Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 March 2010
Tolerance has its limits in any community which wishes to preserve its identity. Boundaries which create distinctions between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ have to be established and maintained if a community is to survive, especially a minority community in a pluralist environment. Most Jewish communities in the Diaspora appear to have been successful in preserving their social and religious identity, in many cases over hundreds of years. Where, then, did they fix the boundaries which defined the distinction between members and non-members? This question has often been addressed in enquiring how Gentiles were considered to have crossed the boundary and come into the Jewish community; but remarkably little attention has been paid to the opposite phenomenon, that is, how Jews were considered to have crossed the boundary and passed out of Judaism. Recent studies have rightly emphasized the variety within Second Temple Judaism, its multifarious strands making it difficult to define universal standards of ‘acceptability’ within Judaism. Yet individual Jewish communities, however diverse they may have been, must have preserved some sense of ‘proper’ behaviour which made it possible to castigate actual or potential ‘apostasy’. To detect where the boundaries lay in this regard would not only shed light on the maintenance of Jewish identity in the Diaspora; it would also provide some hints as to how the fateful division between early Christianity and Judaism took shape in the cities of the Graeco-Roman world.