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The Jewish diaspora <di-ASP-ora> ' is the English term used to describe the Galut גלות, or 'exile' that encompassed several forced expulsions of Israelites from what is now the states of Israel, Jordan and parts of Lebanon. The modern Hebrew term of Tefutzot תפוצות, "scattered", was introduced by the American academic Simon Rawidowicz in the 1930s[1] who to some degree argued for the acceptance of the Jewish presence outside of the Land of Israel as a modern reality and inevitability.

The diaspora is commonly accepted to have begun with the 8th-6th century BCE conquests of the ancient Jewish kingdoms of Israel and Judah, destruction of the First Temple, and expulsion of the Jewish population, and is also associated with the destruction of the Second Temple and aftermath of the Bar Kokhba revolt during the Roman occupation of Judea in the 1st and 2nd century CE.

A number of Middle Eastern Jewish communities were established then as a result of tolerant policies and remained notable centers of Torah life and Judaism for centuries to come. The defeat of the Great Jewish Revolt in the year 70 CE and of Bar Kokhba's revolt against the Roman Empire in 135 CE notably contributed to the diaspora as many Jews were scattered after losing control over Judea or were sold into slavery throughout the empire.

Pre-Roman Diaspora

In 722 BCE the Assyrians under Shalmaneser V conquered the (Northern) Kingdom of Israel, and many Israelites were deported to Khorasan. For over 2,700 years since, Persian Jews have lived in the territories of today's Iran.

After the overthrow of the kingdom of Judah in 588 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon (see Babylonian captivity) and the deportation of a considerable portion of its inhabitants to Mesopotamia, the Jews had two principal cultural centers: Babylonia and the land of Israel.

Although most of the Jewish people, especially the wealthy families, were to be found in Babylonia, the existence they led there, under the successive rules of the Achaemenids, the Seleucids, the Parthians, and the Sassanians, was obscure and devoid of political influence. The poorest but most fervent of the exiles returned to Judaea during the reign of the Achaemenids. There, with the reconstructed Temple in Jerusalem as their center, they organized themselves into a community, animated by a remarkable religious ardor and a tenacious attachment to the Torah as the focus of its identity. As this little nucleus increased in numbers with the accession of recruits from various quarters, it awoke to a consciousness of itself, and strove for political enfranchisement.

After numerous vicissitudes, and especially owing to internal dissensions in the Seleucid dynasty on the one hand and to the interested support of the Romans on the other, the cause of Jewish independence finally triumphed. Under the Hasmonean princes, who were at first high priests and then kings, the Jewish state displayed even a certain luster and annexed several territories. Soon, however, discord in the royal family and the growing disaffection of the pious, the soul of the nation, toward rulers who no longer evinced any appreciation of the real aspirations of their subjects made the Jewish nation easy prey for the ambition of the Romans, the successors of the Seleucids. In 63 BCE Pompey invaded Jerusalem, and Gabinius subjected the Jewish people to tribute.

Early diaspora populations

As early as the middle of the 2nd century BCE the Jewish author of the third book of the Oracula Sibyllina addressed the "chosen people," saying: "Every land is full of thee and every sea." The most diverse witnesses, such as Strabo, Philo, Seneca, Luke (the author of the Acts of the Apostles), Cicero, and Josephus, all mention Jewish populations in the cities of the Mediterranean. See also History of the Jews in India and History of the Jews in China for pre-Roman (and post-) diasporac populations. King Agrippa I, in a letter to Caligula, enumerated among the provinces of the Jewish diaspora almost all the Hellenized and non-Hellenized countries of the Orient. This enumeration was far from complete as Italy and Cyrene were not included. The epigraphic discoveries from year to year augment the number of known Jewish communities but must be viewed with caution due to the lack of precise evidence of their numbers. According to Josephus, the next most dense Jewish population after the Land of Israel and Babylonia was in Syria, particularly in Antioch, and Damascus, where 10,000 to 18,000 Jews were massacred during the great insurrection. Philo gives the number of Jewish inhabitants in Egypt as one million, one-eighth of the population. Alexandria was by far the most important of the Egyptian Jewish communities.

