The Babylonian Exile is the period of Jewish history in which the people of Judea were forced to leave their historic homeland and were relocated to other parts of the Babylonian Empire. Historians place the beginning of the Babylonian Exile between 588 and 586 B.C. Like most ancient Middle Eastern people, the Jews' religious identity had been tied to their homeland. The exile brought about a number of significant changes to the way Judaism was practiced. Many of these changes still affect Judaism.
The Temple and the Synagogue
Before the Babylonian exile, Jewish religious life revolved around the Temple in Jerusalem. When the Babylonians expelled the Jews from Judea, they destroyed the Temple completely. Jewish law stipulated that certain important aspects of Jewish religious life -- most notably animal sacrifice -- could only be performed at the Temple in Jerusalem. Since the Jews now lacked both a temple and the ability to go to Jerusalem, changes were needed to retain their cultural and religious identity. The result was the rise of the synagogue among the Jews dispersed throughout the Babylonian Empire. The focus shifted from animal sacrifices, which could only be properly performed at the Temple, to the study and teaching of the Torah -- the Jewish Bible -- which became the focal point of worship in the synagogues.
This new focus gave rise to a new class of professional clergy within Judaism, the rabbi. The rabbi was and is both a scholar and a teacher, a spiritual leader tasked with explaining God's expectations to the common people. Early rabbis compiled the Talmud, a series of writings that further explain the Torah. Additionally, the biblical books of Daniel and Esther were written during the Babylonian captivity. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah detail the end of the exile. They describe the overthrow of the Babylonian Empire by the Persian Empire, the subsequent return of many of the Jews to Judea and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Influence on Jewish Worship
Even after the Temple was rebuilt, many aspects of Jewish worship that began during the captivity continued as part of Jewish worship. These include the prominent use of the singing of Psalms, prayer and instruction as part of the synagogue service. Synagogue worship and rabbinical teaching continued to operate alongside the newly constructed Temple. For almost seven centuries, Jews came to Jerusalem to participate in the worship, sacrifices and other activities carried on at the Temple, while also engaging in worship in synagogues wherever Jewish communities existed.
Why There's No Temple Today
When the Romans sacked Jerusalem in A.D. 70, they also destroyed the Temple and expelled the Jews from Jerusalem. With the Temple again destroyed, synagogue worship again became the norm for Jewish people and continues to be so to this day. This is in part because the Muslim Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque are on the site whereJewish law stipulates the Temple was to stand, effectively preventing the Temple from being rebuilt.
Monolateralism and Monotheism
Many scholars believe that the Jewish religion was monolateral before the Babylonian Exile. Simply put, that means that the Jewish people acknowledged the existence of other gods, but believed that they should only worship the god of Israel. At the time the Persian Empire overthrew the Babylonians, many of the Persians practiced Zoroastrianism, a monotheistic religion that worshiped a deity named Ahura-Mazda. Zoroastrianism went beyond monolateralism, insisting that only one god exists. Whether the concept came to Judaism through Zoroastrians or not, the teaching -- known as monotheism -- is now the central tenet of Judaism.