The Illustrated History of the Jewish People

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A wonderfully accessible, beautifully illustrated chronicle of Jewish life through the ages, based on the best recent scholarship. With essays by Jane Gerber, Oded Irshai, Ora Limor, Michael Marrus, Derek Penslar, Seth Schwartz, David Sorkin, and Bernard Wasserstein. Maps; black-and-white illustrations; 48 full-color pages.

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Overview

A wonderfully accessible, beautifully illustrated chronicle of Jewish life through the ages, based on the best recent scholarship. With essays by Jane Gerber, Oded Irshai, Ora Limor, Michael Marrus, Derek Penslar, Seth Schwartz, David Sorkin, and Bernard Wasserstein. Maps; black-and-white illustrations; 48 full-color pages.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
De Lange (Hebrew and Jewish Studies, U. of Cambridge) heads a team of eight other leading academics from North America, the UK, and Israel in narrating the story of the pluralistic Jewish people. Well-selected b&w illustrations follow this history from the ancient roots of the Diaspora to modern upheavals and the founding of Israel. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780151003020
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/15/1997
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 8.36 (w) x 10.78 (h) x 1.46 (d)

Meet the Author

Nicholas de Lange is a professor at the University of Cambridge and a renowned translator. He has translated Amos Oz’s work since the 1960s.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1 Beginnings 3
2 The Making of the Diaspora 53
3 A Rejected People 87
4 "My Heart Is in the East..." 141
5 Into the Modern World 199
6 The Darkest Hour 255
7 "To Be a Free Nation..." 303
8 The Age of Upheavals 355
Selected Bibliography 398
Index 413
Acknowledgment of Picture Sources 433
About the Authors 434
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First Chapter

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

Nicholas de Lange

The Jews have always been a wandering people. They have had many homes, and all have proved, sooner or later, to be temporary. The frail booths of the autumn festival of Sukkot, Tabernacles, originally harvesters' huts, have come to symbolize the wandering life of the Jewish people, at home nowhere, always prepared to move on. So deep is this sense of transitoriness that it has permeated their existential value system: the whole of life, in Jewish thought, has come to seem like a wandering in the wilderness. The true home is elsewhere.

In this present world, only one place has been seen as the authentic home of the Jews: the holy city of Jerusalem, "God's previous address," as the contemporary Jerusalem poet Yehudah Amichai has put it.

The foundation document of the Jewish people, the Torah, tells the story of the formation of the people from early beginnings in Mesopotamia and Egypt, the giving of the law at Mount Sinai and the forty-year wanderings in the wilderness before the entry into the Promised Land. The other books of the Hebrew Bible tell of the settlement of the land, the building of Jerusalem and the Temple, the exile in Babylon and the return and reconstruction. The city of Jerusalem plays a central role in this story, yet much of the narrative unfolds elsewhere, in the Fertile Crescent, on the banks of the Nile or in great cities like Babylon and Nineveh. The symbolism of wandering and displacement, of exile and return, is inscribed in the earliest writings of the people.

The festival of Pesach, or Passover, reenacts this history from nomadic origins to Egypt, then through the wilderness to Jerusalem, then on to the recognition that the Temple is destroyed and the Jews live under the constant threat of annihilation, of which the biblical story of Pharaoh is a potent symbol. History and present existence merge. "In each and every generation one must consider himself as though he himself came out of Egypt." And the liberation from Egyptian slavery is used as an image and guarantee of a future liberation from the shackles of the present world order, encapsulated in the seder celebration's concluding exclamation: "Next year in Jerusalem!"

The history of the Jewish people is constantly being rewritten. No two versions are the same. In part, the reasons are personal: each author has a different perspective. Advances in our knowledge, due, for example, to discoveries of new documents, play a large part too. But the most significant differences result from the changing needs of the times.

