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Explusions of Jews

by Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson

The Jews underwent expulsions during the time of the Assyrian and Babylonian kingdoms. Pagan Rome also adopted on rare occasions a policy of removing the Jews from the capital, considering them an undesirable element: there is some vague information on the expulsion of the Jews from Rome in 139 B.C.E. among the other Chaldeans. In 19 C.E. Tiberius ordered the expulsion of all the Jews in Italy if they would not abandon their faith. In 50 C.E. Claudius expelled them from Rome. From the end of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (135 C.E.) until the capture of Jerusalem by the Muslims (638), the Jews were prohibited from entering that city and its boundaries. The policy of expelling Jews was however only adopted by victorious Christianity from the fourth century C.E., in implementation of its objectives to separate the Jews from the rest of society, and degrade and oppress them so that they would convert to Christianity. Individual expulsions from Islamic countries, such as the expulsion from Tlemcen(N. Africa), are also recorded during the tenth century (see J. Miller (ed.), Teshuvot Ge'onei Mizrahò u-Ma'arav (1888), 31a, no. 133). The phenomenon of expulsions is, however, overwhelmingly found in Christian lands. Some of these were "general expulsions" which removed the Jews from the territory of a whole country for an extended period. The expulsion from England in 1290 (the number of expelled has been estimated at 16,000) removed the Jews from its borders until after 1650. The expulsions from France, especially those of 1306 and 1394, evicted the Jews from most of the territory within the borders of France until 1789. The expulsions from Spain and Portugal, 1492–97 (where the number of victims has been assessed by historians from 100,000 to several hundreds of thousands), removed the Jews from the Iberian peninsula almost until the present day and brought about a series of expulsions of Jews from lands within the sphere of influence of these countries. At the time of the Black Death (1348–50), the Jews were expelled from many places in Europe, but in most localities, especially in Germany, they were readmitted after a short while. The presence of Jews was rigorously prohibited in Russia from the 15th century until 1772, when masses of Jews accrued to Russia from the annexed Polish-Lithuanian territories. Even after this date, there was an attempt to maintain this prohibition in the form of the Pale of Settlement until 1917. Within the framework of its enforcement numerous expulsions of both groups of Jews and entire communities from towns and villages which were "out of bounds" (such as the expulsion from Moscow in 1891) were carried out. There were also expulsions of short duration from the boundaries of entire countries, such as the expulsion from Lithuania in 1495. Expulsions from specific regions and towns were frequent and regular occurrences in Germany and northern Italy during the 14th to 16th centuries, but in certain cases they were also ordered down to the 18th century (the expulsion from Prague, 1744–52). The political fragmentation of these countries during the Middle Ages usually enabled the Jews to settle within the proximity of the baronage or town from which they had been expelled and to return there after a short interval. During World War I, the Russian authorities evacuated about 600,000 Jews from Poland, Lithuania, and the Baltic countries to the interior of Russia, an act regarded as an expulsion.

While the motives for the expulsions fall into differing and variegated categories, the root of them all was hatred of the Jew. This hatred was at times exploited by fiscal considerations of the rulers responsible for the expulsions.

Socio-economic factors contributed to the hostility of the Christian merchants and craftsmen toward their Jewish rivals, the hatred of Christian debtors for the Jewish money-lenders, and, on the other hand, the occasional feeling that there was no need for the Jews as moneylenders for interest and that they did not fulfill any other economic-social function. Tendencies and sentiments of national and political consolidation also played their part. In Spain, the desire to isolate the New Christians from Jewish influence was also a factor in the expulsion. In an epoch when the menace of death hovered continually over the Jews, especially in places where they had grown acustomed to expulsion and rapid readmission, expulsion was considered the lightest of possible evils. Judah Loew b. Bezalel (the Maharal of Prague) thought that the era of exile in which he lived was more tolerable because its principal sufferings consisted of expulsions, which he described as the divorce of a woman by her husband. The Jews of Frankfurt, when they were actually expelled, also felt that "we went in joy and in sorrow; because of the destruction and the disgrace, we grieved for our community and we rejoiced that we had escaped with so many survivors" (poem by R. Elhanan b. Abraham Helin, at end of pt. 3 of ?ema? David, 1692). The general expulsions were however considered disasters, and the expulsion from Spain in particular became a fearful memory for the nation. The expulsions always resulted in losses to property and damage to body and spirit. In addition to the losses caused by forced sales – when the buyer realized that the Jew was compelled to abandon all his real property, and at times many of his movable goods – insecurity and vagrancy left their imprint on the social and economic life of the Jews, especially in the German and Italian states. Highway robberies and losses suffered during the enforced travels also increased the damage to property. Much information is available on attacks and murders committed against expelled Jews who left their country and the protection of the authorities. Even in those expulsions where instructions were given to protect the departing Jews, such as the expulsions from England and Spain, there were numerous attacks. The wanderings were the cause of many diseases and also reduced the natural increase. A shocking description of the sufferings of the exiles from Spain and Portugal is given in the writings of the kabbalist Judah b. Jacob *?ayyat. He relates of himself and his companions after they had reached the safety of Muslim Tunis: "We ate the grass of the fields, and every day I ground with my own hands in the house of the Ishmaelites for the thinnest slice of bread not even fit for a dog. During the nights, my stomach was close to the ground – and my belly my cushion. Because of the great cold of the autumn – we had no garments in the frost and no houses to lodge in – we dug trenches in the refuse heaps of the town and put our bodies therein" (introduction to Min?at Yehudah (Mantua, 1558), 3a).

The expulsions left their impress on the entire nation and its history, both materially and spiritually. They maintained and constantly intensified the feeling of foreignness of the Jews in the Diaspora. The consecutive expulsions from England, France, and Spain resulted in a situation where after 1492 there were no Jews living openly on the European coast of the Atlantic Ocean in a period when this had become the center of world traffic. The expulsions of the late 15th century resulted in the return of many Jews to the Islamic countries, in particular to the Ottoman Empire. The Jews were also driven into *Poland-Lithuania. Frequently, the expulsions caused the centers of gravity of Jewish life to be removed from one place to another, the creation of new centers of settlement, messianic movements, and a renewed relationship with Ere? Israel; it was no coincidence that the kabbalists of Safed were Spanish exiles. The expulsions also caused the Jews of Spain to come into contact with those of Italy, the Balkans, Asia Minor, North Africa, and many Middle Eastern countries, where they influenced and fashioned the social-spiritual character of many communities in these regions. The expulsions may be considered one of the decisive factors shaping the map of Jewish settlement and one of the forces which molded the thinking of Jews both in relation to themselves and to the world of nations and states which surrounded them.

For expulsion by the Nazis, see Holocaust.


S.P. Rabinowitz, Mo?a'ei Golah (1894); B.L. Abrahams, in: JQR, 7 (1894/95), 75–100, 236–58, 428–58; A. Marx, ibid., 20 (1907/08), 240–71; R. Straus, Die Judengemeinde Regensburg im ausgehenden Mittelalter (1932); idem (ed.), Urkunden und Aktenstuecke zur Geschichte der Juden in Regensburg (1960); E.M. Kulisher, Europe on the Move (1948), index, S.V. Jews; I. Sonne, Mi-Paulo ha-Revi'i ad Pi'us ha-?amishi (1954); Baer, Spain, index; JSOS, index.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.