The Jews are a people who trace their descent from the biblical Israelites and who are united by the religion called Judaism. They are not a race; Jewish identity is a mixture of ethnic, national, and religious elements. An individual may become part of the Jewish people by conversion to Judaism; but a born Jew who rejects Judaism or adopts another religion does not entirely lose his or her Jewish identity.
The word Jew is derived from the kingdom of Judah, which included 2 of the 12 Israelite tribes. The name Israel referred to the people as a whole and especially to the northern kingdom of 10 tribes. Today it is used as a collective name for all Jewry and since 1948 for the Jewish state. (Citizens of the state of Israel are called Israelis; not all of them are Jews.) In the Bible, Hebrew is used by foreign peoples as a name for the Israelites; today it is applied only to the Hebrew Language.
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Later they, or some of them, settled in Egypt, where they were reduced to slavery; they finally fled to freedom under the leadership of an extraordinary man named Moses, probably about 1200 BC. After a period of desert wandering, the tribes invaded Canaan at different points, and over a lengthy period of time they gained control over parts of the country. (It is uncertain if there is any connection between the Hebrews and the Habiru mentioned in 14th century BC Egyptian documents found at Tell el - Amarna.)
David crushed the Philistine power and established a modest empire. He conquered the fortress city of Jerusalem, which up to that time had been controlled by a Canaanite tribe, and made it his capital. His son Solomon assumed the trappings of a potentate and erected the Temple in Jerusalem, which became the central sanctuary of the distinctive monotheistic Israelite religion and ultimately the spiritual center of world Jewry.
Judah managed to outlive the Assyrian Empire (destroyed c. 610), but the Chaldean (Neo Babylonian) Empire that replaced it also insisted on control of Judah. When a new revolt broke out under Egyptian influence, the Chaldeans under Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed Jerusalem and burned the Temple (587 or 586 BC); the royalty, nobility, and skilled craftsmen were deported to Babylonia.
Loss of state and Temple, however, did not lead to the disappearance of the Judeans, as it did in the northern kingdom. The peasantry that remained on the land, the refugees in Egypt, and the exiles in Babylonia retained a strong faith in their God and the hope of ultimate restoration. This was largely due to the influence of the great Prophets. Their warnings of doom had been fulfilled; therefore, the hopeful message they began to preach was believed. The universal prophetic teaching assured Jews that they could still worship their God on alien soil and without a temple. Henceforth the Jewish people and religion could take root in the dispersion (Diaspora) as well as in the homeland.
New spiritual forces emerged during the Maccabean and Herodian periods. The leadership of hereditary priests was contested by laymen distinguished for their learning and piety, who won the respect and support of the people. The priestly conservatives came to be known as Sadducees, the more progressive lay party as the Pharisees. The latter came to dominate the Sanhedrin, which was the highest religious and legal authority of the nation.
Burdened by excessive taxation and outraged by acts of brutality, the Judeans became more and more restive under Roman rule, all the more because they were confident that God would ultimately vindicate them. Revolutionary groups such as the Zealots emerged calling for armed revolt. The Sadducees were inclined to collaborate with the Romans; the Pharisees advocated passive resistance but sought to avoid open war.
The Pharisaic leaders, shortly thereafter given the title of Rabbi (Hebrew, "my teacher"), rallied the people for a new undertaking - the reconstruction of religious and social life. Using the institution of the Synagogue as a center of worship and education, they adapted religious practice to new conditions. Their assembly, the Sanhedrin, was reconvened at Jabneh, and its head was recognized by the Romans and given the title of patriarch; the Diaspora Jews accepted his authority and that of the Sanhedrin in matters of Jewish law. The leaders of the Jabneh period included Johanan Ben Zakkai, Gamaliel of Jabneh, and Akiba Ben Joseph.
