June 2010, Behar et al. "shows that most Jewish samples form a remarkably tight subcluster with common genetic origin, that overlies Druze and Cypriot samples but not samples from other Levantine populations or paired Diaspora host populations. In contrast, Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel) and Indian Jews (Bene Israel and Cochini) cluster with neighboring autochthonous populations in Ethiopia and western India, respectively, despite a clear paternal link between the Bene Israel and the Levant.". "The most parsimonious explanation for these observations is a common genetic origin, which is consistent with an historical formulation of the Jewish people as descending from ancient Hebrew and Israelite residents of the Levant." In conclusion the authors are stating that the genetic results are concordant "with the dispersion of the people of ancient Israel throughout the Old World". Regarding the samples he used Behar points out that "Our conclusion favoring common ancestry (of Jewish people) over recent admixture is further supported by the fact that our sample contains individuals that are known not to be admixed in the most recent one or two generations."

A 2013 study of Ashkenazi mitochondrial DNA by Costa et al., reached the conclusion that the four major female founders and most of the minor female founders had ancestry in prehistoric Europe, rather than the Near East or Caucasus. According to the study these findings 'point to a significant role for the conversion of women in the formation of Ashkenazi communities".

A study by Haber, et al., (2013) noted that while previous studies of the Levant, which had focused mainly on diaspora Jewish populations, showed that the "Jews form a distinctive cluster in the Middle East", these studies did not make clear "whether the factors driving this structure would also involve other groups in the Levant". The authors found strong evidence that modern Levant populations descend from two major apparent ancestral populations. One set of genetic characteristics which is shared with modern-day Europeans and Central Asians is most prominent in the Levant amongst "Lebanese, Armenians, Cypriots, Druze and Jews, as well as Turks, Iranians and Caucasian populations". The second set of inherited genetic characteristics is shared with populations in other parts of the Middle East as well as some African populations. Levant populations in this category today include "Palestinians, Jordanians, Syrians, as well as North Africans, Ethiopians, Saudis, and Bedouins". Concerning this second component of ancestry, the authors remark that while it correlates with "the pattern of the Islamic expansion", and that "a pre-Islamic expansion Levant was more genetically similar to Europeans than to Middle Easterners," they also say that "its presence in Lebanese Christians, Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews, Cypriots and Armenians might suggest that its spread to the Levant could also represent an earlier event". The authors also found a strong correlation between religion and apparent ancestry in the Levant:

"all Jews (Sephardi and Ashkenazi) cluster in one branch; Druze from Mount Lebanon and Druze from Mount Carmel are depicted on a private branch; and Lebanese Christians form a private branch with the Christian populations of Armenia and Cyprus placing the Lebanese Muslims as an outer group. The predominantly Muslim populations of Syrians, Palestinians and Jordanians cluster on branches with other Muslim populations as distant as Morocco and Yemen."

Another 2013 study, made by Doron M. Behar of the Rambam Health Care Campus in Israel and others, suggests that: "Cumulatively, our analyses point strongly to ancestry of Ashkenazi Jews primarily from European and Middle Eastern populations and not from populations in or near the Caucasus region. The combined set of approaches suggests that the observations of Ashkenazi proximity to European and Middle Eastern populations in population structure analyses reflect actual genetic proximity of Ashkenazi Jews to populations with predominantly European and Middle Eastern ancestry components, and lack of visible introgression from the region of the Khazar Khaganate—particularly among the northern Volga and North Caucasus populations—into the Ashkenazi community."

Sephardic Jews

Sephardi Jews are Jews whose ancestors lived in Spain or Portugal. Some 300,000 Jews resided in Spain before the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century, when the Reyes Católicos reconquered Spain from the Arabs and ordered the Jews to convert to Catholicism, leave the country or face execution without trial. Those who chose not to convert, between 40,000 and 100,000, were expelled from Spain in 1492 in the wake of the Alhambra decree. Sephardic Jews subsequently migrated to North Africa (Maghreb), Christian Europe (Netherlands, Britain, France and Poland), throughout the Ottoman Empire and even the newly discovered Latin America. In the Ottoman Empire, the Sephardim mostly settled in the European portion of the Empire, and mainly in the major cities such as: Istanbul, Selânik and Bursa. Selânik, which is today known as Thessaloniki and found in modern-day Greece, had a large and flourishing Sephardic community as was the community of Maltese Jews in Malta.

