Speech ‘Jews in Europe’

Hereunder you will find the speech of Max Arpels Lezer during the EU-AS 2016 conference in Zagreb.

The first signs that Jews were living in Europe are dating back to the 3rd century B.C.E.
Judaism, originating from Alexandria was present throughout the Roman Empire.
Large numbers of Jews were living on the Greek isles and Krete.
On the Island of Rhodes the first recorded mention of Judaism in Greece dates from 300 to 250 B.C.E.
In the second century B.C.E. it was often heard that
“The Choosen People” are everywhere in every region and on every sea.
Even Philo, Ceneca and Cicero all mentioned Jewish Populations in cities around the Mediteranean Sea.
At least, since the first century B.C.E., it is recorded that a Jewish community had existed in Rome. They may even have established a community there as early as the second century B.C.E., for in the year 139 B.C.E. emperor Hispanus issued a decree, expelling all Jews who were not Roman citizens.
During the reign of Ceasar Augustus there were over 7000 Jews living in Rome.

The Roman Empire period, presence of Jews in Croatia dates to the second century. In Pannonia to the 3rd and 4th century.
A finger ring with a Menorah depiction was found in 2001 in what we now call Switserland. Attesting Jewish presence in Germania Superior. Evidence in towns north of the Loire river and in southern Galicea dates to the 5th and 6th centuries.

Persecution of Jews in Europe begins with the presence of Jews in regions that later became known as the lands of Latin Christianity in the 8th century. Not only were Jewish Christians persecuted according to the New testament, but also as a matter of historical fact anti-Jewish pogroms occurred not only in Jerusalem in 325, but also in Persia in 351; in Charthago in 250; Alexandria in 415; and also in Italy in Milan; Rome, Ravenna, Minorca and Antioch.
Hostillity between Christians and Jews grew over the generations under Roman soveneignty and beyond; resulting in forced conversions, property confiscation, synagogues burning, expulsion and enslavement and outlawing of Jews.
Many Jewish communities appeared to be deserted in the regions of Latin Christianity.

The early medieval period was a time of flourishing Jewish culture. Jewish and Christian life evolved in diametrically opposite directions during the final centuries of the Roman Empire.
Jewish life became autonomous, decentralized, community-centered. Christian life became a rigid hierarchical system under the supreme authority of the pope and the Roman Emperor.

Between 800 and 1100 there were 1,5 million Jews living in Europe. They were not part of the feudal system as serfs or knights, thus were spared the oppression and warfare.
In relation with the Christian society, they were protected by Kings, princes and bishops, because of the crucial services they provided in three areas: financial, administrative and as doctors.
Christian scholars interested in the bible would consult with Talmudic rabbis. All this changed over the years when the Roman Catholic Church got stronger and the rise of the middle-class town dwelling Christians. By 1300, the friars and local priests were using the Passion Plays at Easter time which depicted Jews killing Christ, to teach the general populance to hate and murder Jews.
Finally around 1500, Jews found refuge, security and renewal of prosperity in Poland.
In the early middle ages  persecution of Jews continued in the countries of Latin-Christianity.
For example the Kingdom of Toledo followed up on this tradition in 1368;1391;1449; and from 1486 till 1490. Massmurders, forced conversions, riotting and blood baths followed against Jews.

Persecuting of Jews in Europe increased in the high middle ages in the context of the Christian Crusades. In the first crusade in 1096, Jewish communities along the Rhine and Danube rivers were utterly destroyed. In the second Crusade the Jews in France were subject to frequent massacres. The Crusades were followed by expulsions, including in 1290 the banishing of all English Jews. In 1396 over 100.000 Jews were expelled from France and in 1491 thousands were expelled from Austria. Many of them fled to Poland.

In the late middle ages, the black death epidemics devastated Europe, annihilating more than half of its population. Rumors spread that Jews caused the dicease by poisoning wells. Hundreds of Jewish communities were destroyed by violence.
Pope Clement V1 tried to protect them by papal laws, but in spite of that 900 Jews were burnt alive in Strasbourg.

The golden age of Jewish culture in Spain refers to a period of History during the Muslim rule of Iberia in which Jews were generally accepted in society and Jewish religious, cultural and economic life blossomed. This golden age is dating from the
8th till the 12th centuries.
AL-Andalus was a key center of Jewish life during the middle ages, producing many scholars( among them Mamonides ) and one of the most stable and wealthy Jewish communities.
The Spanish inquisition was established in 1478 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. Catholic orthodoxy in the Spanish kingdoms was under direct control of the Spanish monarchy. During the reign of Queen Isabel 2, this was definitivly abolished in 1834.

The expulsion of Jews from Spain, as well as the expulsion from Austria, Hungary and Germany, stimulated a widespread Jewish migration to the much more tolerant Poland. Indeed with the expulsion of Jews from Spain, Poland became the recognized haven for exiles from the rest of Europe.
The most prosperous period for Polish Jews began with the reign of king Zygmunt one, (1506-1548), who protected the Jews. His son king Zygmunt 2, followed his fathers tolerant policy and also granted autonomy to the Jews in communal administration, laying the foundation of an autonomous Jewish community.

According to some sources, about three quarters of all the Jews in Europe, lived in Poland by the middle of the 16th century. In this period Poland also welcomed newcomers from Italy and Turkey. Most of Sephardi origen, however some of these immigrants from the Ottoman Empire claimed to be Mizrahim.
Jewish life in Poland flourished in many Jewish communities.  In 1503 the Polish monarch appointed Rabbi Jacob Polak to official Chief Rabbi of Poland. Arround 1550 many Sephardi Jews travelled across Europe to find a safe haven in Poland.
Polish gouvernment permitted the rabbinate to grow in power and used it for tax purposes. Only 30% of the money raised by the Rabbinate went to the Jewish communities. The rest went to the crown for protection.
In this period Poland-Lithuania became the main center for Ashkenazi Jewry and its yeshivot achieved fame from the early 16th century.
During the time of the ruling of King Sigismund one, until the Holocaust, Poland would be the center of Jewish religious life.

The decade from the Cossack’s uprising until after the Swedish war (1648 –1658) left a deep and lasting impression not only on the social life of the Polish Lithuanian Jews, but on their spiritual life as well. In general the intellectual output of the Jews of Poland was reduced.
Hair-splitting arguments were raised and discussed and many of these arguments dealt with matters which were of no practical importance. In this time of mysticism and overly formal rabbinism came the teachings of Israel ben Eliezer, known as Baal-Shem Tov ( 1698-1760), which had a profound effect on the Jews of central Europe. His followers taught a new fervent brand of Judaism based on Kabbalah, known as Hasidism.
The rise of hasidic Judaism had a great influence on the rise of Haredi Judaism all over the world, under the influence of many Hasidic dynasties including those of Chabad-Lubavitch,
Aleksader, Bobov, Ger, and Nadvorna. More recent rebbes of Polish origin include Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson (1880-1950) the sixth head of the Chabad Lubavitch movement.
He lived in Warsaw till 1940, when he moved Lubavitch from Warsaw to the United States.

The Zionist movement originates in the late 19th century. In 1883 Nathan Birnbaum founded Kadimah, the first Jewish student association in Vienna. The Dreyfus affair shocked the world, but more profoundly the emancipated Jews.
The depth of anti Semitism in a country, thought of as the home of enlightment and liberty, led many to question their future security in Europe.
Among those who witnessed the affair was Jewish journalist Theodor Herzl, who had published his pamphlet
“Der Judenstaat” in 1896 and “Altneuland” in 1897. He described the affair as a personal turning point. Before the affair he had been anti-Zionist, afterwards he became ardently pro-Zionist.
He believed in a Jewish state for the Jewish nation, completely in line with the ideas of 19th century German nationalism.
In that way, he argued the Jews could become a people like all other peoples and thus anti Semitism would cease to exist.

Now we know better.  Almost 70 years there is a Jewish state, and still the world is poisonned with anti-semitism.
Which leads me to the question do Jews have a future in Europe?

( I am citing here from a paper written by Dr. Michael Laitman )

Many people think that as the situation in Europe worsens, the presure on the Jews will grow. The hatred towards them will soar and they will undoubtedly be persecuted. Now, while they still can leave with their capital, is the right time to move. As refugees it will be much harder for them to make a fresh start.

Newspepers are noticing a vibrant debate around the question of Jewish continuity in Europe and specifically in France.
Quite a few of the comments related to the idea of leaving France as pessimistic. Some suggested that the Jews should fight back with arms. Some say that they should publicly display Jewish signs, such as the kippa in defiance of the violence towards them. Other suggested that since Jews have been persecuted wherever they went, there is no point going anywhere because they will only be persecuted in their new countries, so they better stay where they are.

Whether leaving Europe is pessimistic or not, the truth is that Jews have no future in France and in Europe as a whole.
Many people have no doubt,  that apart from perhaps a few right wing activists, Europeans will not be able to do anything against the Islamic overtaking of the continent.
The German police officer, telling a German woman terrified of being raped by a mob of raucous Muslim immigrants: “I would love to help you, but I can’t”, embodies the helplessness of Germany in tackling the migrant influx.
Their brazen and lawless conduct was met with “overwhelmed police officers, insufficient personnel and weaknesses in equipment”, which will encourage migrants to take even bolder actions at the first opportunity.

What is true for Germany is even truer for France, as evident from the horrific events of November 13 and all over 2015 in general.
Even the well-established British Jewish community is not a haven for Jews in view of the hostile atmosphere in the UK towards Israel and towards Jews.

History repeats itself.
In the 1930s, German Jews did not believe that anything would happen tot hem. By the time they were ready to leave, no one would have them.
That is why Jews have no future in France.
However – fortunately;  now we have a Jewish state.

Just as before WW2, Jewish leaders assured their congregations that nothing would happen tot hem. Today we are also hearing, there is no cause for alarm. They were wrong then and they are wrong now.
We must learn the lesson from the past.

I must confess that Israel is not the easiest place for new olim. However Israel is where we must be. In Israel we must come together and built a cohesive society, that is a role model of unity that the world will want to emulate.

Understandably, European Jewry might choose the US or Canada as their new home. The language barrier is practically non existant and life there is much more similar to the way Jews live in Europe.
But also there anti Semitism is rapidly spreading and its only a matter of time before its erupts in full force.

At the same time, there is a way to reverse the trend, provided we become proactive. The Jewish people have a task.
They must unite and spread the spirit of unity to the rest of the world. They can achieve this unity willingly, through recognition of their vocation; or unwillingly through the nations’ presure which will cause us to huddle togehter, though the latter is not true unity.

From all sides we are told that we are unique, different and most of all responsible and accountable.
If we shun our mission, anti Semites will lead the world against us and we pay a heavy price for refusing to lead the world into unity.
But if we choose to unite and become “ a light unto nations” to use the biblical metaphor, the world will embrace us and we will be welcome wherever we want to go.

Max Arpels Lezer