Recent research has underlined the distance that exists between the real beginnings of the Jewish people and the story as it is recounted in the Bible. The biblical books rewrite the past to make sense of it and pass on a message to the people. Every generation of Jewish historians has faced the same task: to retell and adapt the story to meet the needs of its own situation.

This constant reinvention of the past demands a balance between the conflicting forces of continuity and change. The changes from the Bible to the present day have been spectacular. It could well be claimed that nothing has remained the same: the Jewish people today, in their life, thought and worship, are not the same people who came out of Egypt. But without a sense of continuity there is no history. It is the task of the historian to discern the continuity amid the change.

The present history, like all its predecessors, attempts to do just this: to trace the continuous history of the Jewish people from their remote beginnings to our own time. We do not underestimate the momentous changes that have taken place, but we do not let them have the final word. A history is a story, and the story of the Jewish people is unbroken, even by the most dramatic interruptions.

Every generation needs its own version of history. The same events, narrated in different times and circumstances, take on a different meaning. We can see this clearly if we look back at the way the history of the Jewish people was perceived at key moments in the past.

The conquest of the Kingdom of Judah (from which the Jews take their name) by a Babylonian army in the early sixth century B.C.E. was a traumatic event that might have led to the people's annihilation. The earlier example of the fate of the northern Kingdom of Israel pointed in this direction: "The Lord said: I shall remove Judah too from my sight, as I removed Israel. I shall reject this city, Jerusalem, which I chose, and the house where I said my name would be" (2 Kings 23:27).

The destruction and the subsequent exile and return gave rise to important historical reflections that are preserved in the Hebrew Bible. They center on the role of God in history and his relationship with his people. The God whose home is in Jerusalem keeps a close watch on his people. He has given them commandments to live by, and has warned them of the consequences of disobedience. Righteousness is rewarded and wickedness punished. It follows from this theological system that if disaster strikes the people, it must be a punishment for sin. Yet the survival of the Jews proves that God's love is stronger than his justice: he will punish his people, but he will never destroy them.

This view of Jewish history, shaped by the Babylonian conquest, was still prevalent at the time of the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. As Josephus, the main historian of the event, puts it: "Reflecting on such things one will find that God cares for humankind, and indicates to his people the way to salvation by all kinds of portents, but that they destroy themselves by their own self-willed stupidity and wickedness" (The Jewish War 6:310).

This is a thoroughly biblical view of history, yet what Greek reader of Josephus could avoid recalling, however obliquely, the fateful words of Zeus from the beginning of Homer's Odyssey, which was in a sense the Greek equivalent of the Bible? "Alas, how mortals blame the gods! They say that evil comes from us, yet they bring undue woes upon themselves by their own wickedness" (1:32-4).

Josephus, a proud Jew and the first real historian of the Jews in the modem sense of the word, modeled himself on Greek historians such as Thucydides and Polybius. His work, in common with that of other contemporary Jewish writers, represents a fusion of biblical and Greek ideas. His books were accessible to a mixed readership of Jews and gentiles, and this knowledge determined the way he wrote.

While Josephus applied his mind to writing calmly and professionally about the greatest catastrophe to afflict the Jewish people, others were totally crushed by the burden of grief:

Our sanctuary is in ruins, our altars are demolished, our Temple destroyed; our worship has been suppressed, our singing silenced, our praises hushed; the light has been extinguished in our sacred lamp, the ark of the covenant has been carried away, our holy vessels have been besmirched; our leaders have been tortured, our Levites taken captive, our virgins have been defiled and our wives raped, our pious men imprisoned and our saints scattered, our children enslaved and our fighting men enfeebled (4 Ezra 10:19ff).

These words have a special resonance today, in the aftermath of the Shoah (the Holocaust).

