Jews, Post-Biblical History of the
JEWS, POST-BIBLICAL HISTORY OF THE
The history of the Jewish people is primarily the history of its religious development and, at the same time, in the Old Testament period, the history of man's salvation. From the time God made Israel His chosen people through His covenant with them on Mount Sinai, the Torah, or the Mosaic Law, has been regarded by the Jewish people as the center of its life, and ever since the Babylonian Exile the Jews have considered the study and fulfillment of this Law their principal duty.
The history of the Jews reveals its real and deep meaning only if one concentrates attention on the religious element in it. The same is true of the post-Biblical era, which for the Jewish people on the whole was an almost uninterrupted period of suffering and persecution. Even the unfriendly attitude Christendom has shown the Jews throughout the centuries must be considered here. The objective, chronological presentation here of the most important events in the history of the Jews is neither tendentious nor accusatory. The external happenings in this history, frightful though they frequently were, especially in recent times, have always been subservient to the very special plan of God, whose call and gifts of grace to Israel are, according to the testimony of Saint Paul (Romans 12.29), irrevocable. Justice can be done to the history of the Jews only if it is primarily regarded as the expression of God's inscrutable government of the world. For the Biblical era of the history of the Jews, see israel, 3.
The post-Biblical era is reviewed here in a survey of the six main periods of the Jewish history: (1) the Roman and Byzantine period (a.d. 67–622), (2) the Islamic period (622–1096), (3) the period of the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition (1096–1492), (4) the period of the Renaissance and the Reformation (1492–1650), (5) the beginning of the modern era (1650–1750), and (6) the emancipation (1750–1948). For the period since 1948, see israel (state of).
Roman and Byzantine Period (67–622). The history of the Jews in this period was marked by their first revolt against Rome (67–70), which brought about the destruction of Jerusalem; by their second revolt under bar kokhba (132–35), which ended in the complete devastation of Palestine; and by the survival of the Jews in the Babylonian and other Diasporas.
First Revolt. The ever increasing tension between the Jews and the Roman authorities in Palestine reached its breaking point when the tyranny of the Roman governor Gessius Florus (64–66) provoked the Jews to open, armed rebellion against Rome. The military preparations on the Jewish side were supervised by Joseph ben Mattathiah, who later, under the name of Flavius josephus, left to future generations, together with other historical writings, a description of this revolt in his Jewish War. The Jewish military forces, however, could not withstand the legions of the Roman General Vespasian and, after heavy losses, withdrew to Jerusalem. A siege of several months followed; the city was conquered by Vespasian's son Titus in the year 70 and, together with its Temple, utterly destroyed. The Roman soldiers, after inflicting a terrible massacre on the population, led thousands of Jews away into slavery.
The national catastrophe of the year 70 made a renewal of religious life imperative for the Jews. From now on emphasis was placed on the so-called academies. While Jerusalem was still under siege, Rabbi johanan ben zakkai, with wise foresight, had obtained permission from Titus to settle with his disciples at Jamnia, which now became the new seat of the sanhedrin. Even after the year 70 the Jews of Palestine retained a certain amount of local autonomy, which the Romans sanctioned by conferring on Gamaliel (II), the head of the Jamnia academy, the title of patriarch. The main concern at this time of the doctors of the Law, among whom Rabbi akiba ben joseph was outstanding, was in the field of hala kah, i.e., the interpretation of the various prescriptions of the Law that would assure for the future that the observance of the commandments of the Torah would hold the first place in the life of the Jewish people.
Second Revolt. Meanwhile the hand of Rome lay heavy on the land, and there were several uprisings among the Jews, sometimes, as in 115, extending into the diaspora; all of them were cruelly suppressed. The limit was reached in 132, when the Emperor Hadrian decided to erect a heathen sanctuary on the site of the ruined Temple. The whole population rose up in protest under the leadership of Simeon bar Koziba, called Bar Kokhba by his disciples. For three years he held the country under his control. But the conquest of Bether by the Roman legions put an end to this last attempt to regain national independence. The population of Judea was decimated, and the remnant of the religious and national life sought refuge in the mountains of Galilee, while strictly enforced laws made every practice of the Jewish religion liable to severe penalties.
Under the Emperor Antoninus Plus (138–61) conditions became better for the Jews, and they even received a certain amount of local autonomy. The interest of the leading Jewish academies was now concentrated on the codification of all the extra-Biblical traditions, which until then had been handed down only orally, but which, on account of the unfavorable conditions of the time, were in danger of being entirely lost. This work is mainly contained in the mishnah, completed by the Patriarch Rabbi judah ha-nasi c. 200. The gradual dissolution, however, of Palestinian Judaism could not be checked, and with the abolition of the patriarchate in 425, its whole political life was practically extinguished.
Babylonian Diaspora. In Mesopotamia, where, ever since the first (Babylonian) destruction of Jerusalem (587 b.c.) there had been a Jewish colony that constantly grew in importance, the political situation, first under the Parthians and then under the Sassanians, was considerably better than in Palestine. The Jews were subject to a socalled exilarch who was acknowledged as their official head and whose authority extended to all the Jewish communities in the Persian Empire; they thus enjoyed considerable autonomy. Academies for the study of the Law were established in the chief centers of Jewish life. The most important of these were the academies of Sura and Pumbedita, which were founded by two famous doctors of the Law, Rab and Samuel (175–254). The heads of the Babylonian school, who later had the title of gaon, were regarded as the highest religious authority in Judaism.
