Who drove the Jews out of Jerusalem?
Jews in Egypt and Babylonia
We know of two large Jewish centers in the Diaspora from the 6th century BC: Egypt and Babylonia. Both communities survived and experienced times of success and growing importance over the next 2500 years.
Thanks to their close cultural, linguistic and religious contacts with one another, they were able to retain their original identity - even over this long period and in the midst of a majority of people of different faiths. According to tradition, the first Jews arrived on the coasts of southern Europe at this time.
Diaspora is everywhere
After the destruction of the Jewish land, its renaming to Palestine and the expulsion of the Jews from Judea in the 1st and 2nd centuries, the well-known diaspora expanded. Jews fled to the already existing communities in Egypt, Babylonia and Persia.
From there they made their way to the Far East, North Africa, the countries along the Mediterranean to what is now France and Spain. Jewish traders followed the Roman armies into the Rhineland. There are records of Jewish communities in Trier and Cologne as early as the 3rd century.
With the spread of the scriptures and the tradition of study and interpretation, independent churches in the spirit of Judaism could spring up everywhere. She was shaped by the feeling of living in exile, on a kind of island in an ocean of non-Jews.
In the course of the following centuries, Jewish existence spread unrestrictedly and freely almost everywhere in the known world. From Britain to China, from Denmark to Ethiopia. Jewish kingdoms arose on the southern Arabian Peninsula, in Central Africa and among the Khazars between Turkey and Russia.
Centers of the Jewish Faith
Soon four centers of Jewish learning emerged: the two competing centers in Palestine and Babylonia, one in North Africa, and one in present-day Italy, which was linked to Palestinian traditions.
In the 10th century, a process of alienation began with the expansion of the settlement areas for Jews north of the Alps. In the Mediterranean region, the Jews of Spain took on the pioneering role, benefiting from their work as interpreters and advisers at the courts there.
In the northern parts of Europe, the cities of Speyer, Worms and Mainz established themselves as centers of a new kind of Jewish learning. This was influenced by the traditions and concepts of the mainly German environment. These Jews were also called "Ashkenazim", after the Jewish name for the Rhineland and later for all of Germany, Ashkenaz.
Different concepts in east and west
The history of both parts of the Jewish people developed independently of one another. They faced different difficulties and requirements and developed different methods of dealing with them.
Their religious rites, traditions and concepts also drifted apart. The Ashkenazim remained geographically separated from the Sephardim, as the Jews of the Mediterranean were called.
The Sephardim had to flee from the Iberian Peninsula and spread to North Africa, the Italian republics, Greece, the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire.
The Ashkenazim spread further eastwards, as far as today's Russia. The religion had to adapt to the respective situation and deal with local traditions and idiosyncrasies. Any custom could be justified with the interpretation of the scriptures. The only thing that was important was to have the fonts.
So today Jews from Africa, India, America or Scandinavia are not only very different outwardly, but also in their rites and traditions. Yet they have an essential, common core. This consists of a common history, common myths, common language and, above all, common writings.
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