The word Jew (יהודי) is used in a wide number of ways, but generally refers to either a follower of the Jewish faith, a child of a Jewish mother, or a member of the Jewish culture or ethnicity. This article discusses the term as describing an ethnic group; for a consideration of the religion, please refer to Judaism.
Most Jews regard themselves as a people, members of a nation, and the ancestry of Jewish national identity is traced from the Biblical patriarch Abraham through his son Isaac and in particular Jacob, Isaac's son, as well as to those who subsequently joined them over the course of history as converts. (See also Israelites.) The term "Jew" came into being when the Kingdom of Israel was split between the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah. Hence, the Israelites (who were later destroyed by the Assyrians) were those of the northern kingdom and the Jews (who survived) were those of the southern kingdom. Over time, the word "Jew" has come to refer to those of the Jewish faith rather than those from Judah. Ethnic Jews include both so-called "religious Jews," meaning those who practice Judaism, and so-called "secular Jews," those who, while not practicing Judaism as a religion, still identify themselves as Jews in a cultural or ethnic sense.
The name for the Jewish people in Hebrew is Yehudim (יהודים).
There are different views as to the origin of the English language word Jew. The most common view is that the Middle English word Jew is from the Old French giu, earlier juieu, from the Latin iudeus from the Greek. The Latin simply means Judaean, from the land of Judaea. There is some scholarly controversy over whether Judaea is a patronymic or if it was a purely geographic term of uncertain Semitic origin. If indeed it is patronymic, it corresponds to the Hebrew y'hudi (יהודי) (or yehudi) connected to Judah in English, a member of the Twelve Tribes of the Children of Israel, i.e., Jacob's sons. According to Genesis, Judah was the fourth son of the patriarch Jacob, from whom the tribe descended. The Old English equivalent was Iudeas, meaning "Judean".
Classical Rabbinic literature has a tradition which traces the word Jew to Genesis 29:35 http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=1&CHAPTER=29 which says that Judah's mother — the matriarch Leah — named him Judah because she wanted to praise God for giving birth to so many sons: "She said, ' This time let me praise (odeh אודה) God (יהוה), ' and named the child Judah (Yehudah יהודה)." Thus combining "praise" and "God" into one new name.
Thereafter in the Biblical narrative, Judah vouchsafes the Jewish monarchy, and the Israelite kings David and Solomon derive their lineage from Judah. Indeed, there is the tradition that the "Judaeans" (יהודים) (Jews) are named for him, their ancient tribal ancestor.
In Hebrew, the name "Judah" (י ה ו [ד] ה) contains the four letters of the Tetragrammaton — the special, holy, and ineffable name of the Jewish God. The very holiness of the name of Judah attests to its importance as an alternate name for "Israelites" that it ultimately replaces.
A much less common view is that the word Jew is from Jewry, from the Greek evrei meaning Hebrew, which some speculate comes from the ancient Egyptian hiberu or habiru, which meant stranger. Under the latter view, Abraham, Jacob/Israel and other patriarchs are regarded as Jews while under the former only the descendants (ethnically or physically) of the Judaeans from the Kingdom of Judah would be Jews, strictly speaking. In the Hebrew language the word "Hebrew", ivri (עברי), means "one who 'passes' over" as did the patriarch Abraham, referred to as "Abram the Hebrew" http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=1&CHAPTER=14 (Genesis 14:13) who "passed over" from being a gentile to becoming a "convert" to the faith of Monotheism. Another theory is that this root is derived from the name of Eber (עבר) mentioned in Genesis 10:21 http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=1&CHAPTER=10.
In some places in the Talmud the word Israel(ite) refers to somebody who is Jewish but does not necessarily practice Judaism as a religion: "An Israel(ite) even though he has sinned is still an Israel(ite)" (Tractate Sanhedrin 44a). More commonly the Talmud uses the term "Bnei Yisrael," the Children of Israel (another name for Jacob) to refer to Jews. According to the Talmud then, there is no distinction between "religious Jews" and "secular Jews." In modern English, the term "Israelite" is never used to refer to contemporary Jews, but can be used to refer to Jews of the Biblical era. The Jews of today's State of Israel are called Israelis and do not call themselves "Israelites".
Usage by non-Jews
The term "Israelite," has also been appropriated by various non-Jewish groups, for example the Rastafarians, who claim descent from the tribes of Israel.
The word "Jew" has been used often enough in a disparaging manner by anti-Semites that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was frequently avoided altogether, and the term "Hebrew" was substituted instead (e.g. Young Mens Hebrew Association). Even today some people are wary of its use, and prefer to use "Jewish". Indeed, when used as an adjective (e.g. "Jew lawyer") or verb (e.g. "to Jew someone"), the term "Jew" is purely pejorative. However, when used as a noun, "Jew" is preferred, as other circumlocutions give the impression that the term "Jew" is offensive in all contexts.
In the past, the term Jewess was sometimes used for Jewish women. This word, like "Negress" or "poetess" is now at best an archaism, and is generally taken as an insult.
Who is a Jew?
Judaism is the Jewish religion, but Jews, religious or not, also form an ethnic group. Traditionally, Judaism has not identified the group of people believing in or practising Judaism with the group of people considered to be Jews, or, more precisely, Israelites. (A few Orthodox authorities reserve the name "Jew" for such Israelites as follow Orthodox Judaism; otherwise, "Israelite" and "Jew" are used as synonymous terms. Note that an "Israelite" is not the same as an Israeli.) Just what is Judaism, and who is an Israelite, is a matter of contention among different Jewish denominations, and, in Israel, among different political groupings of non-religious Jews.
Halakha, traditional Jewish religious law, defines a Jew as someone who is either
This standard is mandated by the Talmud, the text on which halakha is based, is held by Orthodox Judaism and Conservative Judaism, and has been followed by mainstream Rabbanites for at least 1,800 years. As a result, mere belief in the principles of Judaism does not make one a Jew. Similarly, non-adherence by a Jew to Jewish principles of faith, or even formal conversion to another faith, does not make one lose one's Jewish status. Thus the immediate descendants of all female Jews (even apostates) are still considered to be Jews, as are those of all her female descendants. Even those descendants who are not aware they are Jews, or practice a faith other than Judaism, are technically still Jews, as long as they come from a documented unbroken female line of descent. As a corollary, the children of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother are not considered to be Jews by Orthodoxy or Conservatism, even if raised practising Judaism.
All Jewish denominations welcome the return of any Jews who have left (or who have been raised in a faith other than) Judaism, and these individuals would not require a formal conversion, though they would be expected to abandon their previous beliefs and adopt Judaism. Males would be required to have either a full brit milah (ritual circumcision), or a symbolic one (if already circumcised).
Those not born to a Jewish mother may become accepted as Jews by the Orthodox and Conservatives through a formal and usually difficult process of conversion, and they and their children are then accepted as Jews as well. This is still relatively rare, and typically discouraged. Orthodox Judaism does not accept the validity of non-Orthodox conversions. Conservative Judaism may accept the validity of some Reform and Reconstructionist conversions, but only if they include (at a minimum) brit milah/circumcision (for men), immersion in a mikvah, and the appearance before a beit din (which is required to be composed of males, at least by the traditional branch of Conservatism).
