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THE FORERUNNERS

Zionism, according to a recent encyclopaedia, is a worldwide political movement launched by Theodor Herzl in 1897. Equally it might be said that Socialism was founded in 1848 by Karl Marx. It is clearly difficult to do justice to the origins of a movement of any consequence in a one-sentence definition. The Jewish national revival which took place in the nineteenth century, culminating in political Zionism, was preceded by a great many activities and publications, by countless projects, declarations and meetings; thousands of Jews had in fact settled in Palestine before Herzl ever thought of a Jewish state. These activities took place in various countries and on different levels; it is difficult to classify them and almost impossible to find a common denominator for them. They include projects of British and French statesmen to establish a Jewish state; manifestos issued by obscure east European rabbis; the publication of romantic novels by non-Jewish writers; associations to promote settlement in Palestine, and to spread Jewish culture and national consciousness. The term Zionism appeared only in the 1890s,* but the cause, the concept of Zion, has been present throughout Jewish history.

A survey of the origins of Zionism must take as its starting point the central place of Zion in the thoughts, the prayers, and the dreams of the Jews in their dispersion. The blessing ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ is part of the Jewish ritual and many generations of practising Jews have turned towards the east when saying the Shemone Essre, the central prayer in the Jewish liturgy. The longing for Zion manifested itself in the appearance of many messiahs, from David Alroy in the twelfth century to Shabtai Zvi in the seventeenth, in the poems of Yehuda Halevy, in the meditations of generations of mystics. Physical contact between the Jews and their former homeland was never completely broken; throughout the Middle Ages sizable Jewish communities existed in Jerusalem and Safed, and smaller ones in Nablus and Hebron. Attempts by Don Yosef Nasi, Duke of Naxos, to promote Jewish colonisation near Tiberias failed, but individual migration to Palestine never ceased; it reached a new height with the arrival of groups of Hassidim in the late eighteenth century.

Memoranda and pamphlets proposing the restoration of the Jews to their ancient homeland abounded in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. During his Egyptian campaign Napoleon published a proclamation calling the Jews of Asia and Africa to join him in restoring the old Jerusalem. Colonel Pestel, the leader of the first Russian revolutionary movement, the Decembrists, suggested in his programme the establishment of a Jewish state in Asia Minor. Even earlier, in 1797, Prince Charles de Ligne developed the same idea in a private memorandum, and Manuel Noah, an American-Jewish judge, writer and former diplomat, proposed the establishment of a token Jewish state (Ararat) on Grand Island near Buffalo. Beginning with the 1840s, Jewish newspapers frequently discussed the return to Palestine as a laudable though obviously impractical scheme; with the progress of assimilation there seemed to be less readiness to entertain projects for which there was obviously no urgent need. Elderly Jews still went to Jerusalem to die, the Jewish communities in Palestine still sent their emissaries on yearly begging tours to their co-religionists in Europe. These missions never failed to evoke some response, but at the same time they impressed only too clearly on European Jews the depth of the misery and degradation of their brethren in the Holy Land. For centuries under Turkish rule, later on a bone of contention between the khedives of Egypt and the sultan in Constantinople, administered - to use a blatant euphemism - by often cruel and mostly inefficient Turkish pashas, the country was in a state of utter decay. It did not even have an administrative identity, for Palestine had become part of the Damascus district. The situation in the Holy Land reflected the decline that had overtaken the Ottoman empire since its heyday in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This desolate province seemed an unlikely haven for Jews from Europe, however poor and backward. But it was precisely as a result of the weakness of the Ottoman empire that the issue of a Jewish state was again raised towards the middle of the nineteenth century. The Eastern Question, the sickness and possible demise of the Ottoman empire, was widely discussed in the chanceries of Europe. Between 1839 and 1854, as interest in Palestine grew, all the major European powers and the United States established consulates in Jerusalem. In 1839 the London Globe published a series of articles advocating the establishment of an independent state in Syria and Palestine, envisaging the mass settlement of Jews. The Globe was a mouthpiece of the Foreign Office and the project was known to have Palmerston’s support. The author of this series, as another writer in The Times pointed out (17 August 1840), did not assume that the masses of European Jews would immediately migrate to Syria, but he thought that a concentration of oriental Jews in Palestine was by no means an unreal vision: the European Jews had the money to buy (or lease) the country from the sultan, and the five big powers would provide a guarantee for the new state. Some of these policy planners were in favour of an independent monarchy, others of a republic, but all were convinced that with England taking the initiative in returning the Jews to Palestine, like Cyrus in antiquity, a sufficient number of them would settle to make the project a going concern. The fact that a Jewish state would constitute a buffer between the Turks and the Egyptians and enhance British influence in the Levant was a consideration which no doubt played its part, but political, military, and economic interests alone hardly suffice to explain the strong support given by many public figures for the idea of a Jewish state. England had other opportunities in the Near East and the Jewish option was by no means the most obvious or promising. The enthusiasm of Colonel Henry Churchill, a former consul in Damascus, and other ardent protagonists of the idea, can be understood only against the background of the deep-rooted biblical tradition in Britain, and the belief that it was Britian’s historical mission to lead the suffering Jews back to their homeland.