To judge by the accounts of wholesale massacres in 115, the number of Jewish residents in Cyrenaica, Cyprus, and Mesopotamia was also large. At the commencement of the reign of Caesar Augustus, there were over 7,000 Jews in Rome (this is the number that escorted the envoys who came to demand the deposition of Archelaus). Finally, if the sums confiscated by the governor Lucius Valerius Flaccus in the year 62/61 BCE represented the tax of a didrachma per head for a single year, it would imply that the Jewish population of Asia Minor numbered 45,000 adult males, for a total of at least 180,000 persons.

Roman destruction of Judea

In Rome the Arch of Titus still stands, depicting the enslaved Judeans and objects from the Temple being brought to Rome.

Roman rule continued until a revolt from 66-70 culminated in the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, the centre of the national and religious life of the Jews throughout the world. After this event, Judea formed a separate Roman province governed by a legate, at first pro praetore and later pro consule. This legate was also the commander of the army of occupation.

The complete destruction of Jerusalem, and the settlement of several Greek and Roman colonies in Judea indicated the express intention of the Roman government to prevent the political regeneration of the Jewish nation. Nevertheless, forty years later the Jews put forth efforts to recover their former freedom. With Israel exhausted, they strove to establish commonwealths on the ruins of Hellenism in Cyrene, Cyprus, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. These efforts, resolute but unwise, were suppressed by Trajan (115-117), and under Hadrian the same fate befell the attempt of the Jews of Israel to regain their independence (133-135). From this time on, in spite of unimportant movements under Antoninus, Marcus Aurelius, and Severus, the Jews of Palestine, reduced in numbers, destitute, and crushed, lost their preponderance in the Jewish world. Jerusalem had become, under the name "Ælia Capitolina", a Roman colony and entirely pagan city. The Jews were forbidden entrance on pain of death. Nevertheless, 43 Jewish communities in Israel remained in the sixth century: 12 on the coast, in the Negev, and east of the Jordan, and 31 villages in Galilee and in the Jordan valley.

Dispersion of the Jews in the Roman Empire

Expulsion of the Jews in the Reign of the Emperor Hadrian (135 CE): How Heraclius turned the Jews out of Jerusalem. (Facsimile of a Miniature in the Histoire des Empereurs, Manuscript of the 15th century, in the Library of the Arsenal, Paris.)

Following the 1st century Great Revolt and the 2nd century Bar Kokhba revolt, the destruction of Judea exerted a decisive influence upon the dispersion of the Jewish people throughout the world, as the centre of worship shifted from the Temple to Rabbinic authority.

Some Jews were sold as slaves or transported as captives after the fall of Judea, others joined the existing diaspora, while still others remained in Judea and began work on the Jerusalem Talmud. For those Jews in the diaspora, they were generally accepted into the Roman Empire, but with the rise of Christianity, restrictions grew. Forced expulsions and persecution resulted in substantial shifts in the international centers of Jewish life to which far-flung communities often looked; although not always unified due to the Jewish people's dispersion itself. Jewish communities were thereby largely expelled from Judea and sent to various Roman provinces in the Middle East, Europe and North Africa.

Post-Roman period Jewish populations

During the Middle Ages, Jews divided into distinct regional groups which today are generally addressed according to two primary geographical groupings: the Ashkenazi of Northern and Eastern Europe and Sephardic Jews of Iberia, North Africa and the Middle East. These groups have parallel histories sharing many series of persecutions and forced expulsions, which finally culminated in events in the 20th century that led to the State of Israel.

By 1764 there were about 750,000 Jews in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The worldwide Jewish population was estimated at 1.2 million.[2]

The "Negation of the Diaspora" by Zionism

According to Eliezer Schweid, the rejection of life in the Diaspora is a central assumption in all currents of Zionism.[3] Underlying this attitude was the feeling that the Diaspora restricted the full growth of Jewish national life. For instance the poet Bialik wrote:

And my heart weeps for my unhappy people ...
How burned, how blasted must our portion be,
If seed like this is withered in its soil. ...

According to Schweid, Bialik meant that the “seed” was the potential of the Jewish people. Preserved in the Diaspora, this seed could only give rise to deformed results; however, once conditions changed the seed could still provide a plentiful harvest.[4]

In this matter Sternhell distinguishes two schools of thought in Zionism. One was the liberal or utilitarian school of Herzl and Nordau. Especially after the Dreyfus Affair, they held that anti-Semitism would never disappear and saw Zionism as a rational solution for Jewish individuals.

