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Jewish history is the history of the Jewish people, religion, and culture. Since Jewish history is over four thousand years long and includes hundreds of different populations, any treatment can only be provided in broad strokes. Additional information can be found in the main articles listed below, and in the specific country histories listed in this article.
For the first two periods the history of the Jews is mainly that of the Fertile Crescent. It begins among those people who occupied the area lying between the Nile, Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. Surrounded by ancient seats of culture in Egypt and Babylonia, by the deserts of Arabia, and by the highlands of Asia Minor, the land of Canaan (later known as Israel, then at various times Judah, Coele-Syria, Judea, Palestine, the Levant, the Holy Land, and finally Israel) was a meeting place of civilizations. The land was traversed by old-established trade routes and possessed important harbors on the Gulf of Akaba and on the Mediterranean coast, the latter exposing it to the influence of other cultures of the Fertile Crescent.
According to the Bible, Jews around the world are descendent from the ancient Hebrew people of Israel who settled in the land of Canaan, located between the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. The Children of Israel shared a lineage through their common ancestors, Abraham, his son Isaac, and Isaac's son Jacob, Hebrews whose nomadic travels centered around Hebron during the mid-second century BCE. The Children of Israel consisted of twelve tribes, each descendant from one of Jacob's twelve sons, Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Yissachar, Zevulun, Dan, Gad, Naftali, Asher, Yosef, and Benyamin. Jacob and his twelve sons left Canaan during a severe famine and settled in Goshen of northern Egypt. While in Egypt their descendants were enslaved by the Egyptian government led by the Pharaoh. After 400 years of slavery, YHWH the God of Israel sent the Hebrew prophet Moses, a man from the tribe of Levi, to release the Children of Israel from Egyptian bondage. Israel miraculously emigrated out of Egypt (an event known as the Exodus, and returned to their ancestral homeland in Canaan. This event marks the formation of Israel as a political nation in Canaan, in 1400 BCE.
According to the Bible, after their emancipation from Egyptian slavery, the people of Israel dwelt in the Sinai desert for a span of forty years before conquering Canaan in 1400 BCE under the command of Joshua. While living in the desert, the nation of Israel received the Torah at Mount Sinai from YHWH, by the hand of Moses. This marked the beginning of normative Judaism and the formation of the first Abrahamic religion. After entering Canaan, portions of the land were given to each of the twelve tribes of Israel. For several hundred years, Israel was organized into a confederacy of twelve tribes ruled by a series of Judges. In 1000 BCE, an Israelite monarchy was established under Saul, and continued under King David and his son, Solomon. During the reign of David, Jerusalem eternally became the national and spiritual capital of Israel. David's son Solomon built the First Temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. Upon his death a civil war erupted between the ten northern Israelite tribes, and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the south. The nation split into two states, Israel, consisting of ten of the tribes (in the north), and the Kingdom of Judah, consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (in the south). Israel was conquered by the Assyrian ruler Shalmaneser V in the 8th century BCE. There is no commonly accepted historical record of those ten tribes, which are sometimes referred to as the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.
The kingdom of Judah was conquered by a Babylonian army in the early 6th century BCE. The Judahite elite was exiled to Babylon, but later at least a part of them returned to their homeland, led by prophets Ezra and Nehemiah, after the subsequent conquest of Babylonia by the Persians. Since Zoroastrianism was the state religion of the Persian Empire, the extent to which Zoroastrianism has been an influence in the development of Judaism is a subject of some debate among scholars (See Christianity and world religions).
Construction of the Second Temple was completed under the leadership of the last three Jewish Prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi with Persian approval. After the death of the last Jewish Prophets and still under Persian rule, the leadership of the Jewish people was in the hands of five successive generations of zugot ("pairs of") leaders. They flourished first under the Persians then under the Greeks. As a result the Pharisees and Sadduccees were formed. Under the Persians then under the Greeks, Jewish coins were minted in Judea as Yehud coinage.
