In 303 C.E., The Roman Empire was split between East and West. The West remained The Roman Empire with rule out of Rome, and The East became The Byzantine Empire with rule out of Constantinople. This ended the governing apparatus of the Jewish community of Palestine, which had been headed by The Nasi. This was because The Romans wouldn't let funds from Jews in The Roman Empire cross into The Byzantine Empire. This caused The Nasi, academy, and The Sanhedrin to become impoverished. In 426 C.E., when Gamaliel VI died without any sons, Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II decided to abolish the apparatus. This ended Jewish autonomy in Palestine, and it became a Christian country. Some of the remaining Jews emigrated to Babylon or other places. Many continued to live in Palestine. Emperor Theodosius II also put together a codex of laws that applied for Palestine as well as the rest of The Byzantine Empire that declared Judaism a superstition of Satan. It outlawed building new synagogues but it allowed the improving or reparing of old synagogues. It also said synagogues weren't aloud to be higher than churches, that Jews couldn't hold government positions, and called for the death of people that converted to Judaism so Jews didn't want to accept converts so there wouldn't be any danger. But Jews were aloud to practice their religion as they wanted. The Byzantines in general were very Anti-Semitic, and treated Jews like it wasn't their homeland. They wouldn't even let Jews enter Jerusalem without special permission. They were only aloud to pray there on Tisha B'Av.
In 614 C.E., The Persians invaded Palestine and with the help of The Jews defeated The Byzantines. For this, The Persians, allowed The Jews to live in Jerusalem. Unfourtunently, in 629 C.E., The Byzantines returned and defeated The Persians. They brought back with them their horrible ways, and restored Christianity in Jerusalem, and renewed the ban on Jews living there.
After the start of Islam, The Arabs conquered Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Persia, and much of North Africa, in The Jihad, The Islamic Holy War. They captured Jerusalem in 638 C.E.. Between 688 and 691, they began their occupation of The Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site in The World, and built The Mosque of Omar. However, this occupation wasn't totally negative. It was better than the rule of The Byzantines. Conditions in Palestine improved. Jews were once again permitted to enter the city and pray at The Kotel. A small Jewish community in Jerusalem soon formed. Under Arab rule between 638 and 1099, Jerusalem was ruled from Damascus, Baghdad, or Cairo. In 1071, Jerusalem was captured by The Turks. They persecuted Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem. This lead Christian Europe to start The Crusades against Muslim rule in Palestine.
In 1095, The Catholic Church decided to free Palestine from Muslim rule. As these Anti-Semitic crusaders marched to Palestine, they killed Jews on the way. They attacked Palestine from The North and from The Mediterranean Sea. When they reached Jerusalem, they slaughtered its Jewish and Arab inhabitants. The Crusaders ruled Palestine for 88 years until Saladin, the Muslim ruler recaptured it. Saladin's court physician was Moses Maimonides. In 1291, The Muslims captured Akko and put an end to Christian rule in Palestine. There were 6 more Crusades and fortunently, they all ended in a Christian defeat.
The Arab rulers who ruled Palestine purchased Christian children, converted them to Islam, and trained them to be soldiers. They became The Arabs' slave soldiers. These slave soldiers are called Mamluks, which means "owned" in Arabic. In 1250, The Mamluks rebelled against their Arab masters. They won control of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine. They established their capital in Damascus. Under their rule, Jews and Christians suffered greatly. Jews were heavily taxed. There were also riots in which many Jews were killed. Synagogues were destroyed and Jews were forced to wear a distinctive yellow turban. Other Nazi like dress codes were also imposed. Jews and Non-Jews were forcibly converted to Islam. In Jerusalem, Jews were especially harrased. Heavy taxes were imposed on Jews in Jerusalem and many had to leave the city because they couldn't afford to pay them.
In 1440, Rabbi Ovadiah of Bertinoro became the spiritual leader of Jerusalem's Jews. His guidance brought better conditions. The excessive taxes against Jews were abolished. Also during this time, the community was revised by Jewish refugees from Spain fleeing from The Spanish Inquisition. In 1516, Palestine was conquered by The Turks and made a part of The Ottoman Empire.