Many Diaspora Jewish communities rebelled against Rome early in the 2d century; however, their rebellions were crushed, with much bloodshed. Still more bitter was the revolt of Palestinian Jewry led by Bar Kochba in 132; it was put down after three years of savage fighting. For a time thereafter observance of basic Jewish practices was made a capital crime, and Jews were banned from Jerusalem. Under the Antonine emperors (138 - 92), however, milder policies were restored, and the work of the scholars was resumed, particularly in Galilee, which became the seat of the patriarchate until its abolition (c. 429) by the Romans. There the sages called tannaim completed the redaction of the Mishnah (oral law) under the direction of Judah Ha - Nasi.
This situation was not significantly changed by the Muslim conquest of the Persian empire. At the end of the 6th century, the heads of the academies had adopted the title of gaon (Hebrew, "excellency"), and the next four centuries are known as the gaonic period; communities throughout the world turned to the Babylonian leaders for help in understanding the Talmud and applying it to new problems. About 770 the sect of Karaites, biblical literalists who rejected the Talmud, appeared in Babylonia. Despite the vigorous opposition of the great Saadia Ben Joseph Gaon and other leaders, the Karaites continued to flourish for centuries in various lands; today the sect has only a few small remnants.
Jews participated in the Arab cultural renaissance. They wrote in Arabic on science, philosophy, grammar, and rhetoric; they also produced notable biblical commentaries, legal works, and outstanding Hebrew poetry. (Among the scholars of this period were Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Judah Ha - Levi, Levi Ben Gershon, and the great Maimonides.) But this golden age was not entirely without problems. Muslim religious leaders and many of the common people resented the authority entrusted by their monarchs to Jewish statesmen and bankers. In the 12th century the Almohads, a fanatical sect from North Africa, took control of Muslim Spain, and the Jews had to choose between Islam, martyrdom, and flight. Many found a precarious refuge in northern Spain, where Christian rulers found Jews useful to them in their effort to reconquer the peninsula.
Fanaticism continually stirred the Spanish mobs. In 1391 thousands of Jews were massacred and thousands more were converted by force or accepted baptism to save their lives. These "new Christians" (also known as Marranos, Spanish for "swine") were suspected of practicing Judaism in secret; it was largely to ferret out these Marranos that the Inquisition was introduced. Many Marranos rose to high posts in the court and in the church, but they were constantly spied on, and many perished in the autos - da - fe, festive celebrations in which heretics were burned at the stake. Such tragic events stimulated the spread among Spanish Jews of the mystical doctrines of Kabbalah.
Once the last Muslim rulers were driven out and Spain was united under Ferdinand II and Isabella I, all professing Jews had to choose between baptism and expulsion. In August 1492 most of them left Spain in search of new homes. Under Spanish pressure, Portugal expelled its Jews in 1498. The exiles found refuge in North Africa, Italy, and especially in the Ottoman Empire, including the Balkans.
Nevertheless, Jews were needed in the very countries that persecuted them. Medieval Christian doctrine forbade Christians to take interest on loans; as a result, Jews were required to engage in money lending. The royal treasuries took a large part of the profits, and the Jews bore the popular resentment against usurers. In general, they were excluded from ownership of land and from the guilds that controlled the skilled trades.
When Christian money lenders learned to collect interest under other names, Jews were no longer needed. They were expelled from England in 1290, and, after several earlier bans, finally from the kingdom of France in 1394. In the German states, life for Jews was difficult and uncertain. Many moved eastward into Poland, which lacked a middle class with the financial and commercial skills Jews could provide.
The Ashkenazim were not exposed to a broad secular culture such as the Jews of Spain (and Provence) had enjoyed. Theirs was a simple intense piety that repeatedly found expression in martyrdom. Their scholars produced important commentaries on the Bible and Talmud, and works on Kabbalah.
In Poland and Lithuania, social conditions also had a segregatory effect. The Jews continued to speak a German dialect, mixed with many Hebrew words and with borrowings from Slavic languages - now known as Yiddish. Intellectual life was focused on study of the Talmud, in which they achieved extraordinary mastery. They enjoyed a large measure of self government, centralized in the Council of the Four Lands.