Views in the State of Israel
The situation in Israel is somewhat ambiguous. One area where the definition of Jew is relevant is in deciding who qualifies to make aliyah and acquire citizenship under the Law of Return. The requirements here differ significantly from the definition of a Jew under halakha, in including anyone with a Jewish grandparent, as well as non-Jewish spouses of Jews. However they specifically exclude Jews who have converted to a faith other than Judaism. This definition is not the same as that in traditional Jewish law; in some respects it is a deliberately wider, so as to include those non-Jewish relatives of Jews who were perceived to be Jewish, and thus faced anti-Semitism, but in other respects it is narrower, as the traditional definition includes "apostate" Jews.
A second area where the definition of Jew is relevant is in marriages and divorces, which are under the jurisdiction of the Israeli Ministry of the Interior that, unlike the Law of Return, defines Jews strictly according to halakha.
A third relevant area is in the registering of "nationality" on Israeli identity cards. This is also controlled by the Ministry of the Interior, which has generally only registered as a "Jew" those who meet the traditional definition. However, in a small number of cases the Supreme Court of Israel has forced the Ministry to register as Jews individuals who did not meet that definition.
Some secular Israelis consider themselves to be "Israeli" enjoying a new Israeli culture and reject the title "Jew" as derived from Jewish religious law (Halacha). They assert that one who is devoted to Zionism, believes and lives in the modern State of Israel, serves in the Israel Defense Force, and works for the Ingathering of the Exiles from the diaspora, is "the real Jew." According to this redefinition, even a Gentile who meets these criteria can be an "Israeli." They scorn the older generation of European Jews who they believe went "like sheep to the slaughter" to the death camps of the Holocaust and berate them for having a "galut (exile) mentality". They have a particular dislike for Haredi Jews whom they regard as old-fashioned relics of the Middle Ages, and whom they accuse of "religious coercion." This is part of an ongoing kulturkampf, or cultural divide in Israeli politics.
Views of Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism
In recent times, two theologically liberal (primarily American) Jewish groups—Reform Judaism (which began in mid-19th-century Germany) and Reconstructionist Judaism (which began in the 20th-century U.S.)—have allowed people who do not meet the classical halakhic criteria to define themselves as Jews. Their procedures for religious conversion often vary from the Orthodox ones, and they accept a person as a Jew even if their mother is non-Jewish. In the case of Reform, a person with one Jewish parent is considered to be a Jew if he or she performs "appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people"; while this may in principle be taken to require a Reform upbringing, it is also stated that "for those beyond childhood claiming Jewish identity, other public acts or declarations may be added or substituted after consultation with their rabbi", and at least some -- possibly most -- Reform rabbis find any form of clear and public self-identification, religious or not, to be sufficient.
This policy is commonly (though somewhat inaccurately) known as patrilineal descent; bilineal descent may be a more appropriate name. The Reconstructionist position is similar.
Thus, today many Reform Jewish and secular American Jews born from originally Gentile mothers consider themselves to be Jews, although they are not considered Jewish by Orthodox Judaism or Conservative Judaism. Note that not every movement outside the United States affiliated with the World Union for Progressive Judaism (an organization to which both Reconstructionist Judaism and U.S. Reform Judaism belong) accepts bilineal descent; notably, the Reform movement in the UK does not, while the Liberal movement in the same country does.
Some Reform Jews view Judaism as a religion alone, and thus they view Jews who convert to another faith as non-Jews. For example "...anyone who claims that Jesus is their savior is no longer a Jew..." [Contemporary American Reform Responsa, #68]. This contrasts to the traditional view that Jews are a people, not merely followers of a religion, and that those who adopt the beliefs of another religion are still seen as Jews, though apostates. On the other hand, there are pre-Reform texts stating that an apostate is always an Israelite, but no longer a Jew; in order to be considered a Jew again, the apostate must repent.
Conversion to Judaism
Related article: Ger tzedek ("righteous convert")
The laws of conversion to Judaism are based in discussions in the Talmud. Jewish law is generally interpreted as discouraging proselytizing, and religious conversion is also discouraged. This is due to the Jewish belief that all nations have a share in the World to Come, and thus, do not need to accept Judaism and live as Jews. However, a rabbi convinced of the prospective convert's sincerity may allow him or her to follow the process of conversion, and thus appear before an established three judge Jewish religious court known as a Beth Din (religious court) to be tested and formally accepted. There is no specific time frame for the conversion process and procedures. The convert is taught the basic laws and beliefs of Judaism, and must show an ability to keep the laws and make a commitment to keep them. See How does one convert?. A male convert is known as a Ger (or Ger tzedek, meaning Righteous Convert) and a female is a Giyoret, from the Hebrew root word "gar" ( גר ) (to "live or sojourn with".)
As discussed above, some denominations of present-day Judaism do not follow traditional Jewish laws concerning conversion. As a result, their converts may not be recognized by other Jewish denominations.
Judaism guides its adherents in both practice and belief, and has been called not only a religion, but also a "way of life," which has made the job of drawing a clear distinction between Judaism and Jewish culture rather difficult.
In many times and places, such as in the ancient Hellenic world, in Europe before and after the Enlightenment, and in contemporary United States and Israel, cultural phenomena have developed that are in some sense characteristically Jewish without being at all specifically religious. Some factors in this come from within Judaism, others from the interaction of Jews with others around them, others from the inner social and cultural dynamics of the community, as opposed to religion itself.
In most of Europe up until the late 18th century, and in some places to an even later date, Jews were prohibited by Roman Catholic governments (and others) from owning land. Conversely, most forms of Christianity and Islam traditionally did not allow their members to lend money at interest. Also, the strong Jewish tradition of religious scholarship often left Jews well prepared for secular scholarship, although in some times and places this was countered by Jews being banned from studying at universities, or admitted only in limited numbers. Even into recent times Jews were little represented in the land-holding classes, but far better represented in academia, the learned professions, finance and commerce.
In some places where there have been relatively high concentrations of Jews, distinct secular Jewish subcultures have arisen. For example, ethnic Jews formed an enormous proportion of the literary and artistic life of Vienna, Austria at the end of the 19th century, or of New York City 50 years later, and for the most part these were not particularly religious people. After the Enlightenment, many Yiddish-speaking Jews in Eastern Europe saw themselves as forming an ethnic/national group whose identity did not depend on religion; thus, for example, Bund members were generally non-religious, and one of the historical leaders of the Bund was the child of converts to Christianity, though not a practising or believing Christian himself. (Jewish communities in Eastern Europe had developed distinct cultural traits across the centuries, but it was the Enlightenment that gave rise among Yiddish-speakers to "national conscience" in its modern form.)
The most commonly used terms to describe ethnic divisions among Jews presently are: Ashkenazi (meaning "German" in Hebrew, denoting the Central European base of Jewry); and Sephardi (meaning "Spanish" in Hebrew, denoting their Spanish and North African location). They refer to both religious and ethnic divisions. (Some scholars hold that Ashkenazi Jews are descendants of those who originally followed the Palestinian Jewish religious tradition, and Sephardic Jews are descendants of those who originally followed the Babylonian religious tradition.)