Currents of Judaism influenced by Hellenistic philosophy developed from the 3rd century BCE, notably the Jewish diaspora in Alexandria, culminating in the compilation of the Septuagint. An important advocate of the symbiosis of Jewish theology and Hellenistic thought is Philo.
The Persians were defeated by Alexander the Great. After his demise, and the division of Alexander's empire among his generals, the Seleucid Kingdom was formed. A deterioration of relations between hellenized Jews and religious Jews led the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes to impose decrees banning certain Jewish religious rites and traditions. Consequently, the orthodox Jews revolted under the leadership of the Hasmonean family, (also known as the Maccabees). This revolt eventually led to the formation of an independent Jewish kingdom, known as the Hasmonaean Dynasty, which lasted from 165 BCE to 63 BCE. The Hasmonean Dynasty eventually disintegrated as a result of civil war between the sons of Salome Alexandra, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II. The people, who did not want to be governed by a king but by theocratic clergy, made appeals in this spirit to the Roman authorities. A Roman campaign of conquest and annexation, led by Pompey, soon followed.
Judea under Roman rule was at first an independent Jewish kingdom first by the Hasmonaeans then by the Herodians, but gradually their power declined, until it came under the direct rule of Romans and renamed the Iudaea Province. The empire was often callous and brutal in its treatment of its Jewish subjects. In 66 CE, the Jews began to revolt against the Roman rulers of Judea. The revolt was defeated by the future Roman emperors Vespasian and Titus. In the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the Romans destroyed much of the Temple in Jerusalem and, according to some accounts, plundered artifacts from the temple, such as the Menorah. Jews continued to live in their land in significant numbers, the Kitos War of 115-117 CE nothwithstanding, until Julius Severus ravaged Judea while putting down the Bar Kokhba revolt of 132-136 CE. 985 villages were destroyed and most of the Jewish population of central Judaea was essentially wiped out, killed, sold into slavery, or forced to flee. Banished from Jerusalem, the Jewish population now centred on Galilee.
Many of the Judaean Jews were sold into slavery while others became citizens of other parts of the Roman Empire. The book of Acts in the New Testament, as well as other Pauline texts, make frequent reference to the large populations of Hellenised Jews in the cities of the Roman world. These Hellenised Jews were only affected by the diaspora in its spiritual sense, absorbing the feeling of loss and homelessness which became a cornerstone of the Jewish creed, much supported by persecutions in various parts of the world. The policy towards proselytism and conversion to Judaism, which spread the Jewish religion throughout the Hellenistic civilization, seems to have ended with the wars against the Romans and the following reconstruction of Jewish values for the post-Temple era.
Of critical importance to the reshaping of Jewish tradition from the Temple-based religion to the traditions of the Diaspora, was the development of the interpretations of the Torah found in the Mishnah and Talmud.
In spite of the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt, Jews remained in the land of Israel in significant numbers. The Jews who remained there went through numerous experiences and armed conflicts against consecutive occupiers of the Land. Some of the most famous and important Jewish texts were composed in Israeli cities at this time. The Jerusalem Talmud, the completion of the Mishnah and the system of niqqud are examples.
In this period the tannaim and amoraim were active, rabbis who organized and debated the Jewish oral law. The decisions of the tannaim are contained in the Mishnah, Beraita, Tosefta, and various Midrash compilations. The Mishnah was completed shortly after 200 CE, probably by Judah haNasi. The commentaries of the amoraim upon the Mishnah are compiled in the Jerusalem Talmud, which was completed around 400 CE, probably in Tiberias.
In 351 CE, the Jewish population in Sepphoris, under the leadership of Patricius, started a revolt against the rule of Constantius Gallus, brother-in-law of Emperor Constantius II. The revolt was eventually subdued by Gallus' general, Ursicinus.
According to tradition, in 359 CE Hillel II created the Hebrew calendar based on the lunar year. Until then, the entire Jewish community outside the land of Israel depended on the calendar sanctioned by the Sanhedrin; this was necessary for the proper observance of the Jewish holy days. However, danger threatened the participants in that sanction and the messengers who communicated their decisions to distant communities. As the religious persecutions continued, Hillel determined to provide an authorized calendar for all time to come.
