ETHNONYMS: Ashkenazim, Hebrews, Sephardim
Identification. The Jews of North America are a relatively assimilated ethnic group in the United States and Canada. The name "Jew" is an Anglicized version of the Hebrew word yehudi, meaning "Hebrew, the language of the kingdom of Judah," and originally referred to the members of the tribe of Judah, one of twelve tribes of Israel in the Middle East about four thousand years ago. Jewish self-identity rests on a number of factors including a unique set of religious beliefs and practices, ancestry from Jewish peoples, a shared understanding of the Holocaust, and a belief in Israel as the Jewish homeland.
Location. Jews in North America live primarily in cities or adjacent suburbs. Although urban Jewish ghettos no longer exist, a pattern of residential isolation persists, with many city neighborhoods or suburban communities defined as "Jewish" because of the large number of Jews who reside there and the Jewish institutions such as synagogues, community centers, and kosher food stores located there. Sixty percent of Jews live on the East Coast of the United States and about 20 percent on the West Coast, with relatively few, save those in major cities, in the South and Midwest. In Canada, the same pattern holds, with two-thirds of the Jewish population living in or near Toronto or Montreal.
Demography. In 1986 the Jewish population in North America was about 6.3 million, with 5.9 million in the United States and 305,000 in Canada. Thus, North American Jews constitute about 43 percent of the 14.5 million Jews in the world. By way of comparison, in Europe there are 4.1 million Jews, in Asia 3.3 million, in South America 600,000, in Africa 159,000, and in Oceania 72,000. The United States has the largest Jewish population in the world and Canada the seventh largest. In North America, the majority of Jews live in twelve large cities, with 1.9 million in the metropolitan New York City region (over 30 percent of U.S. Jews), 500,000 in Los Angeles, 300,000 in Philadelphia, 250,000 each in Miami and Chicago, over 100,000 each in Boston, Washington, D.C., Montreal, and Toronto, and over 50,000 each in Baltimore and San Francisco. In Canada, the other Jewish population centers are Winnipeg, 15,000, and Vancouver, 14,000. The Jewish population has been relatively stable for the past decade, despite a relatively low birth rate, offset somewhat by recent emigrations of Jews from the Soviet Union and Israel to the United States and Canada.
Linguistic Affiliation. The overwhelming majority of North American Jews use English as their primary or only Domestic language, or French in the French-speaking provinces of Canada, with about 20 percent of Canadian Jews bilingual in the two languages. Recent immigrants from Europe and the Middle East often speak the language of their homeland, those from the Soviet Union speaking Russian, those from Syria speaking Arabic, and those from Israel speaking Hebrew. Hasidic Jews use Yiddish, written with Hebrew characters, and some Jews of central and eastern European ancestry speak Yiddish at home. Yiddish, the traditional language of Jews of Eastern Europe, shares common medieval roots with High German and contains Slavic loan-words, although it is usually written with Hebrew characters and from right to left as is Hebrew. A number of Yiddish words have become part of the U.S. English lexicon, including blintze, chutzpah, goy, kibitz, landsman, mensh, nebbish, shlemiel, shlock, shnook, and shmooz.
Hebrew is the religious language for Orthodox and some Conservative Jews, with prayerbooks written in and prayers chanted in Hebrew. Hebrew is a branch of the Canaanite group of Semitic languages. Reform Jews use English in their religious services.
History and Cultural Relations
The immigration history of Jews to the U.S. and Canada differs as does the nature of cultural relations between Jews and other groups in those nations.
United States. The first Jews in North America—23 Sephardic Jews from South America—arrived in New Amsterdam (now New York City) in 1654. Since then Jews have continued to immigrate to North America, with the bulk arriving in three periods: 1830-1880, 1881-1924, and 1935-1941. Prior to 1830 most Jews in North America were Sephardic (see "Social Organization" below) and numbered about six thousand in 1830. From 1830 to 1880 the Jewish population increased to 250,000, most of whom were Ashkenazi Jews who emigrated from Germany, as part of a larger movement of Germans to North America. Not only did these immigrants, largely young, rural or small-town peoples escaping religious persecution, swell the Jewish population, but they also spread across the continent establishing Communities in dozens of cities. The second period of migration from 1880-1924 closed with a Jewish population of over 4 million in the United States, mostly urban and mostly on the East Coast. This time the immigrants were mostly Ashkenazi Jews from eastern and central European countries such as Poland, Romania, Hungary, and especially western Russia. These Immigrants were the forebears of about 80 percent of Jews in North America today. Restrictive immigration laws in the United States and the depression slowed immigration, but beginning in the mid-1930s until the late 1940s, some 200,000 Jews fleeing Nazi-controlled Europe and extermination in concentration camps arrived in the United States. The 1900-1950 period was also a time of upward (socially and economically) and outward (from the cities to the suburbs) mobility for the eastern European Jews. Since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Jews have arrived in the United States mainly from the Middle East, the Soviet Union, and most recently from Israel. One key feature of Jewish immigration is that most of the immigrants stayed, with only one in fourteen returning to their homelands as compared to about one in three returns for most other ethnic groups.
Despite overt discrimination in education and employment in the past and organized anti-Semitism in some sectors of American society, laws have generally guaranteed Jews Religious freedom and relations with other ethnic and religious groups have been generally peaceful if not friendly. Political ties to the African-American community are no longer as strong as they once were. Current tensions with the African-Americans reflect, in part, Jewish concerns over African-American support for the Palestinians in the Middle East and African-American concerns over Jewish ties to South Africa and lack of Jewish support for affirmative action programs. Jews generally distinguish themselves from all non-Jews who are classified and referred to as goyim, commonly understood to mean "non-Jew." Some scholars suggest that Jews in the United States today are more apt to stress the secular aspects of Jewishness, such as the use of Yiddish words, as opposed to the religious aspects such as following Jewish law regarding dietary restrictions.
Canada. In contrast to the immigration history in the United States, the majority of Jewish immigrants to Canada arrived after 1945, with about 40 percent of the current Canadian Jewish population composed of recent arrivals as compared to about 20 percent for the United States. In 1900 there were 15,000 Jews in Canada, but by 1915 the population had grown to 100,000 through mass emigrations from eastern Europe. Few Jews immigrated to Canada in the years before World War II, and about 200,000 have arrived since then. These include Jews fleeing war-torn Europe, Hungarian Jews escaping from Hungary in 1956, French-speaking Jews coming from North Africa, and, most recently, about 22,000 arriving from Israel and 8,000 from the Soviet Union.
Largely because Canada is a bicultural nation with distinct French- and English-speaking populations and because of greater acceptance of cultural diversity, Jews in Canada, like other ethnic groups, are relatively less assimilated than their counterparts in the United States. While this has led to a more visible emphasis on religious elements of Jewishness and the survival of European customs, it has also placed Jews outside the two mainstream Canadian religious traditions of Catholicism and Protestantism. This position as a third Religion and other factors have sometimes subjected Jews to laws interfering with traditional religious practices. Laws introduced after World War II removed most of these restrictions. Today, Canadian Jews are slowly becoming more like U.S. Jews, with the use of European customs and languages disappearing.
Jews are now largely integrated into the U.S. and Canadian economic systems. Although they work in most trades and professions, they are overrepresented (as a percentage of the population) in several, including ownership of small and middle-sized businesses, the communication and entertainment industries, public service, and professions such as Medicine, dentistry, law, accounting, teaching, and scientific Research. Past and present discrimination has been cited by some as the cause of the relatively few Jews found in the upper echelons of the banking industry and large corporations in general. Civil rights legislation of the 1960s and 1970s has outlawed old laws and private covenants that restricted Jewish ownership of land or membership in private associations. The traditional Jewish division of labor with men working outside the home and women working in the home has given way to many women having professional employment.
Kinship, Marriage and Family
Marriage and Family. Jewish marriage and kinship practices conform to those of mainstream North American Culture: monogamous marriage, nuclear families, bilateral Descent, and Eskimo-type kinship terms. Surnames are patrilineal, although there is a trend toward women keeping their own surnames at marriage or hyphenating their husbands' surnames and their own. The importance of family continuity is emphasized by the custom of naming children after deceased relatives. Although marriage with non-Jews (goyim) was proscribed and sanctioned by ostracism in the past, the intermarriage rate today is increasing as among North Americans in general. Though Jewish families have fewer children, they are often described as child-oriented, with family resources freely expended on education for both boys and girls. Jewish identity is traced matrilineally. That is, if one's mother is a Jew, then that person is Jewish according to Jewish law and entitled to all the rights and privileges that status brings, including the right to emigrate to and settle in Israel as citizens.
Socialization. As with most Americans and Canadians, early socialization takes place in the home. Jewish parents are indulgent and permissive and rarely use physical punishment. Socialization as a Jew takes place in the home through story-telling and participation in Jewish rituals, and through attendance at Hebrew school in the afternoon or evening and participation in Jewish youth groups at the synagogue or community center. Orthodox Jews often run their own Grammar and high schools, whereas most non-Orthodox Jews attend public or private secular schools. Acquisition of knowledge and the open discussion of ideas are important values and activities for Jews, and many attend college and professional schools.