Persecutions became more frequent, however, inspired by competition from the growing Christian merchant class and by overly zealous churchmen. In 1648 a rebellion of Cossacks and Tatars in the Ukraine - then under Polish rule - led to an invasion of Poland, in which hundreds of thousands of Jews were massacred. Polish Jewry never recovered from this blow. A little over a century later, Poland was partitioned (1772, 1793, 1795) among Prussia, Austria, and Russia, and most of Polish Jewry found itself under the heartless rule of the Russian tsars.
An outgrowth of the Sabbatean movement was the sect founded in 18th century Poland by Jacob Frank. The latter ultimately converted to Roman Catholicism, and his sect died out early in the 19th century.
Poland was also the birthplace of Hasidism, the mystical sect founded by Baal Shem Tov. Although condemned by the rabbinic leadership, most notably by Elijah Ben Solomon, it established deep roots and became a significant social factor in the life of East European Jewry.
Equal rights were achieved in the Netherlands, and more slowly in Great Britain. Germany and Austria, even after 1870, discriminated against Jews in military and academic appointments; in these countries much popular hostility continued, now called Anti Semitism and supposedly justified on racial rather than religious grounds. In the American colonies the Jews had suffered relatively minor disabilities; with the founding of the United States, Jews became full citizens - although in a few states discriminatory laws had to be fought.
Jews entered the life of the Western world with keen enthusiasm; they contributed significantly to commercial, scientific, cultural, and social progress. But the old structure of Jewish life was severely damaged: community controls became less effective, and neglect of religious observance, mixed marriage, and conversion to Christianity occurred. In response to such challenges, new modernist versions of Judaism were formulated; these movements originated in Germany and had their greatest development in North America.
After 1804, Jews were allowed to reside only in Poland, Lithuania, and the Ukraine; Russia proper was closed to them. This Pale of settlement was later made smaller. From 1881 on, anti Jewish riots (Pogroms), tolerated and sometimes instigated by the government, sent thousands fleeing to Western Europe and the Americas. Because Russia refused to honor the passports of American Jews, the United States abrogated a trade treaty in 1913.
In response to these policies, new trends appeared in Russian Jewry. A movement of Jewish nationalism expressed itself in a revival of Hebrew as a secular language and in a few attempts at colonization in Palestine. A Jewish socialist movement, the Bund, appeared in urban centers, stressing the Yiddish language and folk culture.
During World War I, East European Jews suffered heavily from troops on both sides. American Jewry now found itself for the first time the leading element in the world Jewish community, bearing the major responsibility for relief and reconstruction of the ravaged centers. The peace treaties guaranteed equal rights to minorities in the newly constituted or reconstituted countries, but these agreements were not consistently upheld with regard to Jewish minorities, and colonization in Palestine expanded considerably.
In the Balfour Declaration of 1917, Great Britain announced its support for a Jewish national home; this purpose, approved by the Allied governments, was embodied in the mandate for Palestine that Britain assumed after the war. British agents had secretly made contradictory promises to Arab leaders, however, and growing Arab nationalism expressed itself in anti Jewish riots in Palestine in 1920 - 21 and 1929. In the latter year leading non Zionist Jews, convinced that Palestine alone offered hope for impoverished and oppressed millions (since Western nations had rigidly restricted immigration), joined with the Zionists to form the Jewish Agency to assist and direct Jewish settlement and development in Palestine.
In Germany the Weimar Republic for the first time abolished all official discrimination against Jews. The republic was unpopular, however, and anti Semitism was popular. Calculated use of anti Semitism as an instrument was a major factor in Adolf Hitler's rise to power in 1933, whereupon the German Jews were immediately disfranchised, robbed of possessions, deprived of employment, barred from the schools, and subjected to physical violence and constant humiliation. Once World War II occupied the attention of the democracies, Hitler and his supporters attempted "the final solution," the complete extermination of the Jews (Holocaust). About 6 million Jews - almost a third of their total number - were massacred, starved, or systematically gassed in Concentration Camps. In addition to destroying so many individual lives, the Holocaust eradicated the communities of Central and Eastern Europe, which had been the chief centers of learning and piety for nearly a thousand years.