There was a strong romantic element in all these visions, a mood which also found expression in some of Disraeli’s novels. ‘You ask me what I wish’, he wrote in Alroy; ‘my answer is “Jerusalem, all we have forfeited, all we have yearned after, all for which we have fought”.’ In Coningsbyand Tancred, the story of the son of a duke who goes to Palestine to study the ‘Asiatic problem’, Disraeli returned to the same topic. The vicissitudes of history found their explanation in the fact that ‘all is race’; the Jews were essentially a strong, a superior race; given the right leadership there was nothing they would not be able to achieve. Disraeli’s novels, published in the 1840s and 1850s, were full of mysterious hints, lacking a clear focus. George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, on the other hand, which appeared in 1876, was a novel with a specific Zionist programme. Daniel Deronda (the ‘most irresistible man in the literature of fiction’ according to Henry James) decides to devote his life to the cause of a national centre for the Jews. The figure of Mordechai Cohen, Deronda’s mentor, is there to show that Judaism is still alive, that it is on as high a level as Christianity, and that the Jews still have a mission to fulfil - the repossession of Palestine.

The Jewish reaction to these noble visions by well-meaning non-Jews and lapsed Jews was on the whole lukewarm. Ludwig Philippson, the editor of the leading periodical of German Jewry, wrote* that it was only too easy to understand that some young Jews, having to face antisemitism everywhere, were tired of the fruitless struggle and wanted a little place on the earth all their own, where they could find complete recognition as human beings. But Palestine was an unlikely and unpromising place for any such endeavour; a Jewish state dependent on the mercy of an oriental potentate and the protection of remote powers would be the plaything of stronger forces. There was a real danger that it would perish - many other states situated on these dangerous cross-roads of Europe, Asia, and Africa had been destroyed throughout history. What kind of freedom, what level of material existence could Jews expect in that forsaken land? What had a movement of this kind in common with their messianic hopes? Anglo-Jewry did not engage in open polemics against the visions of these well-meaning but obviously eccentric compatriots; its members acknowledged them gratefully, promised support if someone else would take the initiative, and shelved the whole idea. Nor did east European Jewry at the time take much notice.

The British had no monopoly of blueprints of this kind; several Jewish writers on the continent were also advancing similar projects at the same time. They usually entered into surprising detail but it was no doubt in anticipation of a hostile reception that most of them were published anonymously. One of these projects, Neujudäa, published in Berlin in 1840, accepted the idea of a Jewish state but for practical reasons rejected Palestine, which ‘had been the cradle of the Jewish people but could not be its permanent home’. It suggested the American middle west, Arkansas or Oregon; ten million dollars would be sufficient to induce the American Government to put at the disposal of the Jews an area the size of France. There was every reason to hurry with the realisation of the plan, for in the near future the Americas and even Australia would be settled by newcomers and then it would be too late. The unknown author believed that such an opportunity should not be allowed to pass: antisemitism was endemic in Europe, it would not diminish, and the Jews were condemned to lead a parasitic existence among peoples who hated them. In America, on the other hand, they had the opportunity to demonstrate their real ability. An agency on the pattern of the East Indian Company should be founded to establish an ‘aristocratic’ republic in which only Jews would be citizens. In brief, America, as far as a Jewish state was concerned, as in other respects, was the country of unlimited possibilities.

