Archive | Jewish life RSS feed for this section

A kind of Jewish internet flourished in 900 AD

13 Mar
Ancient Babylon


For this reason or that, I’ve adopted the belief that many human habits date back hundreds of thousands of years, to homo erectus, the Neanderthals, and Gods knows how many other hominid creatures.


I won’t go much into this now, but one much-more modern bit of evidence – for me at least – is the preserved Italian city of Pompeii, which remains exactly as it was in 79 AD. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the fallen ash froze it in time. When I toured it several years ago, my lasting impression was: These people lived just like we do today!


Now something new to me – but historically old – has added to the idea that we haven’t changed much, even if our technology has. This small piece of information comes from a book called, “A History of the Jewish People,” written in 1934 by Max Margolis and Alexander Marx. It was paid for by the estate of one Rosetta M. Ulman, who during her life wanted such a publication written.


In chapters covering the years from 175 AD to 1038, there is a great deal of discussion about two highly respected schools of learning that guided Jewish communities dispersed throughout the known world. The schools, Sura and  Pumbeditha, were in Babylonia (modern Iraq). The two heads of these school was held in the highest regard by Jewish residents of Babylonia, Palestine, Egypt and many other locations. Every word from the leaders on religion, scripture, philosophy and life were sought out and followed.


Even the Arabs paid attention and gave their respect.


As I read, I wondered how word got from the schools to the communities. No doubt by heralds, messengers, traders and travelers. Obviously, it must have been a slow stream of news.


When Margolis and Marx get into a section on a schism between the two schools, however, it seems as if the news had a much faster way of getting out. The leaders of Sura and Pumbeditha were arguing over nearly everything. One highly sensitive issue was what kind of calendar or calculation should be used to set the Jewish holidays. They differed on this, and the result was that one year Passover was celebrated on two different days.

Ancient Israel

Ancient Israel

Margolis and Marx report that the “confusion” was so great “it was even noticed by non-Jews.”


My thoughts were: How did the details of this controversy and the two divergent holidays spread so quickly from Babylonia, through Palestine, to Egypt and North Africa, maybe to even to Spain, Greece, Turkey and Persia?


Was there a Jewish internet?


Information then and now was powerful and important and clever humans, with or without technology, knew how to spread it. What may be lost, however, is exactly how they did it, at what cost and to what extent. Margolis and Marx don’t get into that, but I’d sure like to know.


The ancient school at Sura

Either way, the results were a lot like the results now.


We’ve always been the same and probably always will be. If we ever clone a Neanderthal, he may fit in much better than we’d expect.


Depiction of a Neanderthal

But I would have known that. The bakeries, butcher shops, whorehouses, living room art, sidewalks and curbs and everything else in Pompeii seem to suggest the truth. And now, as more evidence, we have the ancient Jewish internet.


By Lanny Morgnanesi

%d bloggers like this: