THE ROAD FROM BABYLON: The Story of Sephardic and Oriental Jews by Chaim Raphael

THE ROAD FROM BABYLON: The Story of Sephardic and Oriental Jews

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

The wheel of Jewish history comes full circle in this steadily illuminating survey of the birth of Eastern Jewry, its lives through the ages, and its role in modern Israel. Though Raphael's history is written for Jews, non-Jews will find it richly revealing and useful for making the varied tribes of today's Israelis stand out brilliantly in the overall ethnic pattern. Sephardi means literally a Jew whose ancestors once lived in Spain or Portugal. Today that includes Jews ""whose ancestors lived in the Balkans, Asia Minor, North Africa and indeed all around the Mediterranean, and in the Near and Middle East."" The largest rival Jewish group is the Ashkenazi, Jews from the Rhineland and Northern Europe, who have taken over the leadership of the Jewish world and from whose Western skills, culture and ideologies sprang the State of Israel. The Ashkenazim and Sephardim now find themselves opposed in Israel. The relative position of these two groups, as Raphael explains, stems from their different ""host"" countries throughout history. Eastern Jews lived under mighty empires--Byzantine, Persian, Muslim, Mongol, Turkish and so on. At the end of the 16th century, their world declined and there was ""a dramatic rise to power by the northern and western world in which in the Ashkenazim lived. . . There has now, however, been a remarkable change in this balance: in numbers at least, 'the East in Israel once more outweighs the West."" That is, Israel has an enormous cultural bias favoring the Sephardim, or Jews from Arab countries such as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, among others, and though every Israeli today has one vote, the power still lies--however uneasily--with the Ashkenazim. Meanwhile, the Sephardim are not as rigidly religious as the Ashkenazim, and Sephardic youth with their Arab backgrounds have an eruptive revolutionary spirit. Unlike the Ashkenazi, who are pilgrims and settlers, the Sephardim have always lived near or in the Holy Land and ""did not arrive in an unknown land, but were able to pick up the living threads of their own story."" A potent retelling of Jewish origins in the East, life under Islam, Jews in the Golden Age in Spain, the Sephardi expulsion and great decline, the Nazis, and the ingathering to Israel.

Pub Date: Jan. 8th, 1985
Publisher: Harper & Row