Jews

Diaspora

As political aspirations subsided, the Jewish community was increasingly led by scholars and rabbis. Even during the period of Jewish sovereignty in Palestine, large Jewish communities developed in Egypt and Babylonia. After the fall of the Temple, Babylon's Jewish community became the most important in world Jewry and its academies the most influential centers of Jewish learning. In 8th-century Iberia, a large Jewish community played an important part in intellectual and economic life. From the 9th to the 12th cent., Spanish Jewry enjoyed a golden age of literary efflorescence marked by a highly creative interaction between Jewish and Islamic culture.

From the Crusades to the Enlightenment

From the time of the Crusades date the persecutions that persisted until the 18th cent. During this period the ownership of land and most occupations other than petty trading and moneylending were forbidden to European Jews; the ghetto came into existence. The Jews, who had earlier been an agricultural people, became an urban population. The Jews were expelled from England in 1290 and from France in 1306. In 1391, forced conversions began in Spain; in 1492 all remaining Jews were expelled. Many of the exiles perished; others found asylum in the Netherlands and in the Turkish possessions. The German Jews, who experienced periodic explusions throughout the 15th cent., fled to Poland, where, although subject to persecution, they build a thriving culture.

After 1492, Spanish Jews (see Sephardim) spread throughout the Mediterranean world, often absorbing smaller Jewish communities they encountered. In some places they continued to speak a Judeo-Spanish language known as Judezmo or Ladino into the 20th cent. Some Sephardim also migrated to Western Europe. The other large branch of the Jewish people, known as Ashkenazim, formed in the 9th cent. with the settlement of Jews in the Rhine valley. Marked by their use of Yiddish, a German-Jewish language, the Ashkenazim also migrated east into Poland. The Polish-Lithuanian community became a major center of world Jewry in the 16th cent., distinguished by its high level of Talmudic scholarship. The political vulnerability and religious faith of the Jews led to the rise of several messianic movements; one of the most important was led by Sabbatai Zevi. In the 18th cent. Hasidism arose among the Jews of Eastern Europe.

Emancipation and Secularization

Modern political emancipation of the Jews began with the American and French revolutions. In Germany and Austria emancipation of the Jews was proclaimed after the Revolution of 1848. Simultaneously, the Haskalah encouraged the secularization of Jewish life, and the integration of the Jews into the societies in which they lived. Especially in Western Europe, this led to considerable acculturation, and even assimilation, of Jewish communities. The religious Reform movement advocated a form of Judaism shorn of its national elements and emphasizing ethical content rather than adherence to traditional Jewish law.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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