Four Thousand Years of Jewish History: Then and Now

Four Thousand Years of Jewish History: Then and Now

by Jack Lefcourt



Temporarily Out of Stock Online

Eligible for FREE SHIPPING


Four Thousand Years of Jewish History: Then and Now by Jack Lefcourt

Four Thousand Years of Jewish History: Then and Now is a book about time, events, change, adaptation, and survival. Its purpose: to introduce to readers of all ages perhaps new to the subject, the extraordinary journey of the Jewish people across forty centuries of cultural, societal, and religious history. With full-color illustrations, maps, diagrams, and text, Four Thousand Years of Jewish History: Then and Now chronicles the broad themes and developments of Jewish history, and offers a close-up account of the struggles, sorrows, and triumphs of the Jewish experience.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781602801325
Publisher: KTAV Publishing House, Inc.
Publication date: 12/28/2009
Pages: 108
Product dimensions: 8.10(w) x 10.10(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 11 Years

Read an Excerpt


Then and Now
By Jack Lefcourt

KTAV Publishing House, Inc.

Copyright © 2009 Jack Lefcourt
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60280-132-5

Chapter One

Deed over Creed

Who are the Jews? Where did we come from? When did it all begin? Here is what we know ...

Four thousand years ago (around 2000 B.C.E.), four people started out on a long journey. They were Terah, his son Abraham, Abraham's wife Sarah, and nephew Lot. They came from a (roughly named Ur, in a kingdom called Babylonia (roughly where Iraq is today).

We do not know why they left their home. Ur was an old and once prosperous city. Babylonia was already an ancient kingdom whose best days were behind it.

Perhaps Terah sensed there was something wrong in his town. Maybe he didn't like the way people were acting. Whatever the case, he and his family packed up their belongings and left.

As they journeyed west from Ur, Terah and his companions came upon the Euphrates River, and crossed it. Upon reaching the other side. These four travelers became the first people to be identified in the bible as "Hebrews".

Why this name? "Hebrew" is an English translation for the word "Ivriim". What does "Ivriim" mean? It means roughly, ... "the people from the other side of the river".

Onward the four travelers ventured to the land of Haran (where Turkey is today). It is here, we believe, that Terah's long journey came to an end. Aged, and no doubt weary from travel, the family patriarch passed on, leaving Abraham at the helm. We could imagine his fear and uncertainty at this moment.

As the bible relates, it is in Haran, following Terah's death, that Abraham first encounters Jehovah. God proposes, to the now 75-year-old Abraham, a covenant; an agreement. If Abraham and his children follow God's instructions, live by His rules, and maintain certain family practices, God will, in turn, protect them as His "Chosen people".

This encounter between God and Abraham marks the very dawn of what would come to be the Jewish religion.

The promise made by Abraham to keep, God's covenant was passed on to Abraham's son Isaac, Isaac's son Jacob, Jacob's sons, and so on. For the next few hundred years, the descendants of Abraham inhabited the land of Canaan (where Israel and Palestine are today), practicing the laws of their faith, and keeping their promise to God.

Around 1600 B.C.E., a great famine swept the land of Canaan, forcing the descendants of Abraham to seek a new home. Eventually, they made their way to Egypt. At this time, Egypt was governed by a group of people called the Hyksos. They were, in some wags, distant cousins. Like the Hebrews, the Hyksos were a Semitic tribe from the east. possibly for this reason, they welcomed the Hebrews into their land, showing them warmth and respect.

Within a hundred years however, the Hyksos were overthrown. The new rulers of Egypt were not so friendly. They oppressed and enslaved many, including the Hebrews, the Hyksos, and others. For the next few centuries, Abraham's descendants toiled as slaves under the pharaohs of Egypt.

How did the Hebrews survive this period of enslavement intact? What kept them together as a distinct people? History books tell us little about their experience in Egypt. What the bible does tell us is this: The descendants of Abraham who had entered Egypt during the Hyksos reign exited some four hundred years later as the "Israelites". Their destination: Canaan.

A dream to return to their ancestral homeland: This, we believe, was the common thread of memory and hope, which served to keep the Hebrew people together in bondage.

In the coming charters, we will learn about the role of Moses and Joshua in leading; the Israelites back to the land of Canaan, and the rise of the Israelite kingdom under Saul, David, and Solomon. And, we will follow the journey of Abraham's descendants through the various cultures of the ancient world.