The last pagan Roman Emperor, Julian II, allowed the Jews to return to "holy Jerusalem which you have for many years longed to see rebuilt" and to rebuild the Temple. However Julian was killed in battle on 26 June 363 in his failed campaign against the Sassanid Empire, and the Temple was not rebuilt.
Jews were widespread throughout the Roman Empire, and this carried on to a lesser extent in the period of Byzantine rule in the central and eastern Mediterranean. The militant and exclusive Christianity and caesaropapism of the Byzantine Empire did not treat Jews well, and the condition and influence of diaspora Jews in the Empire declined dramatically.
It was official Christian policy to convert Jews to Christianity, and the Christian leadership used the official power of Rome in their attempts. In 351 CE the Jews revolted against the added pressures of their Governor, one named Gallus. Gallus put down the revolt and destroyed the major cities in the Galilee where the revolt had started. Tzippori and Lydda (site of two of the major legal academies) never recovered.
Nonetheless it is in this period that the Nasi in Tiberias, Hillel II created an official calendar which needed no monthly sightings of the moon. The months were set, and the calendar needed no further authority from Judea. At about the same time, the Jewish academy at Tiberius began to collate the combined Mishnah, braitot, explanations, and interpretations developed by generations of scholars who studied after the death of Judah HaNasi. The text was organized according to the order of the Mishna: each paragraph of Mishnah was followed by a compilation of all of the interpretations, stories, and responses associated with that Mishnah. This text is called the Jerusalem Talmud.
The Jews of Judea received a brief respite from official persecution during the rule of the Emperor Julian the Apostate. Julian's policy was to return the kingdom to Hellenism and he encouraged the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem. Julian's rule lasted only from 361 to 363, so there was no chance to carry out this promise before Christian rule was restored over the Empire. Beginning in 398 with the consecration of St. John Chrysostom as Patriarch, the Christian rhetoric against Jews continued to rise with a series of sermons such as "Against the Jews" and "On the Statues, Homily 17" where John preaches against "the Jewish sickness". Such heated language would build a climate of distrust and hate of the large Jewish settlements, such as those in Antioch and Constantinople.
In the beginning of the fifth century, the Emperor Theodosius issued a set of decrees which established official prosecution against Jews. Jews were not allowed to own slaves, build new synagogues, hold public office or try cases between a Jew and a non-Jew. Intermarriage between Jew and non-Jew was made a capital offense as was a Christian converting to Judaism. Theodosius, furthermore, did away with the Sanhedrin and abolished the post of Nasi. Under the Emperor Justinian the authorities restricted the civil rights of Jews , and threatened their religious privileges. The emperor also interfered in the internal affairs of the synagogue , and forbade, for instance, the use of the Hebrew language in divine worship. The recalcitrant were menaced with corporal penalties, exile, and loss of property. The Jews at Borium, not far from Syrtis Major, who resisted the Byzantine General Belisarius in his campaign against the Vandals, were forced to embrace Christianity and their synagogue was converted to a church.
Justinian and his successors of course had concerns outside the province of Judea, and there were insufficient troops to enforce these regulations. As a result, ironically, the sixth century saw a wave of new synagogues built with beautiful mosaic floors. Jews assimilated into their lives the rich art forms of the Byzantine culture. There exist mosaics showing people, animals, menorahs, zodiacs, and Biblical characters. Excellent examples of these synagogue floors have been found at Beit Alpha (which includes the scene of Abraham sacrificing a ram instead of his son Isaac along with a gorgeous zodiac), Tiberius, Beit Shean, and Tzippori.
The precarious existence of Jews under Byzantine rule did not long endure, largely for the explosion of the Muslim religion out of the remote Arabian peninsula (where large populations of Jews resided, see History of the Jews under Muslim Rule for more). The Muslim Caliphate ejected the Byzantines from the Holy Land (or the Levant, defined as modern Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) within a few years of their victory at the Battle of Yarmouk in 636. A testament of the cruelty of the Byzantines towards the Jews can be noted in the great number of Jews who fled remaining Byzantine territories in favour of residence in the Caliphate over the subsequent centuries.