The Bar Mitzvah ceremony for a boy at age thirteen is an important rite of passage as it marks him as an adult member of the community for religious purposes, and the Bat Mitzvah ceremony for a Reform or Conservative girl at age twelve or thirteen serves the same purpose. In the past the Bar Mitzvah ceremony was much more elaborate and spiritual in focus; today both ceremonies have become important social as well as religious events for many Jews.
Social Organization. Today, Jews are highly integrated into the North American class system, with Jews found in the upper, middle, and working classes. Upward social mobility is an important value, and has been achieved for about three generations largely through education. Although Jews are often thought to be concentrated in the upper-middle and lower-upper classes, there is still a sizable number in the working class and some elderly Jews live below the poverty line. Vestiges of discrimination remain and Jews are still excluded from some social organizations open to non-Jews. In communities with large Jewish populations, exclusively or largely Jewish social organizations such as community centers, the Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Associations
(YMHA, YWHA), B'nai B'rith, and Hadassah are important. And in some communities the synagogue (shul ) plays an Important social and recreational role. Many Jews are also involved in or contribute to national or international organizations that support Jewish causes such as the Anti-Defamation League of the B'nai B'rith, the United Jewish Appeal, and the United Jewish Welfare Fund.
Internally, Jews have no formal social or political Organization, although they can be and are often divided into Subgroups on the basis of three overlapping criteria: degree of Religiousness, place of one's own or one's ancestor's birth, and Ashkenazic or Sephardic ancestry. Degree of religiousness is reflected in the labels Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform Judaism. Orthodox Jews generally follow and resist changes in traditional religious beliefs and practices, which they base on the halakhah, the Jewish literature that covers ethical, Religious, civil, and criminal matters. Conservative Judaism comprises a combination of thought reflecting different Philosophical, ethical, and spiritual schools. In general, Conservatives stress change from within, Zionism, and an ingathering of all Jews. Because of the diversity of opinion, Conservative religious practices run a wide gamut, although most are less traditional than those of Orthodoxy. Reform Judaism, as the name suggests, reflects a modification of Orthodoxy in light of contemporary life and thought. Thus, Reform Jews do not believe that Jewish law is divinely revealed and eschew many practices central to Orthodoxy such as eating only kosher foods, wearing a skull-cap (yarmulke ) when praying, and using Hebrew in prayer. The differences among Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews go well beyond religion and are manifested in many day-to-day activities and events and the degree to which members of each are assimilated into North American society. Other categories of Jews based on degree of religiousness include Hasidic (ultra-Orthodox) Jews, Reconstructionalists, and "Civil" Jews.
As mentioned above, Jews arrived in North America in waves, largely from European nations and these places of ancestry are used to delineate one Jew or group of Jews from another. Thus, for example, one speaks of German Jews, Russian Jews, Polish Jews, Syrian Jews, and so on, or in a more general sense, eastern, central, or southern European Jews. These distinctions are no longer especially important, although German Jews are still looked upon as wealthier and of higher status than other Jews.
The final major distinction is between Jews of Ashkenazic (Ashkenazim) or Sephardic (Sephardim, Sfardim) ancestry. Ashkenazim Jews are those descended from the Ashkenazic Jews of eastern and central Europe and Currently make up about 90 percent of North American Jews. Sephardim are descended from the Sephardic Jews who lived in southern Europe from about the seventh to the fifteenth Century when they were expelled from Spain by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. Most of the exiles settled in the Middle East and North Africa. Beyond a difference in place of ancestry, Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews differed and in some ways continue to differ in language (Yiddish or European Languages versus Judeo-Spanish or Middle Eastern languages), the pronunciation and spelling of Hebrew, liturgy, and surnames. But members of both groups freely acknowledge that members of the other group are Jews, although some Ashkenazim were less accepting of Sephardim in the past. Although North American Judaism is dominated by Ashkenazim because of their large numbers, there are important Sephardic communities in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Atlanta, Chicago, Montreal, Rochester, and Indianapolis.
These communities derive from a migration occurring from 1900 to 1925 when Sephardic Jews left areas that are now Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia, Rhodes, and other territories of the Ottoman Empire.
Finally, mention should be made of other Jewish groups such as Karaites (Qaraites), Israeli, and Russian Jews who have recently immigrated to North America from their Respective countries, and Black Jews who have formed their own sects (though by Jewish-defined criteria most of these sects are not considered Jews). These groups, who sometimes follow an ultra-Orthodox life-style or a life-style different from that of assimilated Jews, also sometimes choose to live in relatively isolated urban communities and form their own synagogues. The recent emigrants from Israel are looked upon by some with puzzlement, as they seem to be rejecting the aliyyah, or ascent to the land of Israel, a marker of Jewish identity if not a goal for many Jews.
Political Organization. Although North American Judaism has no overarching political structure similar to that of Roman Catholicism or the Church of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform synagogues are aligned with central organizations—the Union of Orthodox Congregations of America, the United Synagogue of America (Conservative), and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (Reform). Although in the past the synagogue played an important organizational and leadership role, it no longer does so for most Jews. Similarly, the rabbi, the spiritual and moral leader of the synagogue congregation, now rarely plays a leadership role in the community, based solely on his status as the rabbi.
Jews have been seen (often by anti-Semitic commentators) as aligned with liberal or radical political philosophies including socialism, communism, unionization, and the New Deal and tended to vote heavily in favor of candidates of the Democratic party in the United States; in the past decade or two, a marked trend toward conservatism and identification with the Republican party has been noted among a minority of Jews. Jews, despite being only about 2 percent of the Population, are an important voting bloc because large numbers vote and because they make up a sizable percentage of the population in some large states such as New York and Florida and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Jews run for and have been elected to numerous local and state offices.
Social Control and Conflict. Integrated as they are into U.S. and Canadian society, Jews generally resolve legal conflicts with Jews or non-Jews through the legal system. Legal remedies available through Jewish agencies are rarely used. Among the Orthodox there is recourse to some religiously sanctioned social control such as Orthodox divorce. Although overt discrimination against Jews is waning in North America, there is a long tradition of anti-Semitism, reflected in limited access to certain professions and residential isolation. Within the Jewish communities in both nations, there are long traditions of supporting Jewish causes and institutions through charitable donations to and work for synagogues, schools, community centers, social welfare agencies, and the state of Israel.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. Judaism is the oldest monotheistic Religion to survive to modern times. To Jews, God is the Supreme Being, the Creator of the Universe, and ultimate Judge of Human Affairs. Some importance is also given to particular prophets and angels. The Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar (based on the movement of the moon around the earth) and has 354 days, 12 months of 29 or 30 days each with extra days added so that the lunar calendar conforms to the solar (Gregorian) calendar, and seven days in a week. The Hebrew calendar is based on the date 3761 b.c.e., the year traditional Jewish scholars believed the world began. Thus, the years 5748-5749 are the equivalent of 1989 in the Gregorian calendar. Jewish weekly synagogue attendance is relatively low at about 20 percent compared to other religions. Because of the wide divergence of religious belief and practice (Orthodox/Conservative/Reform, Ashkenazic/Sephardic, and so on), no single all-encompassing system of Jewish belief and practice can be described.
Religious Practitioners. There is no hierarchy of religious leaders. The rabbi (master, teacher) is the spiritual leader of the synagogue congregation. Today, the role and status of the rabbi is roughly the same as that of a Protestant minister or Catholic priest and involves pastoral, social, educational, and interfaith responsibilities. Reform Jews and Reconstructionalists permit women to be ordained as rabbis. Cantors are also important, leading the congregation in the chanting of prayers (prayers are chanted, not recited) and in training boys for the Bar Mitzvah.
Ceremonies. Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), the High Holy Days, usually fall in September. Pesach (Passover), Shavout (Festival of Weeks), and Succot (Feast of the Ingathering) were originally harvest festivals involving pilgrimages to the Temple. Passover today marks the escape of the Hebrews from ancient Egypt about 3,500 years ago and is widely celebrated. Minor holy days or festivals include Hanukkah (dedication Feast of Lights), Purim (Festival of Lots), and Tisha B'Av (Ninth Day of Av). Although of less importance today, Rosh Hodesh (Beginning of a New Moon) is still noted and marked by special prayers. Shabbat (the Sabbath) is the only Holy Day mentioned in the Ten Commandments and is celebrated from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday each week of the year. The Sabbath is a day of rest and reflection. In addition to these Holy Days and festivals, all major life-cycle events—birth, age of religious majority, marriage, and death—are marked by prayer and ritual observances.
Death and Afterlife. Jewish law requires that the deceased be buried within twenty-four hours of death. Some Reform Jews allow cremation. For close relatives there is a seven-day mourning period (shivah) involving prayer and restrictions on the activities of the mourner. Regular prayer in memory of the deceased follows at set intervals following the mourning period. Jewish beliefs concerning the soul and afterlife are vague and vary from one group to another.
See also Hasidim, and entries on Jews in the Europe and Middle East, Soviet Union and China, and South Asia volumes
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Rosenberg, Stuart E. (1970-1971). The Jewish Community in Canada. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.