Chapter Two

From Moses to Saul

In chapter one, we finished by posing the question: How did the Hebrews remain together as an intact group of people during their four hundred year ordeal in Egypt? There is no certain answer here. Practices of the early Hebrews may have been maintained in isolation by some of those enslaved. Possibly their longing for freedom and a return to the land of Canaan would have given the descendants of Abraham common purpose and direction.

Around 1200 B.C.E., a set of circumstances arose which set free the Israelites (the Hebrews) from bondage, and served to strengthen their identity as a distinct people. Central to these events was a man named Moses.

Who was Moses? We understand him to have been of Hebrew origin, but born and bred into Egyptian life and traditions. Raised as royalty, Moses would not have been subjected to the treatment his Hebrew brethren experienced in the same lang. And yet, a bond remained.

We are familiar with the story of his witnessing the beating of a Hebrew slave, and the fury that welled up inside him upon seeing this. We know of the murder he committed in rage, and his following exile in Sinai.

As the bible tells, it was in Sinai, in the town of Horeb, where Moses first hears the voice of God. Emanating from a burning bush, the voice tells Moses:

"Come now therefore, and I will send you unto Pharaoh, that you may bring forth My people the children of Israel out of Egypt." (Exodus 3:9-10)

Eight hundred years earlier, a man named Abraham hag heard this same voice. Now it was Moses' turn!

The uprising and exodus of the Israelites under Moses is believed to have taken place during the reign of King Ramses the second placing it around 1200 B.C.E.. The details of this event are debated and discussed to this day. How many Israelites followed Moses across the desert? How do we account for the parking of the Red Sea, allowing Moses' followers to escape the armies of Pharaoh? These are valid questions.

What is certain is this: Te role of Moses in the continuation of the Hebrew/Israelite people was a great one. He inspired them to revolt against their oppressors, led them out of Egypt, and introduced a new element to their society: The Ten Commandments.

A set of written laws to be remembered and obeyed would, from this point forward, act as the "glue" which kept the Israelites (in time, the Jewish people) together, wherever they went, and whoever they lived among.

After forty years of wandering the Hebrews, now "the children of Israel", finally arrived in the land of their distant ancestors. Moses had passed on, and a new generation of his followers hag replaced the old. It was under Joshua, Moses' successor, that the Israelites walked forward into the "Promised Land".

It was a difficult entry. The land was inhabited by various Canaanite tribes, some of whom were the distant descendants of Abraham who had not made the journey to Egypt Four hundred years earlier. Instead, they had stayed behind. How would local Canaanites accept these Israelite newcomers? would they be viewed as enemies, or long-lost cousins?

The conquering of this land by Moses' followers was not peaceful. But over the following hundred years, a slow, steady integration took place. A once nomadic people, made up of many tribes, transformed into a single complex society, and cities were born. With the growth of this new culture came the need for organization. Who would govern this new country, set its laws, collect its taxes, and keep peace and order?

By 1100 B.C.E., there emerged an early system of Israelite government. It was called the Shoftim. Made up of twelve "Judges", each representing one of the twelve tribes of Israel, the Shoftim maintained religious laws and practices throughout the land. Pot over a century, The Shoftim reined. For this reason, this period is called "the Age of Judges".

It wasn't a perfect system. The Judges tended to favor the interests of their own tribes. Sometimes there were quarrels that could not be resolved. It became clear that an even stronger central power was needed. Israel now looked for a king.

Around 1000 B.C.E., "The United Kingdom of Israel" was born. It was to last for almost a century. The first anointed king of this new monarchy was a man named Saul, whose reign endured For twenty years, while he may have been first to officially sit in the throne, it is often said that Saul was a king in title only. The honor of "First King of Israel" we more often attribute to Saul's successor, David. It is with the reign of David, the "poet king", that we begin our next chapter.

Chapter Three

The Birth of Israel

Saul was a moody king. To lift his spirits, the royal court was often host to musicians and poets. Of the many minstrels who came to soothe and entertain him, one stood out as Saul's favorite. He was a young shepherd named David.

David's position in the court of King Saul grew with his reputation. Beyond his abilities with the harp, David demonstrated great courage in his toppling of a giant Philistine soldier named Goliath of Gath.