The discussions of the scholars both in Palestine, especially in the academies of Caesarea and Tiberias, and in Babylonia concerning the religious decisions of the Mishnah were in turn codified and resulted in the two talmuds, the one of Palestine, inaccurately called the Jerusalem Talmud, and the other of Babylonia; the former was completed toward the end of the 4th and the latter toward the beginning of the 6th century. From this time on, the norms of the Talmud formed the supreme guide for the whole religious life of judaism. At the same time other ancient traditions were likewise being constantly recorded, and these came down to us in the midrashic literature, which is partly of a halakic-juridical character and partly of a haggadic-edifying character (see haggadah). All these writings constitute what is known as the ancient rabbinical literature.
Jewish Diaspora in Other Countries. Besides those in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Asia Minor, there were Jewish communities also in most of the commercially important places of the Roman Empire. The catastrophes that the Jewish nation suffered in Palestine did not, on the whole, seriously affect the juridical status of the Jews in the Diaspora. They were the only people in the empire who, for recognized religious reasons, did not have to take part in the official state worship.
During the first Christian centuries the cleft widened between Judaism and rising Christianity. The latter, despite periodic waves of persecution, grew stronger and stronger and, thanks to the well-organized activity of its missionaries, made considerable progress everywhere. Since the Christians who were converted from paganism soon vastly outnumbered the Judaeo-Christians, the formulation of Christian doctrine had to be adapted to the mentality of these converts from the heathen world; hence, there appeared a more and more noticeable alienation between Judaism and Christianity, which subsequently had a decisive influence on the relations between the two religions throughout the centuries. [See R. Wilde, The Treatment of the Jews in the Greek Christian Writers of the First Three Centuries (Washington 1949).]
With the Edict of milan, which Constantine the Great issued in 313, the way was opened for Christianity to become the official religion of the state. Consequently the juridical status of the Jews was changed, and against them a large number of legal enactments, based on a quite definite theological bias, were made, whereby the Jews were limited more and more in their freedom of action and increasingly discriminated against in their social life.
There was a short period of relief for them under Julian the Apostate (361–63), who even considered the ideea of rebuilding the Temple of Jerusalem. But under Theodosius II (408–50) the reaction had already set in, and the regulations against the Jews in the Theodosian Code remained, from then on, a fixed part of all the subsequent laws that regulated Jewish life in Christian countries.
The invasion by the barbarians made the Jewish communities share in the common misery, but even in the new states that were eventually founded by these invaders, whose rulers were now converted to Christianity, the general situation of the Jews was hardly improved. The popes of Rome, particularly Gregory the Great (590–604), objected to the persecutions and forced conversions of the Jews, yet even the canonical regulations continued to limit the freedom of the Jews more and more.
Especially oppressive were the conditions in the Byzantine Empire, where the Jews were accused of being in collusion with the enemies of the country, particularly the Persians. Thus, Emperor Heraclius (610–42), in whose reign Jerusalem was conquered by the Persians, forbade all practice of the Jewish religion. At that time in Europe too the expulsion of the Jews had already begun, as in France under King Dagobert (626). The condition of the Jews was very bad also in Spain, where in the last centuries of Visigothic domination the influence of the regulations that were made in the provincial synods of Toledo rendered the exercise of Jewish worship practically impossible.
Islamic Period (622 to 1096). Despite certain discriminatory legislation, the Jews generally prospered in the lands conquered by the Muslims, and in the mutually beneficial symbiosis between Judaism and islam the Jewish medieval culture reached its greatest heights, especially in Spain.
Jewish-Arabic Symbiosis. A new era began for Judaism with the appearance of Islam on the scene of history and with the establishment of the caliphate (see caliph). At the height of the Islamic power, the caliphate was able, though after several internal ruptures, to subject to Arab hegemony under the law of the Prophet all the nations from India to the Atlantic Ocean and from Arabia to the borders of the Pyrenees.
muḤammad, who had borrowed much from Judaism and whose initial success in Arabia was due largely to the great religious influence of the Jews on the peninsula and to the spiritual preparation that this had made possible, had hoped that the Jews would embrace his religious system with open arms. Their resolute opposition, however, led also in Islam to laws of segregation, which resulted especially in laying on the Jews, as well as on the Christians, heavy financial burdens and in relegating them to a merely tolerated position at the edge of the Dâr el-Islâm (the Muslim world). However, it protected them, as well as the Christians, from forced conversion, since it regarded each group as a "People of the Book," that is, a community that participated in a stage on the road of divine revelation.
In spite of this legislation, which, moreover, came into full force only after the decline of Muslim supremacy, the position of the Jews in the Islamic countries was more favorable, to a greater or lesser degree, than it had been under Christian rule. To earn a living they now turned more and more to trade—a development that was greatly fostered by their international connections, whereas until then agriculture and small industry had been their main occupations. In cultural matters a certain symbiosis developed between the Jews and the Arabs, which was furthered by the relationship between the two groups in language (both Hebrew and Arabic being Semitic languages) and in the sphere of religious concepts and which led to a new efflorescence in Jewish intellectual life.
The Jews very soon adopted Arabic as their everyday language, and this aroused in them a new interest in Hebrew, the language of their own sacred literature. Thus, this became the age of the first great Hebrew grammarians. The position of the exilarch was confirmed by the caliphs who resided in Baghdad, near ancient Babylon, and the Babylonian academies received a fresh impetus, so that their heads, called geonim (plural of gaon), were able, through their circular letters, to direct Jewish life throughout the world. (see responsa, jewish.)
Through the Arabs, Jewish scholars became acquainted also with the ideas of ancient philosophy, from which until then they had kept aloof—with the exception of Philo, who had but little influence on official Jewish thought. For the first time Jewish theology now left the way of purely inner meditation on the treasures of tradition and adopted the system of the Islamic theologians, the kalĀm, which is the interpretation of revealed truths with the help of philosophical principles.
In the second half of the 8th century there became noticeable in Judaism a certain opposition to the Talmudic practices as they were handed down and carried out by the Babylonian academies. Taking up ancient concepts and the tendencies of several sects, the adherents of this movement, who gathered around Anan ben David of the exilarch family, denied the binding force of the oral traditions that were codified in the Talmud. They called themselves Benê Mikrā (Sons of the Scriptures), a term with which the word Karaism is related, because they accepted only the Sacred Scriptures as their sole law. The Karaites met a resolute opponent in Gaon sa’adia ben joseph (882–942), the first Jewish religious philosopher. With the death of Sa‘adia the decline of the centers of Jewish learning in Mesopotamia set in, which coincided with the fall of the caliphate of Baghdad; in the 11th century the office of the exilarch, after it was combined for a short time in a personal union with that of the gaon, disappeared. The centers of Jewish learning in Palestine were restored to new vigor for a short period under the Egyptian Fatimid Dynasty, but the conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in 1099 put an end to all Jewish life in the Holy Land.
Spanish Period. The Jewish-Arabic symbiosis reached its climax in Spain, where, after the conquest of Toledo by the Muslim army in 711, a development began that culminated in the 10th century with the establishment of the caliphate of Córdoba. Jewish scholars and wealthy Jews occupied prominent positions, such as those held by Hasdai Ibn Shaprut at the court of Córdoba and by Samuel ha-Nagid in Granada. Religious philosophers, mystics, scholars, and poets could freely develop their genius, and so in Spain there was a new flowering of Hebrew literature. The great work of religious philosophy by Solomon ben Judah ibn Gabirol (1020–50), who was called Avicebron by the scholastics, became universally known. Ibn Paqūda (c. 1080) wrote The Duties of the Heart, a widely circulated work that many generations of Jews used as a source of spiritual direction. Moses ben Jacob ibn ezra (c. 1100) left to posterity a large number of elegiac poems. Judah ben Samuel ha-Levi, who lived about the same time, was the greatest poet of the era. In his Songs of Sion the intense longing of the Jewish people for the days of their past glory finds eloquent expression, and in his Kuzari he left them a highly prized apologia of Judaism. Abraham ben Meïr ibn ezra was a gifted poet also, but he is better known for his valuable commentary on the Scriptures.
The greatest personality of this period is without doubt Moses ben Maimon (1135–1204) or maimonides, as he is also called. He was concerned primarily with proving that faith and reason do not contradict each other. For this purpose he made use of the categories of Aristotelian philosophy, which at that time was enjoying the increasing and special interest also of the Muslim philosophers. In his Guide to the Perplexed Maimonides endeavored to solve the seeming contradictions between religion and philosophy. His most important work is the Mishneh Torah (Repetition of the Law) or Yad Hazaka (Strong Hand), a clear, systematic summary of the whole of Talmudic erudition. In the Book of Knowledge, a commentary on the Talmud, Maimonides sets forth his well-known 13 basic dogmas of Judaism.
However, in Spain too the situation of the Jews grew worse with the Reconquista, the reconquest of the country by the Christian princes.
Period of the Crusades and Spanish Inquisition (1096 to 1492). After a few centuries of relative freedom following the Carolingian revival, the Jews suffered from restrictive laws and active persecution in western Europe during the era of the Crusades and the later Middle Ages; these reached their climax in the Spanish Inquisition.
West-European Jewish Communities. After the disturbances of the so-called migration of the nations, Charlemagne, at the beginning of the 9th century, was the first to reunite under a single rule the countries that were later called France, Germany, and Italy. The condition of the Jews in these lands was now noticeably improved. New Jewish communities were formed in various places, and the previously existing ones took on new life and played an important role in the development of commercial relations. On the whole, the situation remained unchanged, in spite of repeated attacks by ecclesiastics, in the states that evolved from the Carolingian monarchy.
