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News Release
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
‫האוניברסיטה העברית בירושלים‬
Refute accepted thesis of a ‘unified’ Diaspora
Israeli researchers cite east-west split with
dire consequences for ancient Jewry
Jerusalem, February 12, 2007 – The Jewish world separated into two basic spheres
following the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 AD, due
primarily to a language gap and a geographical divide, say two Israeli scholars in an
article that has just been published.
The schism that arose between eastern and western Jewries of that period, the authors
say, provided a fertile ground for the early Christian preachings of Paul and the
Apostles among the Jews of the west.
In presenting their argument, the authors, Prof. Doron Mendels of the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem Department of History and Dr. Arye Edrei of the Tel Aviv
University Faculty of Law, take issue with the accepted scholarly view that there was
a basic, ongoing connection between the scattered Jews of that era. Mendels’ and
Edrei’s thesis, which is based on research done while they were fellows of the
Hebrew University’s Institute for Advanced Studies, is presented in an article just
published in the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha,
Eastern Jewry, say Mendels and Edrei, incorporated the land of Israel, Babylonia, and
other adjacent areas reaching up the Mediterranean coastline into Syria and down into
eastern Egypt. Western Jewry included Asia Minor, Greece, Italy and the
Mediterranean islands.
In the east, write Mendels and Edrei, the period after the Temple’s destruction was the
time in which the oral law was developed, which much later was written down and
codified into the Rabbinic literature of the Talmud. These writings form the basis of
what became Halachic, or normative, Judaism. The languages of this oral and written
tradition were Hebrew and Aramaic, the languages known to the Jews of the east.
Since this tradition was not translated, continue the authors, the oral tradition
remained unknown to the Jews of the west, who spoke only Greek. For them, Jewish
tradition was conveyed solely through the Bible via the Septuagint, the Greek
translation of the Bible. The result was that the Jews of the west remained largely
ignorant of the vast lore of Halacha. This dichotomy ultimately provided a fertile
ground for the early emissaries of the Church, who created a communication network
in the west that was lacking in Jewish society.
The Jewish literature that did develop in the west was what became known as the
Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha, works of dubious origin that were not considered
by the rabbis to be of sufficient divine inspiration or influence for inclusion in the
Biblical canon.
While acknowledging the evidence that there were visits by rabbis of the post-Temple
period to scattered communities, these communities were almost entirely within the
land of Israel or Babylonia or adjacent areas, but hardly beyond that, say the authors.
There were some rabbinic leaders who traveled to Rome, but their contacts there were
mainly of a political nature with the rulers of the time.
Mendels and Edrei cite numerous Jewish and non-Jewish scholarly references in
amplifying their thesis of the “forsaking” of western Diaspora Jewry and therefore its
isolation from the developing Rabbinic Judaism of the east. The authors refrain from
dealing with the roots of this phenomenon or many of its implications, saying that
they leave that for further examination by researchers. They do, however,
conclude that a high price was paid for keeping the oral tradition (and later its
redactive form) only in Hebrew and Aramaic, thereby losing in consequence a vast
constituency that was not fluid in those languages.
For further information:
Jerry Barach, Dept. of Media Relations, the Hebrew University, Tel: 02-588-2904,
or Orit Sulitzeanu, Hebrew University spokesperson, Tel: 02-5882910 or 052-260-8016.
Internet site: