A history of the Jews: Ancient and Modern by Ilan Halévi

By Ilan Halévi

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And when the gaon 56 The Law Natronai, in the 8th century, proclaimed that "whoever dares to dispute any of [his] decisions is like one who rebels against God and his Torah", the revolt that started in Baghdad inflamed the Jewish communities of Persia and Egypt, provoking the furious denunciation of the rabbis: everywhere, with the help of the Umayyad state or Christian bishops, Karaism was persecuted. In some places it merged into Christianity, in others into Islam, elsewhere it was recuperated and reintegrated in the body of talmudic Judaism, and it only survived as a marginal sect of archaeological interest, like the Samaritans clinging to their mountain at Nablus.

The dispersion, the condition of both rabbinical power and imperial protection, had become a virtue, albeit a negative one. Thus, the power of the rabbis, even after the abolition of the Temple and the death penalty, was not simply the power of ideology. It affected the whole set of social, sexual, family and economic practices within the community. In the event of rebellion, the community might have recourse 57 A History of the Jews Ancient and Modern to exclusion. In the event of disorder, it was the empire, the "law of the kingdom" (dina-de-malkhutd) which, according to the talmudic saying, had the last word.

Jerusalem had fallen into the hands of Omar without a fight: the Eastern Christians, weary of the Byzantine persecutions, opened the gates of the city to the armies of Islam. Muslim tradition relates proudly that the caliph Omar refused to pray before the Holy Sepulchre, so as not to provide Muslims with an excuse, "after his death", to construct a mosque on the site of the church-thus showing admirable tolerance. However, this alliance had been negotiated and the Christians had set a condition sine quanon for their acquiescence: that the Jews not be permitted to return to Jerusalem.

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