A thousand years ago, in the tenth century, the Jewish people were divided fairly equally between the lands of Islam and Christendom. (The "Jewish empire" of the Khazars was a marginal and little-known entity.) There was a widespread sense of stability and continuity. Institutions such as the yeshivot (academies) of Israel and Iraq looked back on a history of centuries. The misfortunes of dispersion, subjugation and occasional oppression were accepted as part of a divine dispensation that would end in God's good time. The gaon Saadia (882-942) could read the book of Job as a philosophical treatise expounding God's justice and goodness, without the need to relate the suffering of Job directly to the suffering people of Israel. There was order in the world, and if the destiny of Israel was in temporary eclipse there was a strong hope that God, in his own good time, would give a further and definitive turn to the wheel of fortune. It is interesting that at this time there was no explicit historical writing by Jews: such historical reflections as we have are contained in commentaries and liturgies that, attributing all history to God, sidestep the need to analyze human motivation.

The new millennium brought a change to the destiny of the Jews. Violent upheavals shook Christian and Muslim society alike, and at each turn the powerless Jewish minorities suffered. The religious fanaticism of Muslim Almoravids and Almohads and of Christian crusaders spelled destruction for whole communities of Jews. The theologian poet Judah Halevi (d. after 1141) went so far as to portray the relationship between Israel and God as the relationship between a battered wife and the violent husband she cannot abandon. She revels in the blows inflicted on her by others because they remind her of the blows of her former lover:

Since you have ever been the home of love, My love encamps where'er you pitch your tent. Foes' taunts I bear with relish for your sake: They do but harry one whom you torment. I love my foes: they imitate your rage, And chase the body your dear blows have bent! Do you despise me?--I despise myself: What self-respect can weather your contempt? Oh when will you return, like days gone by, And liberate your own, all fury spent?

The last line of the poem invokes the one consolation of this dark history: the memory of the liberation from Egypt offers a hope that God will act again to save his people. In another poem, Judah encapsulates the predicament of Israel in the powerful phrase "prisoner of hope." "Is there any redeemer like you?" he asks God, "or any prisoner of hope like me?" The Jew appears to be trapped within his history, in a persistent sequence of violence and oppression tempered by a hope that always proves illusory. If the relationship of the people to their God is painted in conventional colors as a love relationship, it is a love that has become bitter, if not indeed pathological.

Five hundred years ago, the situation of the Jews was even bleaker. In Western Europe and elsewhere, Christian intolerance had led to their forcible conversion or expulsion. The Byzantine Empire had fallen to the Ottoman Turks, and its once-flourishing Jewish life was in ruins. The fate of the proud Jewries of Spain, now Christianized or exiled in cruel conditions, was perceived as a catastrophe of epoch-making dimensions. The shadow of this disaster can be perceived in all the voluminous Jewish literature of the ensuing century. Significantly, this literature contains a number of genuine historical works, composed in response to recent events in Jewish and world history. Jewish history had not been a subject of serious study since the destruction of the Temple by the Romans, chronicled and analyzed by Josephus.

The Jewish historians of the sixteenth century shared a common assumption that history had taken a fateful step forward. There was even a sense that the coming of the long-awaited Messiah was at hand. And, indeed, there were signs of hope even amid the destruction. The decline of the West was accompanied by the rise of the East. In Poland, a golden age was dawning that would rival that of Spain. The Ottoman Empire offered a hospitable welcome to Jewish refugees from Christian lands. Istanbul and Salonica became major centers of Sephardi Jewry, and it was even made possible for Jews to settle once again in the Land of Israel. Safed (Tsfat) became the home of a brilliant and fascinating coterie of mystically inspired scholars. One of these, Joseph Caro, drafted a new code of law for the survivors of the destruction. Another, Isaac Luria, devised a mystical theology indicating new ways in which the world might be redeemed. The Lurianic Kabbalah fueled the messianic pretensions of Shabbetai Zvi, which first excited, then disappointed, the Jewish world in the mid-seventeenth century. Meanwhile, in Amsterdam, his older contemporary Menasseh Ben Israel, responding to claims that the lost tribes of Israel had been discovered in the New World, pointed in his book The Hope of Israel to various signs that the redemption of the world was at hand. The Hope of Israel made a contribution to the decision to readmit the Jews to England after an absence of three and a half centuries. The title of the book was borrowed from the biblical prophecies of Jeremiah, where it is an appellation for God.

