Zionism Pre: 1934 Part I

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Term coined in 1886 by Nathan Birnbaum (Matthias Acher) to describe the modern political attitude toward the resettlement and reestablishment of the Jews in Palestine. In 1896 the word attained vogue as describing the movement initiated by Theodor Herzl, and supplanted all the terms previously in use. Its objective was defined by the Basle Program, adopted in 1897, at the First Zionist Congress.


The idea of Jewish national restoration can be traced through the Scriptures (the promise to Abraham and prophetic messages of Return) the history of the Maccabeans, the wars for independence, and the revolts of the Jews in Palestine to the seventh cent. The conquest of Palestine by the Arabs limited Restoration to a mystical concept which was emphasized in prayers, national fasts, and the rise of pseudo-Messiahs. In these instances as in the case of Shabbethai Zebi, there can be traced some notion of a Jewish state but it was indefinite in the early attempt of Don Judah of Naxos, to found a settlement in Tiberias, and was even more vague in Sir Moses Montefiore's agricultural effort early in the 19th cent., to which some scholars trace the modern Zionist movement. Scores of references to Zion and Zion Redeemed, Zion Resettled, and of the Jewish right to Palestine can be traced in every literature from the 17th to the 19th cent., but most them had a theological leaning or spiritual bearing. Some of these ideas were clearly poetical, some aimed at the improvement of the economic status of Palestine, and not a few were actuated by a desire to oust the Turk.

The liturgical references to Redemption and Restoration, all based on prophetic texts, are so numerous, and these ideas are so inter-woven into the body of the prayer book that the emasculation of them carried out in the Union Prayer book and the Reform Hagada make the sharpest distinction between the two codes. Modern Zionism unquestionable owes considerably to these frequent reiterations, day by day, of the hope for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, but these prayers were passive pious hopes, related to the messianic era, and so far from aiding in the realization of Zionism were freely employed to resist the advance of the movement in all its manifestations. Orthodox individuals did freely associate in the establishment of the first forms of the movement, but orthodox Judaism did not formally associate itself with Zionism until after the issuance of the Balfour Declaration, and organizations like the Agudath Israel have until recently opposed rather than associated with the cause.


To all those educated in the wholly modern clear-cut political definition of nationalism there is something confusing in the well-springs and ideology of Zionism. An elaborate analysis of this phase of the problem is beyond the purview of this article. it must, however, be pointed out that at least to 1840, and in some countries even later, the Jews were regarded as a national unit, despite their dispersion and scattering, and notwithstanding their own use of terms of differentiation, such, "Jews of the Portuguese nation," etc. The concepts citizenship (or subjectivity) and nationality, covered each other in few countries. The growth of empires, if anything, accentuated the difference between nationality, based on racial origins, common culture, social customs, language, habits, etc., and political allegiance based on legal rights, conferring duties to the state, and involving patriotic responsibilities. In all the more remote yearnings for Zion it was therefore assumed that Return, or Resettlement, or Restoration involved some form of Jewish statehood. By reason of this there is a firm relationship between the mystical movements of the past, and the modern politically conceived Zionist idea.

Early Political Efforts

The first deliberate efforts to give practical shape and form to the older aspirations came from non-Jews. In 1842 the Earl of Shaftesbury was the first to unite three ideas, the fulfillment of prophesy, the creation of a political advantage to England, and giving a land without people to a people without a land, by pressing for the resettlement of the Jews under British or some non-Turkish suzerainty. George Eliot in her "Daniel Deronda," set forth this synthesis in terms which have never been equaled, stressing the advantage to civilization of resettling the Jews at the cross-=road of the world.

The Shaftesbury project was distinctly related to prophetic, and the British imperialism associated with Palmerston, and reached its height during the Crimean War. George Eliot's novel and the British non-Jewish propaganda of that period was part of the atmosphere of the Berlin Congress of 1878. Laurence Oliphant, in 1881 was the first to attempt to give actuality to the dual concept, of relieving the distressed Jews in Europe by founding in Gilead a settlement which should have some sort of political autonomy.

