OPINION: Researchers are exploring the ‘Galut mentality’

”The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem,” medieval manuscript c. 1504 (Wikimedia Commons)

In the year 70 CE, the Jews were exiled from Israel after the Roman Empire destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem. When the Roman armies returned home, they took with them 100,000 Jewish slaves; they also exiled all Jews from Israel. Thus began the longest Galut in Jewish history.

The exiled Jews moved away in all directions, looking for a safe haven for their tribes and culture. They mainly moved to the areas surrounding Israel, generally pagan countries. The differences in the spiritual beliefs between their hosts and themselves did not make for a warm reception. They were isolated and made to pay exorbitant taxes, subjected to harsh treatment by the locals when they needed to trade. Over the years, things were always hard for the Jews. Many left to seek out other places to live. They spread northwest to Europe and east to Asia, but everywhere they went, similar problems followed.

In order to maintain ties with the rest of the Jewish tribes, a system of communication was developed. The Silk Road was created to pass information between the tribes — and at the same time encourage trade between countries. It was an ingenious operation. The local inhabitants were envious of their neighbours’ prosperity and always hindered their progress.

This story has emerged time and time again during the Galut, the Hebrew term which expresses the Jewish conception of the condition and feelings of a nation uprooted from its homeland and subject to alien rule. The term is essentially applied to the history and the historical consciousness of the Jewish people from the time of the destruction of the Second Temple to the creation of the State of Israel.

The places may be different, but in so many cases, the Jewish ability to adapt to any situation led to envy among the local populations, leading to the persecution of Jews. Rulers forced the Jews out, stole their property and helped fill their own treasuries. When the money ran out, the Jews were invited back. And in many cases, they returned.

Populations sank to the depths of hatred and depravity: pogroms, murders of complete communities, isolation and attempted genocide. There was forced conversion and forced displacement.

The Galut unquestionably has taken a toll on our people — call it “Galut mentality” — the evolution of the Jewish mind to all that the Jews faced throughout the Galut. And yet, in discussing this period, it often seems as though the conversation begins and ends at the shtetl, even though we know that the Galut was different in every part of the globe where Jews were able to live.

What came before the shtetl?

We cannot move forward until we know where we have been.

Lou VanDelman and Dr. Ed Pakes are the founders of the Galut Project, a new initiative aiming to research Galuts from all over the world. If your family history is from the Galut, they want to hear about your story and interview you. For more information, email [email protected] or fax 416-551-1737