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Levinson, David. "Jews." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. 1996. Retrieved August 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3458000107.html
According to the Torah, the history of the Jewish people begins with a call to the patriarch Abraham to abandon his ancestors’ idol worship and to “Get thee out from thy country … unto the land that I will show thee” (Gen. 22:1). Jewish history and identity, as recounted within the people’s own tradition, thus begin with a command, a renunciation, and a departure. The Torah also recounts the earliest Jewish generations’ experience of exile in Egypt, followed by the miraculous deliverance, return, and reconquest of that divinely promised land. However, current archaeological consensus is unable to agree on confirmation of key moments in the biblical account.
The name Jew and its various cognates (e.g., French Juif, German Jude, Arabic yahud ) all stem from the name Judah, the ancient kingdom that shared the name of one of the twelve sons of the biblical patriarch Jacob. Other names for the group are Hebrew (generally referring to the ancient period, but also the name of the main ethnic language) and Israel (a name of Jacob in the Bible and also the name of the second ancient Jewish kingdom).
Jews are known simultaneously for their lasting devotion to their homeland (Israel, Zion, Palestine, or simply “the Land”) between the eastern shore of the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, and for their long endurance in conditions of diaspora or exile. The main historical exiles of ancient Jewry followed the destruction in 586 BCE, by the Babylonians, of the ritual center in Jerusalem known today as the First Temple, and then the destruction in 70 CE, by the Romans, of the Second Temple. However, Jewish diaspora —the existence of stable and persistent Jewish communities outside the historical homeland—long predates the loss of the ritual center and of Jewish sovereignty. The ancient Jewish community of Alexandria, with its rich Hellenic culture and regular remission of tribute to Jerusalem, is only the most dramatic example of such a pre-exilic diaspora.
Babylonia quickly became a key and powerful center of ancient Jewish life, throughout the entire Second Temple period and beyond. In the wake of the Roman exile, groups of religious leaders collectively known to current scholarship as “the Rabbis” devoted generations to the elaboration and transmission of the Oral Torah, eventually redacted into the texts known as the Mishnah, and in the commentaries on the Mishnah known respectively as the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem or “Palestinian” Talmud. Rabbinic Judaism was a minority formation in its earliest centuries (outnumbered by what is broadly known as Hellenic Judaism and by other rival formations, eventually including its only surviving rival, known as Karaite Judaism). Despite continuing sentimental attachment to the ancient homeland, the Babylonian Talmud retained far more central authority than its Jerusalem rival. The Rabbinic models of scriptural interpretation, legal adaptation, and substitution of prayer for Temple ritual came to serve as the fundamental template for Jewish communal life throughout various diasporas until the modern period.
The notion of “chosenness” is understood in Jewish tradition in terms of obligation and reward. The Book of Deuteronomy recounts the Hebrew nation’s reaffirmation of God’s original covenant with Abraham; the people will keep God’s “statutes” and “commandments” and “ordinances,” and God will in turn keep them as “His own treasure” (am segula ) (Deut. 26:16–18). Various examples of the literary genre of commentary known as midrash recount God’s prior offer of the Torah to other nations, each of which is unable to accept one of its major premises and thus refuses to enter into the divine covenant.
Though this deity is sometimes referred to as “the God of our ancestors” or “the God of Israel,” the biblical narrative—and especially the Prophetic writings—reflect the conviction that, as the creator of all being and of all humanity, this divinity’s sphere of power and interest is not limited to one nation or territory. Moreover, in sharp contrast to some other national epics, the origin of the people in human history is separated from the original creation of the earth and its creatures. Accordingly, Jewish tradition and rhetoric view the non-Jewish “other” through a range of metaphorical frameworks: as “cousins,” descended through a mythic genealogy from the common human ancestors Adam and Eve; as instruments of a divine plan centrally dependent on the covenant and on the Jews’ always inadequate performance thereof; and occasionally as creatures equally precious in the sight of God: “Are ye not as the children of the Ethiopians unto Me, saith the Lord?” (Amos 9:7).
At the ideological plane, diaspora Jewish life has been played out in this continuing and productive tension between ethnocentrism and universalism. The synagogue, wherever it is, becomes a form of mikdash me’at, a “miniature” substitute for the lost Temple in Jerusalem. The study of the forms of Temple worship and recitation of the order of sacrifices both recall ancient sovereignty and give form to dreams of messianic restoration. The study of sacred texts transcends mere recitation through a chain of commentaries that both preserve understandings and distort them to make the authorities fit new circumstances. The Rabbinic academies (yeshivot ) of ancient Babylonia come to serve as models for the new academies in eastern Europe devoted to the defense and reinvention of Talmud study in response to modern forms of knowledge and inquiry.
Practice—the meticulous and highly rationalized observance of positive commandments and prohibitions—is central to the conduct of a traditionally Jewish life. Laws of separation and purity (such as dietary limitations, bans on the mixing of certain species in agriculture, and menstrual taboos) both help to order the social world and sustain the larger lifeworld separation distinguishing Jews from non-Jews. During the period of Jewish sovereignty, many of these laws served to underscore the special sacredness of the land itself. In diaspora, their function in preventing the dissolution of the Jews as a kin and ideological group become more salient.
Jewish law and custom are all highly androcentric, though not univocally so. They are heteronormative, though they do not reflect the gender structures of the post-Enlightenment European bourgeoisie, from the perspective of which the Rabbinic ideal of the quiet, studious, “tent-dwelling” Jacob may even seem effeminate (see Boyarin 2004). Men under traditional Jewish law exclusively enjoy various rights and powers, such as serving as witnesses, as members of prayer quorums, and as the initiators of divorce. Apologetic accounts stress the key role of women in the family, but at various points women in Jewish communities have also held important economic roles, and the Talmud also makes clear the rights of women as property holders and contracting parties in ancient Babylonia.
Since the Prophetic response to the nation’s demoralization in the wake of the first and second exiles, the messianic promise of ultimate redemption and restoration—sometimes accompanied by visions of universal peace and well-being—has been a core tenet of Jewish belief, ritual, and culture. Messianism has also been a central motivating theme of the powerful and continuing tradition of Jewish mysticism, which has sometimes coexisted with and sometimes contended with Rabbinic textualism. Some leading scholars have argued that Jewish messianism is distinctly characterized by the expectation of the advent of the messiah as a historical and public event, over and against ideologies of individual redemption.
Since earliest times, and including periods of state sovereignty, the Jewish collective has often found itself either a client of or in conflict with larger powers. Much Prophetic discourse turns on the geopolitical dilemma of choosing between loyalty to the rival empires of Assyria and Egypt. The biblical narrative of enslavement and deliverance turns on an image of the Egyptians as heartless and unworthy emperors. The destruction of the Second Temple resulted in large part from Jewish resistance to incorporation within the Roman provincial administrative system. Christianity was an outgrowth of certain messianic trends among Jews, and there has been growing scholarly acknowledgment in recent years not only of the significance of Jesus’ Jewishness, but the continued Jewishness of many of the first “Christians,” including Paul. Yet Christianity became radically distinguished from, and powerfully opposed to, Judaism and Jewishness once it became the state religion of the Roman Empire. Similarly, Islam arose in Arabia in a social milieu where Jews were a prominent part of the mix, yet the rejection of Muhammad’s (c. 570–632) message by the local Jewish community gave rise to strains in Islam that are at best ambivalent toward Jews and at worst overtly hostile.
Jewish communities eventually spread (or were established by conversion) throughout the circum-Mediterranean region, Central Asia, and eastern and western Europe. With the exception of sub-Saharan Africa and much of East Asia (there were smaller Jewish communities for centuries in India and China), Jews were thus found throughout the Old World. Throughout the medieval and early modern periods, Jews played prominent roles in the world system of trade and communication that stretched from the Atlantic coast of Europe through the Mediterranean and into Asia, and for centuries, Jewish communities were concentrated in Islamic lands, ranging from Iberia through North Africa and the Middle East. Yet that world system was unstable, and Crusader anti-Muslim zeal sometimes spilled over into murderous anti-Jewish violence.
During the High Middle Ages, in a complex process tied to the formation of nascent nation-states, long-established Jewish communities were forced out of various parts of western Europe; many of their number migrated to regions in eastern Europe that were then being colonized by Christian nobility, peasants, and clergy. More than a century of forced conversions and persecutions culminated in the expulsion of Jews from Iberia at the end of the fifteenth century. While this ended centuries of fruitful and conflicted multireligious contact that had produced Jewish luminaries such as Moses Maimonides (1135–1204), Abraham Ibn Ezra (1092–1167), and Solomon Ibn Gabirol (c. 1021–1058), it also gave rise to new, flourishing, and influential communities across the Ottoman Empire, known as Sephardim and speaking the Judeo-Spanish language of Ladino. However, a dramatic rise in the Jewish population of eastern Europe during the nineteenth century radically shifted the “center of gravity” of Jewish communities in the modern period.
Modern European nationalism, the rise of democratic citizenship, and Enlightenment ideologies of individual autonomy and of freedom of conscience all presented both dangers and opportunities for Jews and Jewishness. Distinctive legal status—both limitations and protections—for Jews began to crumble. In western Europe, the National Assembly during the French Revolution of 1789 heralded the abolition of autonomous Jewish communities with the famous phrase, “To the Jews as a nation, nothing; to Jews as individuals, everything.” In modernizing Germany, Jews were prominent in literature, science, and the arts, though they continued to suffer social and institutional discrimination. In the Russian Empire, “the prisonhouse of nations,” Jewish communities faced a bewildering and inconsistent sequence and array of liberalizing gestures, increasing restrictions on settlement and occupations, and forced assimilation in the guise of modernization. Individual Jews and Jewish movements (notably the Jewish Workers’ Bund in Russia, Poland, and Lithuania) were prominent in socialist and revolutionary efforts to overthrow the czarist regime. Jews were full participants in colonial, democratic, and capitalist ventures in the New World, and the United States became a center of Jewish population and creativity.
