Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Jewish studies 101 for Conservatives

Okay people, let's go over this one more time. If you want to posit a global zionist conspiracy, let's get the history correct:

In the first century CE, the Roman Imperium instituted a policy of diaspora of the Hebraic residents of Palestine to many other regions of the Empire. As a result, the Jewish people settled in many places in Europe and North Africa. Other Judaic peoples were spread throughout the Near East and East Africa; most were the Iraqi Jews, a result of the Babylonian Exile. Others were the result of various migrations out of Palestine over the centuries since the rise and fall of the kingdoms of Israel and Judea.

When the Islamic Empire overran the Near East, most of Persia, North Africa, and Spain, it more or less cut the former Roman Empire into two worlds: Christendom and the Islamic Caliphates. This essentially divided the Jewish population of Europe and the Mediterranean in half. The Jews of Northern and Central Europe became seperated from the Jews of Spain, North Africa, and the Near East.

The Jewish people throughout the Middle Ages grow then into two fairly distinct groups. The Jews under Christendom become the Ashkanazi Jews, cut off from the teachings and studies of the great Jewish theological centers of Alexandria and Abassanid Iraq. Those Jews living under Islam become the Sheppardic Jews, who follow different traditions than the Ashkanazi.

Legend holds that a central Eurasian tribe called the Khazar converted to Judaism sometime in the 8th or 9th century CE. Historical confirmation of the exisistence of this tribe is scanty, but it does explain the origin of the Polish and Russian Jews. These people are Jewish 'by adoption' as it were: genetic and cultural evidence suggests that they are not directly related to the Askanazi or Sheppardic Jews.

So, when underinformed talk show hosts proclaim that the Ashkenazi "aren't really Jews, anyway," they are mistaken. The Askenazi are the Jews of France, Germany, Italy, and Central Europe. They are as Jewish as the Sheppardic Jews. I suppose one could make the claim that the Kazar Jews aren't "really" Jewish, a claim I would suggest is foolish. The Khazar certainly self-identify as Jews.

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