chapter
8 Pages

Introduction: Judaism and Jewish Communities in the Contemporary World

WithDaniel J. Elazar

The Jewish polity has undergone many changes since its inception somewhere in the Sinai Desert but none have been more decisive than those that have affected it in the past three centuries.1 The inauguration of the modern epoch, born out of the revolution in science, technology, politics, economics, and religion that caused the Western world to take a radical turn in the mid-seventeenth century, initiated a process of decorporatization of Jewish communal life that gained momentum for the following two centuries.2 Jewish corporate autonomy, a feature of diaspora existence in one way or another since the Babylonian settlements, is the product of the modern epoch. World War I brought down the last remnants of that kind of autonomy in Europe, where it had been on the wane for two centuries. Only in certain of the Muslim countries did the old forms persist until the nationalist revolutions of the period after World War II eliminated them.