"In the beginning, our ancestors did not recognize God but then HASHEM drew us close to His service, as it is stated, "So God, the Lord of Israel, said: Your ancestors lived beyond the Euphrates, Terach, the father of Abraham and Nachor, and they served other gods. And I took your Father, Abraham, from beyond that river and led him through the land of Canaan. I multiplied his descendants and I gave him Isaac. To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. To Esau, I gave Mount Seir to inherit, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt." - HAGADAH for Passover
I said previously that Jews are people who are descended from people who chose to be Jewish. Before the giving of the TORAH, anyone could choose to be Jewish as the mixed multitude did. Also Jews could choose to stop being Jewish. After the TORAH was received, that choice was taken away. No Jew today can choose not to be Jewish. He may say he is not Jewish; he may even convert to another religion - but according to Jewish self-definition, he will always still be Jewish. After the event at Sinai, there is only one way for a nonJew to become a Jew, by a structured conversion which is a religious process of dedicating oneself to the 613 commandments of the TORAH. The logic of this lies in the fact that at Sinai, the Jews as a whole accepted the TORAH, collectively choosing Jewishness so that no individual Jew can renounce it in essence because he cannot renounce what we call in Yiddish, PINTELE YID, "the Jewish soul. Conversely, a gentile can only become Jewish by undergoing the same experience that the Jewish nation experienced at Sinai; he must receive the TORAH within himself. His advantage over the ancestors at Sinai is that he does not need to say, "I will do and I will hear." Unlike the ancient Israelites, no one today expects someone to choose Jewishness without understanding full well what he is getting into, because once he becomes a Jew, he can never return to being a nonJew even if he should repudiate his conversion. If he does later repudiate it, he will become, not a gentile but a bad Jew.
There is no finer example of the Jewish origin from the nations than in the passage quoted above from the Passover HAGADAH. The passage is instructive. God gave Isaac to Abraham. He also gave him Ishmael. Why doesn't the HAGADAH mention Ishmael when it clearly mentions Esau? Both sons rejected Jewishness and remained gentiles. In classical Jewish tradition, Ishmael is seen as the father of the Muslims while Esau is seen as the father of the Christians.
Sarah insisted that Ishmael be sent away because Ishmael taunted Isaac.
Genesis 16:12 - "He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers."
It's true that Ishmael joined Isaac to bury Abraham but there is no mention of a real rapprochement with Isaac or any sense of affection between them.
Furthermore, Genesis 37:25-28 tells us that "As Joseph's brothers sat down to their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm, and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, "What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood." His brothers agreed. So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt."
Either the name "Midianite" is a scribal error or the name is most probably a synonym for Ishmaelite. Be that as it may, the relationship between Israelites and Ishmaelites has worked out badly as any modern newspaper will verify.
Contrast the behavior of Esau as described in Genesis 33:1-4.
"And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids. And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost. And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept."
Hundreds of years later, when the Israelites returned from captivity in Egypt during the Exodus, God commands the Israelites to honor and respect their "brothers" the Edomites, the descendants of Esau. The Israelites are commanded to be careful not to provoke the Edomites or take anything from them without paying for it. - Deuteronomy 2:2-5
During the revolt of the Maccabees against the Seleucid kingdom, Judas Maccabeus conquered the territory of Idumea [Edom]. They were again subdued by John Hyrcanus (c. 125 BCE). They were then incorporated within the Jewish nation by conversion.
Nowhere is there a better example of a gentile turning to the TORAH than in the story of Ruth which is very misunderstood by most Christians. There is even a certain poignancy in the story because Ruth was a Moabite and according to the TORAH, a Moabite may not be accepted for conversion.
Deuteronomy 23:1-4: "He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD. A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD. An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee."
More to the point, both Ammon and Moab were the children of an incestuous sexual experience between Lot and his daughters
Genesis 19:23-38: - "The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Zoar. Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt. And Abraham gat up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the LORD: And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace. And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in the which Lot dwelt. And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters. And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth: Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father. And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose. And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father. And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father. And the first born bare a son, and called his name Moab: the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day. And the younger, she also bare a son, and called his name Benammi: the same is the father of the Ammonites unto this day."
