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Jewish DiasporaHellenism And The Jewish Diaspora, Interpretations Of The Jewish Diaspora, Diaspora In The Twenty-first Century

The Greek term diaspora, meaning "dispersion," has been used since ancient times as a means of describing the Jewish experience as well as the fact of Jewish settlement outside of the Jewish homeland to the present day. Originally, the term diaspora was used with respect to only three groups whose populations were dispersed in classical times: the Greeks, the Jews, and the Armenians. More recently, the term diaspora has been applied to a variety of other groups throughout the world who have endured dispersion from their original homelands. To the extent recent usage has changed the term's original connotation, its continued use to characterize the Jewish historical experience in its entirety can be misleading.

Classical scholars distinguish the forced exile of the Jews following the destruction of the First and Second Temples at Jerusalem (586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E., respectively) from the voluntary emigration out of the Jewish state that first occurred on a large scale under Persian rule after 538 B.C.E. and lasted through the escalating Roman occupation and administration of Judea after 6 C.E. Only voluntary emigration, by their analysis, truly falls under the heading of "diaspora." Forcible expulsion is more appropriately characterized by the Hebrew terms galut or golah, both referring to the state of living in exile. Part of the confusion between "diaspora" and "exile" arose after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., when the two kinds of dispersion became inextricably intertwined and the terminology merged. The terms were not again seen to be separate and distinct until the creation of the modern State of Israel in 1948, when the creation of a central Jewish polity ended the enforced exile of Jews while many Jews elected to remain in diaspora—that is, living in areas outside the new Jewish state. After 1948, Israeli scholars began to apply the Hebrew term tefutsoth, which does not carry the connotation of forcible expatriation, to refer to the Jewish diaspora.

The Jewish diaspora is said by classical scholars to have begun during the First Temple period, with the establishment of a community of Jewish mercenaries within the military outpost of Elephantine (Southern Egypt) and with the removal of Jewish captives from the conquered Hebrew kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.E. However, the notion of diaspora as "exile" is theologically tied to the destruction of the First Temple and the sacking of Jerusalem by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E. As part of their conquest of the Hebrew kingdom of Judah, the Babylonians exiled the Jewish elite to Babylon, where they were said to have remained for three generations. Although the Assyrian captives had also been exiled by force, it was only during the Babylonian captivity that Jews developed the institutional structures that would later allow Judaism to survive without a homeland in the nineteen centuries following the destruction of the Second Temple and the complete suppression of a Jewish polity in Judea. In Babylon, exiled Jewish scholars completed the compilation of the written Torah, to which they added some prophetic writings and chronicles. The innovation of the synagogue for small group devotions changed the practice of public worship significantly by putting scholars at the forefront in place of the High Priest of the Temple at Jerusalem. It was during the Babylonian exile that scholarly debates over the meaning of scripture began to evolve into the study networks of rabbinic Judaism that would sustain Jewish life and traditions without access to the Temple, the central focus of all Jewish religious life where the holy Ark of the Covenant was housed.

The Babylonian exile ended in 538 B.C.E. when the Persian king Cyrus conquered Babylon and issued an edict that permitted the Jewish captives to return to their homeland. Although the exiles then had the freedom to return to Judah and re-establish the Temple under Persian rule, most chose to remain in Babylon where they had adapted to life in exile. This represented the beginning of a pronounced shift within Jewish culture with respect to the relationship between individual Jews and the Jewish state. The structures developed by the exiles in Babylon to maintain their commitment to Judaism while absent from the Jewish polity meant that it was now possible, for the first time, to sustain Jewish life without having to live in the Jewish homeland. Following the example of the former Babylonian captives, a growing number of Jews began to embrace the capacity created by the new and portable forms of Jewish ritual life to reside in places were there were better opportunities. In the years after the completion of the Second Temple in 515 B.C.E., a growing proportion of the Jewish population lived outside the Jewish polity, some through forcible exile, and some voluntarily in pursuit of economic ventures outside the Jewish state. By the first century B.C.E., the Greek geographer Strabo noted that the Jewish diaspora had penetrated nearly every part of the known world.

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