Shivat Tziyon – 17

The destruction of the First Temple and the exile of the elites to Babylonia were of course a huge shock to our system, theologically, socially, and politically.  It seems that the people’s expectation, encouraged by the prophets, was that this punishment would be a harsh but passing blow – that in the near future God would relent and accept our repentance and restore our sovereignty and our connection to Him through the Temple ritual (see, for example, Jeremiah 29).  And indeed, so it happened – with the Persian conquest of Babylonia, a new policy was instituted, and the emperor Cyrus allowed the restoration of autonomy in Judah and the rebuilding of the Temple (but not, significantly, the restoration of the monarchy!) just 50 years after the destruction.  Therefore it is remarkable that the response was not a mass return, but rather a trickle, with many of the exiles choosing to stay in their new home.  And thus was created the model of Diaspora Jewish life coexisting with a Jewish state.  Moreover, the process of rebuilding and reorganizing the community in Israel was difficult and frustrating, and didn’t look much like the promised redemption.  The period of Shivat Tziyon therefore offers suggestive parallels to our own modern situation of Israel-Diaspora coexistence.  This unit explores the somewhat sketchy historical knowledge we have of the period, focusing on the apparent dilemmas raised by the exiles’ ambivalent response to the possibility of restoration.

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