The Story of Ruth. [Wikipedia]
During the time of the Judges when there was a famine, an Israelite family from Bethlehem-Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their sons Mahlon and Chilion-emigrate to the nearby country of Moab. Elimelech dies, and the sons marry two Moabite women: Mahlon marries Ruth and Chilion marries Orpah.
The two sons of Naomi then die themselves. Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem. She tells her daughters-in-law to return to their own mothers, and remarry. Orpah reluctantly leaves; however, Ruth says, "Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The LORD do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me." (Ruth 1:16-17)
The message of the book shows acceptance of the Israelites marrying converts to Judaism, and this has been used to suggest that the book was written during the postexilic period, perhaps around 500 BCE. Ezra (10:2ff) and Nehemiah (13:23ff) record the problem that arose from the Israelites marrying foreign women. Instead of the wives converting to Judaism the Israelites began to follow their wives' gods. As a result, God's people fell out of relationship with YHWH. For this reason, Ezra condemned intermarriages and forced the Israelites to abandon their non-Jewish wives. According to this theory, the book was written in response to Ezra's reform and in defense of a marriage to a foreign wife when the wife converts to Judaism. Acceptance of marriages to foreigners who convert to Judaism is further enforced by making the connection to the Davidic line since David is commonly seen as Israel's greatest king.
In many ways, most of what Christians and Jews would draw from the text would be the same. The Book of Ruth has a unique significance to Jews. In particular, the figure of Ruth is celebrated as a convert to Judaism who understood Jewish principles and took them to heart. This book is also held in esteem by Jews who fall under the category of Jews-by-choice, as evident in the considerable presence of Boaz in rabbinic literature. As well, the "Book of Ruth" is read during the Jewish holiday of SHAVUOT, most likely due to the fact that the story takes place during the barley harvest and that SHAVUOT is the celebration of the end of such harvest.
For Christians the book has additional significance. The connection between Ruth and David is very important because Jesus the Nazarene was born of Mary, betrothed to Joseph of the lineage of David (see Chapter 3 in Luke and Chapter 1 in Matthew, respectively). Thus in Christian Biblical lineage, Ruth is a foremother of Jesus the Christian messiah (Matthew 1:5). It goes without saying that in Jewish tradition, Ruth is also the ancestress of the messiah to come.
The question remains, How did the Rabbis justify the conversion of Ruth when Deuteronomy 23 clearly disapproves of Moabites and Ammonites entering the congregation of Israel? They justified it by grammatical manipulation. A Moabite is forbidden, but not a Moabitess. This justification is also
used to accept the conversion of Solomon's first wife, Naamah, who was an Ammonitess.
MISHNAH Yebamoth 76b - "An Ammonite and a Moabite [male] are forbidden [for conversion] but their women are permitted."
A story in the Talmud Berakhot, 28a, [the date around 100 CE], informs us that one day, two of the greatest sages, Rabban Gamliel II and Rabbi Joshua, were sitting in the YESHIVA, when an Ammonite who had accepted the Jewish religion came in and said: "MA ANI LAVO BAKAHAL." Can I join the community as a full Jew? Can I marry a Jewish woman, and do everything a Jew can do? The great Rabban Gamliel said to him: "ASUR ATA LAVO BAKAHAL" You are forbidden to join the community as a full Jew. Rabbi Joshua disagreed. He said to him. You are permitted to join the community. Rabban Gamliel turned to Rabbi Joshua in astonishment and said: "Is it not written expressly in the Bible that an Ammonite cannot join the community?" Rabbi Joshua answered him as follows: "Do Ammon and Moab reside in their place? Long ago, Sennacherib the king of Assyria came and he mixed up all the nations; therefore we no longer know who is and who isn't an Ammonite, and we must assume that this man belongs to the generality of nations against whom there are no exclusionary laws.