Yet, the size of the Jewish community in the Byzantine Empire was not affected by attempts by some emperors (most notably Justinian) to forcibly convert the Jews of Anatolia to Christianity, as these attempts met with very little success. The exact picture of the status of the Jews in Asian Minor during the Byzantine rule is still being researched by historians (for a sample of views, see, for instance, J. Starr "The Jews in the Byzantine Empire, 641-1204", S. Bowman, "The Jews of Byzantium", R. Jenkins "Byzantium", Averil Cameron, "Byzantines and Jews: Recent Work on Early Byzantium," Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 20) Although there is some evidence of occasional hostility by the Byzantine populations and authorities, no systematic persecution of the type endemic at that time in Western Europe (pogroms, the stake, mass expulsions etc.) has been recorded in Byzantium.. Much of the Jewish population of Constantinople remained in place after the conquest of the city by Mehmet II. See also
A curious historical event did occur as a result of this emigration. Sometime in the 7th or 8th century, the Khazars, a Turkic tribe in what is now the Ukraine, seems to have converted to Judaism. The completeness of this conversion is unclear, but certainly there had been a Jewish population in the Crimea since the Hellenistic era, and these may have been reinforced by Jews leaving the fickle Byzantine governance. Influenced and threatened as they were by both Islam and the Byzantine Empire, and receiving much tangible benefit from their Jewish population, it is speculated that Khazar rulers converted to Judaism in an effort to remain neutral as a safeguard to their independence.
As part of the diaspora a large number of Jews had taken up residence in the Arabian peninsula, out of the control of the Roman state which, in both its pagan and Christian incarnations, persecuted them greatly. The history of the Jews under Muslim rule was at times as unstable as their history elsewhere: they were ejected from western Arabia shortly after the death of Muhammad in the mid-7th Century.
Despite such setbacks, the Jews controlled much of the commerce in Palestine and as dhimmi prospered despite certain restrictions against them. Culturally, the Jews continued to advance, and the niqqud seems to have been invented in Tiberias in the era of the Islamic Caliphate. Preferring the benign discrimination of the Arabs to the outright slaughter frequently suffered under Christian rule, the Jews together with the Muslim forces defended Jerusalem and Haifa against the Crusaders in 1099 during the First Crusade: failure, in this instance, meant massacre. At the time of the First Crusade there were Jewish communities throughout the country which included Jerusalem, Tiberias, Ramleh, Ashkelon, Caesarea, and Gaza. While these population centres were not specifically targeted by the Crusader Kingdoms, Jewish quality of life under Crusader rule was undoubtedly worse and more dangerous.
Nachmanides settles in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1267 and since then there has been a continuous Jewish presence there.
During the Middle Ages, Jews were generally better treated by Islamic rulers than Christian ones. Despite second-class citizenship, Jews played prominent roles in Muslim courts, and experienced a "Golden Age" in Moorish Spain about 900-1100, though the situation deteriorated after that time. Riots resulting in the deaths of Jews did however occur in North Africa through the centuries and especially in Morocco, Libya and Algeria where eventually Jews were forced to live in ghettos.
The 11th century saw Muslim pogroms against Jews in Spain; those occurred in Cordoba in 1011 and in Granada in 1066. Decrees ordering the destruction of synagogues were enacted in the Middle Ages in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Jews were also forced to convert to Islam or face death in some parts of Yemen, Morocco and Baghdad at certain times. The Almohads, who had taken control of much of Islamic Iberia by 1172, far surpassed the Almoravides in fundamentalist outlook, and they treated the dhimmis harshly. Jews and Christians were expelled from Morocco and Islamic Spain. Faced with the choice of either death or conversion, many Jews emigrated. Some, such as the family of Maimonides, fled south and east to the more tolerant Muslim lands, while others went northward to settle in the growing Christian kingdoms.