Jews have historically been divided into four major ethnic groups:
Of these communities, the largest by far are the Ashkenazim, comprising approximately 70 percent of the Jewish total, with Oriental Jews comprising most of the remainder. Many Sephardim live in France (the majority of French Jews are Sephardic), Eastern Europe and Central Asia (small numbers), and the United States (a very small number), but most are in Israel (about 50 percent of Israelis), where they have created their own large ethnic political party called Shas guided by rabbis such as Ovadia Yosef. (Note that not all Sephardim belong to or support Shas.)
These groups are described in terms of their historic geography; significant numbers of these Jews live today in Israel.
These smaller groups number in the thousands or tens of thousands, with the Gruzim being most numerous at about 100,000. Many members of these groups have now emigrated from their traditional homelands, largely to Israel. For example, only about 10 percent of the Gruzim remain in Georgia.
Prior to World War II the world population of Jews was around 18 million. The Holocaust reduced this number to around 12 million. Today, there are an estimated 13 million Jews worldwide in over 134 countries. Of these, around six million live in the United States and Canada, over five million live in Israel, under two million live in Europe, about 100,000 in Australia and New Zealand, and some 90,000 in South Africa. At the moment, an increasing number of Russian Jews are emigrating to Germany, Israel, and the United States.
Approximately 500,000 Jews live in Latin America. Over half of them live in Argentina, while large communities also exist in Brazil (about 120,000) and Mexico (about 40,000).
David Ben Gurion (First Prime Minister of Israel) publicly pronouncing the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948 (He is between the two banners)
Israel is the only country in which Jews make up a majority of the citizens, although the United States has a larger number of Jews. It was re-established as an independent democratic state on May 14, 1948. Of the 120 members in its parliament, the Knesset, about ten members are Israeli Arabs who are not Jews. At the time of its independence, approximately 600,000 Jews lived there. Since then, its Jewish population has increased by about one million over each decade as more immigrants arrive, and more Israelis are born, in one of the most significant global Jewish population shifts in over 2,000 years.
All the Arab Israeli Wars have not slowed Israel's growth. Israel opened its doors to the Holocaust survivors. It has absorbed a majority of the Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews from the Islamic countries. And it has taken in hundreds of thousands of Jews from the former USSR. In the past decade nearly a million immigrants came to Israel from the former Soviet Union. Many Jews who emigrated to Israel have moved elsewhere, known as yerida ("descent" [from the Holy Land]), due to its economic problems or due to disillusionment with political conditions and the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Western Europe's largest Jewish community can be found in France, home to 600,000 Jews, most of whom are immigrants or refugees from North African Arab countries such as Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. There are over 265,000 Jews in the United Kingdom. In Eastern Europe, there are anywhere from 500,000 to over one million Jews living in Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Belorussia and the other areas once dominated by the Soviet Union. Exact figures are difficult to establish.
The fastest-growing Jewish community in the world, outside of Israel, is the one in Germany, especially in Berlin, its capital. Tens of thousands of Jews from the former Eastern Bloc have settled in Germany since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Some factors that make Germany amenable: A cosmopolitan atmosphere; a welcoming, liberal, post-war education; and the political freedoms garnered since the 1960s have created an atmosphere of tolerance in Germany which is still missing in some post-Communist states. Familiarity with Yiddish for older Russian Jews, may make it easier to adapt to German.
German Jews belong to either the Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland with about 100,000 members or the liberal Union progressiver Juden in Deutschland. However, there are many secular Jews who do not belong to any organisation or synagogue.
Population Changes: Wars against the Jews
Many empires and rulers have sought to "liquidate" the Jews through wars of destruction, extinction, genocide, expulsions, exiles, and torture. Some examples in the history of anti-Semitism are: the Great Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire as described by Josephus; the Spanish Inquisition led by Torquamada and the Auto de fe against the Marrano Jews; the Bohdan Chmielnicki Cossack massacres in the Ukraine; the Pogroms by the Russian Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II and the Cossacks; Blood libels; Adolf Hitler's Final Solution which lead to the Holocaust and the World War II atrocities in Poland and elsewhere. Modern wars such as the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Jihad via "suicide bombing" of the Al-Aqsa Intifada with its violence against Israel's Jews have resulted in major loss of life and injury.
In addition to the above examples, one must review the historical record of the destruction and persecution of the Jewish communities throughout the Islamic world. While Jewish communities were often treated well by their Muslim rulers, depending on the regime in power, Jewish communities in Spain, North Africa, and the Middle East were at times subject to persecutions, expulsions, and even forced conversion.
Population Changes: Assimilation
Secular Jews tend to marry late and have smaller families with wide acceptance of birth control http://www.ujc.org/content_display.html?ArticleID=84256. When granted political, economic and religious freedom, many Jews, probably the majority, choose to adopt the ways and religions of their host nations, abandoning many vestiges of their own ethnicity and religion, and then frequently choose to marry non-Jews. In the United States, the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey http://www.ujc.org/content_display.html?ArticleID=60346 has shown that close to 50 percent http://www.ujc.org/content_display.html?ArticleID=83911 (and possibly up to 75 percent according to some calculations) of America's Jews presently marry non-Jewish partners. These figures are probably also true for the Jews of Europe today. Most non-Jewish spouses do not convert to Judaism, surveys show. This phenomenon is known as intermarriage http://www.ujc.org/content_display.html?ArticleID=83913, and is the leading cause for the shrinkage of almost all Jewish populations in Western countries since World War II. Some Orthodox Rabbis have used the controversial term Silent Holocaust to describe the loss of Jews to assimilation, intermarriage, conversion to other faiths and abortion. Ironically, many anti-Semites present as a key evidence for their claims the "lack" of Jewish assimilation.
Population Changes: Growth
Only in the State of Israel have secular Jews increased due to natural growth and immigration, and both Orthodox Jews and Haredi Jews, who often shun birth control for religious reasons, have increased due to their large families.
Reform Judaism has an outreach effort to bring in not only the non-Jewish spouses of inter-married Jews, but to actively seek new members for the faith.
Conservative Judaism has an outreach effort to bring in the non-Jewish spouses of inter-married Jews. The Rabbinical Assembly, the international body of Conservative rabbis, issued a rabbinic letter on human sexuality which discussed the issue of the decrease in Jewish population low reproductive rates.
There is also a growing movement of Jews by Choice by gentiles who make the decision to head in the direction of becoming Jews. There is a "return to Judaism" movement known as the Baal Teshuva movement that has brought many secular Jews to become more religiously observant. There are a number of efforts undertaken by all the denominations to re-introduce alienated Jews to Jewish religion and customs through educational and beginners programs.
Main article: Jewish languages
The oldest and most treasured books of the Jewish people have been the Torah and Tanakh (i.e. the Hebrew Bible) written almost entirely in Biblical Hebrew and widely used by Jews during their history. Jews zealously studied these detailed Hebrew texts, observed the commandments formulated in them, based their prayers on them, and spoke its language. Jews maintained a belief that Hebrew was God's "language" as well (as it was the language God uses in the Torah itself), hence its name "lashon hakodesh" ("Holy language" or "tongue").