Another anonymous project published a few months later is remarkable because of its acute analysis of the sources of the Jewish problem: the writer was convinced that emancipation had by no means solved the Jewish question: Jews were at best suffered, nowhere were they welcome or loved. For the Jews were strangers; there was a world of difference in body and soul between the semitic Urstamm and those whose ancestors lived in northern Europe. The Jews were neither Germans nor Slavs, neither French nor Greek, but the children of Israel, related to the Arabs. The writer called for an early return to Palestine; the sultan and Mehemet Ali could be persuaded to protect the Jews; the main obstacle was the passivity of the Jews themselves. The Serbs and the Greeks had won a great deal of outside support in their struggle for national liberation. It should not be impossible to find a major government to support the establishment of a base of humanism and progress in anarchy-torn Syria.* This project had a mixed reception; its supporters argued that a neutral Jewish state between the Nile, Euphrates, and Taurus could restore equilibrium among the powers in the east; it would help Turkey against Mehemet Ali. Elsewhere there was scepticism with regard to the intentions of the European powers; would they really want to play the role of a Messiah, or was it not more likely that they were simply pursuing their great-power ambitions? Was not hostility towards Catholicism and France the main motive behind the plan in favour of a Jewish state recently submitted to the Protestant monarchs, rather than a genuine humanitarian desire to help the Jews? It was generally acknowledged that there was in Britain sincere sympathy for the restoration of Israel, and that this coincided with its imperial interests, but as one of the leaders of German Jewry declared: for us Germans the orient is simply too remote; perhaps our British co-religionists are cleverer than we are.

The projects of the 1840s showed a great deal of ingenuity, acute analysis, and sometimes a remarkable gift of prophecy. But in the last resort they were all romantic and artificial constructions suspended in mid-air; they did not provide an answer to one all-important question: who would carry out these projects, who would lead the Jews in their return to their homeland? The anonymity of the authors made it clear that they were not volunteering for this mission.

The spate of projects at this time was a direct outcome of the acute crisis in the Near East, the beginning of the dissolution of the Ottoman empire. But they did not coincide with any marked rise in Jewish national awareness. Despite all the setbacks on the road to emancipation, the overwhelming majority of western Jews were by no means willing to abandon that goal. The idea of settling in an uncivilised, backward country, subject to the whims of arbitrary and cruel Turkish pashas, was unlikely to appeal to them. The various plans were not devoid of political vision, but the link between the dream and its realisation was missing, and for that reason, in the last resort, they were bound to have no effect. They were premature, just as the ideas of the Utopian Socialists had no lasting impact because they were propagated in a vacuum, without reference to the political and social forces which could provide leadership in the struggle for their realisation. Even Moses Hess’ Rome and Jerusalem, the most important by far of these appeals, belongs to this genre. Published in 1862, it had no immediate effect. Isaiah Berlin, who compared it to a bombshell, exaggerated its impact; 160 copies of the book had been sold one year after publication and soon after that the publisher suggested that Hess ought to buy back the remainder at a reduced price. When Herzl wrote his Judenstaat more than thirty years later, he had not even heard of it. And yet Rome and Jerusalem stands out in the literature of the time for reasons that will be immediately obvious.

Moses Hess

Moses Hess, born in Bonn in 1812, was known in his lifetime chiefly for his activities as a Socialist. He was prominent in the theoretical exchanges between the Young Hegelians during the 1830s and 1840s, collaborated for a while with Marx and Engels, had to flee from Germany, and spent many years in political exile in France. He was one of the main representatives of what Marx contemptuously referred to as the ‘true Socialists’, castigated in the Communist Manifesto as those who merely translated French ideas into German: ‘speculative cobwebs, embroidered with flowers of rhetoric, steeped in the dew of sickly sentiment, a Philistine, foul and enervating literature’.