A small number of Sephardic refugees who fled via the Netherlands as Marranos settled in Hamburg and Altona Germany in the early 16th century, eventually appropriating Ashkenazic Jewish rituals into their religious practice. One famous figure from the Sephardic Ashkenazic population is Glückel of Hameln. Some relocated to the United States, establishing the country's first organized community of Jews and erecting the United States' first synagogue. Nevertheless, the majority of Sephardim remained in Spain and Portugal as Conversos, which would also be the fate for those who had migrated to Spanish and Portuguese ruled Latin America. Sephardic Jews evolved to form most of North Africa's Jewish communities of the modern era, as well as the bulk of the Turkish, Syrian, Galilean and Jerusalemite Jews of the Ottoman period.

Mizrahi Jews

Mizrahi Jews are Jews descended from the Jewish communities of the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus, largely originating from the Babylonian Jewry of the classic period. The term Mizrahi is used in Israel in the language of politics, media and some social scientists for Jews from the Arab world and adjacent, primarily Muslim-majority countries. The definition of Mizrahi includes the modern Iraqi Jews, Syrian Jews, Lebanese Jews, Persian Jews, Afghan Jews, Bukharian Jews, Kurdish Jews, Mountain Jews, Georgian Jews. Some also include the North-African Sephardic communities and Yemenite Jews under the definition of Mizrahi, but do that from rather political generalization than ancestral reasons.

Yemenite Jews

Temanim are Jews who were living in Yemen prior to immigrating to Ottoman Palestine and Israel. Their geographic and social isolation from the rest of the Jewish community over the course of many centuries allowed them to develop a liturgy and set of practices that are significantly distinct from those of other Oriental Jewish groups; they themselves comprise three distinctly different groups, though the distinction is one of religious law and liturgy rather than of ethnicity. Traditionally the genesis of the Yemenite Jewish community came after the Babylonian exile, though the community most probably emerged during Roman times, and it was significantly reinforced during the reign of Dhu Nuwas in the 6th century CE and during later Muslim conquests in the 7th century CE, which drove the Arab Jewish tribes out of central Arabia.

Karaite Jews

Karaim are Jews who used to live mostly in Egypt, Iraq, and Crimea during the Middle Ages. They are distinguished by the form of Judaism which they observe. Rabbinic Jews of varying communities have affiliated with the Karaite community throughout the millennia. As such, Karaite Jews are less an ethnic division, than they are members of a particular branch of Judaism. Karaite Judaism recognizes the Tanakh as the single religious authority for the Jewish people. Linguistic principles and contextual exegesis are used in arriving at the correct meaning of the Torah. Karaite Jews strive to adhere to the plain or most obvious understanding of the text when interpreting the Tanakh. By contrast, Rabbinical Judaism regards an Oral Law (codified and recorded in the Mishnah and the Talmud) as being equally binding on Jews, and mandated by God. In Rabbinical Judaism, the Oral Law forms the basis of religion, morality, and Jewish life. Karaite Jews rely on the use of sound reasoning and the application of linguistic tools to determine the correct meaning of the Tanakh; while Rabbinical Judaism looks towards the Oral law codified in the Talmud, to provide the Jewish community with an accurate understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures.

The differences between Karaite and Rabbinic Judaism go back more than a thousand years. Rabbinical Judaism originates from the Pharisees of the Second Temple period. Karaite Judaism may have its origins among the Sadducees of the same era. Karaite Jews hold the entire Hebrew Bible to be a religious authority. As such, the vast majority of Karaites believe in the resurrection of the dead. Karaite Jews are widely regarded as being halachically Jewish by the Orthodox Rabbinate. Similarly, members of the rabbinic community are considered Jews by the Moetzet Hakhamim, if they are patrilineally Jewish.

Israeli Jews

Jews of Israel comprise an increasingly mixed wide range of Jewish communities making aliyah from Europe, North Africa, and elsewhere in the Middle East. While a significant portion of Israeli Jews still retain memories of their Sephardic, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi origins, mixed Jewish marriages among the communities are very common. There are also smaller groups of Yemenite Jews, Indian Jews and others, who still retain a semi-separate communal life. There are also approximately 50,000 adherents of Karaite Judaism, most of whom live in Israel, but their exact numbers are not known, because most Karaites have not participated in any religious censuses. The Beta Israel, though somewhat disputed as the descendants of the ancient Israelites, are widely recognized in Israel as Ethiopian Jews.

