The History of the Jewish Community in Gentile Society

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THE key to Jewish history is to be found, not in any single factor, but in the tensions and interplay between two influences which, at first sight, might well seem to be contradictory. The one is the ethical monotheism which developed slowly into a national religion over the centuries of experience which lie between the days of Abraham and those of "the men of the Great Synagogue". The other is the Jewish will to survive as a people. For this determined that of the many migrants and conquerors who swept up and down the eastern Mediterranean sea-board it should have been those whom we call Hebrews, Israelites or Jews who survived. And because they used to the full the opportunities which their central position in the ancient world afforded, they experienced to the full the strange destiny which that position involved.

Of itself ethical monotheism could not be held to be the natural basis for the survival as a separate unit of a single people. We have only to contrast Jewish experience with that of Christendom or Islam to see the relevance of such a statement. And, of itself, a national will to survive carries with it no universal implications, but rather suggests that a constant opposition to the pressure of its environment would be a basic condition of survival. Again we have only to think of such people as the Bretons or the Basques to see how natural such an attitude would be.

The difference in Jewish destiny lies in part in the determinism of geography. Given the will to survive of a people living on a bridge between greater and more powerful civilisations, and inhabiting a homeland narrow and not all fertile, it was predictable both that such a people should be self-confident enough to receive constant influences from abroad, and that it should itself accept as part of its destiny that many of its children should live in a foreign environment. But it lies still more in the nature of the voluntary experience of the people and the content which they deliberately gave to the revelation which they believed themselves to have received. For ethical monotheism developed within the Jewish society not as a philosophic system or a personal creed, but as the challenge to a particular way of life in which the whole people from ruler to peasant, from priest to emigrant, was personally involved. It was a challenge so profound and so far-reaching that Jewry could not afford to neglect any contribution which the ex? periences of other peoples might offer, nor could it avoid the implications of its experience on the life and destinies of the smallest and remotest of its migrant groups. Hence the story of the Jewish people is the story of a constant interaction between the centre and the periphery, an interaction in which giving and receiving proceeded in both directions. To speak in modern terms it is a story of constant interplay between Israel and the Diaspora; and the experience and contribution

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