The Jewish communities enjoyed far-reaching rights of self-government, and in the 10th century important Jewish schools arose for the first time in western Europe. One of the foremost authorities was Rabbi Gershom ben Judah, "the Light of the Exile" (c. 1000), who taught at Mainz and adapted the norms of Old Testament and Talmudic law to the changed conditions of the European Jews, as, for instance, by his prohibition against polygamy. Rabbi Shelomoh ben Yiṣḥaq of Troyes, more commonly known as rashi, who lived at this time (1040–1105), was the greatest commentator on the Bible and Talmud that Judaism ever produced. In Italy, too, there were everywhere growing Jewish communities that displayed a vigorous intellectual life.
The Crusades. A sudden change, however, was brought in the conditions of the Jews by the Crusades. In a frightful manner the ill-will against the Jews that had been fostered by religious motives through the centuries now burst forth in violence and deepened more and more the chasm that separated Christians and Jews.
In the First Crusade (1096) it was especially the Jewish communities of the Rhineland that had to suffer, and in the Second Crusade (1146–47) the same outrages were repeated there in spite of the courageous intervention of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux on behalf of the persecuted Jews. This age, too, witnessed the first appearance of the calumny of Jewish "ritual murder," i.e., the allegation that the Jews murdered Christians in order to obtain blood for the Passover and other rituals. This libel raged on for centuries despite all the papal counter-declarations and prohibitions. During the Third Crusade (1189) the measures taken to protect the Jews by the German princes proved more successful, but now it was mainly the Jewish communities in England that had much to suffer.
The Crusades brought with them a complete revolution in the way of Jewish life. Everywhere the ancient anti-Jewish laws were again enforced and augmented by new regulations, even in the field of Canon Law. Where it had not yet been the custom, the Jews were ordered to live in separate districts or ghettos and to wear a distinctive costume (the "Jewish hat" and the "yellow patch"). As Christians now began to engage in commerce on a constantly increasing scale, the Jews were more and more forced out of this livelihood. Since the Third Council of the Lateran (1179) renewed in full rigor the prohibition against taking interest on loans, the Jews, for whom this law did not apply, were forced more and more into the pawn and loan business, which, besides the old-clothes trade, was practically the only way left open for them to earn a living. On the other hand, numerous chain reactions of anti-Jewish outrages were provoked. Practically all social contact between Jews and Christians ceased, and Jewry, which, in keeping with the admonitions of such Fathers of the Church as Augustine and John Chrysostom, was allowed a bare subsistence at the edge of the Christian community, began to live a life entirely of its own. The situation lasted practically until the era of the emancipation. These various regulations and phenomena did not manifest themselves uniformly everywhere; there were great differences in the various countries. From this time on, expulsions of the Jews took place periodically. They began in France, where, however, at the payment of much money, the Jews were allowed to come back several times. England followed suit in 1290, and here the expulsion remained in effect for several centuries. Jews were forced to listen to Christian sermons and religious discussions, their own literature was strictly censured, and the Talmud was made a forbidden book and frequently burned in the public squares.
The Spanish Tragedy. At the beginning of the 13th century, with the victories of the Christian princes in all parts of Spain except the enclave of Granada, the Reconquista of this country was practically complete. But the importance of the Jews in every field was too great to allow at once a rigorous enforcement of the anti-Jewish laws. Nevertheless, the Inquisition was soon introduced in Spain, and in 1265 the great Jewish scholar Moses ben Nahman, called also nahmanides, was among those who were forced to leave the country.
In the inner-Jewish sector a battle now began over the question of the recognition or the condemnation of the writings of Maimonides. As early as the middle of the 12th century Abraham ben David of Posquières had violently opposed the great teacher's use of philosophical principles in the exposition of divine revelation, and in the 13th century Rabbi Solomon ben Abraham had condemned his writings at Montpellier and handed them over to the Inquisition. In Spain itself the strict Talmudic system had been recently strengthened through the efforts of Rabbi Solomon ben Adret (c. 1235–1310), but the viewpoint of Maimonides found adherents in Hasdai ben Abraham crescas (1340–1410) and his disciple Joseph albo (c. 1388–1444), the author of the Book of the Principles of Faith.
In the field of religious legislation the ideas of Maimonides gained the upper hand. In the spirit of his Mishneh Torah, Rabbi Jacob ben Asher (c. 1300) wrote his Arba Turim, a commentary on the Talmud that later formed the basis for the Shulḥan Aruch of Rabbi Joseph ben Ephraim caro (1488–1575). The latter work, with the glosses of Rabbi Moses Isserles of Cracow (1520–75) which was adapted to conditions in central and eastern Europe, has remained the basis of all the rabbinical interpretations of the Talmud.
Increasing external difficulties and the internal religious struggle caused an ever larger group of Jews to turn to the mysticism of the cabala, which likewise went back to ancient traditions and which began its irrepressible march of triumph through the Jewish world after the still mysterious "discovery" of the zohar by the Spanish-Jewish mystic, Moses de Leon (1260–1305).
The general situation of the Jews in Spain now noticeably deteriorated; in 1391 and in 1412 excesses of cruelty ensued, and a large number of Jews, known as marranos, submitted, through fear, to the pretense of being baptized. When, toward the end of the 15th century, the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon were united, the Inquisition was reactivated, primarily against the Marranos, under the leadership of Tomás de torquemada, and in 1492 a decree was issued that all the Jews who refused to be baptized would have to leave Spain within three months. This spelled the end, after more than 1,000 years, of Spanish Judaism. Many refugees first migrated to neighboring Portugal, but six years later they were expelled from this country too; others went to Turkey, where they were given asylum, or to other lands in the Mediterranean area, where numerous communities were founded of so-called Sephardic Jews, speaking their Spanish dialect of Ladino.