Perhaps fueled by the dramatic encounter between traditional Jewish communities and the new bourgeois sphere, thinkers of Jewish origin such as Karl Marx (1818–1883), Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), and Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) were pioneers in the reflexive articulation of modernity’s self-understanding, while Jewish writers, scientists, and musicians likewise made disproportionate contributions to modern culture. The haskalah or “Jewish enlightenment” stimulated a new, secular Hebrew literature, as well as a modern Yiddish literature, much of which has stood the test of generations as a commentary both on the limitations of tradition and on the frequently empty pretensions of the new.
Yet Jewishness and the Jews were frequently seen as a “problem” for Western modernity, whether because their potential loyalty and capacity for absorption as fellow citizens of secular nation-states was in question, or because the organizing logic of those nation-states rested in unacknowledged ways on assumptions of their constituents’ shared Christian heritage. One reaction was the crystallization of Zionism as the Jews’ own modern nationalist movement, which eventually took material form in the effort to convince Jews to migrate to Palestine and to create the infrastructure for Jewish state sovereignty there to be renewed after nearly two millennia. Zionism bears in turn a complex relation to traditional Jewishness, rejecting as neurotic substitutions much of the diasporic forms of Jewish life, while mobilizing the memory and longing for the lost homeland that have nourished Jewish sensibilities in exile.
Political engagement by Jews in liberal and socialist struggles throughout the West helped fuel the modern anti-Semitic movement. Anti-Semitism was itself a reactionary response to the rapid pace of social and economic change, paradoxically bolstered by modern theories of biologically determined and hence immutable racial characteristics. During the 1930s, a time when Western economy and society were simultaneously resisting workers’ revolution and reeling from catastrophic disruption to the capitalist economy, Jews were irrationally but opportunistically tarred as the bête noire of the imagined “Aryan” race. The consequent call to eliminate the Jews, originally a demand for expulsion, was transformed in the course of World War II (1939–1945) into an active program of genocide. There were an estimated 18,000,000 Jews at the beginning of that war; by its end, a third of them had been slaughtered.
The map of the Jewish world has been dramatically reshaped in past centuries, as a result of genocide, assimilation, migration, nation-building, and renewal. The Jews of the world are far less widely dispersed than they once were, and much has been lost. The State of Israel explicitly defines itself as a Jewish state, yet along with a significant Arab minority, its population includes numbers of immigrants whose “Jewish” status according to religious law has been hotly debated. Moreover, Israel and its Jewish population continue to face vital issues of cultural and political integration into the Middle East.
Along with Israel, the United States holds by far the world’s largest Jewish population, and American Jews are generally considered well integrated. Markers of Jewish identity and culture are readily present and celebrated in media and popular culture. Those concerned with Jewish continuity worry about high rates of intermarriage among moderately affiliated Jews. There is an extraordinary range of options for expression of religious Judaism, for the explicit linkage of Jewishness to other nonmajoritarian identities, and for the preservation and reinvention of secular Jewish culture. Meanwhile, traditionalist religious communities have enjoyed a resurgence, experiencing high birthrates and close to universal retention of young people within their communities.
Outside of Israel and the United States, France retains the largest Jewish population, largely comprising North African immigrants and their descendants. French Jewry today stands as a test case for the continued viability of Jewish and indeed of minority communities more generally in contemporary western Europe, and some see its future as clouded by the appearance of a “new anti-Semitism” there. Significant Jewish populations also are found in the countries of the former Soviet Union, in Canada, in the United Kingdom, and in Argentina.
SEE ALSO Anti-Semitism; Assimilation; Christianity; Enlightenment; Ethnocentrism; Gender; Genocide; Heteronormativity; Holocaust, The; Islam, Shia and Sunni; Jewish Diaspora; Judaism; Migration; Modernism; Modernization; Nation of Islam; Nationalism and Nationality; Religion; Reparations; Supreme Being; Zionism
Biale, David, ed. 2002. Cultures of the Jews: A New History. New York: Schocken.
Boyarin, Daniel. 2004. Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Gerber, Jane. 1992. The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience. New York: Free Press.
Gilman, Sander. 1986. Jewish Self-Hatred: Anti-Semitism and the Hidden Language of the Jews. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Gruen, Erich. 2002. Diaspora: Jews amidst Greeks and Romans. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Mendes-Flohr, Paul, and Jehuda Reinharz, eds. 1995. The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press.
Moore, Deborah Dash, and S. Ilan Troen, eds. 2001. Divergent Jewish Cultures: Israel and America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Scholem, Gershom. 1971. The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality. New York: Schocken.
Urbach, Efraim. 1979. The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs. 2nd ed. Trans. Israel Abrahams. Jerusalem: Magnes.
Weinreich, Max. 1980. History of the Yiddish Language. Trans. Shlomo Noble, with Joshua Fishman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
"Jews." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (August 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3045301214.html
"Jews." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008. Retrieved August 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3045301214.html
JEWS. In September 1654, twenty-three Sephardic Jews sailed into New Amsterdam's harbor aboard the St. Catherine. Fleeing the collapse of Dutch colonial rule in Brazil, the Jews sought refuge in New Amsterdam. They received a cold welcome from New Amsterdam's governor, Peter Stuyvesant, a Calvinist who viewed Jews as "blasphemers of the name of Christ" as well as a potential burden on his colonial coffers. Undeterred, the Jews appealed to brethren in Amsterdam to intervene on their behalf to the directors of the Dutch West India Company.
They succeeded. In 1655, the directors granted Jews permission to settle in New Amsterdam as long as they did not worship publicly, a right Jews had enjoyed in both Brazil and Amsterdam, and they assumed total responsibility for their indigent. In the colonies, economic potential often outweighed religious affiliation, and most white people enjoyed an equality of opportunity. The colonies consistently complained of labor shortages and the directors knew that Jews made good colonists: they quickly established roots in their new home, they remained loyal citizens, they developed international trade networks through contacts in Europe and the Caribbean, and wealth tended to flow along these networks. By forcing the poor Jews who arrived in 1654 to become a viable colonial population, perhaps the directors hoped that the new arrivals would stimulate needed economic growth. Beginning with New Amsterdam, Jews established communities in numerous colonial port cities, including New Port (1677), Savannah (1733), Philadelphia (1745), and Charleston (1750).
The Jews who settled in Dutch and, after 1664, British North America participated in a broad international migration that continued well into the twentieth century. They were Sephardim, part of the Iberian-Jewish diaspora created by the expulsion of all Jews from Spain and Portugal during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Soon, Ashkenazi Jews, who traced their roots to northern and central Europe, began to join the Sephardim. Generally poorer, and differing in religious ritual and Hebrew pronunciation, the Ashkenazim constituted the majority of American Jews by 1720.
Immediately upon arrival in North America, Jews established the necessities of full political and religious freedom. In 1655, the Jewish community received permission to construct a cemetery so they could bury the dead according to Jewish religious ritual. In 1656, one year after Lutherans lost their right to worship in their homes, Jews gained that exact privilege. After two years of legal wrestling, Asser Levy, one of New Amsterdam's, and later New York's, most prominent Jews, won Jews burgher rights—citizenship—in 1657. Although Jews did not receive the official right to worship publicly until the end of the seventeenth century, the nascent community worshiped in a building on Mill Street commonly known as the "Jew's Synagogue." The building, which included a mikveh, or ritual bath used primarily by women for rituals associated with family purity laws, served as colonial Jews' house of worship until 1728, when they established Shearith Israel, North America's first permanent synagogue.
Outwardly, the Jews who settled in America during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries could not be distinguished from their neighbors. This, as well as the low number of marriageable Jews, led to the emergence of intermarriage as a common feature of American Jewish life. Jews differed from their peers, however, in their professional activities. Whereas non-Jewish immigrants tended to work in agriculture or artisanry, Jews concentrated in commerce. Relying primarily upon family and community ties, Jews established trade networks among the colonies, with the Caribbean, and with Europe. These business arrangements provided Jews with the bonds necessary to sustain religious, cultural, economic, and familial interests. By 1730, when about 300 Jews lived in New York, only two Jews listed occupations other than commerce.
While most Jewish merchants traded in rum, hardware, spices, candles, lumber, and fur, some found the most lucrative commodity to be African slaves. Lured by the promise of substantial profit, Jewish notables from the shipping center of Newport, Rhode Island, participated in the traffic of humans. Moreover, like many of their white neighbors, Jews in both the North and the South owned slaves. In fact, the 1703 census revealed that 75 percent of Jewish households owned slaves. Because slavery functioned as the central determinant of American political, economic, and social systems, owning—or seeking to liberate—slaves existed as a central feature of American life for both Jews and non-Jews alike until the Civil War (1861–1865).
