Continuity of Jewish Life in Eretz Israel
Even after the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70CE, there was always a Jewish community in the Holy Land. In the centuries following, the major Diaspora communities included Damascus, Alexandria and Rome. In an attempt to diminish the Christian influence in the Roman Empire, Julian the Apostate (emperor 360 - 363) announced that he would rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. He also revoked the special taxes on the Jews, but after his death there was an increase in the Christian persecution of the Jews, which had started when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in 321.
In 614 the Persians, with Jewish help, conquered Jerusalem and allowed the Jews to resettle in it. In 628, however, the Byzantines defeated the Persians, and in the following year the Jews were subjected to expulsion, forced conversions and persecution. During the Arab conquest (634 - 1099) the Jews were at first considered loyal allies, but Omar II (717 - 720) severely restricted both their religious observances and their legal status. The heavy land tax forced Jews to forsake agriculture in favour of the towns, where life was safer and more secure. The Jewish community of Ramleh grew in importance and Tiberias was the focus of the tapestry and textile industry. In the 9th century a number of Karaites left Persia and settled in Jerusalem.
During the period of Crusader conquest (1099 - 1291) the Jews cooperated with the Muslims, and in the invasion of Jerusalem most were massacred. Whole communities were taken captive and Jews throughout the world contributed to ransom them. Under Mamluk rule (1291 - 1516) the Jewish community gradually recovered.
In the 15th and 16th centuries the study of Kaballah (mysticism) which had been gaining momentum for a few hundred years in Spain and other centres, reached its peak in Jerusalem and more particularly in Tzfat, a town in the hills of Galilee, under the influence of Isaac Luria, known as the Ari. The Kaballah was mainly concerned with the relationship between God and the finite world, the existence of evil, and man's role. In the wake of the expulsion from Spain, Tzfat attracted a group of extraordinary scholars, both of Kaballah and of the normative studies of Judaism such as Talmud commentary. Near Tzfat, the Shulchan Aruch, the authorative code of Jewish Law, was written by Joseph Caro.
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Index to Footsteps through Jewish History