Period of the Renaissance and Reformation (1492 to 1650). Although the humanism of the Renaissance did not result in any noticeably humane treatment of the Jews in Europe, and the disturbances that accompanied the Reformation added to their sufferings, both the Ashkenazi Jews of Poland and the Sephardic Jews of the Mediterranean lands and western Europe were able to preserve and develop their typically Jewish way of life.
General Situation. In Germany, after the massacres in the period of the Crusades, when numerous Jews fled from this country to eastern Europe (bringing with them their German dialect, Yiddish), conditions became somewhat stabilized, although ominous warnings of danger were ever present. As imperial Kammerknechte (chamberlains), the Jews were placed under the direct protection of the emperor, but they had to pay a heavy tax for this privilege. Later on, in 1355, the right to collect this tax was given to the local princes by the Golden Bull of Charles IV. Yet this did not protect the Jews from the constantly recurring bloody outrages and pillages, such as occurred in 1298 (under Rindfleisch), from 1336 to 1339 (the "Armleder" massacres), in 1337 (the "desecration of the hosts" incident in Deggendorf, Bavaria), in 1348 to 1349 (the outbreak of the Black Death and the accusation of poisoning of wells), and in 1421 (the "Vienna Geserah," ritual murder accusation). In 1434 the Council of Basel renewed the old anti-Jewish regulations as part of the Church's Canon Law, and the Franciscan friar john capistran took it on himself to aid the execution of these laws everywhere, which caused a new out-break of serious persecution.
At the beginning of the Reformation the situation of the Jews looked as if it would improve. But when Luther had to admit that his expectations for their conversion had come to naught, the benevolence that he had first shown the Jews out of reverence for the people of God now turned into a grim hostility that found expression in a series of anti-Jewish pamphlets. One positive aspect of the Reformation, in the eyes of the Jews, was the revival of interest in the study of Hebrew, which brought renowned Christian scholars in contact with learned Jews.
The Catholic Counter Reformation, too, led to a renewal in the strict application of the laws against the Jews. These laws now affected the Italian Jews also, who, despite their relatively small number, had played a significant role in the cultural sphere because of their contact with the Renaissance. In Italy, for instance, the first Jewish printing press was set up and the first Hebrew books were printed. But because of the inauspicious omens of renewed persecution, the centers of Jewish life moved to other countries where better conditions prevailed.
Polish Judaism. In the period of the Crusades Jewish settlements were fostered by the dukes of Great Poland, since those nobles saw in this a chance to bring their country into the network of international commerce. In spite of the resolute resistance of the clergy, Boleslas of Kalisz issued a statute in 1264 that was very favorable to the Jews. Later on, King Casimir the Great (133–370) admitted into his realm a large number of Jews who had fled from the persecution that had broken out after the Black Death. With a few interruptions, this favorable situation lasted under the Lithuanian Jagiellos. During the reign of Sigismund III (1588–1632) the condition of the Jews in Poland deteriorated as a result of the anti-Jewish propaganda of the Jesuits, though the Jewish communities there had grown so strong and were so well organized that they withstood these attacks with ease.
In Poland the autonomous Jewish system of community government reached the peak of its development. Every community of importance was directed by a kahal, a body of notables elected yearly that conducted all the administrative affairs. Juridical matters were entrusted to the rabbis, and a court of appeals met every year in Lublin at the time of the annual fair in that city and in conjunction with the assembly of the various kahals. The highest court of appeals in Poland was the Council of the Four Countries (Great Poland, Little Poland, Podolia-Galicia, and Volhynia); in Lithuania there was the Council of the Great Communities.
The kahal was especially interested in education. In every community there was a heder (elementary school), and in many of them there was also a yeshivah (Talmudic academy); in both of these, exclusively Jewish disciplines were taught and studied, which soon assured to the Polish Jews great intellectual superiority and to their leading rabbis undeniable authority.
The Sephardic Sphere. The immigration of the Jews from Spain into Turkey continued long after 1492 with a flow of Marranos who had found more and more unbearable the activities of the informers and secret police that the Inquisition encouraged. Many Spañolos, such as Don Joseph Nassi, reached positions of great influence at the Sublime Porte (the Ottoman imperial court).
In 1517 the Turks occupied Egypt also and thereby became the rulers of Palestine as well. Groups of refugees, therefore, now migrated to the Holy Land, new communities arose in the cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias, and especially Safed (in Galilee). Safed became the seat of a new school of the cabalists. Its founder, Jacob Berab, who had settled there in 1534, was followed in 1538 by Rabbi Joseph Caro, the author of the Shulḥan Aruch, and by his close friend, Solomon Alkabeṣ. Among the great sages in the cabalistic school of Safed were Rabbi Isaac luria (1534–72) and his disciple and brother-in-law, Moses Cordovero (d.1570). Luria's teachings, with their pronounced messianic spirit, found an able propagandist in his disciple, Ḥayyim Vidal Calabrese.
