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Emancipation Of Jews The transition of Jews through history is one, which is complex and took place over a long period. There are many factors, which contributed to the change of the status of Jews within their world and changes in their status as well; these changes affected the religious and cultural values of European Jews, which lead to an alteration in their own perception, as well as the surrounding populace. There are several opinions as to how non- Jews perceive the issues that led to Emancipation of Jewish people. Prior to the period of Emancipation there were three main characteristics which defined the traditional Jewish communities of Europe. These three aspects are community, autonomy and torah (religion). IN relation to Torah, there is a common yearning to return to their homeland in Eretz Yisrael.

As it is known from the Greek era, the purpose of a state or community was to glorify one’s own religion and as a result, Jews could not be members of a Christian state. Therefore, they had no choice but to form their own communities within the larger Christian State. A Jew is a member of the Jewish nation and people and religion is what defined your life and place in society. Virtually everything revolved around the community; decisions were made with the impact of the community in mind. An essential aspect of this community was the conceptions of ghettos; Jews lived, worked, and played in these ghettos.

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These ghettos kept the Jewish community contained, and also provided a sense of separatism from outside influences. ” The point can also be made that separation was in fact a contributing factor to healthy relations (between Jews and non- Jews)..with their concern for lack of clear boundaries, the ghetto kept boundaries clear and fears in check” . If one did not live in a community, one did not have an identity. This was especially important in the case of ex-communication, because once one was ejected out of the community, it was almost impossible to join another. The notion of autonomy possibly was a result of the ghettos.

Since Jews lived in these ghettos they were separate from the outside community. It was within the ghetto, which Jews were able to make and enforce their own laws and practices. However, there remained interrelations with the “outside” world, usually through the community leaders or representatives. This form of power gave Jewish leaders the ability to pursue endeavours, which they felt would benefit the Jewish community. The laws in these ghettos were based on Jewish law and were carried out by the Rabbis, spiritual leaders of the community or even recognised wise men who were elected into the position.

It is important to remember that while the Jews lived in a self-governing entity, it remained within a particular framework set up by the local Christian authorities. The Torah (religion) was the common bond all Jews had; it was the Torah, which was the basis for all Jewish law. It was the Torah, which aided the Rabbis to compose the laws of the communities. Another function of the Torah was the fact that it did/does hold Jews from around the world together, regardless of borders and wealth, it is the common bond or glue of universal Judaism. The Torah, along with the Talmud (Rabbinical interpretation of Torah) are what help guide the Jewish people to practising good behaviour and good deeds, to speed up the arrival of the Messiah and the return to Eretz Yisrael.

It is due to these three factors that the traditional Jewish communities of Europe were able to maintain themselves and in most cases even prosper. This segregation from Christian society pleased both cultures because there was a lack of integration, hence lack of threat. Many factors led to the change in the status of Jews, and these changes had profound effects of the religious and cultural values of traditional Jews. Both the Industrialisation and the Enlightenment contributed significantly to the change in status of Jews. However, it is important to mention that many Jews of Europe, specifically Spain, were exiled for their religious convictions and forced to practice in secret, which allowed Jews to practice as individuals and follow their own laws without the strict adherence to a Rabbi as an authority figure. This set into motion of sense of individualism for Jews and allowed them to practice more independently.

Industrialisation marked a significant shift in society, society metamorphasized into an industrial society from the traditional agrarian one, which previously existed. The introduction of urbanisation resulted in many people moving into developing cities and coming into contact non-Jews for the first time. As the economy shifted to an industrial one the Jews were well established and prepared. Since there was a massive relocation to the city both Jews and Christians these two people were now living in closer contact. Suddenly the boundaries between Jews and Christians were not as clear as before. This lack of boundaries fast lead to tensions between the two cultures.

Another significant factor leading to the changes of status of Jews was the emergence of the age of Reason or the Enlightenment. This period was marked by a significant transition in the Christian world, the emergence of both democracy and capitalism impacted the status quo and permanently altered Europe. More significant, was that a fact was a fact regardless of what religious beliefs one prescribed to. It was at this point that some Jews became accepted, sometimes even embraced into the Christian society. Jews were accepted as individuals, but certainly not as a group or community.

This was because of the situation of the Court Jews. These Court Jews were wealthy Jews who were moneylenders and advisors to the King and his court. They came into contact with Gentiles on a daily basis, adopted their practices and brought them into their homes. Because the Court Jews had the respect of the King, it was no wonder that Christians would accept these particular Jews as somewhat equal. These Jews were accepted into the Christian society were viewed as somewhat assimilated and seen as models to the Jews who were not assimilated through the views of some Christians.

Other Christians viewed these perceived assimilated Jews as a threat because as they saw it these Jews were attempting to infiltrate Christian society. Once again some felt as though that once clear line or boundaries between Jews and Christians were now being blurred to the extent which some feared they would never again be clear. Another significant issue that emerged for many Jews at this time was question of whether Jews could be loyal to their country of citizenship and at the same time loyal to their religion. This was also a question, which many Christians posed of the Jews. From the perspective of non- Jews there were two points of view which emerged.

These views shaped and perpetuated the perceptions of Jews by non- Jews. One of the views contended that the Jews were a product of Christian attitudes, this being that since they were not accepted and assimilated fully into the Christian society. These Christians who believed this felt that they owned the blame for the Jews being what they are they also believed that given the opportunity the Jews could potentially become productive and perhaps even productive members of society. The second point of view held that Jews were inherently bad and can never be salvaged despite any and all efforts made by Christians to assimilate them. These Christians felt that there was absolutely no possibility of Jews having and holding productive positions in society.

All the aforementioned occurrences lead to the transformation of traditional Jewish communities, and paved the way for Jewish existence, as it is known today. It is apparent, even through the examination of recent history that there are reoccurring themes in Jewish history. The most profound and obvious theme is the question of whether Jews can be productive members of their country and at the same time remain loyal to their religion. This question was an issue that once again emerged in Nazi Germany, undoubtedly, and unfortunately, it is not the last time that question will be asked.


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