History of the Talmud VI:

24. Alexandria, Egypt and its Jewish Community.

One of the interesting and intriguing features of Alexandria at its peak was the fact that more than one-quarter of its inhabitants were Jews. If we should ask where they all came from, the answer should not be difficult to find. The explosive growth of the economy of Alexandria could not fail to attract a massive migration of people coming to seek their fortunes in this expanding economy. Moreover, with the shift of the capitals of these Hellenistic empires to the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean, the wealth followed the political power. Babylonia had been one of the lands with the highest concentrations of Jewish population. One can only surmise that there was a migration of Jews from the banks of the “Rivers of Babylon” to the new boomtowns, the Greek cities of the west.

25. Of course,the same economic forces which drew so many Jews to Alexandria also drew them to other expanding commercial centers, including Antioch, the capital of the Seleucid empire, other Greek cities in the region and the land of Israel as well. Israel was now the main highway between Antioch and Alexandria the capital cities of the two great Hellenistic empires.

26. The growth of the Hellenistic empires was the major factor that brought Jewish communities westward. By the end of the third century B.C.E., the Jewish diaspora communities had spread to the western Delta of Egypt and to the many Greek-speaking cities along the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean.

27. What was the nature of Jewish life in the diaspora? From the very beginning of the first large Jewish community living outside the borders of the Land of Israel; that of the exiles who were deported from Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, the Torah was the basis of law in Judaism. But being the foundation of the law, it was interpreted in the course of serving the needs of the community. This interpretation is already referred to in the Book of Ezra, who brought the Torah and its interpretation from Babylon to Jerusalem.
But reading the Torah with interpretation was not an innovation in Judaism. There is an ancient tradition that even at the time when the Torah was given to Moses on Mount Sinai, it was given to him in two forms; in that which is written, which we call Torah Shè-Biktav, as well as in that which was transmitted orally, which we designate Torah Shè-Be-al-Pèh. So the oral tradition is essentially as ancient as the Written Law.

28. The Torah and its oral tradition was the legal system which governed the Jewish communities in all areas of the diaspora. From the easternmost parts of the Persian Empire, whose greatest concentration of Jewish population was in Babylonia, to the Jewish communities in the Greek-speaking Hellenistic world, the Jewish people were bound together with one moral-legal tradition, which was the Torah and its oral traditions. We know from the writings of the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria –who was born around 30 B.C.E. and was still an active leader of the Alexandrian Jewish community in the year 51 of the Common Era –that he followed the traditions of Judaism, including the Torah and the Oral Law. The Jewish historian Yosef ben-Mattityahu Ha-Kohen –later known as Josephus Flavius – was a loyal follower of the Pharisaic teachers, who championed the Torah Shè-Be-al-Pèh against the Sadducees, those who maintained that only the Torah Shè-Biktav, the written Torah, that text which exists in the Five Books was sacred law. But normative or traditional Judaism lives only by interpreting the Torah Shè-Biktav by means of the traditions preserved in the Torah Shè-Be-al-Pèh.

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