Discussion of Terms

Any discussion of Israel-diaspora relations needs to start with a examination of terms, which form the crux of our discussion.

Two terms are used to describe the Jewish world outside of Eretz Yisrael. They are very different in meaning although they relate to the same physical reality. The word DIASPORA, originating from a Greek word meaning scattering, is a value free word that describes objectively the Jewish world as a world in which Jews live in many different countries. Another word, describing exactly the same reality in a value laden sense, is GALUT [or GOLA], meaning literally exile.

The use of the term Galut or exile to describe the Jewish communities of the world indicates that these communities live an unnatural and undesirable existence. When people are in exile, the assumption is that they are living for some reason in the wrong place - it would be far more natural for them to be living in their homeland. In other words, the use of the term Galut to describe the scattered Jewish communities of the world indicates an attitude towards that world, based on disapproval and - often - of the hope that this unnatural state of affairs will come to an end, and that the people in Galut will be enabled to return to their homeland.

Making a Distinction

The conventional separation between the two terms is to use them to describe two different objective situations that have occured at different times in Jewish history.

In those periods when there has been Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael (First Temple Period, Second Temple Period, modern State of Israel), the convention has been to refer to the areas outside of the areas of sovereignty as a diaspora - while in those periods when there has been no such Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel, the convention has been to refer to the Jewish communities as being in Galut. The implication is that in the first context the scattering of the Jews is voluntary (because they have the option of living in Israel) whereas in periods of non-sovereignty, no such choice necessarily exists and this is therefore regarded as a period of exile.

In conventional Jewish theological terms, Galut was seen as a outcome of Divine punishment. God, it was believed, punished the Jews for their sins, as forewarned in the Torah, by dispersing them among the nations of the world. The task of the Jews was to try and reverse the Divine decree, by removing God's anger, thus allowing the process of Galut to be reversed and the Jews to return to their own land. This distinction will be used here for purposes of clarity. It must, however, be emphasised that this distinction is certainly not rigid - nor is it universally accepted.

The Importance of Terminology Today

In any discussion of Israel-diaspora relations, it is important to make clear that it is entirely possible for Jews around the world to consider themselves as living in diaspora (i.e. a voluntary situation desirable to the individual) while other Jews might consider them to be living in an undesirable and unnatural state of Galut. This situation, which has characterised certain Jewries, has led to considerable confusion, resentment and tension between different group of Jews.

This tension, however, appears to be a modern phenomenon. Up to the beginning of the era of emancipation (the late eighteenth century in western Europe) most Jews seem to have been willing to accept, at least outwardly, the idea that in periods without sovereignty, they had been living in a situation of Galut. The whole nature of the relation of the outside Jewish communities towards the land of Israel for thousands of years was based on that supposition.

Now let us examine the situation chronologically.





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31 May 2005 / 22 Iyar 5765 0