The other was the organic nationalist school. It was prevalent among the Zionists in Palestine and saw the movement as a project to rescue the Jewish nation rather than as a project to rescue Jewish individuals. For them Zionism was the "Rebirth of the Nation".[5]

The Diaspora in Contemporary Jewish life

Contrary to the Israel-centric Zionist view, acceptance of the Jewish communities outside of Israel was postulated by those, like Simon Rawidowicz (also a Zionist), who viewed the Jews as a culture evolved into a new 'worldly' entity that had no reason to seek a return, either physical, emotional or spiritual to its ancient Land, and could remain a one people even in dispersion.

It was argued that the dynamics of the diaspora which were affected by persecution, numerous subsequent exiles, as well as political and economic conditions created a new Jewish awareness of the World, and a new awareness of the Jews by the World.

As of 2006 the largest numbers of Jews live in Israel (5,309,000), United States (5,275,000), France (652,000), Canada (372,000), and the United Kingdom (297,000).[6]

The Jewish Autonomous Oblast continues to be an Autonomous Oblast of Russia. [7] The Chief Rabbi of Birobidzhan, Mordechai Scheiner, says there are 4,000 Jews in the capital city. [8] Governor Nikolay Mikhaylovich Volkov has stated that he intends to, "support every valuable initiative maintained by our local Jewish organizations." [9] The Birobidzhan Synagogue opened in 2004 on the 70th anniversary of the region's founding in 1934. [10] An estimated 70,000 Jews live in the vast Siberia region.[11]

Metropolitan areas with the largest Jewish populations:

  1. Gush Dan (Tel Aviv and surroundings) - Israel - 2,900,000. [12]
  2. New York - U.S. - 1,970,000.
  3. Haifa - Israel - 800,000.
  4. Los Angeles - U.S. - 621,000.
  5. Jerusalem - Israel - 600,000.
  6. Miami - U.S. - 514,000.
  7. Paris - France - 410,000.
  8. Philadelphia - U.S. - 276,000.
  9. Chicago - U.S. - 261,000.
  10. Boston - U.S. - 227,000.
  11. San Francisco - U.S. - 210,000.
  12. London - United Kingdom - 195,000.
  13. Buenos Aires - Argentina - 175,000.
  14. Toronto - Canada - 175,000.
  15. Washington, D.C. - U.S. - 165,000.
  16. Beer Sheva - Israel - 165,000.
  17. Moscow - Russia - 108,000.
  18. Baltimore - U.S. - 95,000.
  19. Montreal - Canada - 95,000.
  20. Detroit - U.S. - 94,000.


  1. Simon Rawidowicz, Benjamin C. I. Ravid, Israel, the ever-dying people, and other essays‎, Associated University Presses, Inc., Cranbury, NJ., note p.80
  2. Timeline: Jewish life in Poland from 1098, Jewish Journal, June 7, 2007
  3. E. Schweid, ‘Rejection of the Diaspora in Zionist Thought’, in ‘’Essential Papers onZionsm, ed. By Reinharz & Shapira, 1996, ISBN 0-8147-7449-0, p.133
  4. E. Schweid, ‘Rejection of the Diaspora in Zionist Thought’, in ‘’Essential Papers on Zionism, ed. By Reinharz & Shapira, 1996, ISBN 0-8147-7449-0, p.157
  5. Z. Sternhell, 'The founding myths of Israel', 1998, p. 3-36, ISBN 0-691-01694-1, p. 49-51
  6. Population data from a 2006 study by The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute.
  7. [1]
  8. [2]
  9. [3]
  10. [4]
  11. Planting Jewish roots in Siberia
  12. World Jewish Population


  • Immigration to Israel from North America hits 22-Year High ([5])

See also

External links

af:Joodse Diaspora cs:Židovská diaspora da:Den jødiske diaspora id:Diaspora Yahudi ms:Diaspora Yahudi no:Den jødiske diaspora nn:Den jødiske diasporaen pt:Diáspora judaica