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The Main Events in Jewish History

In the beginning...

the Garden of EdenIn the beginning God created the universe. At the end of the creation God created the human being. He created a man and a woman, Adam and Eve. Although Adam and Eve were given all God’s gifts in the Garden of Eden, because they disobeyed God, they had to leave the garden.

Adam and Eve had many children, but two of their children, Cain and Abel, were involved in an argument. Cain was jealous of Abel and he murdered his brother. God made Cain wander all over the world as a nomad because of his terrible deed.

Ten generations later, the people of the world acted violently towards each other. God decided to destroy the world through a flood. A righteous person, Noah and his family were saved by God from the flood. Noah built an ark which he protected his family and two of each kind of animal from the waters of the flood.

Ten generations later, a great person by the name of Abraham established a special relationship (a covenant or brit) with God. Abraham recognised that there was one God and he and his wife, Sarah, taught all those around them about God. Abraham and Sarah and their family travelled from the Persian Gulf to the Land of Israel.

God promised the Land of Israel to Abraham and his descendants. Abraham’s son, Isaac, and Isaac’s son, Jacob, both followed their father’s and grandfather’s example.

They also had a special relationship with God. Isaac’s wife, Rebecca, and Jacob’s wives, Leah and Rachel, and their children, all had a special bond with God.

In and out of Egypt

Pharaoh, ruler of EgyptOne of Jacob’s sons, Joseph was taken away from his father to Egypt and sold as a slave. Due to God’s special care, Joseph rose to become the Prime Minister of Egypt.

When there was a lack of food in the Land of Israel because of a famine, Joseph arranged for his family to come and live in Egypt. After Joseph died, a new king arose in Egypt. This king, Pharaoh, was extremely cruel to the Children of Israel (the name given to the descendants of Jacob who was renamed Israel by God).

After years of suffering in slavery, God sent the greatest leader who ever lived, Moses, to take the Children of Israel out of Egypt. Pharaoh refused to let the people go and so he and his people were punished with 10 plagues until he agreed to let them leave.

the 10 plaguesAfter the Children of Israel left Egypt they found themselves in trouble as they were being chased by the Egyptians. In front of them was the Reed Sea (also known as the Red Sea) which cut them off from freedom. God made a miracle, the sea divided and the Children of Israel crossed through on dry land.

Seven weeks after leaving Egypt, the people of Israel came to Mount Sinai. There, God appeared to each and every person and gave them His Teaching for life, the Torah. He also gave them a 10-part summary of the Torah which we call The Ten Commandments.

Moses looking at the land of IsraelThe Children of Israel spent another 40 years in the desert and they lived on a special food called manna, which was made available to them every morning by a miracle from God. The manna was not available on Shabbat.  Instead a double portion appeared on Friday.

Just before they entered the Land of Israel, Moses died and Joshua took over the leadership. Joshua and other leaders, call judges, led the people. They were involved with securing the Land of Israel for the people from the surrounding nations.

In the Land of Israel

King DavidEventually, judges were replaced by kings, who ruled over a united Israel. Two of the greatest kings were King David and King Solomon. King David made Jerusalem the capital of Israel over 3,000 years ago. King Solomon built a Temple (Beit HaMikdash) in Jerusalem which was a magnificent building. People would come from all over Israel to the Temple and bring offerings to God. They would do that particularly on the pilgrim festivals – Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot.

After King Solomon, the Land of Israel was divided into the northern kingdom (10 tribes) and the southern kingdom (2 tribes). The northern kingdom and the southern kingdom each had their own kings.

During the period of the judges and the kings, the spiritual leadership of the nation was carried out by the prophets. The prophets were deeply spiritual people with a special bond with God. Often the prophets were unpopular because they criticised the foreign worship and bad behaviour which the people followed at different times.

The northern kingdom was attacked by the Assyrians and the 10 tribes were taken into captivity in 700 B.C.E. These tribes were then called the 10 lost tribes because they lost contact with the rest of the Children of Israel.

About 120 years later the southern kingdom was defeated by the Babylonians. In 586 B.C.E. Solomon’s Temple (the first Temple) was destroyed on 9th Av. As the majority of the southern kingdom were of the tribe of Judah, they became known collectively as ‘Jews’. Most of the Jews were exiled to Babylon (modern day Iraq).

The Torah and the Talmud

a man reading a Torah scrollOriginally the Torah was given to the Children of Israel by God through Moses on Mount Sinai. It consisted of the written Torah and its spoken explanation called the Oral Torah. When Moses taught the written Torah to the people, he also informed them about the Oral Torah explanation. Moses passed on the oral explanation to Joshua, his successor.

Joshua passed in on to the wise elders who in turn passed it on to the prophets. When the exile to Babylon took place, there was a fear that the oral explanation would be lost and so it began to be recorded. This recording was called the Midrash, which means ‘to explain’.

In 200 C.E., Rabbi Judah the Prince decided to introduce an organised system of Torah wisdom (i.e.: both the written and the oral Torahs), so he put all the laws concerning a particular subject together.  This record is called The Mishna.

About 70 years after the destruction of the first Temple, the Jews were allowed to return to Eretz Yisrael.  Various groups returned to Israel under the leadership of great people. The greatest of these people was Ezra who was both politically wise and spiritually gifted. Ezra encouraged the rebuilding of the Temple.

a volume of the TalmudTwo centres of Torah study developed: one in Israel and other in Babylon. The place of learning was called the yeshiva. Discussion of the Mishna took place in yeshivot (plural of ‘yeshiva’) and this discussion was finally recorded in what became known as the Talmud. Because there were yeshivot in both Israel and Babylon, we have both a Jerusalem Talmud and a Babylonian Talmud.

