In the year 70 and again in 135, having been defeated by the Romans and left without a Temple, Jews were obliged to leave the Promised Land and flee to other countries. But the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 was an important turning point in Jewish history. Granada, the last Omayyad Principality was captured, and Jews were faced with the choice of being baptised as Christians or going into exile. The majority fled to Portugal, some went over to North Africa, where they were not welcomed, and others went to Italy. However, when the Spanish established their authority in Italy, the Jews there had to seek refuge in the Ottoman Empire. This branch became known as the Sephardim, a word derived from Sepharad, Spain in Hebrew. Because these Jews brought with them much-needed experience and expertise, the Ottomans gave them special protection. Thessalonica soon became a Jewish city, and thanks to Jewish know-how, was an important commercial centre. When Egypt and Palestine came under Ottoman jurisdiction, they were an ideal haven for migrating Jews. Jews residing on Ottoman soil were not forced to live in isolated districts. Indeed some attained high office as diplomats in the Ottoman administration. Those who had fled to Portugal were, five years later, forced by Spain to accept Christian baptism. They retained their Jewish identity in secret for generations, but eventually started to emigrate once again. Early in the 17th century, every large commercial centre in Europe had its small Jewish settlement. Once the community was accepted at the upper levels of society, in many places they were able to worship as Jews.
Germany is known as Ashkenazi in Hebrew, and German Jews are known as Ashkenazim. In the 13th century they were ousted from the cities and migrated towards Poland and here Jews played a significant role in the economy. The efforts of the Cossacks in the Ukraine to eradicate the Jews caused those who survived to travel back to the West. By the end of the 18th century, the Ashkenazi Diaspora was concentrated particularly in Alsace, Amsterdam and London. The Ashkenazim differed from the Sephardim in culture, life-style and liturgical traditions. The Sephardim use the Ladino language, a form of medieval Spanish with Hebrew terms, written in Hebrew characters. The language of the Ashkenazim is Yiddish, a form of medieval German with Hebrew expressions, again written in Hebrew characters. Marriages across these two cultural groups were rare and they used separate synagogues. In time, some of these barriers were brought down. The Oriental Jews are the descendants of Jews exiled from Palestine, who settled in countries of the Middle East and North Africa.
At about this time the Hasidim movement appeared in the Ukraine, injecting new life into the Kabbalah. The Hasidim, (the pious ones) are passionately devoted to God, stress being ever in His presence in daily life, and the value of prayer. Ultra orthodox, they hold to a rigid commitment to the Law, but have a joyful form of worship, with song and dance. They place great emphasis on being modest, pure and patient when confronted with mockery or derision, which they face with equanimity. They used to live in small, enclosed communities, with leaders known as Zaddik. This office of leadership was passed from father to son, and they were accepted as intermediaries between man and God. When their followers brought them their problems, the Zaddik gave them comfort, courage and hope and offered prayers on their behalf. The religious dance of the Hasidim is performed on the Sabbath and Festival days in the house of the Zaddik where, after partaking of a meal together, the Zaddik reads mystic poems and those present first repeat these and then say prayers and perform the dances. They denounce the state of Israel as run by sinners and against the Jewish teaching to wait for Messiah to redeem them instead of taking matter into their own hands. There are large groups of Hasidim in Israel today, and in big cities in the USA. Hasidism did not use to be looked upon kindly by the Orthodox Jews – just as the Muslim theological colleges disapproved the tekyes – but nowadays they tend to perceive it as a defence against the Reform movement.