From 70 CE to 1917
I began this series with a very brief consideration of the devastating events of 69/70 CE. In that fateful year our most sacred place, the House of the Holy (Beit HaMikdash) was completely destroyed by the armies of the Roman Empire. With few exceptions only the Kotel, the Western Retaining Wall of the Mount, survived. Remembering this horrendous event is vital as we move into an uncertain future.
The First Jewish War, also called the Roman War (and ha-Mered HaGadol: The Great Revolt) took place between 66 - 70 CE.
About 1,100,000 people were killed during the Roman siege of Y'rushalayim. Many of these people died, not from the military assaults, but due to war-related illnesses brought about by starvation, water contamination, and diverse pestilences. 97,000 Jewish survivors were captured and enslaved by the Romans. Uncertain numbers of others fled the region and settled elsewhere around the known world. The Jews of Butte County are largely the descendants of these first century Jewish refugees.
Whereas the Romans had ostensibly entered the region as our allies (circa 161 BCE) they soon produced the greatest disaster in Israeli history, arguably prior the modern era under Stalin and then Hitler (may their names be erased from human consciousness). It seems we had forgotten Tehillim/Psalms 146:3 (“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save”).1
On July 29, 70 CE came the destruction of the Second Beit HaMikdash (our Holy Temple) of Y'rushalayim.
The assault on Y'rushalayim was led by Titus Flavius, son of Vespasian, the Roman Emperor (69 - 79 CE). Virtually all of the surviving Israeli Jews were dispersed throughout the world following the destruction of the Holy Temple and the fall of Masada.
Between 71 and 73 CE bands of courageous Jews, known as the siqariqim סיקריקים or “dagger men,” rebels of the Zealot sect, held out against the Roman occupiers. For a time, they held various locations including Herodium and the fortress (מצדה metzadá i.e. Masada) of Machaerus on the shore of the Dead Sea. These attempts all fell before the might of Rome when Lucius Flavius Silva became leader of Rome's forces. Rome moved against the Masada Jewish patriots in the autumn of 72 CE. Once Masada was finally taken in 73 CE (3833 HH) they discovered 967 Jewish defenders who had all committed suicide, preferring death to defeat (may their courage and loyalty never be forgotten).1
Between 132 and 136 CE Israel's last stand took place with the Bar Kokhba Revolt, the last Jewish - Roman War. From this struggle until 1948 our Homeland was held by forces hostile to our people (although there was never a time without some Jewish presence in Eretz Israel). Today a portion of our Jewish Birthright Land has been restored. Slightly over half of our people have now returned to the Land. Despite this, Israel remains under serious assault by our enemies – may HaShem bless and strengthen the Israeli people to stand courageously against all odds, even as our ancestors did.
Many of the Jews who survived the Roman assaults fled into Europe as we discussed previously. They lived throughout the Continent for many years, mainly keeping low profiles in small Jewish villages and quarters. Sometimes their lives went well, but it seemed that renewed persecution was seldom far away. With the “discovery” of the “New World” many Jews, along with their Christian neighbors, headed for what they hoped would be “New Zion,” a land of religious and ethnic liberty for all.
The earliest of these Jews were Sephardim from Spain and Portugal. They came on transatlantic ships like the HMS Abigail in 1621. These Jews settled and largely remained along the Eastern Seaboard. With them came the traditional Sephardic observances. It was the Gold Rush of 1849 that first attracted Jews to our area. Most of these Jews were reform minded Ashkenazim.
The Butte County Historical Society's publication Diggin's2 has been referenced extensively in this series. It offers much more information on these topics. Of the independent-minded Jews of Butte County, that publication concludes the following:
The Price of Assimilation“… [The Jews survived] into the twentieth century because of the heritage brought to their new environment even though the latter at times had been hostile to some ethnic groups.The first Jewish couple to be married in Chico, in 1871, were the Manuel Breslauers.4 This family has been vital to the development of the Butte County Jewish community. Immersed into the new realities of the dawning Twentieth Century, some of the Jews of Butte County laid the foundations for what would become Congregation Beth Israel (CBI).
They continued the traditions they brought with them from Europe and, for the most part, lived quietly among their Christian neighbors while pursuing their concept of the American dream. Even when they achieved prosperity and started to take active roles in community affairs, they continued their [traditional] restrained manner.
Would this absorption into the Christian world of Butte County – in other words, assimilation – have been possible had the Jewish immigrants been orthodox in their beliefs and practices? Certainly the reform [i.e. Haskalah inspired] aspects of Judaism, permitting its adherents to deviate from the strict old world dietary and religious practices, made assimilation easier. Had Butte County's Jewish population been orthodox [sic], they would have differed in dress and customs from their Christian neighbors and may not have been as acceptable to the rural and mining communities in which they lived.
In the next [i.e. twentieth] century, then had become economically secure and more socially prominent, their children began to intermarry with Gentiles and became [largely] lost to Judaism. In fact, not all of their descendants would even admit to having a Jewish grandparent. Their loss to Judaism was the typical price that assimilation brings. In the meantime, however, to the nineteenth century Butte County Jews, assimilation without losing their religious and cultural identification seemed a readily attainable goal.”3
Despite the dangers and cost of assimilation, Judaism survived into the Twentieth Century and continues on into the Twenty first.
To be continued.
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Rabbi Shlomo Nachman