Jewish populations had existed in Europe, especially in the area of the former Roman Empire, from very early times, with converts to Judaism joined by traders and later by member of the exodus. There are records of Jewish communities in France (see History of the Jews in France) and Germany (see History of the Jews in Germany) from the 4th century, and substantial Jewish communities in Spain even earlier.
Norman Cantor and other twentieth century historians dispute the conventional idea that the Middle Ages was a uniformly difficult time for Jews. Early medieval society, before the Church became fully organized, was tolerant. Between 800 and 1100 there were 1.5 million Jews in Christian Europe. They were fortunate in not being part of the feudal system as serfs or knights, thus were spared the oppression and constant warfare that made life miserable for most Christians. In relations with the Christian society, they were protected by kings, princes and bishops, because of the crucial services they provided in three areas: financial, administrative and as doctors. Christian scholars interested in the Bible would even consult with Talmudic rabbis. All this changed with the reforms and strengthening of the Roman Catholic Church, especially the creations of the Franciscan and Dominican preaching monks, and the rise of envious and competitive middle-class, town-dwelling Christians. By 1300 the friars and local priests were using the Passion Plays at Easter time, which depicted Jews in contemporary dress killing Christ, to teach the general populace to hate and murder Jews. It was at this point that persecution and exile became endemic. Finally around 1500, Jews found security and a renewal of prosperity in Poland.
By and large, Jews were heavily persecuted in Christian Europe after 1300. Since they were the only people allowed to lend money for interest (forbidden to Catholics by the church), some Jews became prominent moneylenders. Christian rulers gradually saw the advantage of having a class of men like the Jews who could supply capital for their use without being liable to excommunication, and the money trade of western Europe by this means fell into the hands of the Jews. However, in almost every instance where large amounts were acquired by Jews through banking transactions the property thus acquired fell either during their life or upon their death into the hands of the king. Jews thus became imperial "servi cameræ," the property of the King, who might present them and their possessions to princes or cities.
According to James Carroll, "Jews accounted for 10% of the total population of the Roman Empire. By that ratio, if other factors had not intervened, there would be 200 million Jews in the world today, instead of something like 13 million."
Jews were frequently massacred and exiled from various European countries. The persecution hit its first peak during the Crusades. In the First Crusade (1096) flourishing communities on the Rhine and the Danube were utterly destroyed; see German Crusade, 1096. In the Second Crusade (1147) the Jews in France were subject to frequent massacres. The Jews were also subjected to attacks by the Shepherds' Crusades of 1251 and 1320. The Crusades were followed by expulsions, including in, 1290, the banishing of all English Jews; in 1396, 100,000 Jews were expelled from France; and, in 1421 thousands were expelled from Austria. Many of the expelled Jews fled to Poland.
Jews lived in the geographic area of Asia Minor (modern Turkey, but more geographically either Anatolia or Asia Minor) for more than 2,400 years. Initial prosperity in Hellenistic times faded under Christian Byzantine rule, but recovered somewhat under the rule of the various Muslim governments which displaced and succeeded rule from Constantinople. For much of the Ottoman period, Turkey was a safe haven for Jews fleeing persecution, and it continues to have a small Jewish population today.
At the time of the Battle of Yarmuk when the Levant passed under Muslim Rule, thirty Jewish communities existed in Haifa, Sh’chem, Hebron, Ramleh, Gaza, Jerusalem, and many in the north. Safed became a spiritual centre for the Jews and the Shulchan Aruch was compiled there as well as many Kabbalistic texts. The first Hebrew printing press, and the first printing in Western Asia began in 1577.
The situation where Jews both enjoyed cultural and economical prosperity at times but were widely persecuted at other times was summarised by G.E. Von Grunebaum :
"It would not be difficult to put together the names of a very sizeable number of Jewish subjects or citizens of the Islamic area who have attained to high rank, to power, to great financial influence, to significant and recognized intellectual attainment; and the same could be done for Christians. But it would again not be difficult to compile a lengthy list of persecutions, arbitrary confiscations, attempted forced conversions, or pogroms."
