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Moshe Gil on Jewish Nationhood

The great historian Moshe Gil wrote the following in his book A History of Palestine: 634-1099, p. 490, over ten years ago.

The question often heard today, generally from elements unfriendly to the Jews, as to whether the Jews are a nation or only a religious community, did not trouble the Jews of the mediaeval period. They called themselves a nation as a matter of course. In recent times, the study of society has tried to fit this term into a tight matrix of precise definitions. As a matter of fact, however, it is obvious and known to intelligent people that the Jews were not for many generations, and are not today, a nation like other nations, owing to a lack of territorial concentration. Nevertheless, they were always more of a nation than all those nations settled on their land, due to an awareness of their common fate, their internal solidarity, their shared past and their deep cultural roots. All these features were characteristic of the Jews for generations, more so than of other nations. The strong communal organisation and central institutions of leadership preserved the unity of the nation no less than territory may have done, and perhaps even more so.

2 Responses to “Moshe Gil on Jewish Nationhood”

  1. 1

    It should be fairly obvious that the “decoupling” of Jewish religion and nationality is a relatively recent phenomenon (in historical terms).

    BTW, Gil’s more recent “Ve-hacna’ani az ba-aretz” is forthcoming in English.

  2. 2
    Harry Perkal:

    THe “decoupling” of religion and nationality maybe a modern phenomenon, but it is essential in today’s modern world. That is why there is such a crisis in the Muslim world- where Islam and the modern state are too intertwined. To a lesser extennt we see it in Israel and in Jewish life in America. After all one can be a Frenchman or a Jew and EVEN be an athiest. THis was off course not true to a large extent in the Middle ages. So religions have to adjust to a new. modern world.

    Harry P




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