American Jews

The ancestry of most American Jews goes back to Ashkenazi Jewish communities that immigrated to the US in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as more recent influxes of Persian and other Mizrahi Jewish immigrants. The American Jewish community is considered to contain the highest percentage of mixed marriages between Jews and non-Jews, resulting in both increased assimilation and a significant influx of non-Jews becoming identified as Jews. The most widespread practice in the U.S is Reform Judaism, which doesn't require or see the Jews as direct descendants of the ethnic Jews or Biblical Israelites, but rather adherents of the Jewish faith in its Reformist version, in contrast to Orthodox Judaism, the mainstream practice in Israel, which considers the Jews as a closed ethnoreligious community with very strict procedures for conversion.

French Jews

The Jews of modern France number around 400,000 persons, largely descendants of North African communities, some of which were Sephardic communities that had come from Spain and Portugal—others were Arab and Berber Jews from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, who were already living in North Africa before the Jewish exodus from the Iberian Peninsula—and to a smaller degree members of the Ashkenazi Jewish communities, who survived WWII and the Holocaust.

Mountain Jews

Mountain Jews are Jews from the eastern and northern slopes of the Caucasus, mainly Azerbaijan, Chechnya and Dagestan. They are the descendants of Persian Jews from Iran.

Bukharan Jews

Bukharan Jews are an ethnic group from Central Asia who historically practised Judaism and spoke Bukhori, a dialect of the Tajik-Persian language.

Kaifeng Jews

The Kaifeng Jews are members of a small Jewish community in Kaifeng, in the Henan province of China who have assimilated into Chinese society while preserving some Jewish traditions and customs.

Cochin Jews

Cochin Jews also called Malabar Jews, are the oldest group of Jews in India, with possible roots that are claimed to date back to the time of King Solomon. The Cochin Jews settled in the Kingdom of Cochin in South India, now part of the state of Kerala. As early as the 12th century, mention is made of the Black Jews in southern India. The Jewish traveler, Benjamin of Tudela, speaking of Kollam (Quilon) on the Malabar Coast, writes in his Itinerary: "...throughout the island, including all the towns thereof, live several thousand Israelites. The inhabitants are all black, and the Jews also. The latter are good and benevolent. They know the law of Moses and the prophets, and to a small extent the Talmud and Halacha." These people later became known as the Malabari Jews. They built synagogues in Kerala beginning in the 12th and 13th centuries. They are known to have developed Judeo-Malayalam, a dialect of the Malayalam language.

Paradesi Jews

Paradesi Jews are mainly the descendents of Sephardic Jews who originally immigrated to India from Sepharad (Spain and Portugal) during the 15th and 16th centuries in order to flee forced conversion or persecution in the wake of the Alhambra Decree which expelled the Jews from Spain. They are sometimes referred to as White Jews, although that usage is generally considered pejorative or discriminatory and it is instead used to refer to relatively recent Jewish immigrants (end of the 15th century onwards), who are predominantly Sephardim.

The Paradesi Jews of Cochin are a community of Sephardic Jews whose ancestors settled among the larger Cochin Jewish community located in Kerala, a coastal southern state of India.

The Paradesi Jews of Madras traded in diamonds, precious stones and corals, they had very good relations with the rulers of Golkonda, they maintained trade connections with Europe, and their language skills were useful. Although the Sephardim spoke Ladino (i.e. Spanish or Judeo-Spanish), in India they learned to speak Tamil and Judeo-Malayalam from the Malabar Jews.

Georgian Jews

The Georgian Jews are considered ethnically and culturally distinct from neighboring Mountain Jews. They were also traditionally a highly separate group from the Ashkenazi Jews in Georgia.


The Krymchaks are Jewish ethno-religious communities of Crimea derived from Turkic-speaking adherents of Orthodox Judaism.


During the history of the Jewish diaspora, Jews who lived in Christian Europe were often attacked by the local Christian population, and they were often forced to convert to Christianity. Many, known as "Anusim" ('forced-ones'), continued practicing Judaism in secret while living outwardly as ordinary Christians. The best known Anusim communities were the Jews of Spain and the Jews of Portugal, although they existed throughout Europe. In the centuries since the rise of Islam, many Jews living in the Muslim world were forced to convert to Islam, such as the Mashhadi Jews of Persia, who continued to practice Judaism in secret and eventually moved to Israel. Many of the Anusim's descendants left Judaism over the years. The results of a genetic study of the population of the Iberian Peninsula released in December 2008 "attest to a high level of religious conversion (whether voluntary or enforced) driven by historical episodes of religious intolerance, which ultimately led to the integration of the Anusim's descendants.

