It is not uncommon to picture the era of the rabbis of the Talmud as a world in which the vast majority of Jews still lived in all Jewish environments. In reality, however, the sages resided in areas that were all parts of the Roman empire. As the Roman Empire grew and expanded, so too did the geographical expanse of the Jewish community.
Perhaps it was due to the shifting population of that era that encouraged the sages to include the following warning by Rabbi Nehorai in the Mishnah Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers: “Move to a place where Torah is studied, and do not say that Torah will follow you because your fellow students will make it your possession, and do not rely on your own understanding” (Pirkei Avot 4:14).
Moving to a remote location (meaning one without a strong Jewish community) under the incorrect assumption that one had already acquired sufficient knowledge or one’s strong Jewish identity will be enough to fight the forces of assimilation, is risky business. While there are stories of men and women who did so successfully, there are many more stories of Jews who were lost to the Jewish people as a result of assimilation.
The Mishnah’s advice is just as applicable in the 21st century as it was in the era of the sages. Today, however, for those who do live far from an established community there are the unique benefits of the “Information Age.” Recorded lectures, Jewish websites and, of course, Jewish Treats allow Jews everywhere to maintain their connection to the Jewish people from wherever they may be.