Jews, we are a resilient people
WE ARE SURVIVORS
Antisemitism is known as the world’s oldest hatred. It has a history dating back over 2000 years. Jews have been persecuted in just about every corner of the planet, by oppressors of all political persuasions. Antisemitism is the foundational block of white supremacy but it also long predates white supremacy.
Our ancestral homeland has survived 52 foreign invasions and the colonialism and imperialism of ten different empires. We have survived statelessness and second-class citizenship. We have survived the destruction and desecration of our sacred Temple, not once, but twice. We have survived oppressive laws and humiliating punishments. We have survived numerous genocides and thousands of forced displacements (ethnic cleansing). We have survived the isolation of the ghettos and the mellahs. We have survived the appropriation of our sacred text. We have survived forced conversions. We have survived so many massacres that it is impossible to count. We have survived sexual violence and medical experiments. We have survived annihilation attempts. We have survived suicide bombing campaigns. We have survived bombs, shootings, stabbings, and countless else. We have survived the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arab Caliphates, dhimmitude, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Ottomans, pogroms, the Nazis, the British, the Soviets, and countless others who have tried unsuccessfully to crush us.
There are 14.8 million Jews in the world today. We are just 0.2 percent of the world population. By contrast, 24 percent of the population of the world is Muslim and 32 percent of the world is Christian. If you exist today as a Jewish person, you are a miracle. Never take for granted the resilience of your ancestors that brought you here.
CUSTOMS, LAWS, BELIEFS
For the better part of our first 1000 years as a people, Jewish spiritual and cultural life revolved around the holy Temple in Jerusalem. It was in the Temple, for instance, that the inherited priestly class — the Kohanim — carried out their special duties; for example, the Kohen Gadol [High Priest] would visit the Holy of Holies once a year, during Yom Kippur. During some of the Jewish holidays that we know and love today — Pesach [Passover], Shavout, and Sukkot, also known as the Three Pilgrimage Festivals — all able-bodied Jews would embark on a pilgrimage to the Temple, accompanied by dancing and music.
Our Temple was destroyed for the second time on 70 CE, in the midst of the First Jewish Revolt against the brutal rule of the Roman Empire. This destruction, coupled with the enslavement, displacement, and genocide that followed, should have completely destroyed us as a people. Our ancestors were uprooted from their homeland and the center of our spiritual and cultural life — the Temple — had been turned to rubble.
But we weren’t destroyed. Instead, we adapted. Judaism — a word that does not even appear in the Tanakh [“Hebrew Bible”], but rather derives from Greek and translates to “the state of being Jewish” — allowed us to preserve our customs, traditions, spiritual beliefs, laws, history, social structures, mythologies, and more while far away from the place that birthed our ethnogenesis as a people.
Now 2000 years have passed, and we continue to persevere. That’s pretty remarkable, if you ask me.
Linguicide is the extermination of a language; that is, language death is caused due to human intervention (e.g. colonialism, imperialism, language discrimination) as opposed to natural causes (e.g. natural disasters that decimate communities). It is considered a form of cultural genocide.
Like other Indigenous languages around the world, Hebrew came into disuse as a result of imperialism and colonialism. In other words, Hebrew declined due to human intervention, not as a result of natural causes, meaning that the Jewish People experienced linguicide.
The first wave of decline came during the period of the Babylonian Captivity, when, in 587/6 BCE, the Neo-Babylonian Empire conquered and exiled about 25 percent of the citizens of the Kingdom of Judah. Jews then began adopting Aramaic — the language spoken among the Babylonians — as an everyday tongue. By 200 BCE — around the time period of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire (i.e. the story of Hanukkah) — everyday colloquial Hebrew became almost fully extinct.
And yet: Jews managed to keep Hebrew from extinction throughout the millennia in three main forms:
(1) the continued use of Hebrew as our liturgical language (i.e. for prayer).
(2) the incorporation of Hebrew in Diasporic Jewish languages. For example, virtually all Jewish Diasporic languages, from Yiddish to Ladino to Judeo-Arabic, use Hebrew words and the Hebrew alphabet.
(3) Jews from different parts of the Diaspora continued to use Hebrew as the lingua franca when they interacted with each other, as that was the language that they had in common. For example, an Ashkenazi merchant arriving in North Africa would speak Hebrew to the local Sephardic Jews.
It is due to the ingenuity, dedication, and perseverance of our ancestors that we, to this day, wish each other a “Shabbat shalom” or “chag sameach.”
Judaism is a land-based ethnoreligion. An ethnoreligion is an ethnic religion; that is, a religion that is practiced exclusively by a single ethnic group. A land-based religion is a religion that is practiced within specific geographic locations. Land-based religions are generally practiced by Indigenous tribes around the world.
Of course, it is hard to practice a land-based religion when a people has been brutally displaced from said land.
Our ancestors, however, were wise. Beyond preserving our cultural practices and beliefs through Rabbinic Judaism, it was largely thanks to the use of the Hebrew calendar that we could continue celebrating the harvest of the Land of Israel while in the Diaspora.
The Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar calendar that follows the agricultural cycle of the Land of Israel. A lunisolar calendar is a calendar that indicates the moon phase and time of the solar year, a duality that is super important to the Jewish concept of time. The holidays of the Jewish calendar generally mark historical or agricultural events in the Land of Israel. For example, the holiday of Sukkot marks the end of the agricultural cycle. Sukkot bears overwhelming resemblance to older Canaanite harvest festivals, indicating a cultural continuity that goes back thousands of years.
Other examples of Jewish holidays that were originally Israelite harvest festivals include Pesach [Passover], Shavout, and Tu B’Av. Displaced from our land, without the Hebrew calendar, we would no longer partake in those ancient traditions. But year after year, we continue to follow our calendar and celebrate each holiday. When you think about it in context, it’s actually pretty mind-boggling.
WE WILL OUTLIVE THEM
There is no group in history that has been displaced as many times as Jews have. Our communities were destroyed over and over and over again, but our ancestors somehow found the strength to move on to the next place and establish a life for themselves there, too. Time and time again we were crushed, and time and time again we rose and created beautiful, flourishing, thriving Jewish communities, both in Israel and in the Diaspora.
Whatever was in our ancestors that willed them to survive is in you, too.
For a full bibliography of my sources, please head over to my Patreon.