Weekly Q&A: When did Jews begin to return to the land of Israel?

The Jewish revolts against Rome (A.D. 66-136) scattered the Jewish community outside the land of Israel. Judaism never lost its connection to the land because the land was part of God’s covenant with Israel. Jewish families recited, “Next year in Jerusalem,” every Passover in the Diaspora (the Jewish community outside of the land of Israel). So, Jerusalem and the Jewish ancestral land remained part of Jewish faith and hope.

The Jewish community did not entirely leave the land of Israel after the Jewish revolts. Jewish communities resided in the land during both the Byzantine and early Muslim periods. However, the Crusaders slaughtered all inhabitants of Jerusalem upon their conquest of the city in 1099 A.D. Jews, eastern Christians, and Muslims were put to the Crusader sword.

The Medieval Jewish Sage, Nachmanides (Ramban), played an instrumental role in reestablishing a Jewish presence in Jerusalem following this period. He immigrated from Spain to Jerusalem in the thirteenth century and settled in Jerusalem on the western hill, where the Jewish Quarter of the Old City presently resides.

Another immigration of Jews occurred in the eighteenth century. These Jews came from North Africa, belonging to the Sephardic or Mizrahi branch of Judaism. They were religious. They settled in Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem, Tiberias, and Safed. The ancient land of Israel belonged to the Ottoman Empire at this time and was part of Syro-Palestine.

The Jewishness of these cities made the Jewish populations the greatest of the various people groups inhabiting them. When Europeans began to enter the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century, the censuses they took showed the Jewish population as the largest in these cities. As a result, the Ottomans began resettling Arabs into Syro-Palestine from elsewhere in their empire in the 1850s to 1870s. This way, the Arab populations of these cities would exceed the Jewish populations.

The rise of nationalism in Europe in the nineteenth century impacted European Jewry. Some identified with nationalist sentiments in Europe; others came to express a desire for a Jewish nationhood in their ancestral homeland. This movement became known as Zionism. The growing anti-Semitism in Europe, especially eastern Europe and Russia, and the pogroms in these regions led to the beginnings of Jewish immigration into Ottoman Syro-Palestine at the end of the nineteenth century.

Many of the Jews who came to settle in Syro-Palestine were not religious, nor necessarily motivated by religion. Jewish families, like the Rothschilds, and Jewish agencies, like the Jewish National Fund, provided funding for Jews to acquire land from the Ottomans. These waves of Jewish settlers, which stretched into the early twentieth century, bought agricultural tracks of land.

Though they were not natural farmers, they learned farming establishing schools for farming and farming communities, some of which became the first kibbutzim. The Jews legitimately purchased land from the Ottomans, but this did occasionally lead to the displacement of local Arab farmers. The Ottomans did not care, as long as they were well compensated. But herein lies the beginnings of the Jewish-Arab conflict.

Jewish immigration into their ancestral homeland occurred over centuries. The deep connection of Jews to the land of Israel fueled the hope of millions to return.

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast


  1. REPLY
    Dr Paul Richard West says

    Has the migration of Jews to Poland been documented or traceable. My family migrated to Poland during the diaspora, then to Essen, Germany to expand their textile business. Only a remnant survived the Holocaust.

  2. REPLY
    Joel says

    Thanks for a quick concise history lesson. Also good is “Israel” by Daniel Gordis ( book and audiobook).

  3. REPLY
    Cindy says

    Photos from the late 1800s show Jews at the Western Wall. And, Abraham Lincoln mentioned the Jewish community in Israel.

  4. REPLY
    Lori says

    Ishmael was the progenerator of Arabs. Abraham’s impatience & lapse in faith procured Ishmael. There has been conflict since then. Buying parcels of land from the Ottoman empire was just fuel to a fire that was set centuries ago.

  5. REPLY
    Terry Murphy says

    Very interesting article. Thanks for that history lesson.

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