[Greek, "scattering", galut (Hebrew), golus
(Yiddish, "exile")] - A term used to describe the groups of Jews who
live outside the Holy Land.
The diaspora began in the sixth century B.C., when Jews were sent
into exile in Babylon. After the fall of the Second Temple (first
century A.D.), the Jews lived throughout the Roman Empire-in Rome, the
Iberian Peninsula, southern Gaul, Alexandria, Northern Africa, as well
as in Mesopotamia, in the Caucasus, Persia, Central Asia and India.
A group of Jews known in Polish as the krymczacy settled in the
Crimea during the first centuries after Christ. These Jews learned the
Tatar language and formed their own local culture. In the Caucasus, they
were a pastoral, agricultural, and warlike mountain tribe that spoke a
Judeo-Tatar dialect, practiced polygamy and believed in the Persian
origins of their group.
The universalistic elements in Judaism, particularly strong during
the first centuries after Christ, resulted in the foundation of Judaized
groups such as the Khazars or the Ethiopian Falasha, whose origins
probably lie with a heretical faction of the Coptic Church.
Several separate groups of Jews lived in India until recently. Bnei
Israel [Hebrew, "The Sons of Israel"], who speak the Marathi language,
believed their roots reached back to the Ten Tribes deported by the
Assyrians. They were divided into two castes - black and white. Jews
from the city of Kochin believed their origins were linked with the
trading activities of King Salomon, though it is more likely they were
related to the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula, from whence they were
expelled in the late fifteenth century.
A group of Jews also settled in China, in the
city of Kaifeng, no earlier than after the destruction of the Second
Temple in the ninth century; they would have come to China from Persia
at that time. Losing contact with other Jews for centuries, their own
culture took shape, blending Chinese customs with those of Persian
Judaism of the early Middle Ages. Its members were ethnically Chinese.
Persecuted by the communist authorities, they virtually ceased to exist
during the Cultural Revolution.
The two largest Jewish cultural branches, the Sephardim and the
Ashkenazim, settled during the Middle Ages and later in the Near East,
the Balkans, and in Western and Eastern Europe. While the tendency was
for Jewish centers to shift towards the east during this period, during
the mid-seventeenth century the migration once again turned towards the
west. Jews also arrived with the first settlers to the newly discovered
American continents. The Jewish Community of New Amsterdam (now known as
New York) was founded as early as the mid-seventeenth century. The
largest phase of Jewish emigration to both North and South America took
place during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Beginning in the early nineteenth century, they also settled in
Australia and other colonies.
Currently, the largest concentrations of Jews
are found in the United States (about 6 million), Israel (over 3
million), the countries of the former Soviet Union (about 2 million),
France (670,000), South America (Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, where
they total 500,000), Great Britain (approx. 400,000) and South Africa
(approx. 100,000). In Poland, which until 1939 was home the largest
group of Jews in the world (somewhat more than 3 million), there are
currently 5,000 to 6,000 people of Jewish ancestry; not all of them keep
in contact with Jewish culture, however.