The American Revolution and subsequent ratification of the Constitution legitimized the rights and ad hoc privileges that had organized American Jewish life during the past century. The Constitution instituted the legal separation of church and state—a condition of existence quite different from Europe, where religion could determine an individual's political and legal rights.
Nineteenth Century Arrivals
Beginning in the 1820s, a new migration of Jews from Europe began, one that would continue unabated until its climax during the first decades of the twentieth century. Jews migrated westward between 1820 and 1920 in response to upheavals in European society caused by political emancipation, industrialization, and urbanization. Unlike other immigrant groups, that often returned to Europe after earning enough money to sustain a family, Jews tended to immigrate permanently.
Between 1820 and 1880, the Jewish population in America rose from 4,000 to almost 250,000. Historians usually refer to members of this first wave as "German" immigrants, but the name is incorrect. Jewish immigrants who arrived in America between 1820 and 1880 generally left from areas eventually included in unified Germany (1871) or countries deeply influenced by German culture, such as Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, and Moravia. Yet the pre-1880 contingent also included many Jews whose culture was decidedly Polish, from Silesia and Posen, provinces annexed by Prussia and later assumed into unified Germany, as well as Lithuania, western Russia, and Galicia. These Polish and Eastern European Jews, characterized by poverty, religious traditionalism, and the Yiddish language, more closely resembled the Jews who would begin their exodus to America in the final decades of the nineteenth century.
By the Civil War, Jews lived in over 160 communities in America. Many earned their keep by peddling, a profession that required no initial investment and functioned entirely on credit. Moreover, if successful, an itinerant peddler could earn enough to become a store owner. At a time when few retail stores existed outside the large cities, peddlers provided rural Americans and ethnic neighborhoods with their everyday necessities. Peddlers bought their supplies in large cities like New York, Chicago, or St. Louis and set out either for the hinterlands or the city streets. With their wares slung over their backs, on horse-carts, or on pushcarts, they roved from town to town or neighborhood to neighborhood selling small items like buttons, stoves, glass, needles, old clothes, and plates. Peddling resulted in the creation of extensive peddler-supplier-creditor networks in which Jews across the United States became linked in a collective endeavor to earn a living from the constant pulse of supply and demand. Indeed, this network of peddlers, general stores, and wholesalers served as the foundation for the evolution of the American department store.
Early Judaism in America
After the establishment of Shearith Israel in 1728, synagogues began to spring up wherever Jews settled, including the Touro Synagogue in Newport (1762) and Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia (1782). These first synagogues followed the traditional Sephardic rite. In 1801, resenting Sephardic control over synagogue administration and ritual, a group of Ashkenazim in Philadelphia formed the first "second" synagogue in an American Jewish community.
Because no ordained rabbi arrived in the United States until the 1840s, American Judaism developed almost entirely by improvisation. Moreover, due to their white skin color and their position outside the scope of nativist concerns with Irish Catholics, American Jewish modes of worship and religious institutions developed relatively free from outside interference. Laypeople generally led congregations and a synagogue's board determined religious ritual. Negotiating Jewish tradition, congregational demands, and desires for social acceptance, Jewish leaders oversaw a burgeoning American Judaism as chaotic and diverse as its new homeland. By the close of the 1800s, three major institutions—the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations—all claimed to speak for American Jewry.
Starting in 1870, the same processes that had led earlier arrivals to immigrate to America—market capitalism, industrialization, urbanization, and growing anti-Jewish violence—set in motion a new migration from eastern Europe to America. Between 1870 and 1924, when Congress officially legislated the end of free and open immigration, the 2.5 million Jews who immigrated to the United States radically altered American Jewry's demography, social structure, cultural life, and communal order.
Adjusting to America
After crossing the Atlantic, Jewish immigrants landed at Ellis Island. There, they encountered employees of the U.S. government, who checked papers and performed rigorous medical exams, and representatives of settlement houses or the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, organizations founded in the late nineteenth century to guide immigrants through landing procedures and provide financial aid, shelter, professional training, and acculturation skills. Whether meeting a family member already established in America or arriving alone, most immigrants headed directly from Ellis Island to one of the major ethnic neighborhoods that saturated America's cities, such as Chicago's West Side, Boston's North End, downtown Philadelphia, or New York's Lower East Side.
The immigrant neighborhood bustled. A cacophony of life, work, and leisure, one square block could hold among its tenements workshops of the garment trades, synagogues, saloons, cafes, wives, children, intellectuals, political functionaries, religious students, gamblers, con artists, and prostitutes. By 1910, 540,000 Jews lived within the 1.5 square miles considered the Lower East Side, cramped into five-or six-story tenement houses. Entire families, as many as seven or eight people, lived in three-or four-room apartments. Often, they took in boarders to help pay the rent. Usually a single male, the boarder would occupy one full room in the tiny apartment, cramping the rest of the family into even smaller quarters.
In order to meet their monthly expenses, every family member earned wages. Generally poorer and more religious than their predecessors, the new arrivals made work a top priority. Unlike their predecessors, the Eastern European Jews who arrived in the decades surrounding the
turn of the century tended to be skilled laborers, primarily in the garment industry. In fact, in 1900, one out of every three Jewish immigrants labored in the garment trades, although cigar making, peddling, and butchering were also popular professions. Due to the pressure to earn money, women, working in the needle trades, and children, who labored on assembly lines or in the streets selling whatever possible, joined men in the factories, back-room sweatshops, and small street stalls.
To compensate for these tough conditions, Jews developed an array of cultural and political responses to their new environment. The Yiddish theater offered low-cost, high-quality performances of original plays, translations, comedies, and variety shows. Likewise, socialism and Zionism became the dominant secular ideologies of the immigrant neighborhood. The language of these political ideologies, Yiddish, served as a source of literary and theatrical productions. Between 1885 and 1914, over 150 Yiddish dailies, weeklies, monthlies, quarterlies, and yearbooks appeared in print.
Jewish immigrants also produced institutional responses to immigration. Modeled after American fraternal orders, Jews organized landsmanschaften, societies for individuals who originated from the same town. The landsmanschaften provided various forms of financial aid such as sick and bereavement benefits, and organized small synagogues, lectures, and social opportunities. Trade unionism also provided Jews with opportunities for mutual aid and political expression. The International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, the most famous of the Jewish trade unions, organized in 1900 to provide support to the thousands of women working in the needle trades. The union opened a health center, experimented in cooperative housing, provided unemployment and health insurance and retirement benefits, and offered recreational and vocational programs. In 1909, the union participated in one of the largest strikes to date, known as the "Uprising of the 20,000," where women shirtwaist workers protested their poor salaries, poor working conditions, and culture of sexual abuse.
The ethnic neighborhood served primarily as a way station for new immigrants. Although it served as the first place of residence for a tremendously high percentage of immigrant Jews, its piteous living conditions encouraged immigrants to move to better neighborhoods as quickly as possible. In these areas of second settlement, public schools, interethnic contacts, and American popular culture all served as a cauldron of integration, tutoring immigrants and their children how to look, sound, and act like Americans. Indeed, by the 1930s, American Jewry became, for the first time, a largely native-born population. Thus, when the depression hit, Jews, like all Americans, suffered financial hardship, bankruptcies, and barriers to financial and educational advancement, as well as the disappointment of the expectations that accompanied general upward mobility.
Following World War II (1939–1945), in which over half a million American Jews served in the armed forces, American Jewry experienced a profound period of social and economic mobility. The Holocaust caused many American Jews to approach life with a new sense of responsibility. Now the world's largest Jewish community, American Jewry aimed for success, both as Americans and as Jews. Most important, they aimed to eradicate the distinctions that had marked earlier generations. Because of the opportunities offered by the GI Bill, Jewish men and women entered higher education in record numbers. As a result, by the end of the twentieth century most of America's 6 million Jews claimed college degrees, worked in white-collar jobs, and enjoyed comfortable lifestyles. Moreover, Judaism experienced a second period of transformation.
As America's Jews became increasingly assimilated, they diversified from the orthodoxy that had characterized the eastern European immigrants to more Americanized forms of Jewish expression. The birth of the State of Israel catalyzed the American Zionist movement. Numerous Jews participated in a wellspring of Jewish cultural expression in literature, academia, dance, and film. Others chose new religious opportunities. Some found "modern" Orthodoxy, a movement to combine traditional Judaism's strict lifestyle constraints with the realities of modern American society. Others chose the Havurah movement, which sprang up in the 1960s. Influenced by 1960s counterculture, members of havurot rejected traditional Judaism's formalism and sought to invest Jewish ritual with greater spirituality and attention to social justice. Most American Jews, however, identified as Re-form or Conservative, American Jewry's mainline religious movements.
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"Jews." Dictionary of American History. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. (August 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3401802189.html
"Jews." Dictionary of American History. 2003. Retrieved August 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3401802189.html
The Russian Empire acquired a Jewish population through the partitions of Poland in 1772, 1793, and 1795. By 1800 Russia's Jewish population numbered more than 800,000 persons. During the nineteenth century the Jews of the Russian Empire underwent a demographic explosion, with their population rising to more than five million in 1897 (a number that does not include the approximately one million persons who emigrated from the empire prior to 1914). Legislation in 1791, 1804, and 1835 required most Jews to live in the provinces acquired from Poland and the Ottoman Empire in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the so-called Pale of Jewish Settlement. There were also some residence restrictions within the Pale, such as a ban on settlement in most districts of the city of Kiev, and restrictions on settlement within fifty kilometers of the foreign borders. The Temporary Laws of May 1882 forbade new Jewish settlement in rural areas of the Pale. Before 1882 the Russian state progressively permitted privileged categories of Jews (guild merchants, professionals, some army veterans, students, and master-craftsmen) to reside outside the Pale. Larger in size than France, the Pale included areas of dynamic economic growth, and its restrictions were widely evaded,
but it was nonetheless considered the single greatest legal liability on Russian Jews. The regulations of the Pale, including the May Laws, did not apply to Jews in the Kingdom of Poland, although they too were barred from settlement in the Great Russian provinces.
Jews were primarily a trade-commercial class, serving in the feudal economy as the link between the peasants and the market, and as agents of the noble landowners and leasees of the numerous monopolies on private estates. They were particularly active in the production and sale of spirits, as agents of noble and state monopolies on this trade. Individual Jewish families lived in peasant villages, while larger communities were found in market towns, the shtetl of Jewish lore.
The Jewish population increase and internal migration contributed to the growth of urban centers such as Odessa, Kiev, Vilna, Warsaw, and Lodz. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Jews moved into occupations in urban-based factory work. A small elite gained prominence as tax farmers, bankers, railway contractors, and industrial entrepreneurs. A number of Jews had successful careers in the professions, chiefly law, medicine, and journalism. Most Jews, however, lived lives of relative poverty.
religion and culture
The vernacular of Jews in the empire comprised various dialects of Yiddish, a Germanic language with a substantial admixture of Hebrew and Slavic languages. Hebrew and Aramaic were languages of prayer and study. In the all-Russian census of 1897 more than 97 percent of Jews declared Yiddish their native language, although this figure obscures the high level of multi-lingualism among East European Jewry.
The empire's Jews were, with very few exceptions, Ashkenazi-a Yiddish-speaking cultural community that shared common rituals and traditions. It was a highly literate culture that valorized learning and the study of legal and homiletic texts, the Talmud. Ashkenazi culture also included elements of the Jewish mystical tradition, the Kabbalah. The main division between adherents to religious traditionalism in Eastern Europe was between the so-called Mitnagedim, (The Opponents) and the Hasidim (The Pious Ones). The latter contained many strands, each grouped around a charismatic leader, or tzaddik (righteous man). There was also a small band of maskilim, the adherents of Haskalah, which was the Jewish version of the European Enlightenment movement. They advocated religious reform and intellectual and linguistic acculturation.
In an effort to reach the non-acculturated masses, followers of the Russian Haskalah wrote literary works in Yiddish and Hebrew, helping to create standardized and modernized versions of both languages. The most notable of these writers were Abraham Mapu, Perez Smolenskin, and Reuven Braudes in modern Hebrew; Sholem Yakov Abramovich (pen name, Mendele Moykher-Sforim) in Hebrew and Yiddish; and Sholem Rabinovich (Sholem Aleichem) and Yitsak Leybush Perets in Yiddish. Avraam Goldfaden was the foremost creator of a Yiddish-language theater, although its growth was stunted by a governmental ban in 1883. The turn of the century saw the emergence of a number of outstanding Hebrew poets, most notably Khaim Nakhman Bialik and Shaul Chernikhovsky. There was a vigorous Jewish press in Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, and Polish.
In response to the challenges of modernity, religious movements such as Israel Lipkin Salanter's Musar Movement, which penetrated traditional study centers (yeshivas), sought ways to preserve a vigorous traditional style of life. While women were not expected to be scholars, many were literate. Both religious and secular literature aimed at a female audience was published in Yiddish.
All young males were expected to study in religious schools known as the cheder. A state initiative of 1844 created a state-sponsored Jewish school system with primary and secondary levels, offering a more modern curriculum. Total enrollment was low, but the schools served Jews as a point of entry into Russian culture and higher education. Most maskilim and acculturated Jews in the mid-nineteenth century had some connection with this school system. By the 1870s Jews in urban areas began to enter Russian schools in large numbers. Concerned that the Jews were swamping the schools, the state imposed quotas on the admission of Jews to secondary and higher education. A number of Jews became prominent artists in Russia, most notably the painter Isaac Levitan and the sculptor Mark Antokolsky.
Until 1844 the internal government of the Jews comprised the kahal (kagal in Russian), a system of autonomous local government inherited from
the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The kahal, dominated by local elites, exercised social control, selected the religious leadership (rabbis), and assessed and collected taxes under a system of collective responsibility. After 1827 the kahal also oversaw the selection of recruits for the army. A number of taxes were unique to the Jews, most notably a tax on kosher meat (korobochka ) and a tax on sabbath candles. Jews in Poland and Lithuania created a number of national bodies, the va'adim (the singular form is va'ad ), which assessed taxes on communities, negotiated with the secular authorities, and attempted to set social standards. Although similar bodies were abolished in Poland in 1764, the Russian state allowed Jews to create them on a regional basis. These included provincial kahals, and the institution of Deputies of the Jewish People, which lasted until 1825. Seen as an obstacle to Jewish integration, the kahal system was technically abolished in 1844, but virtually all of its functions endured unchanged.
Within each community existed a wide variety of societies (hevrah, plural: hevrot ) that over-saw an extensive range of devotional, educational, and charitable functions. The most important of these was the burial brotherhood, the hevrah kaddisha.
The defining characteristic of a Jew in Russian law was religious confession; a convert from Judaism to any other faith ceased legally to be a Jew. In other respects Russian law possessed numerous and contradictory provisions that applied only to Jews. In Russia's social-estate based system, almost all Jews were classed as townspeople (meshchane ) or merchants (kuptsy ), and the general regulations for these groups applied to them, but with many exceptions. Confusingly, all Jews were also placed in the social category of aliens (inorodtsy ), which included groups such as Siberian nomads, who were under the special protection of the state. A huge body of exceptional law existed for all aspects of Jewish life, including tax assessment, military recruitment, residence, and religious life. Jewish emancipation in Russia would have had to encompass the removal of all such special legislation.
the "jewish question" in russia
The guiding principles of Russia's Jewish policy were not based on traditional Russian, Orthodox Christian anti-Semitism, nor was there ever a sustained and coordinated effort to convert all Jews to Russian Orthodoxy, with the exception of conversionary pressures on Russian army recruits. Russian policy was influenced by the Enlightenment-era critique of the Jews and Judaism that saw them as a persecuted minority, but also isolated and backward, economically unproductive, and religious fanatics prone to exploit their Christian neighbors. In 1881 Russian policy was broadly aimed at the acculturation and integration of the Jews into the broader society. The anti-Jewish riots (pogroms) of 1881 and 1882 led to a reversal of this policy, inspiring efforts to segregate Jews from non-Jews through residence restrictions (the May Laws of 1882) and restricted access to secondary and higher education. Much of Russian legislation towards the Jews after 1889 lacked a firm ideological basis, and was ad hoc, responding to the political concerns of the moment.
Following the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, Russian public opinion, fearful of Jewish exploitation of the peasantry, grew increasing critical of the Jews. These critical attitudes were characterized as Judeophobia. Originally based on concrete, albeit exaggerated, socioeconomic complaints (exploitation, intoxication of the peasantry), Russian Judeophobia acquired fantastic elements by the end of the century, exemplified by forgeries like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which claimed to expose a Jewish plot bent on world domination. The presence of Jews in the revolutionary movement led the state to attribute political disloyalty to Jews in general. Right-wing political parties were invariably anti-Semitic, exemplified by their rallying cry, "Beat the Yids and Save Russia!"
Jews made significant contributions to all branches of the Russian revolutionary movement, including Populism, the Social Revolutionaries, and Marxist Social Democracy, which included a Jewish branch, the Bund, that concentrated on propaganda among the Jewish working class. Lev Pinsker, author of the 1882 pamphlet Auto-Emancipation!, and Ahad Ha'am were major ideologues of the early Zionist movement. East European Jews were the mainstay of Theodor Herzl's movement of political Zionism.
See also: bund, jewish; judaizers; nationalities policies, soviet; nationalities policies, tsarist; pale of settlement; pogroms
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John D. Klier
KLIER, JOHN D.. "Jews." Encyclopedia of Russian History. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (August 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404100613.html
KLIER, JOHN D.. "Jews." Encyclopedia of Russian History. 2004. Retrieved August 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404100613.html
Jews [from Judah], traditionally, descendants of Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, whose tribe, with that of his half-brother Benjamin, made up the kingdom of Judah; historically, members of the worldwide community of adherents to Judaism. The degree to which national and religious elements of Jewish culture interact has varied throughout history and has been a matter of considerable debate. There were approximately 17.8 million Jews in the world in 1990, with 8 million in the Americas (of which about 5.7 million were in the United States), 3.5 million in Israel, and 3.5 million in Europe.
According to the biblical account, much of which is impossible to verify in the archaeological record until late in the monarchial period, Jewish history begins with the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who considered Canaan (an area comprising present-day Israel and the West Bank) their home. Their history continues in Goshen, NE Egypt, where they settled as agriculturists many centuries before the Christian era. Under Ramses II the Jews were severely persecuted and, finally, Moses led them out of Egypt; at Mt. Sinai he delivered to them the Ten Commandments.