Under the pressure of the Jewish expulsion from Spain and of the consequent sufferings, messianic movements were started in various places. Their beginnings are connected with the names of David Reubeni and Solomon Molcho. Later on, their climax was reached in the person of Shabbatai Ṣevi of Smyrna (1626–76). Many respectable Jewish personalities, among whom were learned rabbis, hailed Shabbatai as the promised Messiah. Even after his conversion to Islam, the messianic movement did not fully die out but provoked heated discussions in the Jewish communities. On lines similar to those of Shabbatai Ṣevi was the movement in Poland that was inspired by Jacob Frank (d. 1791), who eventually was converted to Christianity. (see shabbataiÏsm.)
An important new wave of immigration started in the 17th century when Marranos from Portugal found refuge in Holland. The Dutch, who had shaken off the Spanish domination toward the end of the 16th century, showed the refugees, whom they let settle wherever they wished, a toleration that was most unusual in those days. A large Jewish community arose in Amsterdam, which soon reached a very flourishing state under the leadership of such renowned Ḥakamim (sages) as Manasseh ben Israel. Amsterdam also was the home of the great Jewish thinkers Gabriel (Uriel) acosta (d. 1640) and Baruch spino za (d. 1677), both of whom, however, came in conflict with the rabbinic authorities and fell under the ban of the synagogue. After the Dutch revolution of 1649 some Portuguese Jews from Holland settled in England—for the first time since the expulsion in 1290. Colonies of Marranos were established also at Bordeaux and other places in southern France, where they were known as "new Christians." Genuine Jewish communities did not exist in France till 1648, when Alsace-Lorraine was incorporated in the French kingdom.
Beginning of the Modern Era (1650 to 1750).
From the middle of the 17th to the middle of the 18th century the situation of the Jews in Poland grew more desperate, but they found spiritual consolation in the pietist movement of h:asidism; in the rest of Europe the Jews suffered the usual series of persecutions.
Economic Situation in Eastern Europe. In the 17th century the position of the Jews in Poland became more and more untenable, although up to that time they had lived there in relatively tolerable circumstances. The revolt of the Cossacks under Bogdan Chmielnicki in 1648 destroyed hundreds of Jewish communities in the Ukraine and in Volhynia and caused numerous deaths, and the subsequent wars and disturbances brought much misery on all the other Jewish settlements in Poland. Meanwhile the tax burden weighed ever heavier on the Jews there. The Polish merchants and artisans were gradually driving the Jews out of business, and many of these were obliged to live as tenant farmers on the estates of the nobility, which in turn aroused the hatred of the exploited peasantry against them, so that bloody outrages occurred constantly.
Religious Reaction: Ḥasidism. The Jewish reaction to these oppressive conditions arose from within, on the religious level. Since the late medieval period, and especially since Isaac Luria, the influence of the cabala on the life of all Jewry had constantly grown. On the other hand, it was precisely in Poland, the center of Jewish learning, that opposition arose against the tendency of the Talmudists to stress exclusively man's intellectual faculties.
On this background appeared, about 1730, the figure of Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, called Ba’al Shem Tov, who became the founder of the Ḥasidim (the devout). The teaching of Ba’al Shem (Master of the Name, i.e., of God), which was set forth by means of popular stories, emphasized, without at all calling in question the traditional doctrines, the absolute superiority of the life of piety expressed by devout prayers of the heart and an ardent love of God, all based on the Lurian cabala. Under Ba’al Shem's successor, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezhirich (d.1773), the H : asidic movement received a firm structure and continued to spread, especially in Podolia, Galicia, and Volhynia, despite the strong opposition of the Mitnagdim (opponents), whose spokesman was the greatest Talmudist of his time, Gaon Rabbi Ella of Vilna (1720–97). In the following generation Ḥasidism split up into numerous local groups, each of which at times were under the leadership of a Tzaddik ("saintly" miracle-working rabbi). Ḥasidism was the last great religious movement in Judaism.
Situation in Germany and Austria. In the Germanic countries, too, the Jews had hard times during the 16th and 17th centuries. Pogroms and outrages were their constant lot. At the beginning of the 16th century the old communities of Frankfurt am Main and Worms suffered hardships because of the so-called Fettmilch revolt. In 1670 the Jews of Vienna, some of whom as financiers had rendered valuable services to the Hapsburg emperors during the Thirty Years' War, became victims of a decree of expulsion. In Bohemia, which, especially in Prague, had the largest Jewish community in the Hapsburg countries, the attempt was made to limit the number of the Jews by the so-called family-control law which permitted only the oldest son of a family to marry.
Emancipation (1750–1948). After their emancipation, which was largely the result of the 18th-century Enlightenment and the French Revolution, the Jews adapted themselves to the new conditions with various degrees of success. But the waves of modern anti-Semitism finally broke over them with such fury that they were almost annihilated by the Nazis. An indirect outcome of this was the establishment in Palestine by the Zionists of the Jewish State of Israel.