Shorn of invective, the difference between Hess and Marx was the insistence of the founder of ‘scientific Socialism’ on the study of the laws of social development which were making for the emergence of a Socialist society. Hess on the other hand put the stress on Socialism as a moral necessity; for him the conscious will, the decision in favour of Socialism rather than the ‘objective forces of history’, was the decisive factor. As a theoretician and original thinker, Hess, abstract and unsystematic, was not in Marx’s class; latter-day historians relegated him to what seemed well-deserved obscurity. It took more than a century and the emergence of Communist movements totally unlike Marx’s expectations to reawaken interest in the ideas of Hess and other early apostles of Socialism outside the Marxist tradition.

Hess was forever bursting with childlike idealism; he thought with his heart rather than his head. Amateur fashion, he dabbled in many subjects with which he was clearly not equipped to deal. Yet on the Jewish question his analysis was, as subsequent events proved, more realistic and less abstract than Marx’s. Hess retired in 1852 from active politics and devoted himself to the study of natural sciences. Then in 1862, quite unexpectedly, he published a book which was to have been entitled The Revival of Israel but became known under the somewhat misleading title Rome and Jerusalem, the last nationality question. It opens with a moving personal confession:


After twenty years of estrangement I have returned to my people. Once again I am sharing in its festivals of joy and days of sorrow, in its hopes and memories. I am taking part in the spiritual and intellectual struggles of our day, both within the House of Israel and between our people and the gentile world. … A sentiment which I believed I had suppressed beyond recall is alive once again. It is the thought of my nationality, which is inseparably connected with my ancestral heritage, with the Holy Land and Eternal City, the birthplace of the belief in the divine unity of life and of the hope for the ultimate brotherhood of all men.*

Hess was born into a family in which, unlike Marx’s, the Jewish religious tradition was still alive. When his parents moved to Cologne he was left in the home of his grandparents because Cologne was not thought to offer sufficient opportunities for a Jewish education. But like almost all his contemporaries, Hess turned his back on religion; the Mosaic religion (as he wrote in his diary) was dead, its historical role was finished and could no longer be revived. If a religion had to be chosen, Christianity was obviously better fitted for the present time.* Hess did not undergo conversion, but he was not opposed in principle to baptism. In his first book (The Sacred History of Mankind) he said that the people chosen by their God must disappear forever, that out of their death might spring a new, more precious life. Later on, in Jugement dernier du vieux monde social, published in 1851, he mentioned the two ‘horrible examples of unfortunate peoples’ who had been punished for still identifying themselves with their dead institutions - the Chinese, ‘a body without a soul, and the Jews, a soul without a body, wandering like a ghost through the centuries’.* True, under the impact of the Damascus affair in 1840, Hess had pondered the anomaly of Jewish existence; perhaps the Jews would remain strangers forever. He also wrote on one occasion that the Jew who denied his nationality was a contemptible creature. In 1840 Hess was painfully reminded (he wrote twenty years later) that he belonged to an unfortunate, maligned, despised and dispersed people, but one that the world had not succeeded in destroying: ‘I wanted to cry out in anguish in expression of my Jewish patriotism, but this emotion was immediately superseded by the greater pain which was evoked in me by the suffering of the proletariat of Europe.’ He thought there was no point in taking a lead in the struggle for the revival of the Jewish nation, if only because the Jews themselves were sure neither of themselves nor of their cause.

What, two decades later, brought about the profound change in Hess’s thought and in his priorities? The position of the Jews in western society was certainly not critical; on the contrary, it had immensely improved during those years. Within their communities there were hardly any traces left of national spirit and enthusiasm. Two books published shortly before - Laharanne’s La nouvelle question d’Orient, and J. Salvador’s Paris, Rome, Jerusalem, ou la question réligieuse au XIXe siècle (Paris, 1860) had dealt with the prospects of a Jewish national revival, but it is doubtful whether they exerted a powerful influence on him. In the course of his scientific studies he had become interested in the question of racial antagonism, to which he now attributed far greater importance than before. But in the last resort Hess’s reconversion to Judaism was emotional, and fairly sudden at that; only a few years before he was still expressing opinions very much in contrast to those put forward in Rome and Jerusalem.

