Scholars have revised the conception of a “normative” Pharisaic Judaism dominant in Palestine and a deviant Judaism dominant in the Diaspora. On the one hand, the picture of normative Judaism is broader than at first believed, and it is clear that there were many differences of emphasis within the Pharisaic party. On the other hand, supposed differences between Alexandrian and Palestinian Judaism are not as great as had been formerly thought. In Palestine, no less than in the Diaspora, there were deviations from Pharisaic standards.
Paradoxically, Babylonian rabbinism derived its theological and political strength from its fundamentally unoriginal character. As a transplant of Palestinian Judaism, it asserted its historical legitimacy to the (224–651), who protected Jewish practices against interference from fanatical Magian priests, and to native Jewish officials, who argued for the validity of indigenous Babylonian deviations from Palestinian norms. But ultimately the historical importance of this transplantation lay in serving as the proving ground for the adaptability of Palestinian Judaism to a Diaspora situation. Legal and theological adaptations generated by the new locale and the needs of the times inevitably produced changes in the religious tradition. The laws of agriculture, purity, and sacrifices all of necessity fell into disuse. The principles embodied in these laws, however, and the core of the legal and theological system—consisting of faith in the revelation and election of Israel, the requirement that the individual live by the canons of Jewish civil and family law, and the network of communal institutions modeled on those of Palestinian Judaism—remained intact, thereby ensuring a basic continuity and uniformity among rabbinically oriented communities everywhere. Because historical circumstances made Babylonia the mediator of this tradition to all Jewish communities in the High Middle Ages (9th–12th centuries), the Babylonian version of Jewish religion became synonymous with normative Judaism and the measure of Judaic authenticity everywhere.
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