The Enlightenment and the French Revolution. While the old structure of the regulations concerning the Jews remained unchanged, the liberal ideas that were broadcast in France, especially by the Encyclopedists, made themselves felt more and more. The first Jew of this time who made contact with modern thought was the Berliner Moses Dessau, better known as Moses Mendelssohn (1728–86). Being an important philosopher himself, he endeavored by all means to have his fellow believers, who had remained almost completely unaffected by the intellectual movements of the modern age, to join the general stage of cultural development achieved by their contemporaries. He was practically the first Jew who wrote in High German, and he translated the Bible into this language—a very bold enterprise at that time, because it made him look like a heretic in the eyes of the strictly tradition-minded rabbis.
The first real civic emancipation of the Jews, which liberated them after centuries from the ghettos and made them equal to their fellow men, with full human rights, was a result of the French Revolution. The effective legal measures, however, met with stubborn opposition from the Christian population, especially in Alsace. At the invitation of Napoleon, the so-called Great Synagogue met at Paris in 1807 to settle the relations between the Jews and the State. The emperor applied the consistorial system to the Jews also, and thus put an end to the old autonomy of their communities. In the countries occupied by Napoleon, such as Italy, Holland, and Westphalia, the Jews were likewise given civil rights. In other countries the development was much slower and not without setbacks.
Reactions within the Jewish Communities. The emancipation and its forerunners caused a complete revolution within Judaism. The traditional framework of Jewish life, which had remained practically unchanged for centuries, now collapsed in western Europe and along with it was shattered the Jewish system of instruction and education. At this time there came into being a new type of Jew, who, while retaining his Jewish faith, was also a full-fledged citizen of this or that country and consequently became more and more assimilated to the life and culture of his non-Jewish environment. Since many progressive Jews thought that their emancipation was proceeding too slowly, this period saw the so-called Baptism Movement widely affecting various social strata among the Jews who looked upon Baptism as an entrance ticket into Christian society.
This development, which, within a few years, transplanted the Jews from the Middle Ages into the modern world, advanced so fast that it took some time until there were aroused in Judaism the counterforces for stemming the constant loss in the ranks of the Jews. Endeavors were now made to adapt, by means of suitable reforms, the religious institutions of Judaism, particularly those connected with synagogue service, to the changed conditions of the time. The leaders of the movement in Germany were Samuel Holdheim (1806–60), Abraham Geiger (1810–74), and Ludwig Philippson (1811–89). Such attempts at reform provoked violent opposition from those who were attached to the traditional forms. The latter found a militant spokesman in Rabbi Moses Sofer-Schreiber of Pressburg (1773–1839), who opposed on principle any kind of innovation. A conservative, conciliatory movement, which later gained the upper hand in most of the Jewish communities in Germany, was represented by Zacharias Frankel (1801–75), the founder of the Jewish theological seminary of Breslau, the first modern institution for the education of rabbis, while Samson Raphael Hirsch became the spiritual father of the new German-Jewish orthodoxy that recognized the necessity of modern education while holding fast to the old. In this period of intellectual innovation the "Science of Judaism" was born under the Altmeister Leopold Zunz (1794–1886), the historian Heinrich Graetz (1817–91), as well as under several others.
Progressive civil emancipation of the Jews made some advances in certain countries, but only the year 1848 brought the decisive change. The real, or at least theoretically and legally granted equality was effected in Germany with the founding of the German Empire in 1870 to 1871, and in the Austrian countries with the Austro-Hungarian settlement in 1867.
In Russia. Russia received its Jewish population through the various partitions of Poland (in 1792, 1793, and 1795), and the Russian government anxiously watched the Jews to keep them within the boundaries of the newly annexed lands ("settlement area"). Under Alexander I (1801–25) some liberal measures in their favor were attempted, such as the Jewish Statute of 1804, but these largely remained dead letters. Under Nicolaus I (1825–55) a 25-year term of military service was introduced for the Jews, in order to further their "assimilation" (i.e., Baptism). Among cultured Jews, the Enlightenment, which in Russia and Poland they adopted in a typically Jewish form called the haskalah, made great progress and stimulated the growth of neo-Hebrew literature. During the reign of Alexander II (1855–81) certain civil rights and cultural possibilities were granted to the Jews, but when the reactionary party was victorious under Alexander III (1891–94), a real reign of terror began; in 1881 to 1882 a series of bloody pogroms broke out, which were followed by oppressive anti-Jewish measures.
Anti-Semitism. After the emancipation, opposition against the Jews adopted a new shape: modern antisemitism that aimed at forcing the Jews out of the positions they already had achieved and preventing them from making further progress in social life. This anti-Semitism was strongly promoted by the fact that many Jews, in making good use of the opportunities offered by liberalism and the nascent industrial revolution, had won for themselves leading positions in economic life.
In Germany the soul of the movement was the Prottestant minister Adolf Stöcker, who was appointed court preacher in Berlin (1878). In Austria, Canon Rohling, a theology professor of Prague, zealously propagated anti-Semitism by his writings. Karl Lueger, who later became mayor of Vienna, founded the Christian Socialist party, which made anti-Semitism a part of its program, while, in the so-called Greater-Germany Camp, Georg von Schönerer was the exponent of his party's anti-Semitic principles. In France the journalist Edouard Drumont was the mouthpiece of the anti-Semites whose agitation led to the Dreyfus affair. This led the Jews, in turn, to reflect on the hazardous nature of their "equality" and to stand a sponsor of Zionism in the person of the Viennese journalist Theodore Herzl.