Modern Samaritans

The Samaritans, who comprised a comparatively large group in classical times , now number 745 people, and today they live in two communities in Israel and the West Bank, and they still regard themselves as descendants of the tribes of Ephraim (named by them as Aphrime) and Manasseh (named by them as Manatch). Samaritans adhere to a version of the Torah known as the Samaritan Pentateuch, which differs in some respects from the Masoretic text, sometimes in important ways, and less so from the Septuagint.

The Samaritans consider themselves Bnei Yisrael ("Children of Israel" or "Israelites"), but they do not regard themselves as Yehudim (Jews). They view the term "Jews" as a designation for followers of Judaism, which they assert is a related but an altered and amended religion which was brought back by the exiled Israelite returnees, and is therefore not the true religion of the ancient Israelites, which according to them is Samaritanism.

Genetic studies

Y DNA studies tend to imply a small number of founders in an old population whose members parted and followed different migration paths. In most Jewish populations, these male line ancestors appear to have been mainly Middle Eastern. For example, Ashkenazi Jews share more common paternal lineages with other Jewish and Middle Eastern groups than with non-Jewish populations in areas where Jews lived in Eastern Europe, Germany and the French Rhine Valley. This is consistent with Jewish traditions which place most Jewish paternal origins in the region of the Middle East. Conversely, the maternal lineages of Jewish populations, studied by looking at mitochondrial DNA, are generally more heterogeneous. Scholars such as Harry Ostrer and Raphael Falk believe this indicates that many Jewish males found new mates from European and other communities in the places where they migrated in the diaspora after fleeing ancient Israel. In contrast, Behar has found evidence that about 40% of Ashkenazi Jews originate maternally from just four female founders, who were of Middle Eastern origin. The populations of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewish communities "showed no evidence for a narrow founder effect." Subsequent studies carried out by Feder et al. confirmed the large portion of the non-local maternal origin among Ashkenazi Jews. Reflecting on their findings related to the maternal origin of Ashkenazi Jews, the authors conclude "Clearly, the differences between Jews and non-Jews are far larger than those observed among the Jewish communities. Hence, differences between the Jewish communities can be overlooked when non-Jews are included in the comparisons."

Studies of autosomal DNA, which look at the entire DNA mixture, have become increasingly important as the technology develops. They show that Jewish populations have tended to form relatively closely related groups in independent communities, with most people in a community sharing significant ancestry in common. For Jewish populations of the diaspora, the genetic composition of Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Mizrahi Jewish populations show a predominant amount of shared Middle Eastern ancestry. According to Behar, the most parsimonious explanation for this shared Middle Eastern ancestry is that it is "consistent with the historical formulation of the Jewish people as descending from ancient Hebrew and Israelite residents of the Levant" and "the dispersion of the people of ancient Israel throughout the Old World". North African, Italian and others of Iberian origin show variable frequencies of admixture with non-Jewish historical host populations among the maternal lines. In the case of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews (in particular Moroccan Jews), who are closely related, the source of non-Jewish admixture is mainly southern European, while Mizrahi Jews show evidence of admixture with other Middle Eastern populations and Sub-Saharan Africans. Behar et al. have remarked on an especially close relationship of Ashkenazi Jews and modern Italians. Jews were found to be more closely related to groups in the north of the Fertile Crescent (Kurds, Turks, and Armenians) than to Arabs.

The studies also show that persons of Sephardic Bnei Anusim origin (those who are descendants of the "anusim" who were forced to convert to Catholicism) throughout today's Iberia (Spain and Portugal) and Ibero-America (Hispanic America and Brazil), estimated that up to 19.8% of the modern population of Iberia and at least 10% of the modern population of Ibero-America, has Sephardic Jewish ancestry within the last few centuries. The Bene Israel and the Cochin Jews of India, Beta Israel of Ethiopia, and a portion of the Lemba people of Southern Africa, meanwhile, despite more closely resembling the local populations of their native countries, also have some more remote ancient Jewish descent.

Zionist "Negation of the Diaspora"

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 Theodor Herzl and Max Nordau. Especially after the Dreyfus Affair, they held that anti-Semitism would never disappear and they saw Zionism as a rational solution for Jewish individuals.

The other was the organic nationalist school. It was prevalent among the Zionist olim and they saw the movement as a project to rescue the Jewish nation rather than as a project to only rescue Jewish individuals. For them, Zionism was the "Rebirth of the Nation".

