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The articles in this issue have been divided upinto the following categories








In the perspective of Bible and History

Condensed from a paper By Abba Eban

From 1917 onward, since the Balfour Declaration was made, it has become customary to discern a mysterious likeness between the political happenings of that year and the proclamation of Cyrus, King of Persia, which heralded the Return to Zion and the establishment of the Second Jewish Commonwealth.

In each of the two cases, divided one from the other by 2,455 years, the pronouncement of a foreign power gave impetus to an intensified national stirring along the Jewish people. In each case, the pronouncement was greeted with understandable, if perhaps excessive enthusiasm. In each case, only a small group girded up its loins to go up to the Land; the vast majority stayed on with a clear conscience in the diapers, content to express affinity to the Land in generous benefactions. In each case, the opportune time was brief. The authors of the pronouncements had second thoughts, new eventualities new eventualities not be dismissed. In each case, the home-coming Zionists encountered natural hardships and man-made tribulations.

It is surprising that the pronouncement of Cyrus should have remained the possession of the Jewish people alone. Apart from the allusions to him in the Books of Isaac, Daniel, Ezra and Chronicles, the image of Cyrus stands out with bold impressiveness in Babylonian inscriptions, and even Fore distinctly in Greek literature. Yet, in not a single one of Babylonian and Greek sources is there the faintest mention of this one act of Cyrus that put his royal imprimatur on the destiny of the Jews, an act which made him immortal, for immortality is the first and foremost guerdon that Jews bestow on men that deal kindly with them.

The rescript of Cyrus is given in full in the first chapter of Ezra:

"Now in the first year of Cyrus, King of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, King of Persia, that he proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing saying: Thus saith Cyrus, King of Persia, The Lord king of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he has charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people, his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judas, and build the house of the Lord of Israel, (he is the God), which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever remained, in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the levities, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem. And all they that were about them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goals, and with beasts, and with precious things, beside all that was willingly offered."

In the space of eleven years, Cyrus rose from the satrapy of an exiguous region - Anshan in the territory of Elam - to be king of an empire stretching from the Indus River to the Mediterranean, from the Caucasus to the Indian Ocean. He instituted laws and traditions in that vast domain that stood the test of time for two hundred years.
In expanse, his realm was larger than that of Alexander of Macedon.

But his singularity found its conspicuous expression in his attitude towards his subject peoples, along them a hundred and fifty thousand Jews in Babylonia. Here, we must be Careful to observe that Cyrus did not favor regional autonomy. His tolerance, wide as it was, was articulated only in the sphere of religion. He was in no wise moved by any particular relationship to Judaism or by any exceptional understanding of it. It was simply that he took no steps to convert any of his conquered folk to The Persian culture and eschewed anything resembling the process of Hellenization which Alexander pursued. Nor did he suppress any diversity of religions, as did many before him and after him. His proclamation, concerns the house of God in Jerusalem, nothing more. There is no indication that he knew of the utter destruction of Jerusalem.

The prophets of Israel ascribed a further distinction to Cyrus, that of a benevolent Gentile who recognised the quintessential purity of Judaism and its sublimity of vision, in contrast to other creeds. Verily, Cyrus speaks of the God of Israel as the God of Heaven, that is to say, as a god who cannot be identified with stick or stone, with any image graven or molten. Still, he himself clung to his own god Marduk to whom he pours out his soul in words preserved for posterity on a Babylonian cylinder. The license granted to the Jews to build their house was not a departure from his national policy, nor did it attest any particular nexus. That love of the Bible with which Balfour and Lloyd George were animated had no part in the thinking of Cyrus.

An Opportunity - Not a Gift

The significance of this historic opportunity is, however, underscored by the impetus toward self-realisation that it imparted, rather than by the intentions of the king. The epistle of Cyrus descended like a thunderclap upon Babylonian Jewry, which was torn between the blandishments of assimilation and the instinct of national survival. The Jews who were banished to Babylonia after the destruction of the First Temple found themselves immersed in a highly developed and radiant culture. Stunned by the first shock of exile, they sat, yea, they wept when they remembered Zion. They still set Jerusalem above their chiefest joy. "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?" But, as the days went by, they looked about them and beheld the splendor of Babylonia, its towers and palaces, and its bustling commerce; the inexorable laws of history were thrusting them towards absolute national disintegration. Even so, as many were steeped in the spirit of Cyrus - and since, luckily, the twelve volumes of Toynbee showing how cultures are born, flourish and die did not come their way! - The Jews paradoxically on the foreign soil of Babylonian, evolved form a faith and divine worship which saved them from extinction and vouchsafed their descendants a spell of renewed life. Prayers in the synagogue took the place of Temple sacrifice. Religion discarded its external cultic forms and developed a system of symbols for pious thought. Prophecy became dominant as the priesthood withdrew. By detaching Judaism from a dependence of time and place, the Jews of Babylonia transformed it, made it mobile, and so minimised its vulnerability. There was, of course, still the danger that the faith of Israel might be sundered from its fount. But here, the charter of Cyrus made it possible By detaching Judaism from a dependence upon it possible to link the spiritual renaissance with the land of its birth.

It is easy, therefore, to understand the exuberance of the prophets who, in lauding the event, stretched their esteem of the king to the point of adulation.

Naim Dangoor adds:

It is note worthy that the declaration of king Cyrus permitting the Jews to return to Jerusalem was only 48 years after the exile by Nebuchadnezzar of 586 BCE. Thus the first Galuth lasted only about half a century.

It appears that at that time there were 150,000 Jews living in Babylonia which is similar to the number of Jews living in Iraq at the rebirth of Israel.


In 1971 Iran celebrated the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Empire established by Cyrus the great to which all the heads of state were invited to week long festivities. As Iran could not invite the president of Israel because of Arab objections, and as it was considered unacceptable that the festivities should pass without a Jewish presence, the Iranian ambassador in London on Teherans instructions, invited Naim and Renee Dangoor to lead a large delegation of Babylonian Jews to the festivities that were held at the Savoy in London, to which the Prime Minister and members of the diplomatic core were invited. The above photograph shows Renee and Naim Dangoor, being received by Ambassador and lady Avshar and their daughter.


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