Many years of wandering in desert wildernesses followed before the Israelites conquered Canaan. Saul became the first king. Initially successful against the Philistines, he was finally defeated at Gilboa. David, of the tribe of Judah, ruled, conquered the enemies of the Jews, expanded his territory across the Jordan River, and brought prosperity and peace to his people. The reign of his son Solomon, who built the first Temple, was the last before a period of disruption. The tribes of the north formed the kingdom of Israel; those of the south formed the smaller but more strongly united kingdom of Judah.
In 722 BC, Sargon II captured Samaria, capital of Israel, and most of the Israelites (the lost tribes) were exiled. Judah passed under Assyrian domination, then under Egyptian, and in 586 BC, under Babylonian, when the Temple was destroyed and the people were exiled until their return was permitted by Cyrus the Great (538 BC). The rebuilding of the Temple was completed in 516 BC The Jews remained a strong religious group during the period of Hellenism, but regained political independence only under the Maccabees. A rebellion, led by Bar Kokba against the Romans in the 2d cent. AD, ended in defeat. In 63 BC Rome conquered Palestine, and the second Temple was destroyed in AD 70.
As political aspirations subsided, the Jewish community was increasingly led by scholars and rabbis. Even during the period of Jewish sovereignty in Palestine, large Jewish communities developed in Egypt and Babylonia. After the fall of the Temple, Babylon's Jewish community became the most important in world Jewry and its academies the most influential centers of Jewish learning. In 8th-century Iberia, a large Jewish community played an important part in intellectual and economic life. From the 9th to the 12th cent., Spanish Jewry enjoyed a golden age of literary efflorescence marked by a highly creative interaction between Jewish and Islamic culture.
From the Crusades to the Enlightenment
From the time of the Crusades date the persecutions that persisted until the 18th cent. During this period the ownership of land and most occupations other than petty trading and moneylending were forbidden to European Jews; the ghetto came into existence. The Jews, who had earlier been an agricultural people, became an urban population. The Jews were expelled from England in 1290 and from France in 1306. In 1391, forced conversions began in Spain; in 1492 all remaining Jews were expelled. Many of the exiles perished; others found asylum in the Netherlands and in the Turkish possessions. The German Jews, who experienced periodic explusions throughout the 15th cent., fled to Poland, where, although subject to persecution, they build a thriving culture.
After 1492, Spanish Jews (see Sephardim) spread throughout the Mediterranean world, often absorbing smaller Jewish communities they encountered. In some places they continued to speak a Judeo-Spanish language known as Judezmo or Ladino into the 20th cent. Some Sephardim also migrated to Western Europe. The other large branch of the Jewish people, known as Ashkenazim, formed in the 9th cent. with the settlement of Jews in the Rhine valley. Marked by their use of Yiddish, a German-Jewish language, the Ashkenazim also migrated east into Poland. The Polish-Lithuanian community became a major center of world Jewry in the 16th cent., distinguished by its high level of Talmudic scholarship. The political vulnerability and religious faith of the Jews led to the rise of several messianic movements; one of the most important was led by Sabbatai Zevi. In the 18th cent. Hasidism arose among the Jews of Eastern Europe.
Emancipation and Secularization
Modern political emancipation of the Jews began with the American and French revolutions. In Germany and Austria emancipation of the Jews was proclaimed after the Revolution of 1848. Simultaneously, the Haskalah encouraged the secularization of Jewish life, and the integration of the Jews into the societies in which they lived. Especially in Western Europe, this led to considerable acculturation, and even assimilation, of Jewish communities. The religious Reform movement advocated a form of Judaism shorn of its national elements and emphasizing ethical content rather than adherence to traditional Jewish law.
Zionism and Mass Migration
In Eastern Europe in the late 1800s, new secular movements arose, particularly after a wave of pogroms in 1881. These movements sought to ameliorate the Jewish condition and establish Jewish life on a new national basis. Zionism advocated the return of the Jews to Palestine. The Zionist movement was formally established in Basel in 1897. During the 19th and early 20th cent., there was a mass migration of Jews westward from Eastern and Central Europe and the Ottoman Empire. During the period 1880 to 1924 some 2.5 million Jews emigrated to the United States, which after 1939 was home to the largest Jewish community in the world. Smaller numbers, under the influence of Zionism, settled in Palestine.
Between 1933, when the Nazis rose to power in Germany, and 1945, when Germany was defeated in World War II, the Jews faced persecution of unprecedented scope and violence; thousands were driven into exile and close to 6 million were systematically slaughtered (see anti-Semitism; Holocaust). After the war, great numbers of Jews sought refuge in Palestine. The Jewish state of Israel was established in 1948 from portions of Palestine, and in succeeding years absorbed many Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. Arab-Jewish relations have been complicated by the hostilities that have resulted in and from the Arab-Israeli Wars of 1956, 1967, 1973, and 1982.
See H. Graetz, History of the Jews (6 vol., tr. 1926; repr. 1956); A. L. Sachar, A History of the Jews (5th ed. 1965); C. Roth, The Jewish Contribution to Civilization (3d ed. 1956) and A Short History of the Jewish People (rev. ed. 1969); H. Feingold, Zion in America (1974); R. Seltzer, Jewish People, Jewish Thought (1981); S. W. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews (27 vol., 1952–83); N. de Lange, ed., The Illustrated History of the Jewish People (1997); S. Friedländer, Nazi Germany and the Jews (2 vol., 1997–2007); A. Hertzberg and A. Hirt-Manheimer, Jews (1998); D. Vital, A People Apart (1999); M. Konner, Unsettled: An Anthropology of the Jews (2003); J. R. Baskin and K. Seeskin, The Cambridge Guide to Jewish History, Religion, and Culture (2010); S. Schama, The Story of the Jews (vol. 1, 2014).
"Jews." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Encyclopedia.com. (August 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Jews.html
"Jews." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Retrieved August 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Jews.html
New Netherland. The first recorded Jews in North America came to the Dutch West India Company’s settlement of New Netherland in 1654. They did not all come together but instead represented the two major immigrant streams of Jews that came to early America—the Ashkenazim, or European Jews, and the Sephardim, or Spanish Jews. In the summer of 1654 Solomon Pietersen and Jacob Barsimson, both traders, arrived in New Amsterdam. Barsimson had sailed from Amsterdam. That same year twenty-three Sephardic Jews fled Brazil after the Portuguese defeated the Dutch there. While not exactly welcomed in New Amsterdam, they were not permitted as non-Catholics to remain in Brazil. The next year, 1655, Jewish merchants from Amsterdam arrived in New Amsterdam. In 1656 they petitioned local authorities for permission “to purchase a burying place,” which was granted. By 1663 the Jewish community in New Amsterdam was unraveling, mainly because New Netherland was a backwater with decreasing appeal to Jewish merchants. All told, before the English conquest of 1664 there might have been as many as fifty Jews in New Netherland although not all at the same time.
New York. By the time the English took over New Netherland in 1664 there was no Jewish community left there, but Jews trickled into New York so that by 1682 there were enough to purchase land for a cemetery. Between 1690 and 1710 Jews of Anglo-German extraction migrated to New York so that by 1692 they worshiped as the congregation Shearith Israel at a house on Beaver Street. In 1730 they built the first synagogue in North America. At the time of the American Revolution some four hundred Jews lived in New York City. Single families also settled in various New York towns, but the city remained the heart of the Jewish community.
Rhode Island. The Jews in Newport, Rhode Island, began as an offshoot of the New York group. In the 1740s some of New York’s Jewish merchants, such as the Harts, Isaackses, and Polocks, began paying Rhode Island taxes as transients. By 1743 Moses Lopez had moved there, and five years later he was joined by his brother-in-law, Jacob R. Rivera. By 1756 the Jews had organized a synagogue. They built a school in 1763, yet the community comprised only fifteen families. The synagogue provided seating for sixty adult men. By 1761 the town even boasted a Jewish social club, yet there were never many Jews in Newport. By 1774 the community had about two hundred people.
South Carolina. The first of the British colonies to openly provide for a religious toleration that included Jews was South Carolina. Anthony Ashley Cooper, one of the proprietors, and his secretary, the great philosopher John Locke, composed the Fundamental Constitutions of 1669 with an eye toward drawing people, including Jewish merchants, from Barbados. Four Jewish shopkeepers were naturalized in 1697–1698. Jews continued to trickle in during the early eighteenth century, but there were no organized schemes for a Jewish settlement until 1737. While this fell through, Sephardic Jews from London and the West Indies arrived in Charleston in the late 1730s. They were joined in 1740 by Jews fleeing Savannah, Georgia, and rumors of Spanish invasion. In 1749 the Jewish community organized a Sephardic-rite synagogue, Beth Elohim. (It would not have a building until 1794.) On the eve of the Revolution some two hundred Jews lived in Charleston.