In America. The pogroms in Russia, the anti-Semitic movements in the other countries, and the lack of possibility for economic progress produced, from 1880 on, the great wave of Jewish immigration, especially from eastern Europe, to America. Here, since the 18th century, a Portuguese-Jewish community had already existed, and this had later been increased by other Jewish settlers, particularly from Germany. The Jewish population in America soon made its importance felt in the economic sphere and showed a remarkable growth in cultural life. In the field of Jewish science and religious reform, all the movements brought over from Europe underwent further independent development in America, and in their variety have given to American Judaism its characteristic features.
In Palestine. Under the influence of the Zionist movement and its forerunners, emigrants, at first from Russia, began to settle in Palestine. In its beginnings this emigration was strongly promoted by Baron Edmond de Rothschild. The great pogroms of 1903 in Kishinev and Homel again drove numerous refugees into all the countries that would receive them.
In the Muslim World. In the Islamic countries the Jews remained for a long time within the framework of their traditional structure. The Damascus Affair of 1840, when the libel of so-called ritual murder caused a persecution of the Jews, cast a glaring light on their real situation and called to their defense leading European Jews, such as Sir Moses Montefiore, the English philanthropist, and Adolphe Crémieux, cofounder of the Paris Alliance Israélite Universele. The occupation of Algiers by France in 1830 changed the lot of the Jews in this country also. The Alliance instituted a lively cultural activity, and in 1870 the Algerian Jews were granted French citizenship by the Lex Crémieux. Likewise in Tunisia, when it was formed into a French protectorate in 1881, the Jews were given civil equality with the Muslims though in Morocco they were not freed from their medieval ghettos until 1912, and then only partially. In Egypt the way to the same development was prepared by the English Protectorate in 1882, but in other Arab countries, such as Yemen, the Jews still remained without civic rights.
World War I and Its Consequences. It was again mainly the Russian Jews who suffered the consequences of the war; they were herded from the border areas into the interior of the country on the pretext that they were conspiring with the enemy. Although the revolution of 1917 brought them freedom, the Jewish communities, especially in the Ukraine, were again sorely afflicted in the ensuing struggles between the "Reds" and the "Whites."
In the countries newly established by the peace treaty of 1918 to 1919 the Jewish problem had to receive new solutions. An agreement for the protection of minorities was drawn up, and a committee of the League of Nations was entrusted with the execution of its stipulations. The largest number of Jews (almost three million) lived in the newly organized state of Poland, where they were able to preserve, in spite of some tendencies toward assimilation, their individual character as a people with its own language (Yiddish) and its own cultural institutions. Thanks to this situation, the traditional way of life of the Ashkenazi Jews was retained longer in Poland than elsewhere. Polish Judaism thus formed a large reservoir of native Jewish forces. The equality granted to the Jews by the constitution in Poland, as well as in Rumania and Hungary (Numerus clausus ), was quite limited in practice, whereas Czechoslovakia, under President Masaryk, presented a praiseworthy exception in this regard.
In Soviet Russia the Jews in particular suffered in the economic upheaval that the new regime brought with it, which necessitated a change to entirely new means of gaining a livelihood. The attempt to establish the Jewish autonomous region of Biro-Bidyan in the far-eastern part of the Soviet Union met with but little response. Yiddish culture was still flourishing to some extent in Russia during the first years after the revolution, until under Stalin all genuinely Jewish life was made impossible.
In Germany: The Beginning of the End. In the German Reich, where the Jews played a certain role during the political revolution of 1918 and where, in the socalled Weimar Republic, the way was prepared for an organic symbiosis between the Jews and the non-Jewish population, the anti-Semites again appeared on the scene. In 1922 the Jewish minister of foreign affairs, Walter Rathenau, fell a victim to their machinations, and in 1923 Adolf Hitler managed the first Putsch in Munich, assisted by the anti-Semites of General Ludendorff's "Old Guard." Hitler's book Mein Kampf, which incorporated and systematized all the old anti-Semitic theories and slogans, became the modern Bible of anti-Semitism, and when Hitler came to power in 1933 as the leader of his NSDAP (German National Socialist Labor party), the stage was set for the greatest catastrophe in the history of the Jewish people; six million people were its victims solely because they were Jews. It will take Judaism a long time to recover from this enormous massacre, but its inner power is unbroken, and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, despite the outrageous injustice that was thereby done to the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, has given a new proof of its vitality.
Bibliography: s. w. baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, 8 v. (2d ed. New York 1952–58; index 960). s. m. dubnow, Weltgeschichte des jüdischen Volkes, 10 v. (Berlin 1925–29). h. h. graetz, History of the Jews, ed. and tr. b lÖwy, 6 v. (Philadelphia 1945). m. margolis and a. marx, A History of the Jewish People (New York 1927; repr. pa. 1958). l. finkelstein, ed., The Jews: Their History, Culture and Religion, 2 v. (3d ed. New York 1960).
"Jews, Post-Biblical History of the." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/jews-post-biblical-history
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