Evidence for Israel’s Diaspora and Aliyah

Watching Israel Fulfil Prophecy

“I have plucked them up, I will return and have compassion on them: and I will bring them again, every man to his heritage, and every man to his land” (Jeremiah 12:15 ASV).

by Austin Williams

The Jewish diaspora, or exile, refers to the dispersion of Israelites or Jews out of their ancestral homeland (the Land of Israel) and their subsequent settlement in other parts of the globe.

In terms of the Hebrew Bible, “exile” denotes the fate of the Israelites taken into exile from the Kingdom of Israel during the 8th century BC, and the Judahites from the Kingdom of Judah taken into exile during the 6th century BC. While in exile, the Judahites became known as “Jews,” Mordecai the Jew being the first biblical mention of the term (Esther 2:5).

A Jewish diffusion existed for several more centuries before the fall of the Second Temple, but their dwelling in other countries was usually not a result of compulsory dislocation. Before the mid-first century AD, in addition to Judea, Syria, and Babylonia, large Jewish communities existed in the Roman provinces of Syria Palaestina, Egypt, Crete and Cyrenaica, and in Rome itself. After the siege of Jerusalem in 63 BC, when the Hasmonean kingdom became a protectorate of Rome, emigration intensified.

In 6 AD the region was organized as the Roman province of Judea. Judean rebels revolted against the Roman Empire in 66 AD in the First Jewish-Roman War, which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. During the siege, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and most of Jerusalem. This watershed moment eliminated the symbolic center of Judaism. Jewish identity then constrained many Jews to reformulate a new self-definition and adjust to the prospect of an indefinite period of displacement.

(1) Galut, exile, means expelled (from Israel). Diaspora means the exiles are dispersed.

Diaspora has been common for many peoples since antiquity. But particular to the Jewish diaspora is the pronounced negative, religious, indeed metaphysical, connotations traditionally attached to the words dispersion and exile (galut), two conditions which became conflated. The English term diaspora, which entered usage as late as 1876, and the Hebrew word galut, cover a similar semantic range, but denote some distinct differences.1 The former has no traditional equivalent in Hebrew usage.

The Origin of Diaspora

The Greek word diaspora (dispersion) first appears as a newly coined word in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, where it occurs 14 times, starting with a passage reading: eoe diaspora en parais basileiais tes ges (thou shalt be a diaspora or dispersion in all kingdoms of the earth) (Deuteronomy 28:25, and in the 2 Kings 17:23 deportation of the Judean elite to Babylonia.)

Some claim the diaspora began with Rome’s twofold crushing of Jewish national aspirations. Much of the European Jewish diaspora did originate with the Jewish wars which occurred between 66 and 135 AD. But the growth of di aspora Jewish communities was a gradual process occurring over centuries, starting with the Assyrian destruction of Israel, the Babylonian destruction of Judah, the Roman destruction of Judea, and the subsequent rule of Christians and Muslims.

After the revolt against the Romans, the Jewish religious and cultural center shifted to the Babylonian Jewish community and its scholars. For the generations that followed, the destruction of the Second Temple came to represent the lack of hope for the Jewish people, who had become dispossessed and persecuted people for much of their history. The Bar Kokhba revolt was a rebellion of Jews in the Roman province of Judea, led by Simon bar Kokhba, against the Roman Empire. Following this revolt Jews were reduced to a wholly-diaspora people.

Beginning in 63 AD, Roman rule continued until a revolt from 66-70 AD. This Jewish fight for independence was crushed after four years, culminating in the capture of Jerusalem and the burning and destruction of the Temple. After this, the Jewish diaspora was concentrated in Parthia (Persia), Babylonia (Iraq), and Arabia, with other Jews beyond the Euphrates in Adiabene (Kurdistan), in northern Europe, and along the western Mediterranean coast (Josephus, Wars, Preface 1-2).

Aliyah (“ascent”) is the immigration of Jews from the diaspora to the Land of Israel. Also defined as “the act of going up” — that is, towards Jerusalem — “making Aliyah” by moving to the Land of Israel is one of the basic tenets of Zionism. The State of Israel’s Law of Return gives Jews and their descendants’ automatic rights regarding residency and Israeli citizenship.

For much of Jewish history, most Jews have lived in the diaspora, where Aliyah was developed as a national aspiration for Jewish people, though seldom fulfilled before the development of the Zionist movement in the late nineteenth century. While some Jews established Petach Tiqvah in 1878, the large-scale immigration of Jews to Palestine began in 1882.

According to the traditional Jewish ordering of books in the Old Testament, the very last word of the last book in the original Hebrew (2 Chronicles 36:23) is veya’al, a jussive (command) verb form derived from the same root as aliyah, meaning “and let him go up” (to Jerusalem in Judah).