The hope that was kindled after the Spanish catastrophe and that glowed more brightly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was a hope for progress and change. In part, this hope expressed itself in traditional terms, in the classical yearning for divine redemption that can be traced through the biblical prophets through the rabbinic Midrash to Judah Halevi and all other medieval Jewish authors. But the contrast between the blazing supernaturalism of Shabbetai Zvi and the cautious and reasoned supernaturalism of Menasseh Ben Israel was to become more marked with time, and led toward the alternative versions of Jewish messianism that were to emerge in the course of the nineteenth century. These rivals to the hope of redemption through a personal Messiah took various forms. The most extreme was an untraditional pursuit of the salvation of the individual at the expense of the survival of the community: in other words, assimilation into the surrounding society. But even the proponents of less total reforms had as their target some kind of normalization of the condition of the Jews, which would bade farewell to the "difference" that had once been the glory of the "holy people." The Jewish category of holiness indicates being set apart for a special purpose. The political and religious reformers of the nineteenth century aimed to rid the Jews of this holiness, and of the troubles that they perceived accompanied it. Political compromises were espoused that turned the Jewish community into just another religious or ethnic minority among others within the nation-state. The Jewish religion was modernized to resemble a version of Christianity. Those who refused to part company with the idea of a Jewish nation allied themselves to the romantic nationalism of the period and sought a national solution to the problem ol Jewish uniqueness.

Once again Jewish history was rewritten. The nineteenth-century religious reformers applied the methods of historical research to the Bible and Talmud, and used the findings to support their reforms. The Zionists discovered ancient and persistent seams of Jewish nationalism, and sang of "the two-thousand-year-old hope to be a free people in our own land." The biblical prophets were read as social and political reformers, and Judah Halevi, that subtle medieval theologian, enjoyed a new vogue as a proto-Zionist bard.

A hundred years ago, the dominant mood in Jewish historiography was one of hope. Despite the menace of the Russian pogroms and the spread of antisemitic politics, there was a real confidence in progress. As the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform of American Reform Judaism put it:

We recognize in the modern era of universal culture of heart and intellect the approach of the realization of Israel's great Messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice and peace among all men.

Even if the Jewish past was commonly portrayed as a catalog of woes, there was an underlying assumption that that gloomy past was approaching its end. Political emancipation, intellectual enlightenment, social openness, technological progress and a commitment to understanding and cooperation between peoples signaled the dawning of a rosier future.

As we now confront the history of the Jewish people at the end of another century, and indeed of another millennium, the general mood is in marked contrast to that which prevailed a hundred years ago. There is a confidence in progress, to be sure, but it is a cautious and hesitant confidence. The earlier faith was shattered by the great events of European history in the twentieth century: the horrors of two World Wars, antisemitism, Stalinism and, above all, the Nazi nightmare.

The Shoah is a catastrophe for the Jews on a level with the expulsion from Spain or the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. In some respects it is worse. not only in the sense that whatever is nearer is bound to bulk larger, but because it appears like a narrow escape from annihilation. As we now survey Jewish history, everything we observe is colored by the knowledge of the Shoah. Even the great achievements of the past are poisoned by this perspective, and the calamities take on a more ominous hue. As we read of the optimism and real progress of the last century, we are aware of how hollow and temporary were the gains We see how easily the emancipation and social integration of the Jews were undone by a few decrees. When we study the rich and wonderful history of the Jews in Poland, we cannot banish thoughts of death marches and cattle trucks. The history of relations between Jews and gentiles cannot be read in innocence.