The earliest surviving Hebrew inscription, the Gezer Calendar, dates from the 10th century BC; it was written in the so-called Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, which continued to be used through the time of Solomon's Temple until changed to the new "Assyrian lettering" (ktav ashurit) by Ezra the Scribe following the Babylonian Exile. During this time there were also changes in the language, as it developed towards Mishnaic Hebrew. Until then, most Jews had spoken Hebrew in Israel and Judea, however, by the destruction of the Second Temple, most had already shifted to speaking Aramaic, with a significant number in the large diaspora speaking Greek. As Jews emigrated to far-flung countries, and as the languages of the countries they were in changed, they often adopted the local languages, and thus came to speak a great variety of languages. During the early Middle Ages, Aramaic was the principal Jewish language. The Targum and much of the Talmud is written in Aramaic; later in the Middle Ages, most Jewish literary activity was carried out in Judeo-Arabic: Arabic written in the Hebrew alphabet; this is the language Maimonides wrote in. Hebrew itself remained in vigorous use for relgious and official uses such as for all religious events, Responsa, and in writing Torah scrolls, marriage contracts and literary purposes.
As time passed, these Jewish dialects often became so different from the parent languages as to constitute new languages, typically with a heavy influx of Hebrew and other loanwords as well as innovations within the language. Thus were formed a variety of languages specific to the Jewish community; perhaps the most notable of these are Yiddish in Europe (mainly from German) and Ladino (from Spanish), originally in al-Andalus but spreading to other locations, mainly around the Mediterranean, due to the 1492 expulsion of practicing Jews from Spain and the persecution by the Inquisition of the conversos.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Yiddish was the main language of Jews in Eastern Europe, while Ladino was widespread in the Maghreb, Greece, and Turkey; smaller groups in Europe spoke such languages as Italkian, Yevanic, or Karaim. The Jews of the Arab world spoke Judeo-Arabic varieties, while those of Iran spoke Judeo-Persian; smaller groups spoke Judeo-Berber, Judeo-Tat or even, in Kurdistan, Judeo-Aramaic. The Beta Israel were abandoning their Kayla language for Amharic, while the Cochin Jews continued to speak Malayalam.
This broad picture was substantially modified by several events in recent centuries. Emigration to the United States caused a dramatic increase in the number of Jewish English-speakers; colonialism in the Maghreb led most of its Jews to shift to French or Spanish; Zionists revived Hebrew as a spoken language, giving it a substantially increased vocabulary and a simplified sound system; the Holocaust tragically massively decreased the number of European Jews; and the Arab-Israeli conflict led many Jews to leave the Arab world for other countries (mainly France and Israel) whose languages they often adopted.
Jews today speak a large variety of languages, typically adopting the languages of their countries of residence. The largest single language spoken by Jews is probably English (mainly in the United States), closely followed by Modern Hebrew (mainly in Israel). Yiddish, with perhaps about a million speakers (mostly amongst the Haredi sector), is probably in third place. However, virtually all of the languages mentioned above continue to be spoken, though some (notably Judeo-Aramaic) are considered to be highly endangered.
Short History of the Jews
Main article: Jewish history and Timeline of Jewish history.
Jews and Migrations
The notion of migration seems to be intertwined with Jews and their history. Often in history, Jews have been both immigrants ("coming as settlers") and emigrants ("leaving countries"). For example:
- The patriarch Abraham was a migrant to the land of Canaan from Ur of the Chaldees.
- The Children of Israel are strongly identified with the Exodus (meaning "departure" or "going forth" in Greek) from ancient Egypt, as recorded in the Book of Exodus.
- The Kingdom of Israel was sent into permanent exile and scattered all over the world by Assyria.
- The Kingdom of Judah was exiled first by Babylonia and then by Rome.
- The 2,000 year dispersion of the Jewish diaspora beginning under the Roman Empire, as Jews were spread throughout the Roman world and, driven from land to land, and settled wherever they could live freely enough to practice their religion.
- Forced migrations during the rise and growth of Islam.
- Following the Spanish Inquisition, the Sephardic Jews were dispersed, some migrating mainly to Southern Europe, others migrating to North Africa and the Middle East.
- The Pogroms in Eastern Europe, the rise of modern Anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and the rise of Arab nationalism all served to fuel the movements and migrations of huge segments of Jewry from land to land and continent to continent, until they have now arrived back in large numbers at their original historical homeland in Israel.
- During the 19th century, France's policies of equal citizenship regardless of religion led to the immigration of Jews (esp. from Eastern and Central Europe), which was encouraged by Napoleon Bonaparte.
- The arrival of millions of Jews in the New World, such as during the history of the Jews in the United States (Colonial Era-1906).
Kingdoms of Israel and Judah
Related articles: History of ancient Israel and Judah
Looking at the timeline of Jewish history, the first two periods of the history of the Jews is mainly that of Palestine or Judea. There was constant rivalry with ancient Egypt and Canaan, nearby Assyria, and later Babylonia and Persia within the general area lying between the Nile river on the one side and the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers on the other. Surrounded by ancient seats of culture in Egypt to the west and Babylonia to the east, by the mysterious deserts of Arabia to the south, and by the highlands of Asia Minor to the north, the land of Canaan, later Judea, then Palestine, then Israel, was a meeting place of civilizations. The land was traversed by old-established trade routes and possessed important harbors on the Gulf of Akaba and on the Mediterranean coast, the latter exposing it to the influence of the Levantine culture.
Jews descend mostly from the ancient Israelites (also known as Hebrews), who settled in the Land of Israel. The Israelites traced their common lineage to the biblical patriarch Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. A kingdom was established under Saul and continued under King David and Solomon. King David conquered Jerusalem (first a Canaanite, then a Jebusite town) and made it his capital. After Solomon's reign the nation split into two kingdoms, the Kingdom of Israel (in the north) and the Kingdom of Judah (in the south). The Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian ruler Shalmaneser V in the 8th century BC and spread all over the Assyrian empire commencing the era of the "Ten Lost Tribes". The Kingdom of Judah was conquered by a Babylonian army in the early 6th century BC. The Judean elite was exiled to Babylonia, but later at least a part of them returned to their homeland after the subsequent conquest of Babylonia by the Persians. This period of exile is known as the Babylonian Captivity.
Persian, Greek, and Roman rule
The Seleucid Kingdom, which arose after the Persians were defeated by Alexander the Great, sought to introduce Greek culture into the Persian world. When the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, supported by Hellenized Jews (those who had adopted Greek culture), attempted to convert the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem to a temple of Zeus, the non-Hellenized Jews revolted under the leadership of the Maccabees and rededicated the Temple to the Jewish God (hence the origins of Hanukah) and created an independent Jewish kingdom known as the Hasmonaean Kingdom which lasted from 165 BC to 63 BC. This was followed by a period of Roman rule.
Under the Roman Empire, with frequent changes of policies by conflicting and empire-building Caesars, generals, governors, and consuls who were often cruel and always ready for war, Rome's attitudes swung from tolerance to hostility against their allies who had become their military "subjects". The increasingly paranoid and blood-thirsty Roman Emperors who worshipped their own polyglot gods of Roman mythology could not readily accommodate the exclusive monotheism of Judaism, and the religious Jews could not accept Roman polytheism. In AD 66, the Judeans began to revolt against the Roman rulers. The revolt was smashed by the Roman emperors Vespasian and Titus Flavius. In Rome the Arch of Titus still stands, depicting the enslaved Judeans and the menorah with trumpets being brought to Rome:
Arch of Titus still stands, depicting the enslaved Judeans and the menorah with trumpets being brought to Rome.
The Romans all but destroyed Jerusalem; only a single "Western Wall" of the Second Temple remained. The Roman legions pillaged and burned the city. Yet, the Judeans continued to live in their land in significant numbers, and were allowed to practice their religion, until the 2nd century when Hadrian ravaged Judea while putting down the bar Kokhba revolt. After 135, Jews were not allowed to enter the city of Jerusalem. The Byzantine Empire, which came to control the region after the split of the Roman Empire, cherished the city for its Christian history. However, in accordance with traditions of religious tolerance often found in the ancient East, Jews were allowed into it in the 5th century.
Many of the ancient Jews were sold into slavery, while others became citizens of other parts of the Roman Empire. This is the traditional explanation to the diaspora, almost universally accepted by past and present rabbinical or Talmudical scholars, who believe that Jews are almost exclusively biological descendants of the Judean exiles, a belief backed up at least partially by DNA evidence. Some secular historians speculate that a majority of the Jews in Antiquity were most likely descendants of converts in the cities of the Graeco-Roman world, especially in Alexandria and Asia Minor. They were only affected by the diaspora in its spiritual sense and by the sense of loss and homelessness which became a cornerstone of the Jewish creed, much supported by persecutions in various parts of the world. Any such policy of conversion, which spread the Jewish religion throughout the Hellenistic civilization, seems to have ended with the wars against the Romans and the following reconstruction of Jewish values for the post-Temple era.
Before the rise of Islam, Jews were to be found throughout the entire Roman empire; with the Arab expansion, some of them would move as far as India and China. Some Jewish people are also descended from converts to Judaism outside the Mediterranean world. While the Avars' Hebrew origins/conversion debate continues, it is known that some Khazars, Edomites, and Ethiopians, as well as many Arabs, particularly in Yemen earlier, converted to Judaism in the past; even today Gentiles in the United States and Israel convert to Judaism. In fact, there is a greater tradition of conversion to Judaism than many people realize. The word proselyte originally meant a Greek person who had converted to Judaism. As late as the 6th century the rump Roman empire (i.e. Byzantium) was issuing decrees against conversion to Judaism, implying that conversion to Judaism was still occurring.
Middle Ages: Europe
Jews settled in Europe during the time of the Roman Empire. With the rise of the Catholic Church, Jews were subject to frequent expulsions and persecutions. At the same time, Church laws against usury, which was interpreted as the charging of interest, left Jews as one of the few sources of loans for the Christian population, leading to increasing influence for some Jews. Individual conditions varied from country to country and time to time, but, as rule, Jews generally were forced, by decree or by informal pressure, to live in highly segregated ghettos and villages. See Persecution, below.
Middle Ages: Islamic Europe and North Africa
Main article: Islam and Judaism During the Middle Ages, Jews in Islamic lands generally had more rights than under Christian rule, with a Golden Age of coexistence in Islamic Spain from about 900 to 1200. After the conquest of the Almohades, the situation of the Jews worsened, however.
Renaissance and Enlightenment
During the period of the European Renaissance and Enlightenment, significant changes were happening within the Jewish community. The Haskalah movement paralelled the wider Enlightenment, as Jews began in the 1700s to campaign for emancipation from restrictive laws and integration into the wider European society. Secular and scientific education was added to the traditional religious instruction received by students, and interest in a national Jewish identity, including a revival in the study of Jewish history and Hebrew, started to grow. Haskalah gave birth to the Reform and Conservative movements and planted the seeds of Zionism while at the same time encouraging cultural assimilation into the countries in which Jews resided. At around the same time another movement was born, one preaching almost the opposite of Haskalah, Hasidic Judaism. Hasidic Judiasm began in the 1700s by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, and quickly gained a following with its more exubarent, mystical approach to religion. These two movements, and the traditional orthodox approach to Judiasm from which they spring, formed the basis for the modern divisions within Jewish observance.
At the same time, the outside world was changing. Though persecution still existed in some European countries (hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed in pogroms in the 18th and 19th centuries), Napoleon invited Jews to leave the Jewish ghettos in Europe and seek refuge in the newly created tolerant political regimes that offered equality under Napoleonic Law (see Napoleon and the Jews). At the same time, Jewish migration to the United States (see Jews in the United States) created a new community in large part freed of the restrictions of Europe.
Modern Jewish history includes two defining events: the killing of approximately six million Jews during the Holocaust and the founding of the Jewish state of Israel.
Related articles: Anti-Semitism; History of anti-Semitism; Modern anti-Semitism
Main article: Christianity and anti-Semitism
Christianity, which owes its origins and theology to Jewish teachings about the Messiah, has long had an ambiguous relationship with Judaism, giving rise to Christianity and anti-Semitism. Christians had difficulty with the Jews' claim to being God's chosen people, and they were seen as having contributed to the demise of Jesus, who according to the Christians was the Messiah and the "Son of God". Judaism considers this to be a serious heresy that negates the absolute unity, definite non-corporality, and complete invisibility of the Jewish God as mandated by the Torah.
In medieval Europe, many notorious persecutions of Jews in the name of Christianity occurred, notably during the Crusades—when Jews all over Germany were massacred—and in the Spanish Inquisition, when the entire Jewish population that had refused to be baptized into Christianity was expelled. They found refuge mainly in the Ottoman Empire and the Low Countries. From Alexander III's reign until the end of Tsarist times in Russia, Jews were restricted to the Jewish Pale of Settlement and subjected to frequent pogroms. On the other hand, in the 16th century, article four of the Council of Trent declared that the Jews were no more responsible for death of Christ than Christians, and this was later reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council.
Arab and Islamic
Main articles: Islam and Judaism, Islam and anti-Semitism
Islam and Judaism have a complex relationship. Jews were allowed to live as dhimmis under Islam; yet the political conflict between Muhammad and the Jews of Madina in the 7th century left ample ideological fuel for Islam and anti-Semitism through the centuries.
During the Middle Ages, Jews typically had a better status in the Muslim world than in Christendom, though still short of full equality with Muslims. As the Muslim empire expanded during the centuries, the status of the non-Muslim communities was at times precarious, and they were generally subject to dhimmi laws. These laws freed them from military service and paying zakah, but placed additional jizyah and land taxes on them. While the dhimmi status in theory protected the rights of non-Muslim minorities, in practice their application varied. Restrictions regarding identifying clothing, building houses of worship, holding public offices, riding on horses and camels, and others were at times enforced. Over the centuries Jewish communities in some Muslim countries prospered, while others were subject to persecution.