2 Chronicles 36:23 — “Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the LORD God of heaven given me; and he hath charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? The LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.”

First Aliyah. Between 1882 and 1903, approximately 35,000 Jews immigrated to the southwestern area of Syria, then a province of the Ottoman Empire. Most of these came from the areas of Romania and Russia in the 1880s. The migration of Jews from Russia correlates with the end of the Russian pogroms (which had also prevented emigration), with about 3 percent of Jews emigrating from Europe to Palestine. While these groups expressed interest and “fondness” for Palestine, they were too few to encompass an entire mass movement, as would come in later waves of migration. The majority came from the Russian Empire, with a smaller number arriving from Yemen.

Second Aliyah. Between 1904 and 1914, 40,000 Jews immigrated mainly from Russia to southwestern Syria, following pogroms and outbreaks of anti-Semitism in that country. This group, greatly influenced by socialist ideals, established the first kibbutz in 1909 and formed self-defense organizations, to counter increasing Arab hostility and to help Jews protect their communities from Arab marauders. World War I effectively ended the Second Aliyah.

Third Aliyah. Between 1919 and 1923, 40,000 Jews, mainly from Eastern Europe, arrived in the wake of World War I. The British occupation of Palestine and the British Mandate enabled implementation of the promises in the 1917 Balfour Declaration. The Jewish population reached 90,000 by its end.

Fourth Aliyah. Between 1924 and 1929, 82,000 Jews arrived, many as a result of increasing Anti-Semitism in Poland and throughout Europe. The immigration quotas of the United States kept Jews out. This group contained many middle-class families that moved to the growing towns, establishing small businesses, and light industry. Of these, approximately 23,000 left Poland.

Fifth Aliyah. Between 1929 and 1939, with the rise of Nazism in Germany, a new wave of 250,000 immigrants arrived. The majority, 174,000, arrived between 1933 and 1936, after which increasing restrictions on immigration by the British made immigration clandestine and illegal, called Aliyah Bet. The Fifth Aliyah was again driven almost entirely from Europe, mostly from Central Europe (particularly from Poland, Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia), but also from Greece. The Fifth Aliyah contained large numbers of professionals, doctors, lawyers, and professors, from Germany. The Jewish population in Palestine reached 450,000 by 1940.

Shortly after their rise to power, the Nazis negotiated the “Transfer Agreement” with the Jewish Agency, under which 50,000 German Jews and $100 million worth of their assets could be moved to Palestine.

Early Statehood (1948-1960)

After Aliyah Bet, the numbering or naming of individual aliyot ceased, but immigration did not. A major wave of Jewish immigration, mainly from post-Holocaust Europe and the Arab and Muslim world, took place from 1948 to 1951. In three and a half years, the Jewish population of Israel, which had been 650,000 at the state’s founding, was more than doubled by an influx of about 688,000 immigrants. In 1949, the largest-ever number of Jewish immigrants in a single year, 249,954, arrived in Israel. This period of immigration is often termed kibbutz galuyot (literally, ingathering of exiles), due to the large number of Jewish diaspora communities that made Aliyah.

Israel scolds Jews for their failure to respond to the Zionist fishers and return to their promised land of Palestine. The effect of aliyah was national statehood in 1948. Since the State of Israel was established, more than 3 million more Jews have moved to Israel. As of 2018, 44.5% of the worldwide Jewish population live in Israel.

Fishers and Hunters” — Jeremiah 16:14-16

Jeremiah 16 reveals that God would first send “fishers” to entice Jews with the ideal of Zionism to return to their land. If this failed, then God would permit “hunters” — persecution to drive Jews back to the Promised Land.2

Moses Montefiore devoted himself to philanthropy, particularly alleviating the distress of Jews abroad. The association he formed had gigantic and complex machinery to deal with the whole problem of Jewish persecution, including emigration and distributing agencies, technical schools, co-operative factories, savings and loan banks, and model dwellings. It also assisted a large number of societies all over the world, whose work was connected with the relief and rehabilitation of Jewish refugees.

Many Rothschilds were supporters of Zionism. In 1917 Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild, was the addressee of the Balfour Declaration to the Zionist Federation, which committed the British government to the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. James Jacob de Rothschild was a patron of the first big settlement in Palestine at Rishon-LeZion, and bought from Ottoman landlords parts of the land which now make up present-day Israel.

(2) Editor’s note: Some Bible Students connect Jeremiah 16:16 with verse 17 to apply to Israel’s dispersion, rather than to verses 14-15 concerning Israel’s return.