As a young man, David continued to impress the king. He triumphed in battle, and in time, was made commander of Saul's troop. In many ways, David became like a son to Saul. And yet, in his later years, Saul came to fear David, seeing him as a threat to his power.

History shows that kings are often jealous people, suspicious of those around them. For all David's bravery, service, and devotion to his kingdom and its leader, Saul's worries only grew. The aging king came to believe that David might rise up, and one day replace him as ruler. He was right!!!

In his homeland of Judah (south of Israel), far from the jealous tantrums of Saul. David found he had many admirers. There, he quickly rose to power, and became king of the region. Upon Saul's death, David returned to Israel, the kingdom of the north, with legions of his followers, and took command of the royal court. David now ruled two kingdoms: Israel and Judah. His reign would last close to forty years, and his accomplishments would be many.

We recall from charter two the forming of the "United Kingdom of Israel". It was under David's leadership that this union took place. Israel and Judah we're now one state. Through conquest, David's United Kingdom grew, becoming five times the size of Israel today. The new king made Jerusalem its capital. There, he made plans to build a Holy Temple. Over David's forty-year rule, Israel became quite an empire, commanding many armies, and engaging in trade with many nations.

Among later generations of Jews, there emerged a great longing for a "messiah" a leader who would restore the Kingdom of Israel to glory. It was with the image of David in mind that this dream took hold.

Following the death of David, the United Kingdom welcomed a new leader: David's son, Solomon. Where David's rule was marked by war and expansion the period of Solomon's reign was one of peace and prosperity. It is said hew as a wise and just king, skilled at solving disputes. Like his father, Solomon ruled for forty years. During this time, many of the great plans made by David were seen through to completion, including the building of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Under Solomon, Israel became an industrial nation. Shipping and trade replaced agriculture as its main form of livelihood, and great wealth was produced. But, as the fortunes of the kingdom grew, so too did the quarrels between Israel and Judah. Like David before him, Solomon was from Judah, to the south. The Israelites came to resent their "foreign" king, and the heavy taxes he placed on them. In time, disagreements between the two regions became so great, even Solomon, for all his wisdom, could not patch things up.

Upon Solomon's death, the "glue" which held the two kingdoms together as one came undone. Solomon's son, Rehoboam, became ruler of Judah. But, his authority was not recognized north of his homeland. Instead, Israel picked its own leader, Jeroboam. For the next hundred years, the two kingdoms squabbled and bickered, and did not notice, all the while, the growing threat of invasion from nations that surrounded them.

A divided kingdom is far more vulnerable, and easily attacked, than one which is united. Over the following few centuries, the inhabitants of Judah and Israel would learn this lesson well. Both kingdoms found themselves repeatedly at war with neighboring, powers. Prom the north, Assyria invaded Israel, leading to its downfall in 722- B.C.E. From the east, Babylonia attacked Judah, and conquered its armies in 586 B.C.E. In four hundred years, from the time of King David to the Babylonian takeover of Judah, a nation had risen, expanded, divided, and collapsed.

Chapter Four

Judaica Crossword Puzzle 1


1. Ur was a city in this ancient kingdom. (Chapter 1) 2. The place where Abraham first spoke with God. (Chapter 1) 3. Abraham and his family crossed this river. (chapter 1) 4. He guided the Israelites from Egypt in 1200 B.C.E. (Chapter 2) 5. where Moses saw the burning bush. (Chapter z) 6. The kingdom north of Judah. (Chapter 3) 7. The kingdom south of Israel. (Chapter 3) 8. He was the first kinder Israel, and quite moody. (Chapters 2 and 3) 9. Abraham's wife. (Chapter 1) 10. A group of twelve judges (Chapter 2) 11. Abraham's nephew. (Chapter 1) 1Z. Solomon's son. (Chapter 3) 13. This musical king united Judah and Israel. (Chapter 3) 14. This nation conquered Israel in 722 B.C.E. (Chapter 3) 15. The agreement between God and Abraham. (Chapter 1) 16. The region where Moses lived in exile. (Chapter 2)


