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As he stipulates, this concept was in fact embraced and articulated in a remarkable variety of sources, both Jewish and non-Jewish or anti-Jewish: from the traditional Jewish teaching based on the warning in Deuteronomy that for their sins “the Lord will scatter you among all the peoples from one end of the earth to the other,” to the medieval Christian view that similarly saw the Jews’ wandering as divinely ordained, but in this case as punishment for their ancestors’ role in the killing of Jesus.Modern historians, for their part, even as they rejected divine causes in favor of material ones, continued to write of Jewish population movements as involuntary.For complex and salutary historical reasons, America displayed an accepting attitude toward Jews, even a welcoming one.
Chazan contends forcefully that this account mistakes official expulsions—an infrequent pattern that began in France only in the 12th century and occurred fitfully in Europe thereafter—for the entire sweep of Jewish diaspora history.
Chazan is at his strongest in writing about the European Middle Ages (his area of academic specialty).
Nor was this seeming bifurcation of circumstances a characteristic only of the Great Wave of East European Jews.
To the contrary, as Robert Chazan sets out to show in a new book, , it is a pattern that has recurred throughout Jewish history.
Until that point, the “normal” immigration systems of Western countries addressed immigrants as migrants.
While not everyone applying for entry was moving for economic gain—many moved to be with family members, for instance—all were treated legally as though moving voluntarily. formally defined “refugee” in the context of immigration law.They came by the thousands, then by the hundreds of thousands.Fleeing the pogroms and state-sanctioned economic discrimination that followed the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, the Jews of the Russian empire poured out of Eastern Europe into Germany and Austria.To hear him tell it, every Jewish population movement that was a state-ordered expulsion constituted “voluntary migration in search of better circumstances.” Not even the widespread or “pan-European” anti-Jewish violence that accompanied some of the Crusades and then the arrival of the Black Death in the mid-14th century, according to Chazan, provided an incentive to relocate.This seems supportable only if measured in a short time-scale.His exploration of the expulsion decree promulgated in 1182 by Philip Augustus of France, of the way in which, although limited in scope to the crown lands, it differed radically from anything that had come before, and of its role in solidifying royal power even as it set a tragic and destructive precedent for European Jewry, is especially evocative and persuasive.So, too, is his description of how a cycle of princely recruitment, exploitation, and then expulsion of Jews, a cycle starting in England and France and then rippling onward, drew Jews northward out of the ancient diaspora regions of the Mediterranean and pushed them eastward in rolling waves.Chazan, a professor of Jewish history at New York University, presents a survey of Jewish population movements from late antiquity to the end of the 18th century.Although the Great Wave is thus technically outside his purview, it crops up in his book even more frequently than do the two other momentous events foreshadowed by his subject: the Holocaust and the foundation of Israel.Here one finds oneself wishing for more, and disappointed that the narrative, rather than continuing at this level of particularity once the migrations hit Poland and Eastern Europe, fades into generalities.Much less convincing, in any case, is Chazan’s propounding of his own near-monolithic theory.