The period between about 900 and 1200, known as the "Golden age of Jewish culture in Spain", when the Arab and Jewish intellectual worlds amalgamated, marked the revival of Jewish culture and science. It ended with the invasion of the Almohades.
During the Holocaust, the Middle East was in turmoil. Britain prohibited Jewish immigration to the British Mandate of Palestine. In Cairo the Jewish Lehi (perhaps better know as the Stern Gang) assassinated Lord Moyne in 1944 fighting the British closure of Palestine to Jewish immigration, complicating British-Arab-Jewish relations. While the Allies and the Axis were fighting for the oil-rich region, the Mufti of Jerusalem Amin al-Husayni staged a pro-Nazi coup in Iraq and organized the Farhud pogrom which marked the turning point for about 150,000 Iraqi Jews who, following this event and the hostilities generated by the war with Israel in 1948, were targeted for violence, persecution, boycotts, confiscations, and near complete expulsion in 1951. The coup failed and the mufti fled to Berlin, where he actively supported Hitler. In Egypt, with a Jewish population of about 75,000, young Anwar Sadat was imprisoned for conspiring with the Nazis and promised them that "no British soldier would leave Egypt alive" (see Military history of Egypt during World War II) leaving the Jews of that region defenseless. In the French Vichy territories of Algeria and Syria plans were drawn up for the liquidation of their Jewish populations were the Axis powers to triumph.
The tensions of the Arab-Israeli conflict were also a factor in the rise of animosity to Jews all over the Middle East, as hundreds of thousands of Jews fled as refugees, the main waves being soon after the 1948 and 1956 wars. In reaction to the Suez Crisis of 1956, the Egyptian government expelled almost 25,000 Egyptian Jews and confiscated their property, and sent approximately 1,000 more Jews to prisons and detention camps. The population of Jewish communities of Muslim Middle East and North Africa was reduced from about 900,000 in 1948 to less than 8,000 today.
Main article: Holocaust
Persecution of the Jews reached its peak under the Third Reich (1933-1945). As encapsulated in Hitler's book Mein Kampf (1925) Nazism had obsessive and racist beliefs about Jews as "racial enemies". Jews were subjected to arbitrary arrest, internment, torture and murder. The German Nazis thought of themselves as an Aryan "Master Race" of Übermenschen. To them the Jews, as well as "Negros" and the Slavic peoples, were "inferior" subhuman Untermenschen. These racist beliefs and ideologies were embodied in the Nuremberg Laws (1935-1939) specifically designed to discriminate against Jews, legalizing and enforcing racial segregation and discrimination.
Following the Nazi party's take-over of Germany (1933) and Austria (1938), the new Nazi Germany went to war against Poland (1939), France (1940), and Russia (1941), and took over Hungary (1944). These countries had a combined population of over 11 million Jews, the majority of Europe's Jews. They became the victims of a vast undertaking to "exterminate" them via planned genocide. From shortly after they took power in Germany in 1933, the Nazis had constructed concentration camps to incarcerate (and later, often to kill) their opponents and those they saw as "undesirables". Many Jews became victims of this policy. After the Nazi conquest of the European mainland, plans for the "Final Solution (Endlösung) of the Jewish question" (1941) were put into full motion, and formalized at the Wannsee Conference (1942). Six major extermination camps were built in Poland by Nazi Germany and its allies for the express purpose of genocide against Jews, even for those who had long assimilated and had been baptized into Christianity, as well as for other minority groups deemed enemies of the Nazi regime.
The bulk of the Jewish prisoners were mass-executed in gas chambers at Treblinka, Sobibór, Majdanek, Chelmno, Belzec, Auschwitz II (Auschwitz-Birkenau) and their bodies disposed in crematoria. This was the first full-scale genocide using the innovations of modern science and engineering. Approximately six million Jews perished under these policies during the Holocaust.
After the 1945 defeat of the Axis Powers by the Allied Nations, many high German officials were punished by the Nuremberg Trials (1945-1949) and Germany paid reparations to Holocaust survivors world-wide and to the new Jewish State of Israel after it arose in 1948.
In recent years a rise in historical revisionism about the Holocaust has resulted in Holocaust denial. The articles Nizkor Project and Holocaust denial examined deal with this phenomenon.
Main article: History of the Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union
Even though many of the Old Bolsheviks were ethnically Jewish, they sought to uproot Judaism and Zionism and established the Yevsektsiya to achieve this goal. By the end of the 1940s the Communist leadership of the former USSR had liquidated almost all Jewish organizations, with the exception of a few token synagogues. These synagogues were then placed under police surveillance, both openly and through the use of informants.
The anti-Semitic campaign of 1948-1953 against so-called "rootless cosmopolitans," the fabrication of the "Doctors' plot," the rise of "Zionology" and subsequent activities of official organizations such as the Anti-Zionist committee of the Soviet public were officially carried out under the banner of "anti-Zionism," but the use of this term could not obscure the anti-Semitic content of these campaigns, and by the mid-1950s the state persecution of Soviet Jews emerged as a major human rights issue in the West and domestically. See also: Jackson-Vanik amendment, Refusenik.
Historical Schisms among the Jews
First Temple era
Based on the historical narrative in the Bible and archeology, Levantine civilization at the time of Solomon's Temple was prone to idol worship, astrology, worship of reigning kings, and paganism. (Some of the divinities or idols worshipped included Ba'al and possibly Asherah.) This was in direct contrast to the teachings in the Torah, and was condemned by the ancient Biblical prophets who attacked those Israelites and Judeans who became idol worshipers. The split by the Kingdom of Israel from the Kingdom of Judah was completed by Jeraboam who crowned himself king, and built a northern temple with calf-like idol images that were condemned by the Judeans of Judah. After the destruction and exile of the northern Kingdom of Israel by Assyria, the temptations to follow non-Judaic practices continued, so that according to the narratives of Jeremiah and others, it brought about the failure, destruction, and exile of the southern Kingdom of Judah by Babylonia. Nebuchadnezzar had additional reasons for taking over Judah and turning its inhabitants into exiles, including challenging its great rival Egypt.
Second Temple era
The seven-branched Menorah stood in the Temple and is an ancient symbol of Judaism. It became the symbol of Hanukkah celebrations (with an eighth branch added for private observances) following the Maccabees' victory over the Greeks.
This was a time when the Jews lived under Persian, Greek, and Roman power and influence. The main internal struggles during this era were between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, as well as the Essenes and Zealots. The Pharisees wanted to maintain the authority and traditions of classical Torah teachings and began the early teachings of the Mishna, maintaining the authority of the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish court. The Sadducees sought to adapt to more Hellenistic ideas, as espoused by Philo of Egypt. The Essenes preached a reclusive way of life. The Zealots advocated armed rebellion against any foreign power such as Rome. All were at violent logger-heads with each other, leading to the confusion and disunity that ended with the destruction of the Second Temple and the sacking of Jerusalem by Rome.
Break-offs: Samaritans and Christians
One small sect of Samaritans is still extant; however, their religion is not the same as rabbinic Judaism. The Samaritan faith and that of other Jews diverged over a millennium ago; they commonly refer to themselves as Samaritan Israelites as opposed to Jewish Israelites. This is because they believe they are of the northern Israelite tribes.
