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Essays on Jewish History

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This is a sample collection of short history essays on Jewish history and the ways in which Jewish groups have dealt with various aspects of their history. The first essay discusses the ways in which Jewish history can be seen as lachrymose, the second offers an understanding of Jewish history as persistent, and the third focuses on the differences of Jewish communities under Muslim and Christian rule.

Jewish history is essentially “lachrymose”

While the hardships that Jews historically went through could easily be labeled as lachrymose, it is important to consider that those hardships were coupled with time periods where other minorities were also oppressed. Additionally, Jews were still able to secure prominent positions with Kings, leaders and other influential people in society. Firstly, when the Christian church came to power, there were surely hardships in terms of massacres and expulsions. Many early Christians believed war was a justified response to non-Christian religions.

Forcing Jews to convert or face the consequences was indicative of sadness and oppression. The Crusades of the early 1000’s were also brutal in the sense that the Christian church embraced much more robust means of cleansing the faith and ensuring obedience. By the early middle ages and modern era, Jews were continuously expelled from various regions of Europe and forced to migrate to the Ottoman Empire. Most notably, the Spanish expulsion of the Iberian Peninsula marked a clear point in history that reflected the suffering of the Jewish people as a whole.

Jews not the only oppressed minority

Despite this, the Jews were also subjected to the same hardships that many other minorities faced. Emperor Constantine’s push towards fostering control over his empire was coupled with his push for giving the Roman Bishops more power over many facets of society. Because Christians during Constatine's reign didn't understand the different world religions, Jews, pagans and other groups of people in Europe were subject to massacre and persecution. Incidentally, many Jews chose to practice their faith in private. This was a common facet of a period in history that was focused on religious practices as a means for judging others. 

The Crusades were not specifically against the Jews; instead, Jews were merely victims of being in a time and place where it was not safe for them. While this does not justify the actions against Jews as not being serious, it does reflect the fact that the Jews were not the sole victims in the ordeal. Also, the way in which the Christian church operated was also focused on expunging heresy among itself. For that reason, many Christians also suffered in the same way that Jews did.

Not all Jews treated the same

Also, the Jewish experience could be labeled as persistence and determination, a much more optimistic outlook on historical events. While Jewish history is filled with anti-semitic attacks, it is worthy to note that many Jews did enjoy powerful positions within ruling bodies. Many examples from Jewish history illustrate that dominance in the financial sector did offer advantages that many other minorities did not have. The services that they offered and networks they formed proved to be a formidable presence. Besides, there were times in almost every faith’s history that reflects serious hardship. Consistent instances of immigration leading up to the Ottoman settlement also reflected Jews’ persistence in terms of finding a new place to settle.

While many other minorities simply changed their fate and assimilated into new civilizations, the Jews held their beliefs with vigor through almost every instance of expulsion and hardship. Such perseverance not only represents a story of triumph and resourcefulness in terms of migration patterns but also a commitment to embrace the faith in the face of opposition. Ultimately, Jews had the option to change their faith and abandon their traditions but many chose to remain Jewish. For these reasons, the triumphant story of Jewish perseverance cannot be solely labeled as lachrymose.

Jewish history as enduring and venerable

While many adjectives can be ascribed to the general course of Jewish history, it can surely be labeled as enduring. Firstly, it is enduring in the sense that the Jews faced concentrated and strategic forms of opposition by very powerful civilizations and entities, including Hitler's regime and the devastating Holocaust during WWII. Throughout the latter course of the Roman Empire, the Jews were subjected to persecution and expulsion at the hands of Christians who were backed up by the most powerful army in the world. Surely, this was a formidable opponent that had seen the demise of many other nations in Europe.

The Jewish revolts of 351 CE exemplified the extensive means by which Christians used their manpower to annihilate the Jewish faith in Rome. Even with the Byzantine era, emperors like Theodosius and Justinian oversaw long-term strategic approaches to getting rid of the Jewish faith and undermining the livelihood that Jews made through finance and administrative work. To survive such concentrated efforts on behalf of powerful nations represents a true form of endurance over the long-haul.

Jewish faith has many labels

Since the Jews did not have the resources to amass large armies or fight in the traditional sense, they relied on migrations and other means of survival. The sheer resourcefulness that this demonstrated is indicative of an enduring group of people that were not welcomed in most of the places they inhabited. After the expulsion of Jews from France, England, and Germany, it would have made more practical sense for the people to adopt different faiths in order to finally settle and live lives without oppression. However, Jews persisted in passing their traditions and faith to children that were born and raised in turbulent times. While those children had the option to choose another faith, many of them endured the injustice in order to carry on what previous generations had established. For those reasons, Jewish history can be labeled as enduring.