This decision was incorporated into standard Jewish Law. Maimonides in his work, LAWS GOVERNING SEXUAL RELATIONS: 12.25 writes:
"When Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came up, he mixed up all the nations and confused them with one another, and exiled them from their place. And these Egyptians who are in the land of Egypt now are different people, and so are the Edomites who are in the field of Edom. And since the four peoples who were discriminated against have become mixed with the others, there is now no discrimination against any of them, for we assume that any that chooses to convert belongs to the majority. Therefore when a proselyte takes on Judaism in this time in any place, whether Edomite or Egyptian, Ammonite or Moabite, Negro or any other race, males and females alike are permitted to join the community immediately."
Source for the above: https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/corre/www/occasionala/wayne.html - From an address given at Congregation Emanuel, Providence R.I, August 8, 1994, by Alan D. Corré, Emeritus Professor of Hebrew Studies, University of Wisconsin.
Thus the last impediment against any gentile becoming a Jew was finally removed.
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Unfortunately the TORAH contains commandments of extermination against the Canaanites and the Book of Joshua does contain stories of genocide. But
thankfully these are limited to a few episodes. For the most part, the Biblical Israelites seem to have ignored orders to kill off whole tribes and nations once they had established secure footholds in the Land. The last of the Canaanites were defeated under the leadership of Deborah, and the last of the Philistines under the leadership of David. Yet there is no mention of their ultimate destruction by Israel. These defeated peoples may have become, at first, "drawers of water and hewers of wood", but eventually their very identities appear to have become submerged into the peoplehood of Israel.
By the time of Isaiah, who was active from around 740 BCE to around 701 BCE, there were already many former gentiles, living among the people of Judah, who had converted to the religion of the Jews, thereby becoming Judahites [Jews]. In fact, Judahites went through a period of despair and deep depression during the time in which he prophesied, and the converts among them experienced feelings of being rejected by God. Isaiah speaks comforting words to them, assuring them that they are completely accepted among God's People.
Isaiah 56:1-7 - "Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.
Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the person that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil. Neither let the SON OF THE STRANGER, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Also the SONS OF THE STRANGER, THAT JOIN THEMSELVES TO THE LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and TAKETH HOLD OF MY COVENANT; Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people."
Among the prophets of messianism, Isaiah certainly excels. But he was not the only one that foretold of the eventual attraction of Jewishness among the nations. At least two other such prophecies come to mind of all the many such prophecies.
"Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the robe of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you." - Zechariah 8:23
What "we will go with you" means is not certain. It may refer to conversion or merely to recognition that the nations who treated Jews badly now realize the tragedy of their behaviors. - Zechariah 8:13 "Just as you have been an object of cursing among the nations, O Judah and Israel, so will I save you, and you will be a blessing."
The second prophecy appears surprisingly where we would not expect it, in the context of the nations making war with Israel. According to Zechariah, in the messianic era, SUKKOT will become a universal festival and all nations will make pilgrimages annually to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast there.
Zechariah 14:16-19 - "Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, they will have no rain. If the Egyptian people do not go up and take part, they will have no rain. The LORD will bring on them the plague He inflicts on the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.
This is a strange prophecy because why are gentiles forced to observe a Jewish holiday unless it is a prelude to their becoming Jewish? Yet that does not make any sense. Becoming Jewish must be voluntary in order to be valid; it must be a choice [regardless of what the grandsons of the Maccabees did
in forcing certain conquered nations to accept Judaism. These forced conversions were condemned by the rabbis although they did not invalidate them for the sake of the forced converts' descendants.]
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Following Solomon's death in c. 926 BCE, tensions between the northern part of Israel containing the ten northern tribes, and the southern section dominated by Jerusalem and the southern tribes reached boiling point. When Solomon's successor Rehoboam dealt tactlessly with economic complaints of the northern tribes, in about 930 BCE (there are difference of opinion as to the actual year) the united Kingdom of Israel split into two kingdoms: the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah which contained Jerusalem.
The Kingdom of Israel (or Northern Kingdom) existed as an independent state until around 720 BCE when it was conquered by the Assyrian Empire; while the Kingdom of Judah (or Southern Kingdom) existed as an independent state until 586 BC when it was conquered by the Babylonian Empire.