Purim, Chanukah and Tisha B’Av

Around this time the Jewish community faced death because of the plan of the evil man, Haman. Haman convinced the king, Achashverosh, to allow the Jews to be killed.

A secret Jew, Queen Esther, the wife of the king, pleaded with the king to save the Jews. A miracle occurred and she succeeded. Jews were able to defend themselves and to destroy their enemies. The Festival of Purim was established by the rabbis to commemorate this wonderful victory.

About 100 years later in Israel the Jews faced another threat.  Many Jews took on the practices of Hellenism, which rejected the God of Israel. The Hellenistic Jews were influenced by Greece. (Hellas is the Greek word for Greece.)

A small group of Jews led by Matityahu (Mattathius) and his son, Judah the Maccabi, rebelled against Greece and Hellenism. They chased away the Hellenists from the Temple and rededicated it.  They managed to find a small bottle of sacred oil to light the Menorah which burned for eight (8) days. The rabbis made a special festival to remember this victory called Chanukah.

After the Greeks, Israel faced another enemy called the Romans.  They forced the Jews to give up their religion and eventually destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem.  That took place in 70 C.E. on Tisha B’Av (the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Av - the same date that the first Temple was destroyed).

Most of the Jews were exiled to various parts of the Roman Empire.  Jews were banned from Jerusalem. For the Jews remaining in Israel, life became very difficult. They tried to overthrow the Romans.  Their revolt was led by Bar Kochba and Rabbi Akiva. The Jews lost the battle.

From that time until the middle of the 20th Century, Jews did not control Israel. They were under the rule of other nations there for almost two thousand years. After the Romans, the Muslims took control and finally, at the beginning of the 20th Century, the British captured Israel from the Turkish Muslims. Britain promised the Jews that they would be given their homeland back again. Lord Balfour, representing the British government, wrote a letter to Lord Rothschild promising the return of the Jews to Israel.  This letter is known as the Balfour Declaration.

Life in the Diaspora (outside Israel)

From the time of the destruction of the second Temple, Jews lived in the Diaspora (countries outside Israel). Jews always lived in Eretz Yisrael although at times only a very small settlement (yishuv) remained.

Sometimes Jews lived peacefully in the Diaspora.  However, there were many times when the Jews suffered a great deal because of antisemites (people who hate Jews). There were many pogroms (anti-Jewish riots) in many different countries.

After Christianity became the main religion in Europe, the Jews were often persecuted because they were of a different religion.  The church was particularly antisemitic. In 1492 the Jews were expelled from Spain.  This also occurred on Tisha B’Av.

Jews in Muslim countries in North Africa and in Asia also suffered a great deal. There were times when Jews were able to live without suffering. Throughout the Diaspora period, Jews never stopped being loyal to God and the Torah.  No matter how difficult things were, most Jews refused to convert to Christianity or Islam. Torah study flourished and yeshivot were established wherever Jews lived.

After Europeans settled in America, Africa and Australia, Jewish people settled in those parts of the world too. Fortunately, Jews in those countries were not often physically attacked as a group, although they were sometimes discriminated against.

The greatest tragedy that occurred to Jewish people since the destruction of the Temple was the Holocaust in Europe. The Nazis planned to murder all the Jews. During the Second World War (1939-1945) six million innocent Jews were slaughtered. Many died in concentration camps such as Auschwitz. Eventually the Nazis were defeated and the rest of the Jews were saved.

Zionism: Jews rule Israel again

Israel's symbol, the menorahZion is another name in the Bible for Jerusalem. A Zionist is some who is loyal to Israel. Zionism was a movement that wanted to make Israel a Jewish state once again. Jews were Zionists over all the years from when the Temple was destroyed. Small groups of Jews had always remained in Israel.  They too suffered a great deal over the years.

Zionism as a movement began with the first Zionist Congress 100 years ago. Many great people played important roles in this movement. Theodore Herzl was its founder. Some Jews returned to Israel at the end of the 19th Century.

Eventually, an independent Israel was re-established in 1948. David Ben-Gurion, who became the first Prime Minister of Israel, announced the new Jewish State on 15 May 1948 (5 Iyar 5708). After the establishment of the State of Israel, many Jews returned to Israel from all over the world. There were 600,000 Jews in Israel when the state was first announced.  There are now 4 million Jews in Israel.

Jews in Australia

AustraliaJews came to Australia with the first fleet 200 years ago. Australia has welcomed Jews to its shores. In multicultural Australia, the Jewish community is free to follow its religion and its culture without interference.

There are about 100,000 Jews in Australia, including 40,000 in Sydney and 40,000 in Melbourne.  Other major Jewish communities are found in Brisbane, Gold Coast, Adelaide and Perth. In addition to synagogues, the community has schools, youth groups, welfare organisations, senior citizens groups and Zionist bodies.

Jews contribute to Australia as loyal citizens by helping to build up the country. The Torah expects us to help the country in which we live and also those who are less fortunate than us or are disabled in any way. We have a duty to help indigenous Australians or others who have been disadvantaged over the years.

God expects us to obey the laws of Australia or the country in which we live, provided they do not contradict the Torah.  This mitzvah is called dina de-malchuta dina (the law of the land is law).

This is republished with thanks to Be-Lechtecha Va-Derech: Finding My Way As A Jew,
compiled by Rabbi Selwyn Franklin, Rabbi Chaim Ingram and Mr Max Lemberg.

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