Also, Jewish history can be labeled as being venerable in the purest form. By definition, venerable stands for terms like respected, sacred, honorable and dignified. The basis of this term implies that the people who embrace the label have gone through formidable challenges in order to achieve it. The main reason that the Jews are venerable in their existence is because they have overcome extremely dire tests of faith in the worst circumstances possible. For instance, the relationship with the Muslims is of much significance in this case. While Jews fought side by side with Muslims during the Crusades to defend the Holy Land, they were later expelled from Moorish Spain by the same people that they helped defend. Given the fact that this represents a clear betrayal on behalf of the Muslims, it does exemplify the way in which Jews did honor the value of faith, even when it came to enemies and allies. There were almost no instances in Jewish history where the Jews imposed archaic or unethical means of imposing their practices onto others. In fact, they helped defend other faiths that were subjected to the same treatment.

Also, Jewish history can be labeled as venerable because of the way in which their structures and synagogues had to be rebuilt over and over. As the Byzantine Empire featured amazing feats of architectural design where Jews spent years building marvelous places of worship, they were torn down and burned just as easily. After numerous instances of their work being destroyed in vain, it would be only natural for future generations to avoid building structures to showcase their mistreated faith. However, the 1000’s showcased how Jews eagerly built new temples in Northern Africa and other parts of Europe at almost every available opportunity. The continuous way in which Jewish history epitomized the notion of rebuilding, both structurally and metaphorically, is the reason that their faith and story is venerable. 

Jewish history: Muslim versus Christian rule

In assessing the extent to which the Jews were treated better under the reign of the Muslims or the Christians, it is important to consider the fact that Christian actions against the Jews were strategic, consistent and enduring; consequently, Jews were treated better under Muslim rule solely because the efforts to undermine Jewry were sporadic and circumstantial. Judaism and Islam were close kin religions, but the differences sparked many fights. Firstly, in considering the time period of the 8th century to the 17th, Christians already had developed a systematic means of oppressing Jews. For instance, the Roman era set a precedent for injustice and abuse by mistreating the colony of Judea through colonial oppression.

In addition to the destruction of Jews’ temples by the Romans, the Byzantine era also exemplified strategic mistreatment through official edicts and an army. By the year 400 CE, there was concentrated hatred and injustice towards Jews on behalf of Roman emperors like Theodosius and Justinian. Despite the inefficacy of their attempts, the commitment towards mistreatment set the precedent for the Christian perspective. 

Jewish oppression during the Medieval era

The Medieval era did feature oppressive, yet sporadic, instances of mistreatment of Hews by the Muslims. For instance, Northern Africa and the Iberian Peninsula was a great place for Jewish safety from 900 CE to 1100 CE. However, there were instances of sporadic violence in the form of massacres, riots and burned synagogues. These instances reflected circumstantial examples of mistreatment that resulted in poor living conditions in ghettos and occasional slaughters. After this time period, Jews were wholly expelled from Christian nations like France, Germany and England. The Jewish experience in Christian nations was not dramatically worse than that of Muslim nations, but at least Muslim treatment fostered a consistent living environment. Indeed, the injustice on behalf of the Muslims was violent, but at least it was sporadic.

On the other hand, the latter portion of the medieval ages represented a continuation of earlier trends in terms of Christian nations’ persistence and commitment towards mistreating Jews. For example, the Crusades resulted in a concentrated effort to reclaim the Holy lands that were being populated by both Muslims and Jews. Incidentally, Jews were inherently implicated in this affair and suffered the consequences through murder and strategic mistreatment. Again, Jews were heavily mistreated on a level that was targeted and not sporadic. This is contrasted from the ways in which Muslims carried out injustice against the Jews in a much less structured manner. 

Finally, the Reconquista solidified Christianity’s role as the most oppressive ruler by continuing a millennium-long trend of mistreating the Jews. In reclaiming the Iberian Peninsula and expelling the last of the Muslim leaders from the area, the Jews were inherently expelled and forced to resettle in other parts of Europe, mainly the Ottoman Empire. While Muslim rule over the Jews during the previous period was not indicative of a great relationship between the two cultures, Christian efforts to undermine the Jewish people were strategic and much more concentrated. In the final analysis, the Christian effort to reclaim the Iberian Peninsula resulted in heinous and oppressive actions against the Jews that reflected the same murderous and calculated tactics that persisted for a thousand years.  

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