Contrary to the negation of the diaspora view, the acceptance of Jewish communities outside Israel was postulated by those, like Simon Rawidowicz (also a Zionist), who viewed the Jews as a culture which had evolved into a new 'worldly' entity that had no reason to seek an exclusive return, either physical, emotional or spiritual to its indigenous lands, and who believed that the Jews could remain one people even outside Israel.

It was argued that the dynamics of the diaspora which were affected by persecution, numerous subsequent exiles, as well as by political and economic conditions, had created a new Jewish awareness of the World, and a new awareness of the Jews by the World.

In effect there are many Zionists today who do not embrace the "Negation of the Diaspora" as any kind of absolute, and who see no conflict—and even a beneficial and worldly and positive symbiosis—between a diaspora of healthy self-respecting Jewish communities (such as those which have evolved in the United States, Canada, and several other Western countries) and a vital and evolving Israeli society and state of Israel.

Mystical explanation

Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov (Bnei Yissaschar, Chodesh Kislev, 2:25) explains that each exile was characterized by a different negative aspect:

  1. The Babylonian exile was characterized by physical suffering and oppression. The Babylonians were lopsided towards the Sefirah of Gevurah, strength and bodily might.
  2. 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 towards the quality of Chesed, attraction and kindness (albeit to the self).
  3. Hellenistic civilization was highly cultured and sophisticated. Although the Greeks had a strong sense of aesthetics, they were highly pompous, and they 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.
  4. 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 towards Malchut, sovereignty, the lowest Sefirah, which can be received from any of the others, and can act as a medium for them.

The Jewish fast day of Tisha B'Av commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem and the subsequent exile of the Jews from the Land of Israel. The Jewish tradition maintains that the Roman exile would be the last, and that after the people of Israel returned to their land, they would never be exiled again. This statement is based on the verse: "(You paying for) Your sin is over daughter of Zion, he will not exile you (any)more" ["תם עוונך בת ציון, לא יוסף להגלותך"].

According to Aharon Oppenheimer, the concept of the exile beginning after the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple was developed by early Christians, who saw the destruction of the Temple as a punishment for Jewish deicide, and by extension as an affirmation of the Christians as God's new chosen people, or the "New Israel". In actually, in the period that followed the destruction of the Temple, Jews had many freedoms. The people of Israel had religious, economic and cultural autonomy, and the Bar Kochba revolt demonstrated the unity of Israel and their political-military power at that time. Therefore, according to Aharon Oppenheimer, it should be noted that the Jewish exile only started after the Bar Kochba revolt, which devastated the Jewish community of Judea. Despite popular conception, Jews have had a continuous presence in the Land of Israel, despite the exile of the majority of Judeans. The Jerusalem Talmud was signed in the fourth century, hundreds of years after the revolt. Moreover, many Jews remained in Israel even centuries later, including during the Byzantine period (many remnants of synagogues are found from this period). Jews have been a majority or a significant plurality in Jerusalem in the millennia since their exile with few exceptions (including the period following the Siege of Jerusalem (1099) by the Crusaders and the 18 years of Jordanian occupation of eastern Jerusalem, in which Jerusalem's historic Jewish quarter was expelled).

Historical comparison of Jewish population

a.^ Albania, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Macedonia, Syria, Turkey
b.^ Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), Belarus, Moldova, Russia (including Siberia), Ukraine.
c.^ Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia), Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan).


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), Germany (119,000) and Brazil (107,329). 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."

  1. Gush Dan (Tel Aviv and surroundings) – Israel – 2,979,900
  2. New York City, New York – U.S. – 2,007,850
  3. Jerusalem – 705,000
  4. Los Angeles, California – U.S. – 684,950
  5. Haifa – Israel – 671,400
  6. Miami, Florida – U.S. – 485,850
  7. Be'er Sheva – Israel – 367,600
  8. San Francisco, California – U.S. – 345,700
  9. Paris – France – 284,000
  10. Chicago, Illinois – U.S. – 270,500
  11. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – U.S. – 263,800
  12. Boston, Massachusetts – U.S. – 229,100
  13. Washington, D.C. – U.S. – 215,600
  14. London – United Kingdom – 195,000
  15. Toronto – Canada – 180,000
  16. Atlanta, Georgia – U.S. – 119,800
  17. Moscow – Russia – 95,000
  18. San Diego, California – U.S. – 89,000
  19. Cleveland, Ohio – U.S. – 87,000
  20. Phoenix, Arizona – U.S. – 82,900
  21. Montreal – Canada – 80,000
  22. São Paulo – Brazil – 75,000


Jewish diaspora Wikipedia

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