Historian Martin Gilbert writes that in the 19th century the position of Jews worsened in Muslim countries.
There was a massacre of Jews in Baghdad in 1828. In 1839, in the eastern Persian city of Meshed, a mob burst into the Jewish Quarter, burned the synagogue, and destroyed the Torah scrolls. It was only by forcible conversion that a massacre was averted. There was another massacre in Barfurush in 1867.
In 1840, the Jews of Damascus were falsely accused of having murdered a Christian monk and his Muslim servant and of having used their blood to bake Passover bread or Matza. A Jewish barber was tortured until he "confessed"; two other Jews who were arrested died under torture, while a third converted to Islam to save his life. Throughout the 1860s, the Jews of Libya were subjected to what Gilbert calls punitive taxation. In 1864, around 500 Jews were killed in Marrakech and Fez in Morocco. In 1869, 18 Jews were killed in Tunis, and an Arab mob looted Jewish homes and stores, and burned synagogues, on Jerba Island. In 1875, 20 Jews were killed by a mob in Demnat, Morocco; elsewhere in Morocco, Jews were attacked and killed in the streets in broad daylight. In 1891, the leading Muslims in Jerusalem asked the Ottoman authorities in Constantinople to prohibit the entry of Jews arriving from Russia. In 1897, synagogues were ransacked and Jews were murdered in Tripolitania.
Benny Morris writes that one symbol of Jewish degradation was the phenomenon of stone-throwing at Jews by Muslim children. Morris quotes a 19th century traveler: "I have seen a little fellow of six years old, with a troop of fat toddlers of only three and four, teaching [them] to throw stones at a Jew, and one little urchin would, with the greatest coolness, waddle up to the man and literally spit upon his Jewish gaberdine. To all this the Jew is obliged to submit; it would be more than his life was worth to offer to strike a Mahommedan."
According to Mark Cohen in The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies, most scholars conclude that Arab anti-Semitism in the modern world arose in the nineteenth century, against the backdrop of conflicting Jewish and Arab nationalism, and was imported into the Arab world primarily by nationalistically minded Christian Arabs (and only subsequently was it "Islamized").
During the European Renaissance, the worst of the expulsions occurred following the reconquista of Andalus, as the Moorish or Arab Islamic government of Spain was known. With the ejection of the last Muslim rulers from Grenada in 1492, the Spanish Inquisition followed and the entire Spanish population of around 200,000 Sephardic Jews were expelled. This was followed by expulsions in 1493 in Sicily (37,000 Jews) and Portugal in 1496. The expelled Spanish Jews fled mainly to the Ottoman Empire, Holland, and North Africa, others migrating to Southern Europe and the Middle East.
In the 17th century, almost no Jews lived in Western Europe. The relatively tolerant Poland had the largest Jewish population in Europe, but the calm situation for the Jews there ended when Polish and Lithuanian Jews were slaughtered in the hundreds of thousands by the cossacks during Chmielnicki uprising (1648) and by the Swedish wars (1655). Driven by these and other persecutions, Jews moved back to Western Europe in the 17th century. The last ban on Jews (by the English) was revoked in 1654, but periodic expulsions from individual cities still occurred, and Jews were often restricted from land ownership, or forced to live in ghettos.
During the period of the European Renaissance and Enlightenment, significant changes were happening within the Jewish community. The Haskalah movement paralleled the wider Enlightenment, as Jews began in the 18th century to campaign for emancipation from restrictive laws and integration into the wider European society. Secular and scientific education was added to the traditional religious instruction received by students, and interest in a national Jewish identity, including a revival in the study of Jewish history and Hebrew, started to grow. Haskalah gave birth to the Reform and Conservative movements and planted the seeds of Zionism while at the same time encouraging cultural assimilation into the countries in which Jews resided. At around the same time another movement was born, one preaching almost the opposite of Haskalah, Hasidic Judaism. Hasidic Judaism began in the 18th century by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, and quickly gained a following with its more exuberant, mystical approach to religion. These two movements, and the traditional orthodox approach to Judaism from which they spring, formed the basis for the modern divisions within Jewish observance.
