New Study on Geographical Development of Oral Law

Much of European Jewry assimilated or became Christian following the Second Temple's fall - largely because of their isolation from the Rabbinic world of the Land of Israel and Babylon.

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Hillel Fendel, | updated: 10:44

A new study by two Israeli historians finds that the western and eastern Diasporas were greatly divided in the centuries following the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile of the Jews, in the year 68 C.E.

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The lack of a translation of the Mishnah - the Oral Law - into Greek or other European languages was a major contributing factor to a serious gap between the western Jewish Diaspora and the eastern one. The laws of the Five Books of Moses, which had been translated into Greek, continued to be largely observed, until Christian missionary work succeeded in winning over much of the Jewish population there.

The study was published in the January 2007 edition of the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha, by Aryeh Edrei of Tel Aviv University and Doron Mendels of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Mendels is also the author of a work entitled "The Media Revolution of Early Christianity." In it, he shows how early Christians worked like modern journalists, selecting, shaping, and presenting stories for popular consumption in order to promote their religion. The best example, Mendels writes, is that of 4th-century Eusebius, the author of a monumental work entitled Ecclesiastical History, which he used as a publicity tool to further the cause of early Christianity.

Such works found fertile ground among Jews in Europe, Mendels and Edrei claim, in that no Oral Torah developed there - as opposed to in the East. "Hence it is not surprising that western Jews contributed nothing to the development of the oral law," the authors posit.

The Oral Law developed greatly after the exile, with the Mishna and Gmara finally becoming two monumental written works - the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud - in the middle centuries of the first millennium of the Common Era. The preceding centuries, however, were critical, Mendels and Edrei write, in that they were not written and were not taught to the Jews of the West who did not speak Hebrew or Aramaic.

The researchers add that the divide between the two Jewish populations was also furthered by the fact that Eastern rabbis did not often visit the West. Though the Talmud often recounts rabbis traveling between the Holy Land and Babylon to the east, travel to the west is rarely mentioned in this connection.

The publicized summaries of the research by Mendels and Edrei did not specify the size of the Jewish population in Europe in the centuries following the destruction of the Second Temple.