Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Jewish History and Culture, Part V

Still more history...

We left off at about 70 CE, as the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Second Temple.
The Jews found themselves living among the Arab people.  This was at a time when Islam was developing.  For those who may not be aware, Islam also claims Abraham as a patriarch.  In the Quaran, Abraham is depicted as an Arab, not as a Hebrew.  Abraham was the father if Isaac and Ishmael.  Isaac is claimed by the Jews as their ancestor, while the Muslims claim Ishmael.  When you come down to it, the two religions are brothers.
As such, the Jews were accepted by the Arabs at that time.  They shared a key value, which was scholarship, particularly in science and philosophy.  The Arabs divided people into two groups: the intellectual and the ignorant.  Jews, as people of the book, were accepted, while other groups, including the Christians, were thought to be incapable of grasping higher truths.  While most cultures languished in the dark ages, Jewish and Arab scholarship flourished.
Under the rule of Mohammed, both Jews and Arabs experienced a Golden Age.  Maimonides (aka Rambam, aka Moses ben Maimon) wrote during this time, including the seminal work 13 Principles of Faith.

Then came the Christians and the Crusades.  Christians couldn't understand why Jews didn't believe what they believed, and began persecuting Jews in the name of saving their souls.    This included burning them at the stake and other tortures.  Judaism was outlawed.  There were, of course, people who refused to convert.  They were usually killed.  There were others who reluctantly converted.  Judaism managed to survive by people practicing the religion in secret.  In Spain, they were called "marranos"...pigs...an unclean animal.  But they still managed to preserve the religion and the culture.  In 1492, Spain exiled the Jews, which was the same year that they sent Christopher Columbus to the New World.  Jews helped to bankroll exploration and settlement there.

The Middle Ages became a period of expulsions.  After leaving Spain, many Jews moved to Russia, where the Khazars hosted the Jews.  Everything was happy until Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church exiled the Jews again.  Poland became the new host, and everything was happy again.  The Jews were permitted to self-govern, and Yiddish became a common language.  Then came the Chimelnicki massacre, and the Jews weren't so happy in Poland anymore.

The Middle Ages also saw the development of Kabbalah, Messianism, and Hasidism.  The Kabbalists sought to find escape from the ickiness of the real world by thinking about the next one and seeking divine truths.  Messianism found solace in believing deliverance was near, and that gave them enough hope to survive, although there were many disappointments as false messiahs arose.  Hasidism believed in the holiness of the common man and found joy in the worship of God, although it was seen as a threat to traditional Judaism because it de-emphasized the roles of Law and Study in the culture.  Generally, rabbis of the Middle Ages were both religious and secular scholars.

Coming next: the Industrial Revolution, Emancipation, and Enlightenment.

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