At the same time, the outside world was changing, and debates began over the potential emancipation of the Jews (granting them equal rights). The first country to do so was France, during the French Revolution in 1789. Even so, Jews were expected to integrate, not continue their traditions. This ambivalence is demonstrated in the famous speech of Clermont-Tonnerre before the National Assembly in 1789:
"We must refuse everything to the Jews as a nation and accord everything to Jews as individuals. We must withdraw recognition from their judges; they should only have our judges. We must refuse legal protection to the maintenance of the so-called laws of their Judaic organization; they should not be allowed to form in the state either a political body or an order. They must be citizens individually. But, some will say to me, they do not want to be citizens. Well then! If they do not want to be citizens, they should say so, and then, we should banish them. It is repugnant to have in the state an association of non-citizens, and a nation within the nation..."
Though persecution still existed, emancipation spread throughout Europe in the 19th century. Napoleon invited Jews to leave the Jewish ghettos in Europe and seek refuge in the newly created tolerant political regimes that offered equality under Napoleonic Law (see Napoleon and the Jews). By 1871, with Germany’s emancipation of Jews, every European country except Russia had emancipated its Jews.
Despite increasing integration of the Jews with secular society, a new form of anti-Semitism emerged, based on the ideas of race and nationhood rather than the religious hatred of the Middle Ages. This form of anti-Semitism held that Jews were a separate and inferior race from the Aryan people of Western Europe, and led to the emergence of political parties in France, Germany, and Austria-Hungary that campaigned on a platform of rolling back emancipation. This form of anti-Semitism emerged frequently in European culture, most famously in the Dreyfus Trial in France. These persecutions, along with state-sponsored pogroms in Russia in the late 19th century, led a number of Jews to believe that they would only be safe in their own nation. See Theodor Herzl and History of Zionism.
During this period, Jewish migration to the United States (see American Jews) created a large new community mostly freed of the restrictions of Europe. Over 2 million Jews arrived in the United States between 1890 and 1924, most from Russia and Eastern Europe.
During the 1870s and 1880s the Jewish population in Europe started to discuss more about immigrating to Israel and to establish a national home to the Jewish nation. In 1882 the first Zionistic settlement was founded - Rishon LeZion, by immigrants whom belonged to the "Hovevei Zion" movement whom originated from the Russian empire. Later on the "Bilu" movement was founded, which established many settlements in the land of Israel.
The Zionist movement was founded officially after the Kattowitz convention (1884) and the World Zionist Congress (1897) and it was Theodor Herzl, which started the struggle to get the world superpowers to establish a state for the Jews. After the First World War, it seemed that the conditions to establish a state like this had arrived: The United Kingdom occupied the Palestine from the Ottoman Empire and the Jews got a promise for a "national home" from the British in the form of the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which was given to Chaim Weizmann.
In 1920 the British Mandate of Palestine started and the British had promised to create and foster a Jewish national home in Palestine. In the beginning, The pro-Jewish Herbert Samuel was appointed High Commissioner in Palestine, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was established and several big Jewish immigration waves to Palestine occurred – the situation seemed to be going well. Nevertheless. The Arab inhabitants of the Palestine weren’t fond of the Jewish immigration which increased and they began to oppose the Jewish settlement and the pro-Jewish policy of the British government by means of violent uprising and terror.
Arab gangs began performing terror acts and murders on convoys and on the Jewish population. After the 1920 Arab riots and 1921 Jaffa riots, the Jewish leadership in Palestine believed that the British had no desire to confront local Arab gangs over their attacks on Palestinian Jews. Realizing that they could not rely on the British administration for protection from these gangs, the Jewish leadership created the Haganah organization to protect their farms and Kibbutzim.