The Shoah has put paid to the widespread belief in a divine purpose for the Jewish people that could be relied on even in adversity. The biblical idea, already under threat in the nineteenth century, that history is the arena in which God's inscrutable but reliable plan for humankind is played out, appears to many as untenable. Those who do attempt to maintain it, like the German theologian Ignaz Maybaum, are dismissed because the implication that God was in some sense on the side of the Nazis seems intolerable. Others who insist soothingly on God's inscrutability encounter agonized impatience. The book of Job offers no answers. The American writer Richard Rubenstein has more support when he argues that God is no longer an operative concept for the Jewish people, whatever its role in the past. History in any case has become divorced from theology: most histories of the Nazi genocide, or of anything else for that matter, look exclusively to human factors and pay no attention to the divine dimension so important in medieval interpretations.

Contemporary Jewish historians focus on the creation of the state of Israel as a sign of real hope, an antidote to post-Holocaust despair and a token of vigorous national recovery. Israel has reopened old questions about the meaning of the Diaspora and the relationship between the two. It has also reappropriated aspects of Jewish history within the Land of Israel that had become submerged. We are more aware now of the continuity of Jewish life in the Land of Israel, and the important contributions that Israel has made to Judaism worldwide. Archaeological exploration has brought buried treasures to light. The history of the Jews when written in Israel can seem very different from perspectives evolved in diaspora. The unity of the Jewish people and the various definitions of Jewish identity have also become vital issues in Israel, as has the conflict between religious traditionalism and godless secularism, two extreme ideologies nurtured in the East whose clash seems to leave little room for the various modernist denominations developed in the West.

As contributors to the present history, we write from the perspective of our own time. We have endeavored to reflect present-day concerns, and indeed to anticipate certain trends that are just now becoming apparent. This book is not a chronicle, a blow-by-blow account of everything that has happened to the Jews. It is a carefully focused study of key aspects. Each of the eight chapters examines a topic of the Jewish past that is of direct relevance to the present. The account of Jewish origins makes use of the latest research to tell a story that is in some respects quite unfamiliar: it has a direct bearing on contemporary questions such as the limits of cultural compromise and the relations between Jews and non-Jews in Jewish-ruled Israel. The story of the Diaspora delves back beyond the myth that this crucial feature of Jewish experience began in 70 C.E., and it also shows how long a real struggle persisted between Israel and the Diaspora. In surveying the relations between Church and Synagogue, we try to move beyond the purely conflictual model to appreciate the richness and subtlety of the relationship and the positive contribution that each religion made to the other. The Jewish experience under Muslim rule is being studied in a new light too, as befits a period when Jewish-Muslim relations are assuming a renewed significance. We give prominence to the encounter with modernity, and the reintegration of the Jews into the societies from which they were excluded by majority intolerance, as a prelude to studying the resurgence of medieval segregation and intolerance in the Nazi period. The reestablishment of a self-governing Jewish state in the Land of Israel is of central importance, and is treated with the seriousness it deserves. We end with an analysis of the Jewish world today, trying to look forward, however tentatively, to likely developments as we enter a new millennium.

As we survey Jewish history as a whole from the vantage point of the late twentieth century, Judah Halevi's phrase "prisoner of hope" seems entirely apposite. The prisoner of hope is sustained and encouraged by his hope, even as he is confined by it. At the dawn of Jewish history, during the Babylonian captivity, the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of a valley full of dry bones. The heavenly voice explained: "These bones are the whole house of Israel. They say: our bones are dried up and our hope is lost.... But I shall bring you up out of your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel." Twenty-five centuries later, another Hebrew writer, N. H. Imber, penned these lines:

Our hope is not lost. The two-thousand-year-old hope, To be a free people in our own land, Land of Zion, Jerusalem.

The poem, titled "The Hope" (Hatikvah), eventually became the national hymn of the restored Jewish state. Who could have foreseen in Babylon that the hope would last so long? The Babylonian Empire, like so many other powerful empires, has perished, and the Jewish people live on in perennial hope.

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