Of course, the most famous schism in Jewish history was the split between the followers of Jesus (who were known as Notzrim or Nazarenes) with the claim by his disciples that he was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, and the majority Pharisees (the rabbinically led Jews) who rejected him 2,000 years ago and still do so. The Samaritans, on the other hand, largely became Christians, as they are depicted in the Talmud.
The abandonment of Jewish law by Jesus' followers and their promotion of him as a deity, along with the publication of the New Testament, ensured that Christianity and Judaism would become completely different and often conflicting religions. The New Testament depicts the Saducees and Pharisees as Jesus' opponents, whereas the Jewish perspective has the Pharisees as the justified followers of the rabbis who upheld the Torah, or what Christians refer to as the "Old Testament" as a mark of their having supplanted the Jews' position. This is known as Supersessionism, and is strongly rejected by Jews and Judaism. Recently, some Christian churches have rejected or softened their teachings on supersessionism.
Main article: Karaite Judaism.
Karaite Judaism is a Jewish denomination characterized by reliance on the Tanakh as the sole scripture and rejection of the Oral Law (the Mishnah and Talmud). Karaites had a wide following between the 9th and 12th centuries, (they claim that at one time they numbered perhaps 40 percent of Jewry), but over the centuries their numbers have dwindled drastically. Today they are a small group, living mostly in Israel; estimates of the number of Israeli Karaites range from as low as 10,000 to as high as 40,000 http://www.adherents.com/Na/Na_402.html#2209 http://www.turkiye.net/sota/karaisr.html http://qumran.com/Karaite%20Information/israels_karaites.htm http://qumran.com/Karaite%20Information/karaite_true_believers.htm.
There is a divergence of views about the historical origins of Karaite Judaism. Most scholars and some Karaites maintain that it was founded at least in part by Anan ben David, whereas other Karaites believe that they are not the historical disciples of Anan ben David at all, and point out that many of their later sages (such as Ya'acov Al-Kirkisani) argued that most of Anan's teachings were "derived from Rabbanite Lore".
The state of Israel, along with its Chief Rabbinate, ruled that Karaites are Jews, and while critical differences between Orthodox Judaism and Karaite Judaism exist, American Orthodox rabbis ruled that Karaism is much closer to Orthodoxy than the Conservative and Reform movements, which may ease issues of formal conversion.
These issues are discussed in depth at the main article: Karaite Judaism
Sabbatians and Frankists
In 1648 Shabtai Tzvi declared himself to be the long-awaited Jewish Messiah whilst living in the Ottoman Empire. Vast numbers of Jews believed him; but when under pain of a death sentence in front of the Turkish sultan Mehmed IV he became an apostate to Judaism by becoming a Moslem, his movement crumbled. Nevertheless, for centuries, small groups of Jews believed in him, and the rabbis were always on guard against any manifestations of this schism, always suspicious of hidden "Shebselach" (Yiddish for "little Sabbatians," a play on the word for "young dumb sheep"). Indeed, when the movement of Hasidism began attracting many followers, the rabbis were once again suspicious that this was Sabbatianism in different garb. It would take many centuries to sort out these complex divisions and schisms and see where they were headed.
After his mysterious death somewhere in the area of Turkish Albania, groups of Jews continued to be clandestine followers of Shabtai Tzvi even though they had outwardly converted to Islam, these Jews being known as the Donmeh. Jewish converts to Islam were, at times, therefore regarded with great suspicion by their fellow Moslems.
A few decades after Shabtai's death, a man by the name of Jacob Frank claiming mystical powers preached that he was Shabtai Tzvi's successor. He attracted a following, preached against the Talmud, advocated a form of licentious worship, and was condemned by the rabbis at the time. When confronted by the Polish authorities, he converted to Catholicism in 1759 in the presence of King Augustus III of Poland, together with groups of his Jewish followers, known as "Frankists". To the alarm of his opponents, he was received by reigning European monarchs who were anxious to see their Jewish subjects abandon Judaism and apostacise. The Frankists eventually joined the Polish nobility and gentry.
Orthodox versus Reform, East versus West
From the time of the French Revolution of 1789, and the growth of Liberalism, added to the political and personal freedoms granted by Napoleon to the Jews of Europe, many Jews chose to abandon the forboding and isolating ghettos and enter into general society. This influenced the internal conflicts about religion, culture, and politics of the Jews to this day.
Some Jews in Western Europe, and many Jews in America, joined the religiously liberal new Reform Judaism movement, which drew inspiration from the writings of modernist thinkers like Moses Mendelson. They coined the name "Orthodox" to describe those who opposed the "Reform". They were criticized by the Orthodox Judaism rabbis such as Samson Raphael Hirsch in Germany, and condemned, particularly by those known today as followers of Ultra Orthodox Judaism, (or Haredim in Israel), and the leaders of Hasidic Judaism, the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov, based mainly in Eastern Europe.
There was thus also created a cultural schism between the more westernised English, German and French-speaking Western European Jews and their more religiously observant Yiddish speaking Eastern European brethren whom they denigratingly labelled Ost Yidden ("Eastern Jews"). These schisms and the debates surrounding them, continue with much ferocity in all Jewish communities today as the Reform and Orthodox movements continue to confront each other over a wide range of religious, social, political and ethnic issues.
Biblical leadership (Before 70 AD)
- See related List of Jewish Biblical figures. During the era of the Tanakh, leadership of the Jewish people was governed by Torah principles. There were the heads of the original Hebrew tribes, and then also prophets such as Moses and Jeremiah whose words still as reference points for Bible-believers, judges such as Samuel and Samson, kings such as David and Solomon, priests of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Sanhedrin which was the judiciary.
Mishnaic, Talmudic, Middle Ages leadership (70 - 1600s)
- See related Mishnaic rabbis; Talmudic rabbis, Middle ages rabbis.
With the demise of ancient Israel and Judah and coinciding with the later wars against ancient Greece and Rome, the sages of the Mishnah and subsequently the Talmud, referred to as the Oral Law in Judaism, took on a growing and central leadership roles. After the destruction of the Second Temple and the subsequent exile for over two thousand years, the Jews turned to their most learned rabbis for leadership and council as they found themselves scattered throughout the world. They were at the forefront of either opposition or support of Rome. Rabbi Akiva was the supreme religious authority and he sanctioned the wars of Simon bar Kokhba against Rome (132-135) whereas during the 2nd century Judah haNasi was not only the supreme temporal leader sanctioned by Rome, but also edited the original work of the Mishnah which became the "centarl constitution" of the world's Jews, which was affirmed with the final editions of the Talmud which became the core curriculum of the majority of Jews. In Babylonia the Exilarch was almost always a rabbinical personality. The Geonim such as Saadia Gaon (892-942) were not only great sages but also political guides. The writings and rulings of those such as Rashi (1040-1105), Maimonides (1135-1204), Yosef Karo (1488-1575) who published the most widely accepted code of Jewish law the Shulkhan Arukh, Isaac Luria (1534-1572), the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797), the Chafetz Chaim (1838-1933) and many others have shaped Jewish religious law for almost two thousand years, as their religious rulings were published, distributed, studied, and observed until the present time.