1. He first spoke with God in Haran. (Chapter 1) 2. The Babylonian city where Abraham came from. (chapter 1) 3. He wore a coat of many colors. (This is not in the text! Do you know the answer?) 4. Abraham's father. (Chapter 1) 5. These people ruled Egypt when the Hebrews arrived. (Chapter 1) 6. The Hebrews left this place around 1200 B.C.E. (Chapters 1 and 2) 7. Moses did not make it to the promised Land, but this guy did. (Chapter 2) 8. David's son. (Chapter 3) 9. The Shoftim ruled during the Age of ____. (chapter 2) 10. Moses and the Israelites crossed what sea? (Chapter 2) 11. For four hundred years, Abraham's descendants lived here, before going to Egypt. (Chapter 1) 12. It means "the people from the other side of the river." (Chapter 1) 13. People who live "on the move" are called what? (Chapter 2) 14. The Philistine giant David slew with a slingshot. (Chapter 3)


Chapter Five

From the Ten Commandments to the Prophets

We have witnessed the emergence over fifteen hundred years, of a group of people called the Hebrews. Starting with Abraham around 2000 B.C.E., to the fall of Judah in 586 B.C.E, we have seen a family become an extended tribe, and that tribe become a nation, and ultimately, a kingdom.

But what about religion? What ideas, practices, and views of the world were forming among these people over this time? When did Judaism truly begin?

From early Hebrew and Israelite practices, the Jewish religion evolved in stages. Key to this evolution were the Ten Commandments delivered by Moses at Mount Sinai. The stone tablets he bore introduced written law to the Israelites. They outlined the governing principles and basic rules of living for generations to come. Central to these principles was the revolutionary belief that God is both singular, and invisible.

This theme of an invisible god is illustrated in the story of the Golden Calf, in the book of Exodus. while roaming; the Sinai Desert, following their escape from Egypt, the Israelites become desperate and lost. They had left enslavement behind, but were headed for an uncertain future. On the windy, desolate dunes, they no doubt felt a great need for a sense of closeness to God. And so, they built statues: gods which theft could see. Moses, however, was furious land commanded his followers to destroy these idols. Why?

A god which one can see and touch is also a god which one can toy with, or throw away. As well, it can be topple easily by others. An invisible god, however, is something different. How does one hide from such a god? A divine being we cannot see is quite a powerful force! While temples and statues may crumble, an invisible god is unshakeable. And nowhere can one escape its ever-seeing eye! In place of earthly idols. Moses helped bring about a much grander notion of God: one universal power that cannot be destroyed.

When we consider Moses, never do we refer to him as a divine being. Rather, we see him simply as a man. God, we say, led the Israelites from Egypt. Moses was merely the instrument of God's will. In looking at things this way, we ourselves follow Moses' example. If we were to make a god out of the image of Moses, would we not be like the ancient Israelites molding a golden calf?

This simple, elegant idea of God as one invisible force became the foundation of the Jewish religion. The Ten Commandments handed by Moses to the Israelites became its first written laws. These laws, etched on stone tablets, were placed in a special Ark, and carried by Joshua and the Israelites into the promised Land. Throughout Canaan it traveled, finding a permanent home in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, during the reign of King Solomon.


Excerpted from FOUR THOUSAND YEARS OF JEWISH HISTORY by Jack Lefcourt Copyright © 2009 by Jack Lefcourt. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1. Deed over Creed....................1
2. Prom Moses to Saul....................4
3. The Birth of Israel....................8
4. Judaica Crossword Puzzle 1....................11
5. Prom the Ten Commandments to the Prophets....................14
6. The Importance of Written Law....................18
7. The Jews of the Persian Empire....................21
8. Judaica Timeline Activity....................25
9. Themes of Jewish History....................27
10. The "Fork in the Road" of Jewish History....................31
11. The Development of the Talmud....................35
12. The Historic Relationship of Judaism and Christianity....................39
13. Judaica Crossword Puzzle 2....................43
14. The Pall of the Roman Empire....................46
15. The Early Middle Ages....................51
16. Medieval Europe....................55
17. The Middle Ages....................59
18. The Late Middle Ages....................63
19. The Renaissance and European Enlightenment....................68
20. The Beginnings of Zionism....................74
21. The New World....................79
22. American Judaism....................85
23. The Holocaust....................91
24. The New State of Israel....................97
25. Past, Present and Future....................104

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews