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Gola (Diaspora)

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Gola - 1. The Exile (Diaspora) - lands of the Jewish dispersion outside of Israel. 2. The Jewish communities outside Israel. 3. The Galut - the dispersion.

Strictly speaking, "galut" refers to the condition of exile, while "gola" refers to the geographic situation and communities of the Diaspora, but the terms are used interchangeably.

The terms "Gola" and "Galut" always had a negative connotation in Jewish culture. Implicit in the idea of "exile" is the concept that the Jews are not just a religion, but a community tied to a specific land. Thus, use of the term carried with it the seeds of Zionism. A Yiddish expression that epitomizes the Jewish attitude to the Galut describes anything that is interminable long, such as a boring lecture, as "as long as the galut."

The first Galut (exile) began when Israel was defeated by the Assyrians and Jews were exiled to the region of modern Kurdistan about 721 BCE, as recorded in the bible:

2 KINGS 17:6 In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

The remaining kingdom of Judea was destroyed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezar in 586 BCE. This is recorded both in the biblical book of Kings and in the Chronicles of the Kings of Judea. Unlike the exile of Israel, which left no organized Jewish presence in the north of the land and may have been complete, the Babylonian exile was partial: 

2 KINGS 25:1 And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he, and all his host, against Jerusalem, and pitched against it; and they built forts against it round about.

...  http://www.zionism-israel.com/old_testament/2_Kings/2_Kings_25.html

2 KINGS 25:19 And out of the city he took an officer that was set over the men of war, and five men of them that were in the king's presence, which were found in the city, and the principal scribe of the host, which mustered the people of the land, and threescore men of the people of the land that were found in the city:

2 KINGS 25:20 And Nebuzaradan captain of the guard took these, and brought them to the king of Babylon to Riblah:

2 KINGS 25:21 And the king of Babylon smote them, and slew them at Riblah in the land of Hamath. So Judah was carried away out of their land.

2 KINGS 25:22 And as for the people that remained in the land of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had left, even over them he made Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, ruler.

The Jews were partly restored to their land by the Persians in 539 BCE, beginning the period of the second temple. However, important Jewish communities remained in exile in what is now Iraq, making them the oldest surviving Jewish exile. No trace remained of the Assyrian captives of Israel.

A large number of Jews were exiled to Egypt by Ptolemy about 300 BC, forming the Jewish colony in Alexandria.

When Roman Judea was again destroyed following the revolt of 70 AD and the destruction of the temple, and following the revolt of Bar Kochba which was finally crushed about 136, a large number of Jews were carried off into exile. Additional Jews left at different times owing to impossible economic conditions and were scattered throughout the Roman empire. There were important Jewish communities in Cyprus, Alexandria, Syria and elsewhere by the time of the Bar-Kochba revolt. 

The Gola or Diaspora produced a profound reorganization of Jewish religion and culture. As there was no temporal authority to lead the nation, the different communities were usually organized under rabbis, who also often acted as the "ambassador" of the Jewish community to the surrounding gentile world. The Bible was basically a national chronicle, and its laws pertained to the Jews of Judea whose religion and culture were centered around the temple in Jerusalem and the land. Both of these were now irrelevant. The place of the Bible in Jewish religion and culture was usurped by the Talmud and later rabbinical commentaries, which regulated Jewish life and adjusted it to the reality of living in exile under foreign rule. National pride and national self defense were denigrated as dangerous, in part because of the disastrous results of the revolt of Bar Kochba, the suppression of which was accompanied by a virtual genocide in the land of Israel. Gola Judaism therefore relegated the return to the land to a far off time when a Messianic savior would redeem the Jews, and fostered a culture of national helplessness and fatalism.

Under medieval Christian rule, Jews of the European Galut (Gola) were despised second or third class citizens, always living in fear of expulsion and subject to special regulations and taxes, as well as frequent outbreaks of murderous persecution and extermination and forced conversion. Jewish life centered around the ghettos of European cities, enclosed areas that were locked in at night. Jews were limited in the occupations they could choose, their place of residence and the places they could travel to. They were often forced to wear special dress and were denied citizenship. The ghetto and ghetto life are considered to be "medieval," but this is not so. Though there were Jewish quarters in towns since at least the tenth century, the first recorded enclosed ghetto was established in Venice in 1516, during the renaissance, and ghettos were a feature of European urban life that lasted well into the 19th century.

In Muslim countries Jews often fared better, but they were always dhimmi at best: second class citizens who did not participate in national life, did not serve in the army and paid special taxes. Several Muslim rulers also undertook forced conversion campaigns, despite the Muslim dictum that "there is no compulsion in religion." Because religion was the only vehicle of national organization, converted Jews were invariably lost to their people as well as to their religion.

The emancipation of the Jews in the early 19th century gave new hope that the misery of the Gola would end. It engendered a parallel Jewish Haskalah movement. However, it soon became apparent that hatred of the Jews was becoming more virulent than ever. In the late 19th century Jew-hatred spread and was given the name of anti-semitism. It was evidently "here to stay."

The characteristics of the Diaspora Jew were well known and despised or deprecated by Zionists and non-Zionists alike. Shalom Aleichem's biting but loving humor portrayed the absurdity and hopelessness of the Jewish situation in Eastern Europe. Jews had no "real" occupations - they survived as tenuous luftmenschen - air people occupied in luftgescheft*  - air business - middle man occupations and shady financial transactions. They did not take part in national defense and did not know how to use weapons. They were hopeless characters living by their wits at the whims of their non-Jewish masters, considered to have no physical courage and no practical knowledge. These characteristics were often attacked and caricatured by anti-Semites, though anti-Semites more frequently attributed all powerful demonic influence to the Jews.

The Gola (Diaspora)  and Zionism

Zionists studied and quantified the characteristics, culture and economic situation of Jews in the Diaspora, and believed that resurrection of the Jews as a people in their own national home would banish the stigmata of the galut and create a Zionist "new man." The horror of the Holocaust in which Jews were helpless against their attackers, contrasted with the proud achievements of Jewish self defense and created an Israel-centered culture that seemed to despise Gola Judaism. The capture of Nazi Adolf Eichmann by the Israeli Mossad had two effects in the view of Israelis. It illustrated the vengeance of the "new Jews" over their Nazi persecutors and exacted a symbolic revenge and justice for the Holocaust in the name of the Jewish people. At the same time, it brought home to Israelis the full horror of the Holocaust and the realization that Diaspora Jews could not be "at fault" for failing to defend themselves, as they had no means of doing so. For that matter, the Zionist Yishuv in Palestine could not do much to rescue European Jewry either. The rift that had formed was largely healed.

Jewish population in the Diaspora and Israel

World Jewish population*

Rank Country Jews % of World Jewish Population
1 Israel 5,542,000 41.7%
2 United States 5,300,000 39.8%
3 France 490,000 3.7%
4 Canada 375,000 2.8%
5 United Kingdom 295,000 2.2%
6 Russia 215,000 1.6%
7 Argentina 183,000 1.4%
8 Germany 120,000 0.9%
9 Australia 107,000 0.8%
10 Brazil 96,000 0.7%
11 Ukraine 80,000 0.6%
12 South Africa 72,000 0.5%
13 Hungary 49,700 0.4%
14 Mexico 39,800 0.3%
15 Belgium 31,200 0.2%
Rest of world 304,300 2.2%

* The figures for ranks 1-10 are based on Israel Central Bureau of statistics estimates for 2008, quoted in the Jerusalem Post, September 25, 2008 - World Jewish population grows by 70,000 and Haa'retz Israel's population in New Year: 7.3 million, 76% Jewish  

The remaining figures are from the American Jewish Yearbook, 2006, published by the American Jewish Committee

About 1.5 million people in North America are either Jews married to a non-Jew or are the offspring of a mixed Jewish-non-Jewish couple. According to the Jewish Agency, this is proof that assimilation is growing (source). Jewish population in Israel grew by about 85,000, but elsewhere, it diminished by about 15,000 in the Jewish year ending in September 2008. In 2007, 28.4 percent of Israelis were under age 14, as opposed to an average of only 17 percent in the West. 9.8 percent of Israel's population was aged 65 and over, as opposed to 15 percent of Western nations' populations (source). Thus, the Diaspora Jewish community is aging compared to its Israeli counterpart. The Holocaust resulted in the loss of over 6 million Jews, leaving about 11 million Jews in 1945 (source). Thus, compared to world population, Jewish population has hardly grown at all. Prior to the Holocaust, there were nearly 18 million Jews world wide. Jewish population has not recovered since.

The Gola (Diaspora) and Israel in recent years

Israel evidently has the largest Jewish community in the world - about 5.5 million, and it is the only community that is really growing. The growth of the American Jewish community, with about 5.3 million Jews, is plagued by very low birthrates among Jews, aging population, high rates of intermarriage and assimilation. About half of American Jews marry non-Jews, and in about half of those marriages, the children are not raised as Jews.

Several sometimes conflicting trends have marked Israel-Diaspora relations in recent years, including: 

De-emphasis of Aliya - With the establishment of the state, David Ben Gurion believed that it was the duty of all Zionists, indeed of all Jews, to settle in Israel. This goal proved impossible to implement and was the source of antagonism and resentment, especially in the United States, which is the largest community of Jews outside Israel. Israel and the Zionist movement have long since modified its stance on Aliya. Nonetheless, any mention of the subject is apt to provoke emotional protests from Zionists living abroad.

Revival of Do-igkeit - The establishment of the Jewish state and the rise in the fortunes of American Jews produced a new reality, in which the stigma of the Diaspora was largely forgotten and Jews living abroad, particularly in the United States, loudly protested their wish to be independent of Israel. The attitude is reminiscent of the "Do-igkeit" ("hereness") ideology of the doomed Jewish Bund in Poland. While struggling to define Jewish identity, American Jews were very resentful of the claims of Israeli author,  A.B. Yehoshua,  that the solution for the Jewish "identity problem" was to live in Israel

Call for help - Paradoxically, the independent and often resentful attitude of American Jews toward Israel is coupled with increasingly anxious calls for Israeli help in stemming the tide of assimilation, as evidence mounts that the American Jewish community is physically disappearing even as it ascends to ever greater affluence and prominence in United States politics. Programs such as Birthright Israel and emphasis on Jewish and Hebrew education have attracted support not only as instruments in encouraging attachment to Israel, but as a means of combating assimilation.

Anti-Semitism - The situation in European communities is different from that of North America. Worrisome evidence of mounting anti-Semitism in European Jewish communities, particularly in Great Britain and France continues to accumulate, but it has not produced a great wave of immigration from those countries. 

Ami Isseroff

October 6, 2008

* The word "luftgescheft" is today ironically applied by Israelis to Israel Aircraft Industries, and has also entered the English language as the name of a model bank used in economic studies.


Synonyms and alternate spellings: Golah, Galut, Diaspora

Further Information:


Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.


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This work and individual entries are copyright 2005 - 2008 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism and Israel Information Center and may not reproduced in any form without permission unless explicitly noted otherwise. Individual entries may be cited with credit to The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel

 

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