The Bible relates that the population of Israel was exiled and assimilated among the nations, completely disappearing from history, leaving only the tribe of Judah, and the tribes of Simeon and Benjamin which were "absorbed" into Judah, along with the tribe of of Levi who lived among them.
Thereafter, the only remaining Israelites were Judahites, shortened to Jews.
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THE BABYLONIAN EXILE was the period in Jewish history during which the Jews of the ancient Kingdom of Judah were captives in Babylon.
According to the history recorded in the Hebrew bible, there were three deportations of Jews to Babylon, the first in 597 BCE involving king Jeconiah and his court and many others, a second in 587 BCE of the next king, Zedekiah, and the rest of the people, and a final deportation at an unspecified time after this (possibly 582 BCE) following the assassination of Gedaliah, the Babylonian governor. The exile ended in 538 BCE with the fall of Babylon to the Persian king Cyrus the Great, who gave the Jews permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.
The captivity and subsequent return to Israel and rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple are pivotal events in the history of the Jews and Judaism, and had a far-reaching impact on the development of Jewish culture and practices.
The Babylonian Captivity and the subsequent return to Israel were seen as one of the pivotal events in the biblical drama between God and his people of Israel. Just as they had been predestined for, and saved from, slavery in Egypt, in the logic of the Bible it had been prophesied that the Israelites would go into captivity to the Babylonians for their idolatry and disobedience to God, and then be delivered once more. The Babylonian Captivity had a number of serious effects on Judaism and the Jewish culture. For example, the current Babylonian-Hebrew script was adopted during this period, replacing the traditional Canaanite script.
This period saw the last high-point of Biblical prophecy in the person of Ezekiel, followed by the emergence of the central role of the TORAH in Jewish life; according to many historical-critical scholars, it was edited and redacted during this time, and saw the beginning of the canonization of the Bible, which provided a central text for Jews. The structure of what we modern people call "Judaism" began to develop during this three and a half generational exile from the Land of Israel.
This process coincided with the emergence of scribes and sages as Jewish leaders. Actually the Jews taken to Babylon were from the educated upper classes, including priests and disciples of the prophets who became the teachers and de facto leaders of the people. Jewish Oral Tradition sees a line of authority leading from Moses through Joshua, the Judges, the Prophets, their disciples, ultimately to prophetic disciples of disciples, eventually becoming men which we call "rabbis". In later centuries, under the rule of the Maccabees, their disciples became known as Pharisees [from a Hebrew word meaning "separatists"]. After the destruction of Israel by the Roman Empire, the vast majority of surviving Jews sought the leadership and direction of the Pharisees to tell them "how to be Jewish" and how to observe the TORAH. All expressions of TORAH observance not Pharisaic were declared heresies. In the modern world, Orthodox [Pharisaic] Jews do not consider nonOrthodox Jews as heretics since they look upon their nonOrthodox brothers as religiously ignorant. Orthodox Jews consider such Jews as AM-HA-ARETSIM ["earth people" - their heads are buried in ignorance], not heretics.
Prior to exile, the people of Israel had been organized according to tribe; afterwards, they were organized by clans, only the tribe of Levi continuing in its 'special role'. After this time, there were always sizable numbers of Jews living outside Eretz Israel; thus, it also marks the beginning of the "Jewish diaspora", unless this is considered to have begun with the Assyrian Captivity of Israel.
In Rabbinic literature, Babylon was one of a number of metaphors for the Jewish diaspora. Most frequently the term "Babylon" meant the diaspora prior to the destruction of the Second Temple. The post-destruction term for the Jewish Diaspora or hostile gentile world was "Rome," or "Edom." Christians
continued to call the hostile world Babylon.
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THE STORY OF PURIM.
PURIM (Hebrew: "lots", related to Akkadian PURU) is a festival that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people living throughout the ancient Persian Empire from a plot by Haman the Agagite to annihilate them, as recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther. According to the story, Haman cast lots to determine the day upon which to exterminate the Jews.
PURIM is celebrated annually according to the Hebrew calendar on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, the day following the victory of the Jews over their enemies. PURIM begins at sundown on the previous secular day. PURIM is characterized by public recitation of the Book of Esther, giving mutual gifts of food and drink, giving charity to the poor, and a celebratory meal. Other customs include drinking wine, wearing of masks and costumes, and public celebration.