Large riots occurred during the Arab massacres of 1929 and the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine.
Due to the Arab violence the United Kingdom gradually started to backtrack from the original idea of a Jewish state and started to speculate in a binational solution or an Arab state which would have a Jewish minority.
Meanwhile, the Jews of the United States and Europe gained great success in the fields of the science, culture and the economy. The most prominent physicists of Europe during that period were Jews, prominently the scientist Albert Einstein. In the Soviet Union, many Jews were involved in the October Revolution and belonged to the communist party.
In 1933, with the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany, The Jewish situation became more severe. Economic crises, racial anti-Semitic laws, and a fear of an upcoming war led many Jews to flee from Europe to Palestine, to the United States and to the Soviet Union.
In 1939 World War II began and until 1941 Hitler occupied almost all of Europe, including Poland—where millions of Jews were living at that time—and France. In 1941, when the invasion of the Soviet Union began, Hitler ordered the initiation of the Final Solution—an extensive organized operation on an unprecedented scale, aimed at the annihilation of the Jews of Europe and French North Africa. This genocide, in which six million Jews were murdered methodically and with horrifying cruelty, is known as The Holocaust or Shoah (Hebrew term). In Poland, more than one million Jews were murdered in gas chambers at the Auschwitz concentration camp alone.
The massive scale of the Holocaust, and the horrors which happened during it, heavily affected the Jewish nation and world public opinion, which only understood the dimensions of the Holocaust after the war. After the war it became clear that it was impossible to leave the Jews in the hands of the nations of the world anymore, and efforts were increased to establish a shelter for the wounded Jewish nation.
In 1945 the Jewish resistance organizations in Palestine unified and established the Jewish Resistance Movement. The movement began pressing the British authority and avenging the Arab rioters whom attacked Jews. There are different opinions on the success of the violent struggle of the divisions, and the disobedience movement eventually stopped in 1946 in the aftermath King David Hotel bombing. The Jewish leadership decided to center the struggle in the illegal immigration to Palestine and began organizing massive amount of Jewish war refugees from Europe, without the approval of the British authorities. This immigration contributed a great deal to the Jewish settlements in Israel in the world public opinion and the British authorities decided to let the United Nations decide upon the fate of Palestine.
On November 29, 1947 the United Nations decided on dividing the country into two states: A Jewish state and an Arab state. The Jewish leadership accepted the decision but the Arabs opposed it and started attacking the Jewish settlements, and so the 1948 Arab–Israeli War started.
In the middle of the war, after the last soldiers of the British mandate left Palestine, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed in 1948 the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel. In 1949 the war ended and the state of Israel started building the state and absorbing massive waves of hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from all over the world.
Since 1948, Israel has been involved in a series of major military conflicts, including the 1956 Suez War, 1967 Six-Day War, 1973 Yom Kippur War, 1982 Lebanon War, and 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, as well as a nearly constant series of ongoing minor conflicts to preserve its national interests.
Since 1977, an ongoing and largely unsuccessful series of diplomatic efforts have been initiated by Israel, its neighbors, and other parties, including the United States and the European Union, to bring about a peace process to resolve conflicts between Israel and its neighbors, mostly over the fate of the Palestinian people.
Today, Israel is a parliamentary democracy with a population of over 7.5 million people, of which about 5.6 million are Jewish.
Today, the largest Jewish communities are in the United States and Israel, with major communities in France, Argentina, Russia, England, and Canada.
For statistics related to modern Jewish demographics see the article Jewish population.
The Jewish Autonomous Oblast, created during the Soviet period, continues to be an autonomous oblast of the Russian state. The Chief Rabbi of Birobidzhan, Mordechai Scheiner, says there are 4,000 Jews in the capital city. Governor Nikolay Mikhaylovich Volkov has stated that he intends to, "support every valuable initiative maintained by our local Jewish organizations."  The Birobidzhan Synagogue opened in 2004 on the 70th anniversary of the region's founding in 1934
For historical and contemporary Jewish populations by country, see Jews by country.