Reactions From Emancipation

None of all these efforts met with any serious response from Jews in western lands. The earlier projects were advanced whilst the Jews in most countries were still laboring under political disabilities but were entirely hopeful of their eventual removal; the latter efforts were presented whilst the Jews were still rejoicing in their newly acquired political rights. The milder regulations which followed Napoleon's invasion of Palestine in 1799 brought an increase of the Jewish population there, and it was the problem created by the steadily increasing settlement of helpless people which aroused Jewish interest everywhere prior to 1880, and led to the strengthening of the Halukkah. It was the recipients of this charity who gave the first impetus to actual colonization; the policy of European Jews was to improve the necessary institutions in Palestine.

The Napoleonic Sanhedrin denied Jewish nationalism, and throughout the whole emancipation struggle, which ended in 1870, the Jewish interest was in local political rights and not in national achievement. Moritz Hess in his "Rome and Jerusalem" was the first to lift Restoration out of its wholly mystical concept, and bring it into relationship with the immediate and practical problems of Jewish existence, but he stressed the religious and cultural phases, following in this Moritz Steinschneider who advocated a Jewish state between 1835 and 1840. These stirrings, like Hirsch Kalischer's plea that the Jews colonize Palestine, or the teachings of the Hasidic rabbi, that the settlement of Jews in the Holy Land was an urgent matter reached only small groups.

Birth of Modern Zionism

It could be historically demonstrated that the founding of the Alliance Israelite Universelle, and the Anglo-Jewish Association were attempts to express Jewish nationalism in new forms, and even to advance the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine but the facts were not known contemporaneously, or aroused no specific interest. A dozen precursors of Pinsker and Lilienblum can be traced, but it was these two men, who following the Balta pogrom of 1880 translated sentimental, philosophical and and theological ideas into terms of need in the struggle against persecution and anti-Semitism. Pinsker, in particular, in his "Auto-Emancipation," clarified cause and effect in Jewish experience, and although he did not press the political view, and acquired no large following, he succeeded in his somewhat dry manner to prove to the intellectuals of Eastern Europe that culturally the Haskalah was of little avail, and the struggle in eastern Europe, to ameliorate political and economic difficulties had failed. he and his associates forced thought on the Jewish problem, as against consideration of local issues.

The outcome was the founding in Russo-Poland of the Hibat Zion, the Ahavas Zion, and then the Chovevi Zion movement, which was gradually copied elsewhere, and which combined the love for Zion, with the practical attempt at colonization. Whilst the underlying hope for the creation of a Jewish nationality in Palestine was not lacking, it was not stressed. The colonization movement progressed slowly, and its growth was due to the propaganda of Rabbi Samuel Mohilewer, the patience and persistence of the Chovevi Zion, and the munificence of Baron Edmond de Rothschild. These efforts, however, attracted less attention than Baron de Hirsch's attempt in the same period to meet the East-European Jewish difficulty by colonization in the Western Hempshire. The Turkish government was averse to Jewish settlement in Palestine, and discouraged the colonists, and the nascent national concept was meeting with difficulties on its home ground. Ahad Ha-am, who earnestly supported the colonization effort, stressed the desirability and utility of creating in Palestine a center expressive of the cultural attitude he favored. Dubnow, also a nationalist, somewhat later advance the concept of Jewish nationalities existing in many countries on the basis legal of Minority Rights. The Bund and its forerunners opposed the whole policy as one diverting the interest of Jews from economic and social problems in Russia.

(Continue Part II)


Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Zionism: Pre: 1934 Part I
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: From my collection of Books: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Knowledge In One Volume, Edited by Jacob De Haas; in collaboration with more than 150 scholars and specialists. Behrman's Jewish Book House New York, 1934.
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