Georgia. The first Jews in Georgia represented the only organized migration of their people to British North America, and they arrived as part of a settlement scheme organized by the Bevis Marks Sephardic congregation in London. On 11 July 1733, 41 Jews of Sephardic, Germanic, and Italian stock landed in the new colony, only the third or fourth boatload of people to do so. These individuals brought with them the ritual objects necessary to form a congregation and organized a synagogue, Mickva Israel, in a rented room. While neither James Oglethorpe nor the Georgia trustees wanted Jews, the charter did not actually exclude them, and they proved to have skills valuable to the new colony. Samuel Nunez was a doctor who helped the colony through an epidemic its first summer. Abraham De Lyon was a vintner. More Jews arrived later in the year, and the community grew until the War of Jenkins’ Ear broke out in 1739, pitting England against Spain. Spaniards had been the chief cause of the Jewish New World diaspora, and Oglethorpe’s unsuccessful assault on Saint Augustine raised the specter of a Spanish threat to Savannah. The Jews departed, leaving only the family of Benjamin Sheftall in Savannah in 1741. Jews began trickling back into Georgia in the 1760s, after the end of the French and Indian War and the resurrection of trade. On the eve of the Revolution the Jewish population lay somewhere between 27 and 240.
Kenneth Coleman, Colonial Georgia: A History (Millwood, N.Y.: KTO Press, 1989);
Joyce D. Goodfriend, Before the Melting Pot: Society and Culture in Colonial New York City, 1664–1730 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992);
James William Hagy, This Happy Land: The Jews of Colonial and Antebellum Charleston (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1993);
Jacob R. Marcus, The Colonial American Jew: 1492–1776 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1970);
David De Sola Pool, Portraits Etched in Stone: Early Jewish Settlers 1682–1831 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1952).
"Jews." American Eras. 1997. Encyclopedia.com. (August 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2536600257.html
"Jews." American Eras. 1997. Retrieved August 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2536600257.html
Jews had been a persecuted minority throughout the Middle Ages, and the humanism and questioning of Christian doctrine during the Renaissance did little to improve their status. Many European cities forbade them to pass through their gates at all; most others severely restricted their movements, their professions, and the neighborhoods in which they lived. From time to time, Jews were completely expelled by decree of a prince or city council. Their property was confiscated and the debts owed to them were cancelled—in this way, expulsion was often a convenient way for a prince or monarch to relieve a debt from his treasury. Expulsions occurred in France in 1394, in Portugal in 1497, in the southern French duchy of Provence in 1502, and from southern Italy in 1541. Jews were completely forbidden to live in England throughout the Renaissance, a restriction that dated to the year 1290 and did not end until the middle of the seventeenth century. The most important expulsion of this period occurred in Spain in 1492, when Ferdinand and Isabella expelled Jews as well as Muslims from their united kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. Jews who claimed to convert to Christianity in order to keep their homes and property were known as marranos or conversos. Such converts were under constant suspicion and often prohibited from leaving the confines of the cities where they lived. They were often brought to trial for heresy; the Spanish Inquisition was established in the late fifteenth century for the express purpose of testing the sincerity of conversos and rooting out the insincere.
Jews were often restricted in the clothing they could wear and in their general appearance; in fifteenth-century Spain Jewish men were forced to grow their beards long. In some cities they were forced to wear a circle of yellow felt to identify themselves as Jews; other places required wide-brimmed hats or a long dark cloak. The professions available to them were also limited. Jews were banned from traditional artisanal guilds, but permitted to work as moneylenders and as dealers in second-hand goods. Many Italian communes granted charters allowing Jews to settle for a limited time, for the purpose of serving as lenders to the poor of the city.
In the literature of the time, including works of Christopher Marlowe and Sir Francis Bacon, Jews were often depicted as greedy and villainous. Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice presents one of the most memorable Jewish villains, the moneylender Shylock. European Christians branded Jews with sinister libels, such as claiming that they made their ceremonial food with the blood of Christians. These libels could sometimes lead to violence and massacre, occasionally with the approval of the city authorities. In 1475 the city of Trent arrested every Jewish male on the suspicion of carrying out the ritual murder of Christian children, and put the captives to death.
At the same time, however, Hebrew, the language of the Jews, became a respected subject of interest to many scholars, including the Protestant scholar Johannes Buxtorf, who taught at the University of Basel in Switzerland and published Hebrew dictionaries and grammars. Jewish texts were translated into Latin, and several universities established departments of Hebraica, or Jewish studies. The study of the Jewish kabbalah, a medieval system of symbols and esoteric knowledge, was undertaken by humanist scholar Giordano Bruno, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, and others interested in systems of thought that lay outside traditional Christian teachings.
In 1516, the first Jewish ghetto was established in Venice, in a quarter known as the Ghetto Nuovo. The Jewish ghetto became a neighborhood cordoned off from the Christian population, often with a system of walls and gates. In 1555 the Catholic Church began enforcing a twelfth-century law that prohibited Jews from living in the same neighborhoods as Christians. This law was strictly enforced within the Papal States, the cities and territories under the control of the papal administration in central Italy. The ghetto spread to Germany and then the rest of Europe. Jews were commonly confined to the ghettos permanently, and were only allowed to leave in order to transact necessary business in other parts of the city. The gates were locked and no traffic permitted at night; Jews caught out after curfew were subject to arrest and a term in prison. The ghetto walls prevented Jewish communities from expanding, and as a result they became the most crowded and least healthful neighborhoods, with families raising tenements ever higher in order to accommodate the growing population.
See Also: ghetto
"Jews." The Renaissance. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (August 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3205500173.html
"Jews." The Renaissance. 2008. Retrieved August 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3205500173.html
The difficulties of the Jews continued in the 13th cent. John's financial worries made him severe and the baronial opposition to Henry III disliked Jews who could assist the crown. The story of William of Norwich was repeated in 1255 with the account of Hugh of Lincoln—another boy said to have been butchered, and again given saintly status. In 1275 Edward I in a statute forbade Jews to practise usury, allowing them to trade and own property. But if this was meant as an attempt at integration, it was followed in 1278 by a savage attack in which hundreds of Jews were hanged. In 1290, in exchange for a large subsidy from Parliament, all Jews were expelled from the kingdom and allowed three months to leave. They were given safe conducts though inevitably numbers were set upon and robbed.
Between 1290 and the 1650s there were no Jewish communities of any size, though individuals slipped through, sometimes professing conversion. In Elizabeth's reign, there were Spanish and Portuguese Jews in the country though they practised their religion with circumspection. When approached in the 1650s, Cromwell was more sympathetic than his council, perhaps because he had made use of some Jews in espionage and diplomacy. There was no dramatic reversal of policy but Jews were allowed in once more. Their numbers and status built up and the financial and commercial revolutions of the early 18th cent. gave them enhanced possibilities. Sir Samuel Gideon was prominent in assisting the government with loans in the crisis of 1745, and his son was given an Irish peerage in 1789, though he had to change both name and religion. But old hatreds died hard and when the Pelhams brought in a modest measure to facilitate naturalization in 1753, the public outcry was so great that they were forced to repeal it.
Catholic emancipation in 1829 left the Jews as the only religious group suffering under severe disabilities. Repeated attempts at concessions were thwarted in the House of Lords but the progress of Jews in society was unmistakable. David Salomons was made sheriff of London in 1835 and lord mayor in 1855; Francis Goldsmid was the first practising Jew to be given a baronetcy in 1841. When first Lionel Rothschild (1847) and then Salomons (1851) were elected to Parliament, only to be kept out by their inability to take the oath as a Christian, the plight of the Jews was dramatized, and the law was changed in 1858. The first government minister of Jewish faith was appointed in 1871, the first judge in 1873. Powerful prejudices remained and were strengthened by an influx of poorer Jews from eastern Europe in the later 19th cent. The obstacles facing Jews remained substantial, but they were personal and social rather than legal.
J. A. Cannon
JOHN CANNON. "Jews." The Oxford Companion to British History. 2002. Encyclopedia.com. (August 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O110-Jews.html
JOHN CANNON. "Jews." The Oxford Companion to British History. 2002. Retrieved August 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O110-Jews.html
Origin. The history of Judaism in America began with the arrival of Dutch Jews at New Amsterdam in 1654. They had been active in the Dutch West India Company settlement in Brazil and were expelled when the Portuguese retook the post. The Netherlands had provided a place of refuge for the Sephardic Jews (those of Iberian descent) after Spain had expelled them in 1492 and Portugal in 1496. In the Netherlands they flourished as merchants and tradesmen.
Early Clusters. There were no rabbis among these colonial Jews. This fact did not present much of an obstacle, however, because only ten adult males were needed to form a synagogue. As soon as they were granted the right to public worship in New York at the end of the seventeenth century, they established a congregation and by 1729 had built a house of worship. Others arrived in small groups, especially after 1740, when the British Parliament allowed them to be naturalized. In some colonies they were denied political rights because they were not Christians and could not take the required oaths on the Bible. They settled primarily in the coastal cities and practiced their faith unobtrusively. Cantors took on the
role of ministers, and the highly literate laity preserved their teachings and traditions.
Ruth Gay, Jews in America: A Short History (New York: Basic Books, 1965);
Jacob R. Marcus, The Colonial American Jews, 1492–1776, 3 volumes (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1970).
"Jews." American Eras. 1997. Encyclopedia.com. (August 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2536600388.html
"Jews." American Eras. 1997. Retrieved August 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2536600388.html
"Jews." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. (August 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O142-Jews.html
"Jews." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Retrieved August 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O142-Jews.html