An old joke asks: What's the difference between ignorance and apathy? Answer: I don't know and I don't care.
That's in general the attitude towards the period of Israeli history which starts in the early 3rd century, when the Mishna was edited, and ends in the late 19th century, with the Zionist aliyahs.
Isn't that what we all learned? The Mishna was written in Israel, and after that the focus of Judaism moved to Babylon for the Talmudic and Gaonic periods. Whatever few Jews remained in Israel during this period were forcibly converted to Islam and finished off by the Crusaders. In Exile, Jews continued to yearn for Israel, but the land was empty, waiting for its rightful owners to come back.
Turns out the truth is quite different. During those "Dark Ages", Jews not only lived here, they set the foundations for almost every aspect of Jewish life today. Whenever we daven in shul, read the Torah, look up a Rashi, sing around the Shabbat table or light the Hanukkah candles, we connect to the Jews who lived in Israel during the Exile. We just have no idea that's what we're doing.
Some of this ignorance is due to the fact that we really don't know much about this period. Before the discovery of the Cairo Genizah in the late 1800s we didn't know how much of our cultural heritage was composed here in Israel under Christian and Muslim rule. Take for example the recent discovery of a Menorah stamp near Akko (Acre): We now know about an entire Jewish community we had no idea existed!
But what of all we do know about this period?
Several months ago I wanted to prepare a clip about Jewish longing for the Land of Israel. I started by collecting materials about Jewish praise for Israel. The more I read, the more I realized Jews didn't just long. They didn't just praise Israel from afar. They came, and they were here all along. My clip fell apart. At some point, the shock of these new discoveries turned to anger. Why wasn't this common knowledge? Zionist romanticism aside, shouldn't a nation know its own history?
It certainly wasn't part of my school's curriculum. My history classes ended with the Second Temple and picked up again with the advent of Zionism. In literature we studied the Spanish Piyyut, not the extensive Israeli work. Although it was a religious school, I never heard of the many Israeli Midrash books.
This is our heritage, our culture, and our identity. Sheik Jameel graciously agreed to host my posts in this corner of the Muqata, and so I hope in future posts to shed some light on this little known but very influential era of our history.
See here for more articles about our history in Israel.
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Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael טובה הארץ מאד מאד