The Second Temple period - a period of some six hundred years - might be termed a period of normal national development. It is true that for the great majority of that time, Judah – or Judea, as it came to be called, was not independent. A whole series of empires were the ruling powers in the area. Nevertheless, despite occasional crises, the population grew greatly, from thousands to millions, and a complex and developed national life took form.

During this period, we see the development of a large Diaspora, to the west and the east, not unlike the situation of many nations at that time. There was frequent contact between the community in Eretz Yisrael and the Diaspora communities. Pilgrimages and visits were common and we hear of immigrants and emigrants.

The story changes after the Roman destruction of the Second Temple. Contrary to popular belief, there is no large-scale forced exile of the Jewish People from their land. Rather, the term Galut or exile, is used to describe the period that now begins because of the theological idea that the destruction – as punishment – represents G-d’s exile of the Jewish people from the land of Israel. In point of fact, a relatively vibrant community lived in the land of Israel for several centuries, albeit in difficult circumstances under Roman (and, later, Roman-Christian) sovereignty.

By the fifth century, however, motivation to remain in the land of Israel had reached a low ebb. During the preceding centuries, the majority of the Jewish population had left for Diaspora communities; now, the community fell into a decline that made its survival tenuous. There would always be Jews within the land and their numbers would fluctuate greatly; however, these numbers would always be small and relative to the other populations - the Jews would be only a small minority despite their sense that the land was their own.

 

 

 

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06 Jul 2005 / 29 Sivan 5765 0