At first, the Turkish sultans placed no restrictions on the Jews in Palestine. They welcomed Jewish refugees from Spain. Jerusalem, Tiberias, Hebron, and Tzvat became the 4 centers of Jewish life. Tzvat became a center of Torah study.
In Turkey Joseph Nasi, a Turkish Jew in the goverment of Ottoman Sultan Selim II, was granted Tiberias, where once the rabbis of The Mishnah had taught. Nasi hoped a large number of Jews would settle there without fear and oppression. Nasi wanted to start a new industry, the manufacture of silk that would bring profit to both the Jewish settlers and The Ottoman Empire. He rebuilt the houses and streets of Tiberias, and planted mulberry trees for silkworms to feed upon. However, few Jews were able to reach Palestine due to a war between Turkey and Venice.
After the expulsion from Spain, Jews settled in The Galilee. Some went to Tiberias, while others went to Jerusalem, but it was in Tzvat, in the mountains of The Galilee, that the most renowned new community was founded. In Tzvat, a new type of learning began. Schools of mysticism arose. Tzvat's scholars devoted themselves to the study of The Kabbalah. The Kabbalah is the doctrines and lore of Jewish mysticism. The Kabbalists of Tzvat were concerned primarily with questions relating to the coming of The Meshiach.
Out of all the books The Kabbalists studied, the most important was The Zohar. To them, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai was a beloved figure because he wrote The Zohar. They were the ones that started the tradition of going to his grave in a cave on Mount Meron on Lag B'Omer, the day that he died. The Kabbalists sought the joy of intense contemplation and a pure life. On Shabbat, they would dress in special clothes for Shabbat and devoted themselves to celebrating Shabbat. Solomon Alkabetz, one of the great Kabbalist teachers of Tzvat composed Lekha Dodi, a hymn still chanted in the synagogue on Friday nights.
The greatest teacher of Kabbalah in Tzvat was Rabbi Isaac Luria. He was born in Jerusalem in 1534. He lost his father but he was brought to Cairo, where he was educutated under the care of his uncle. He made rapid progress in his rabbinic studies and became acquainted with The Kabbalah. When he came to Tzvat, he found many devoted students there. They devoted themselves to the joys of mystical speculation, prayer, and concentration. By this, they hoped to hasten the coming of The Meshiach, and the time of eternal peace. Luria's personality and approach to Kabbalistic study won him the affection and loyalty of Tzvat's mystical community. After his early death at the age of 38 in 1572, his teachings were preserved and transmitted to later generations.
Another important person that lived in Tzvat was Rabbi Joseph Caro. He was born in Spain in 1488 and after the expulsion from Spain eventually found his way to Tzvat. Once in Tzvat, he decided to make an encyclopedic code of Talmudic law that would be easier for Jews everywhere to use and follow than earlier legal codes and original books of The Talmud.
He based this encyclopedia on The Turim, a code composed by Rabbi Jacob Ben Asher in Spain. He brought The Turim up to date by adding more recent rabbinic decisions and by adding Sefardic legal decisions and customs as currently enforced. He then made a shorter version which he discussed every phase of Jewish life and all its rituals. This code is called The Shulhan Arukh. It won Ashkenazic recognition after the glosses of Rabbi Moses Isserles were added to it.
Unfortunately, the attitudes of the sultans toward The Jews changed and many of the old Muslim restrictions were revived. In 1798, Napoleon, who had decided to attack The Ottoman Empire, used Palestine as a base to do so. French troops captured Ramaleh, Jaffa, and Haifa. Akko was difficult to capture. They met heavy resistance there and the campaign began to slow down. In 1799, Napoleon's Army retreated to its base in Egypt.
Sir Moses Montefiore, a British Jew, was one of the early Zionists. He dreamed of the return of The Jews to Eretz Yisrael. He visited Palestine 6 times, each time bringing assistance and support to the Jews there. He helped them to build hospitals, schools, and synagogues. He planted vineyards and olive groves, and opened an experimental agricultural school to attract settlers. In Jerusalem, he built Mishkanot Sha'ananim, the first neighborhood outside of The Old City. It's famous for its windmill. Later on, near Mishkanot Sha'ananim, the neighborhood of Yemin Moshe was built, a neighborhood named after Montefiore. These two neighborhoods would become the nucleus of The New City.
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