The most striking feature of that book is the startling, revolutionary and deeply pessimistic analysis of antisemitism. Almost all Hess’s contemporaries on the Left were firmly convinced that antisemitism reflected the dying convulsions of the old order, that it was reactionary, and politically of little consequence. Hess did not share their confidence. Writing well before modern racial antisemitism became a major political force, he had already realised its dangerous potential: the racial antagonism of the Germans towards the Jews was a deep, instinctive force, far more powerful than any rational argument. Reform and assimilation, eradicating the signs of their Jewishness and denying their race, would not save them:


But even an act of conversion cannot relieve the Jew of the enormous pressure of German antisemitism. The Germans hate the religion of the Jews less than they hate their race - they hate the peculiar faith of the Jews less than their peculiar noses. Reform, conversion, education and emancipation - none of these opens the gates of society to the German Jew; hence his desire to deny his racial origin.

But noses could not be reshaped nor could black, wavy hair become blond and straightened by constant combing. There simply was no way out of the dilemma: the modern Jew could not hide behind geographical and philosophical abstractions; he could mask himself a thousand times over, change his name and religion and character, he would still be recognised as a Jew. The Jew might become a naturalised citizen, Hess argued, but he would never convince the gentile of his total separation from the gentile’s own nationality. For the nations of Europe had always regarded the existence of Jews in their midst as an anomaly:


We shall always remain strangers among the nations. They may even be moved by a sense of humanity and justice to emancipate us, but they will never respect us, so long as we make ubi bene ibi patria our guiding principle, indeed almost a religion, and place it above our own great national memories. Religious fanaticism may cease to cause hatred of the Jews in the more culturally advanced countries; but despite enlightenment and education, the Jew in exile who denies his nationality will never earn the respect of the nations among whom he dwells.*

The racial issue, Hess thought, was particularly acute in Germany because many Germans were deeply prejudiced in this respect without even being aware of it; humanism had not yet become part and parcel of their national character to the extent it had in the public mind of the Roman peoples. For Jews, homelessness was the heart of the problem. Like other peoples they needed a normal national life: ‘Without soil a man sinks to the status of a parasite, feeding on others.’ Hess’s definition of Jews (‘a race, a brotherhood, a nation’) and Judaism was somewhat vague, but it is clear that he felt acutely that the liberal assumptions and definitions of the day were simply untrue. He maintained that if emancipation was not compatible with adherence to the Jewish nation, Jews ought to give up the former for the latter. They were not a religious group, but a separate nation, a special race, and the modern Jew who denied this was not only an apostate, a religious renegade, but a traitor to his people, his tribe, his race.

The main danger to Judaism did not come from the pious old Jew who would rather have his tongue cut out than misuse it by denying his nationality. It came from the religious reformers who with their newly invented ceremonies and empty eloquence had sucked the marrow out of Judaism and left only a shadowy skeleton of this most magnificent of all historical phenomena. This kind of reform had no basis in either the general situation in the modern world or the essential national character of Judaism, for which the reformers had not the slightest respect: they were at great pains to erase every echo and memory of it from their creed and worship. The reformers tried to make Judaism, which was both national and universal, into a second version of Christianity cut on a rationalist pattern, and this at a time ‘when the original was already mortally sick’. Hess ridiculed those reformers who claimed that the Jews, representing pure theism, had a mission in the diaspora to teach intolerant Christianity the principles of humanitarianism, to work for a new synthesis of morality and life, which had become divorced from each other in the Christian world. Such a mission could be achieved only by a nation which was politically organised, which could embody this unity of morality and life in its own social institutions. Hess also made some scathing observations about the Jewish obscurantists who buried their heads in the sand, denouncing all science and every aspect of modern secular life.