Early modern leadership (1700s-1800s)
- See related Rabbis of the Early Modern period. The loose collection of learned rabbis that governed the dispersed Jewish community held sway for a long time. Great parts of central Europe accepted the leadership of the rabbinical Council of Four Lands from the 1500s to the late 1700s. In Europe, in spite of the rivalry between the schools of thought of Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon (1720-1797) of the Mitnagdim and Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (1700-1760) founder of Hasidic Judaism, rabbis were regarded as the final arbiters of community decisions. Tens of thousands of Responsa and many works were published and studied wherever Jews lived in organized communities.
Modern religious leadership (1800s-)
Decline of rabbinical influence
With the growth of the Renaissance and the development of the secular modern world, and as Jews were welcomed into non-Jewish society particularly during the times of Napoleon in the 1700s and 1800s, Jews began to leave the Jewish ghettos in Europe, and simultaneously rejected the traditional roles of the rabbis as communal and religious leaders. The resulting fractures in Jewish society has translated into a situation whereby there is no single religious governing body for the entire Jewish community at the present time.
Modern Synagogue leadership
In individual religious congregations or synagogues, the spirirtual leader is generally the rabbi. Rabbis are expected to be learned in both the Talmud and the Shulkhan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law) as well as many other classical texts of Jewish scholarship. Rabbis go through formal training in Jewish texts and responsa, either at a yeshiva or similar insitution. "Rabbi" is not a universal term however, as many Sephardic rabbinic Jewish communities refer to their leaders as hakham ("wise man"). Among Yemenite Jews, known as Teimanin, the term mori ("my teacher") is used. Each religious tradition has its own qualifications for rabbis, for more information see Semicha ("ordination"). In addition to the rabbi, most synagogues have a hazzan (cantor) who leads many parts of the prayer service. A Gabbai may fill a position similar to "sexton".
Orthodox and Haredi rabbinic leadership
- See Orthodox rabbis. In Israel the office of Chief Rabbi has always been very influential. Various Orthodox movements, such as Agudath Israel of America and the Shas party in Israel strictly follow the rulings of their Rosh yeshivas who are often famous Talmud scholars. The last Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in Israel are examples of powerful contemporary Haredi rabbis. The Haredi Agudah movements receive and follow the policy guidelines of their own Council of Torah Sages. In the Hassidic movements, leadership is usually hereditary.
Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist leadership
- See Conservative rabbis, Reform rabbis, Reconstructionist rabbis. In both the Reform and Conservative traditions of Judaism, rabbis are often trained at religious universities, such as the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City for the Conservative movement, and Hebrew Union College for the Reform movement. The Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist traditions each have their own governing group or individual leaders. Membership in these governing groups are selected by representatives of the Jewish community they serve, with Jewish scholarship considered to be the key factors for determining leaders. These governing bodies make decisions on the nature of religious practice within their tradition, as well as ordaining and assigning rabbis and other religious leaders.
Following the Renaissance and the Enlightenment in Europe (with its Jewish "extension" the Haskalah movement, which led to much modern-day assimilation into the cultures of their native countries), the variety of Jewish practice grew, with a widespread adoption of secular values and life-styles. Many modern Jewish communities are served by a variety of secular organizations at the local, national, and international levels. These organizations have no official role in religious life, but often play an important part in the Jewish community. Most of the largest groups, such as Hadassah and the United Jewish Communities, have an elected leadership. No one secular group represents the entire Jewish community, and there is often significant internal debate among Jews about the stances these organizations take on affairs dealing with the Jewish community as a whole, such as antisemitism and Israeli policies.
In the United States and Canada today, the mainly secular United Jewish Communities (UJC), formerly known as the United Jewish Appeal (UJA), represents over 150 Jewish Federations and 400 independent communities across North America. Every major American city has its local "Jewish Federation", and many have sophisticated community centers and provide services, mainly health care-related. They raise record sums of money for philanthropic and humanitarian causes in North America and Israel. Other organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Congress, American Jewish Committee, and the B'nai B'rith represent different segments of the American Jewish community on a variety of issues.
A Karaite synagogue is run by a board of directors, and its spiritual leader is often called a Hakham, the equivalent of a "rabbi", and matches one in function. The Gabbai is the treasurer, the Shammash is the custodian, the Hazzan leads prayers, and in some the Ba'al Qeri'ah leads in the reading of the Torah. In America, Karaites are represented by the Karaite Jews of America, and in Israel they are represented by Universal Karaite Judaism.
Main articles: List of Jews, List of Jews by country
Despite the relatively small number of Jews worldwide, many influential thinkers and leaders in modern times have been ethnically Jewish. Ethnic Jews have stood at the basis of religion and modern psychology, philosophy, socialism, capitalism and many important scientific and technological advances were first discovered by Jews.
The following is only a sampling of famous ethnic Jews from all kinds of backgrounds, a number even having abandoned Judaism:
Moses Maimonides (1135–1204) (rabbi and philosopher); Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) (philosopher); Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881) (British Prime Minister, was a baptized Christian); Karl Marx (1818–1883) (founder of Marxism); Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) (father of modern psychoanalysis); Theodor Herzl (1860–1904) (founder of modern secular Zionism); Leon Trotsky (1879–1940) (creator of the Red Army and philosopher); Albert Einstein (1879–1955) (physicist who proposed the theory of relativity); Ludwig von Mises (1881–1973) (economist); David BenGurion (1886–1973) (founding Prime Minister of Israel); Marc Chagall (1887–1985) (surrealist artist); Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951) (philosopher); Hyman Rickover (1900–1986) (admiral, father of U.S. nuclear navy); Ayn Rand (1905–1982) (writer); Edward Teller (1908–2003) (father of the hydrogen bomb); Henry Kissinger (1923–) (U.S. Secretary of State); Noam Chomsky (1928–) (linguist, philosopher, and social theorist); Steven Spielberg (movie producer); Woody Allen (comedian, actor, and film director); Anne Frank (1929–1945) (diarist); George Soros (1930–) (billionaire philanthropist, founder of the Open Society Institute); Andrew Grove (1936–) (co-founder and chairman of Intel); Michael Bloomberg (1942–) (billionaire financier and New York City mayor); Heinrich Heine (German romantic poet).
- Ethiopian Jews
- Zion Ozeri's site: The Flash-intensive site of Jewish photographer Zion Ozeri documents the appearance of a wide variety of Jewish communities around the world.
Major secular organizations
Zionist and Israeli institutions
- 1 1993 Russian census. Some experts (e.g. ISBN 580620068X) estimate the real number to be more than 1 million.
- 2 Jewish Virtual Library, JewFAQ
- 3 Data based on a study by Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI). See Jewish people near zero growth by Tovah Lazaroff, Jerusalem Post, June 24, 2004.
- 4 Data based on a study by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. See Israel’s population is 6.8 million by Zeev Klein, Globes online September 13, 2004. Includes (about 370,000) Israeli citizens living in the West Bank and Gaza.
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