Jewish Studies Jewish Diaspora
Re’ee Hagay, Jonathan Boyarin
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 April 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0222


The works included in this bibliography describe Jewish diaspora from various analytical and disciplinary perspectives and touch on a wide range of historical contexts. The attempt to map the literature about the Jewish diaspora from such a comprehensive perspective begs the question of whether the subject matter of this bibliography should be the Jewish diaspora, or a plurality of Jewish diasporas. It is perhaps counterintuitive to pick the former possibility, for two reasons. One is that the singular term somehow still implies the discredited notion that Jewish diaspora began as a result of a single, catastrophic event (thus equating diaspora with exile). The other is that, consistent with the recognition that Jews have found, left, and lost countless homes, we have become accustomed, for example, to speaking more particularly of “the Sephardi diaspora.” Nevertheless perceiving the Jewish diaspora as one unified whole is evaluating its critical scope in its entirety. This language of wholeness implies neither uniformity nor univocity, but rather internal dynamics of changing centers and peripheries throughout long histories and vast geographies. In tension with homogenized nationalism, this language of unity does not authenticate the homeland or nation-state of Israel either as the “origin” or as the “end” of Jewish diaspora (Safran 1991 and Raz-Krakotzkin 2017, both cited under Theories of Diaspora). The literature surveyed below rather enables to critically conceive modern Israel as a diasporic locale in and of itself. Modern Israel is rethought as diaspora by identifying, on the one hand, imperialist modes of transnationalism embedded in the genealogy as well as in contemporary uses of the term “diaspora” that, in turn, support the official discourse of Israeli nationalism (Baumann 2000 and Tölölyan 1996, both cited under Theories of Diaspora); and, on the other hand, by conceiving Israel as a site of Jewish displacement. This later trend conceives Israeli statism not as the resolution of Europe’s Jewish Question but rather as the dislocation of the Question to another precarious zone of violent encounter (Mufti 2007, cited under Jewish Diaspora and Colonialism). And it analyzes processes that cast Mizrahi or Sephardi Jews as a population uprooted from the precolonial borderless terrains that encompass the region now known as the Middle East (Alcalay 1993, cited under Jews and Coterritorials; Shohat 2006, cited under Jewish Diaspora and Colonialism). Significantly, the “unified diaspora” approach makes it possible to evade the progressive logics of “diversity” and “multiplicity” that obscure a different order of relation to alterity and self-distinction: that of the Jewish tradition. It is through traditional logics of difference (not all of which, of course, are uniquely Jewish) that the Jewish diaspora challenges colonial dichotomies of West/East and Modern/Ancient (Hall 1990, cited under Theories of Diaspora), enabling processes of globalization beyond the teleology of modernity and the supremacy of the West (e.g., Abu-Lughod 1989, cited under World-System: Larger Context). Instead of historical chronology, Jewish tradition makes possible memory and narration of a different temporal order. The thematic circulation of mourning in Jewish memory restores a sense of cultural continuity across ruptures and displacements from various homelands. This continuity, nevertheless, is neither linear nor progressive but rather echoes back and forth between multiple temporal layers of the past and present (Boyarin 1991, cited under Ashkenaz). As the memory of place of origin often weaves together a multiplicity of origins and places, this non-linear memory produces in turn a dispersed, decentralized spatial network that does not adhere to the contiguous territoriality of modern nation-state and colonialism. Taken as a whole, the Jewish diaspora encompasses, for instance, a dynamic, changing relation between the traditions Sepharad and Ashkenaz, a relation that far exceeds the rigid fixity in both structural positionality and geographical space (and time) that characterizes the colonial constructs of East and West (Said 1978, cited under World-System: Larger Context). It is also through these traditional logics of difference that Jewish communities in the diaspora interact with coterritorials (e.g., Weinreich 1967) or with other diasporic cultures in sustainable albeit at time conflicted relations (e.g., Goldschmidt 2006, cited under Jews and Other Diasporas), independent of the exclusionary violence of the nation-state. The Jewish diaspora as a site of simultaneous sustainability and vulnerability (Boyarin and Boyarin 2002, cited under Theories of Diaspora) evokes another question: To what extent do modes of loss and displacement captured in the word exile (or the Hebrew galut) inform, enrich, or diminish the critical substance of the Jewish diaspora? Traumatic memory may reduce the fluidity of the time and space of diaspora to a re-centralized and exclusive notion of the Jewish homeland (e.g., Boyarin 2015, cited under Ancient Diasporas). At the same time, mourning the loss of exile may provide an existential foundation for relationalities that could reformulate the notion of Jewish collectivity and decolonize current national and racist orders. This, in particular, through attending to the continuation between modern political processes that cast Jews as well as Palestinians as displaced subjects (e.g., Mufti 1998, cited under Jewish Diaspora and Colonialism; Raz-Krakotzkin 2011, cited under Jews and Other Diasporas). At times, at any extent, the traumatic charge of exile can serve as a measure that helps to regulate the levels of abstraction applied when mediating between the concrete experiences of the Jewish diaspora and its framing as an analytical and critical framework (e.g., Tölölyan 1996).

