Brief History of the Jews

Set the impossible task of relaying to us the history of the Jews over the last 2000 years, Rabbi Michael Pollak did a superb job.

He started in the year 165bc when the Maccabees started revolting against the Hellenistic Empire of the Seleucids and then onto the destruction of the temple in 70 CE.

After this was the period of the Tannaim, the Rabbis who organised and elucidated the Jewish oral law. These decisions are contained in the Mishna, Beraita, Tosefta and various Midrashic compilations.

From there we went onto the Bar Kochba revolt in response to the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Its around this time that Rabbi Akiva is martyred.

In the 3rd century after Hadrians death, the Mishna is standardised by Judah Hanasi and the period of the Amoraim, the Rabbis of the Talmud,  takes place.

Skipping now to 900-1090 which becomes the Golden age of Jewish culture in Spain and a period of interfaith tolerance between Muslims, Jews and Christians

In the 11th Century Rashi writes important commentaries on almost the entire Hebrew Bibile and talmud.

In the 12th Century the RAMBAM is the leading sephardi Rabbi and writes an influential code of law ,The Mishenh Torah, as well as ,in Arabic,the most influential philosophical work in jewish history called “The guide for the Perplexed”.

The 13th Century sees the beginning of the modern form of the Kabbalah which is based on the Zohar, the esoteric interpretations of the Torah by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Jews are expelled from England by Edward I after the banning of usury in 1275 – Statute of Jewry.

The next 3 centuries is the period of the Rishonim, the medieval rabbinic sages. The Ramban settles in Jerusalem

In the 14th century Jews are expelled from and then readmitted for a price into France.

The 15th Century in a reaction to the golden age in Spain. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella institute the Spanish Inquisition.

Rabbi Yosef Karo also compiles the Shulchan Aruch that becomes the standard law guide for the next 400 years.

Jews are also expelled from Sicily and Portugal and are invited in by Poland.

In the 16th Century Jews are readmitted to Lithuania.

Rabbi Isaac Luria teaches Kabbala in Jerusalem and mainly Safed to some disciples put his teachings into writing. The first hebrew university was founded in Poland.

The 17th Century was a terrible time in that the arrival of the false messiah Sabbatai Zevi arrived in the picture. The Jewish population in Poland reaches 450000 and The Ukraninan Cossack Bohdan Chmielnicki leads a massacre of Polish gentry and Jewry that leaves around 65000 Jews deas.

Jews are readmitted to England by Oliver Cromwell in 1655.

In the 18th Century the Ball Shem Tov founds chassidic Judaism as a way to approach G-d through meditation and joy. His opponents, the mitnagdim argue that one should follow a more scholarly approach to Judiasm.

Some of the more well known Hassidic sects include, Bobover, Breslover, Gerer, Lubavitch(Chabad) and Satmar.

The Vilna Gaon is born, the leader of the mitnagdim.

Jews in France and America are granted full rights.

The 19th Century, the golden age of Yiddish and starts seeing different aliyot to Israel.The Chofetz Chayim opens a yeshiva and writes an authoritative halachic work called the Mishneh Berurrah

We left the 19th and 20th Century for another time given the amount we had covered and the amount still to be required.

All present had a great evening. Rabbi Pollak was able to beautifully summarise and explain 2000 years of Jewish history and put our religion and religious books into context. We now all feel ready to tackle the next lecture which deals specifically with the prayers we recite on Shabbat. When they were compiled, what they mean and why we say them.

Thanks as usual go to Abigail in the office for all her hard work as well as Roger and Sara for their help with the tea and tidying up afterwards. Doug again for being our security and everything else.






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