The Judean Expulsion to Babylonia

What is the secret of Jewish survival? Nations detached from their homeland, place of worship and native soil for thousands of years, rarely survive in places other than museums and Wikipedia pages. What makes the Jews different? This lesson will explore several answers to that question.

  • Review
  • Discussion
  • Activities
  • Reflection
  • Further Learning
  1. Which world leader deeply wanted to know the secret of Jewish survival in the 1980’s?
    • Dalai Lama
    • Nelson Mandela
    • Mikhail Gorbachev
    • Ronald Reagan
  2. What does the Torah contain that helped keep the Jews intact after the destruction of the Temple?
    • Jewish history
    • Laws
    • Stories that gives a national identity
    • Sacred language
    • Sense of purpose for Jewish people
    • Promises of redemption in the future
    • All of the above
  3. Who conquered Babylon in 539 BCE?
    • Romans
    • Persians
    • Greeks
    • Assyrians
  4. Where do most of the Bnei Menashe live?
    • India
    • Israel
    • Ethiopia
    • Yemen
  5. Where was the largest Jewish diaspora after the destruction of the First Temple?
    • Mesopotamia
    • Alexandria
    • Rome
    • Poland
  6. Who was the Persian king at the time of the Purim story?
    • Cyrus
    • Xerxes
    • Darius
    • Ahmadinejad
  1. Why did so many Jews leave their homeland after the destruction of the First Temple?
  2. What does the story of Purim teach about the circumstances necessary for Jewish survival in diaspora?
  3. Compare the story of Purim with that of our other holidays. Ever notice how the plot features no open miracles? No seas split, no mass revelation, no dwelling in clouds for forty years and no overcoming an enemy a hundred times our size using guerrilla warfare. What did happen? A lot of people were in the right place at the right time to provide just the political clout necessary when needed. Do you view the megillah as a series of lucky coincidences or a sign that the divine hidden hand of God is present in all of history?
  4. The Book of Esther is written in a roundabout style that is a comedy of errors involving one masquerade after another. It features disguises and masquerades portrayed by changes in clothing and statuses. It has three pairs of protagonists, Vashti and Achashverosh, Zeresh and Haman, and Mordechai and Esther. A reading of the book reveals that all the characters depict men and women at the same time. Xerxes masquerades as a tough ruler but turns out to be ruled by his ministers. Haman, who seeks power and respect, is revealed in all his misery and his disgrace is apparent to all when he is hanged in public. Mordechai sits wearing a sack and ashes outside the palace gate and is presented with royal garments and brought into the palace. In what way do you see the Purim story as a metaphor for the fate of the Jews in diaspora?
  5. In the Megillah, both Esther and Mordechai keep their Jewish identity a secret until near the end of the story. Research stories of three Jews who kept their identities hidden and create a short speech about how their reasons to hide their faith do or don’t resonate with you today.
  1. Use a ready-made lesson plan on The Judean Expulsion to Babylonia HERE.
  2. Concerning the Jews: Mark Twain, considered by some as America’s greatest writer, was far more than a humorist. After the Civil War, he served as America’s conscience on ethnic and racial issues. Twain defended Jews, African Americans and Native Americans against prejudice. While a majority of his contemporaries negatively stereotyped the Jewish people, Twain defended Jewry in word and deed. In 1897, Mark Twain wrote the following short essay published in Harper’s Magazine about “The Jews:” “If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one quarter of one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine and abstruse learning are also very out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world in all ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself and be excused for it. The Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greeks and Romans followed and made a vast noise, and they were gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, and have vanished. The Jew saw them all, survived them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities, of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert but aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?” Based on what you learned in this lesson, how would you answer the question posed by Mark Twain? Create a poster highlighting the three keys to Jewish survival.
  3. Racism old and new: When Mordechai refuses to bow to Haman, the Amalekite foe of the Jewish people is deeply offended at this slight to his honor. He says to King Achashverosh, “There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; and it is not in Your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them.” (Esther 3:8) In what way is Haman’s antisemitic description of Jews similar or different to the way in which racists describe minority groups they wish had less rights then them? Research some contemporary examples of incitement today and write a short speech responding to people who make these claims.
  4. Give your students our Kahoot on this lesson!
  1. Looking back at Jewish history in the Diaspora, which heroes stand out for you as models for inspiration in troubling times?
  2. In order to convince Esther to approach King Achashverosh, Mordechai says to her, “Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace. On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.” Reflecting on the deep implications of this instruction, do you ever think about why you were born a Jew and what your goal or purpose is to achieve in this world as a descendant of the ancient Hebrews?
  3. When you celebrate Purim, what emotions do you feel about the fact that you were born a Jew?
  4. After King Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem, the vast majority chose to remain in the Diaspora. Do you see any parallels to Jewish life today where the overwhelming majority of Jews living outside the land of Israel choose to remain there despite the easily available option to live in a Jewish state?

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