Ancient Diasporas

The works in this section destabilize contemporary notions of homogeneity and centrality of Jewish origins that were also absent in earlier times of Jewish culture. This does not refute a sense of origins, but rather exposes their cultural production and independence of the territoriality of the homeland (Gafni 2002). The works below describe processes by which Jewishness was produced in ancient times both through local connections to non-Jewish environments (e.g., Elman 2007, Kraemer 2020), and trans-local connections to other Jewish communities across borders (e.g., Boyarin 2015, Schwartz 1999). The cultural and political productivity of local and trans-local connections challenges the assumption of the trauma of exile as constitutive of the Jewish experience in the diaspora (Boyarin 2015, Gruen 2002), as well as the over-estimation of the influence of imperial politics and cultures on the Jews (Schwartz 2000; Schwartz 1999).

  • Boyarin, D. A Traveling Homeland: The Babylonian Talmud as Diaspora. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.9783/9780812291391

    This book describes the Jewish diaspora as grounded in the textual practices of the Babylonian Talmud’s composition and interpretation. The diaspora is not centered around the homeland nor is it invested in the traumatic memory of the exile from it. Rather, it consists of synchronic trans-local connections that emphasize a twofold orientation, toward the local coterritorial culture and the culture that exists across the borders of empire.

  • Elman, Y. “Middle Persian Culture and Babylonian Sages: Accommodation and Resistance in the Shaping of Rabbinic Legal Tradition.” In The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature. Edited by C. E. Fonrobert, and M. S. Jaffee, 165–197. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    This chapter calls for integrating the cultures and religions of the Middle Persian period into study of the Babylonian Talmud. Following centuries of coexistence between rabbinic Judaism and Zoroastrianism, it suggests identifying levels of acculturation between “accommodation” and “resistance.” These levels vary across changing socioeconomic conditions in different rabbinical centers in Babylon. The chapter also considers the theological challenges posed to rabbinic Judaism by Manichaeism, another non-state religion in the area.

  • Gafni, I. M. “Babylonian Rabbinic Culture.“ In Cultures of the Jews: A New History. Vol. 1. Edited by D. Biale, 223–265. New York: Schocken, 2002.

    This chapter portrays the conditions that enabled the solid self-image among the Babylonian sages of late antiquity, shaped in relation to the local Parthian and Persian rulers and to the community in Palestine. The Babylonian community enjoyed a political autonomy and was free of theological disputes with Christianity in which its Palestinian counterpart exhausted itself. The Babylonian sages’ interpretational practices cast Babylon as a locus of Jewish existence that harked back to the beginning of the biblical civilization.

  • Gruen, E. S. Diaspora: Jews amidst Greeks and Romans. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002.

    DOI: 10.4159/9780674037991

    This book explores the long history of the Jewish diaspora in the centuries that preceded the demolition of the Second Temple. Beyond the trauma of dislocation and oppression, it describes the diverse motives for migration and complex political and cultural dynamics. It focuses especially on the rich cultural production and vigorous collective identity of Alexandrian Hellenistic Jews.

  • Kraemer, R. S. The Mediterranean Diaspora in Late Antiquity: What Christianity Cost the Jews. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190222277.001.0001

    This book emphasizes the Jews’ synchronous connections to their environments rather than linking them to Jewish sources originating in other times and places. The decline of Mediterranean Jews and the absence of evidence of their history is understood as part of the decline of the overall populations in these areas. This challenges the 19th-century historiographical construct of the homogenous “nation” that over-estimated the connection to rabbinical trends, which had little influence on the Mediterranean diaspora.

  • Schwartz, D. R. “How at Home Were the Jews of the Hellenistic Diaspora?” Classical Philology 95.3 (2000): 349–357.

    DOI: 10.1086/449502

    This essay reviews works that deal with the level of assimilation of Jews to Hellenistic culture. Addressing the questions of textual evidence, it asks whether rabbinical writing would have disclosed such assimilation, and to what extent the question of assimilation was relevant to the orientation of rabbis in the Hellenistic world.

  • Schwartz, S. “The Patriarch and the Diaspora.” Journal of Jewish Studies 50.2 (1999): 208–222.

    DOI: 10.18647/2198/JJS-1999

    Contrary to the approach to Palestine as the center of the patriarchate, this article argues that the mediation between the diasporic communities was the process in which that patriarchate established its authority, an authority that was at its peak in the 4th century. This argument also challenges the idea that the patriarchate’s source of authority was imperial, as if it was appointed by the Roman state.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.