On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed. Since then Israel has fought five wars against Arab coalitions to establish and preserve its independence (Arab - Israeli Wars). A peace treaty (Mar. 26, 1979) between Israel and Egypt was not accepted by the other Arab states.
Since World War II the Jews of the United States have achieved a degree of acceptance without parallel in Jewish history, and Jews play a significant role in intellectual and cultural life. The elimination of social barriers has led to a high rate of mixed marriage. During the same period there has been a growth in synagogue affiliation and support for Israel.
Recent estimates put the total number of Jews at about 14 million, of whom over 5 million reside in the United States, more than 2 million in the USSR, and over 3 million in Israel. France, Great Britain, and Argentina also have significant Jewish populations. The once - substantial communities in North Africa and the Middle East have been reduced to small fragments. Most of these Oriental Jews have settled in Israel. Thousands of Ethiopian Jews (Falashas), for example, were airlifted to Israel in 1984 and 1985. Israel's Jewish population increased significantly in the early 1990s, when it received hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the Soviet Union.
Bernard J Bamberger
J Alper, ed., Encyclopedia of Jewish History (1986); J Bacon, The Illustrated Atlas of Jewish Civilization, (1991); S W Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews (1952 - 73); H H Ben - Sasson, ed., A History of the Jewish People (1976); P Borchsenius, The History of the Jews (1965); B L Cohen, Jews Among the Nations (1978); S M Cohen, American Assimilation or Jewish Revival (1988) and Jews among the Nations (1978); A Eban, My People (1968); L Fein, Where Are We? The Inner Life of America's Jews (1988); L Finkelstein, The Jews: Their History, Culture and Religion (1970 - 71); R Gay, Jews in America (1965); D Goldberg and J Rayner, The Jewish People (1987); A Hertzberg, The Jews in America: Four Centuries of an Uneasy Encounter (1989); P Johnson, A History of the Jews (1987); A Kahan, Essays in Jewish Social and Economic History (1986);
R Patai, The Jewish Mind (1977); J Prawer, The History of the Jews in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (1988); C Raddock, Portrait of a People (1967); C Roth, The Jewish Contribution to Civilization (1956), and A Short History of the Jewish People (1969); A L Sachar, A History of the Jews (1967); C A Silberman, A Certain People: American Jews and Their Lives Today (1985); N A Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times (1991).
A Semite is someone descended from Shem, the eldest son of Noah.
A HEBREW is someone descended from Heber (or, "Eber"), one of the great-grandsons of Shem. So all Hebrews are Semites, but not all Semites are Hebrews. (Sunnite Arabs are therefore also Semites.)
Six generations after Heber, Abraham was born to his line, so Abraham was both a Hebrew and a Semite, born of the line of Heber and Shem.
Ishmael was born of Abraham, and (Sunnite) Arabs (and specifically Muslims) consider themselves to be descendants of him, so they are both Semites and Hebrews. Isaac was born of Abraham, then Jacob of Isaac. Jacob's name was changed to "Israel," and he fathered 12 sons. His sons and their descendants are called Israelites, and they would therefore be both Semitic and Hebrew. However, this would not make either Abraham or Isaac "Israelites." Those who interchange the words "Jew" and Israelite, call Abraham a Jew, even though Abraham was not even an Israelite, and where the word "Jew" is not used in the Bible until 1,000 years AFTER Abraham.
One of Jacob-Israel's children was Judah (Hebrew - Yehudah). His descendants were called Yehudim ("Judahites"). In Greek this reads Ioudaioi ("Judeans"). The confusing thing here is that almost all Bible translations employ the word "Jew," which is a modern, shortened form of the word "Judahite." Every time you come to the word "Jew" in the Old Scriptures, you should read "Judahite;" and every time you come to the word "Jew" in the New Scriptures, you should read it as "Judean." (two distinctly different peoples.)
In the late 1960s, Ashkenazi Jews numbered some 11 million, about 84 percent of the world Jewish population.
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