Jewish exiles from the Kingdom of Judah who had been living in the Babylonian captivity (6th Century BCE) found themselves under Persian rule after Babylonia was in turn conquered by Cyrus the Great, King of the Persians and Medians and founder of the Persian Empire who according to the Biblical Book of Ezra released them from captivity and allowed those that wished to return to Jerusalem, giving them back the Temple vessels which Nebuchadnezzar II had carried away from Jerusalem. According to the Book of Esther, Haman, royal vizier to King Ahasuerus planned to kill the Jews, but his plans were foiled by Esther, Ahasuerus's queen. Mordecai, a palace official, cousin and foster parent of Esther, subsequently replaced Haman. The Jews were delivered from being the victims of an evil decree against them and were instead allowed by the King to destroy their enemies, and the day after the battle was designated as a day of feasting and rejoicing.
There is a tradition among CHABAD Hasidim that Joseph Stalin died at a result of some metaphysical intervention by the seventh CHABAD leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, during the recitation of a discourse at a public PURIM FARBRENGEN [rally]. Stalin was suddenly paralyzed on 1st March 1953, which corresponds to PURIM 1953, and died 4 days later.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF PURIM FOR THE TOPIC AT HAND.
Esther 9:28 - "These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of PURIM should never cease to be celebrated by the Jews, nor should the memory of them die out among their descendants."
This verse indicates that when all other Jewish festivals will no longer be celebrated, PURIM will still be observed.
Maimonides in his work, LAWS OF READING THE MEGILAH [Book of Esther] 2:18 -
"All the books of the Prophets and all the Writings will be annulled in the days of the Messiah, except for the Book of Esther. It will continue to be binding like the Five Books of Moses and the entire Oral Law which will never be invalidated. Even though all memory of our suffering will be erased ... still the days of PURIM will not be annulled. As it is written, "These days of PURIM will not pass away from the Jews and its memory."
More importantly is the verse.
Esther 8:17 "In each and every province and in each and every city, wherever the king's commandment and his decree arrived, there was gladness and joy for the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many among the peoples of the land became Jews."
At the time in which the events of the Book of Esther took place, the Persian Empire, stretched through 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia. And many people in these 127 provinces became Jews?
There is an ongoing discussion over the centuries about what RABBIM MEY AMEY-HA-ARETS MITYAHADIM actually means. A really good article on the subject can be found at http://www.adath-shalom.ca/esther.htm, A NOTE ON ESTHER 8:17 - WHAT DID THE GENTILES ACTUALLY DO? BY David Steinberg.
In modern Hebrew, "to become Jewish" is LE-HITGAER but Esther 8:17 uses the verb LE-HITYAHED. This verb might mean "to become Jewish" but it can just as easily mean "to Judaize" or "to act Jewish". Most modern Jewish and Christian Biblical scholars accept that it means "to convert to Judaism."
Whether the gentiles of the Persian Empire decided to act Jewish or to actually become Jewish is not the issue as far as I am concerned. I have no doubt that gentiles in both the Babylonian and Persian Empires DID become Jews for the simple reason of world Jewish population in the Greek and Roman Empires. Jewish population at the time of the Babylonian Exile could not have been much more than several thousand and world Jewish population according to censuses taken by the Romans at the height of their Empire is over 1,000,000. In the space of 500 years, a people's population cannot grow
to that extent by natural birth alone. We have documented proof [including the New Testament] that many conversions to Judaism took place in the Greek and Roman Empires. Why not in the Persian Empire? There was a period in which religious conformity was enforced by the Greeks but the Babylonians, Persians, and Romans tolerated and encouraged religious diversity. We also have Biblical evidence that Cyrus, the king of Persia, encouraged the Jews returning to Israel to rebuild the Temple. I will, based on faith, accept that the closing chapters of the Book of Esther is speaking about a mass conversion of gentiles to the Jewish Peoplehood.
Next, I'll address choosing Jewishness in the post-Biblical period.
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