Could a bridge be built between the nihilism of the Reform rabbis and the conservativism of the orthodox who had forgotten nothing? Hess thought the answer was the return to the land, a Jewish state in Palestine. The hope of a political rebirth of the Jewish people should be kept alive, until political conditions in the orient were ripe for the founding of Jewish colonies. He had no doubt that conditions were rapidly improving with the digging of the Suez Canal and the building of a railroad to connect Europe and Asia. France, he believed, would undoubtedly help them to establish their colonies, which might one day extend from Suez to Jerusalem and from the banks of the Jordan to the shores of the Mediterranean. At this stage Hess drew heavily on Laharanne’s analysis of the Eastern Question: what European power would oppose a plan for the Jews, united in a congress, to buy back their ancient fatherland? Who would object if they flung a handful of gold to decrepit old Turkey and said: ‘Give us back our old home and use this money to consolidate the other parts of your tottering old empire.’*

Hess had definite ideas about the character of the future Jewish state. He did not doubt that the majority of Jews in the civilised west would remain where they lived. The nobler natures among them would again interest themselves in the Jewish people, of whom they knew little, but, having achieved the breakthrough to western culture and society they would not lightly give up their newly won civic position; such a sacrifice of a recently acquired prize was contrary to human nature. But Hess did not doubt that many thousands of east European Jews would emigrate. In this context he mentioned Hassidism, of which he knew enough to realise that it was one of the few living forces in contemporary Judaism; few western Jews had so much as heard of Hassidism at the time. Hess argued that in the last resort, given modern means of communication, it did not really matter how many of the Jewish race would dwell within the borders of a Jewish state and how many outside. The state was needed both as a spiritual centre, and, as Hess said in a later essay, as a base for political action. In this state the existence of a Jewish identity would have neither to be demonstrated nor to be hidden.

The state was to be basically Socialist in character. Hess envisaged the establishment of voluntary cooperative societies (associations on the pattern developed by Louis Blanc) which would operate with the help of state credits on the basis of ‘Mosaic, i.e. Socialist principles’. The land would be owned not by individuals but wholly or largely by the nation. For Hess, a Jewish state was not an end in itself but a means towards the just social order to which all peoples aspired.

Rome and Jerusalem suffers from grave weaknesses. Its very form, twelve letters and ten notes written to a fictional lady, was neither a happy nor an effective medium for a work which its author hoped would bring about a radical revolution in Judaism. It is difficult to imagine the authors of the Communist Manifesto presenting their ideas in this fashion. The style, as Isaiah Berlin has noted, is by turns sentimental and rhetorical and at times merely flat; there are far too many digressions and irrelevancies. The substance of the book, too, is open to serious criticism. The analysis of antisemitism and of the drawbacks of assimilation is far more convincing than the rest of the argument. The idea that Turkey could be induced to part with Palestine for a handful of gold betrays, to put it kindly, a lack of realism on the part of one who had been preoccupied for several decades with political issues. Hess’s reliance on French help for the venture was, as some of his friends in Paris told him, clearly over-optimistic. Weakest of all are the sections dealing with the Jewish religion; Hess felt that so long as a Jewish state did not exist, this was the great preservative and nothing ought to be done to undermine or dilute the Jewish religion, of which in Rome and Jerusalem he spoke with the greatest admiration; hence his fierce attacks on the ‘nihilism’ of Reform Judaism. Old customs should not be abolished, he argued, nor holidays cut down. Judaism was just and equitable, the true source of all the noble aspirations of mankind.

It is not easy to reconcile such views, the unctuous approach and the frequent genuflexions before established religion, with his earlier writings. Only three years before writing Rome and Jerusalem he had opposed all religion, explaining it as the symptom of a pathological state of mind; that the history of religions was the history of human error.* Did Hess suddenly ‘see the light’? There remain doubts as to how genuine his conversion really was. While preaching the virtues of religious observance to his people, Hess himself did not adhere to his own prescription. Having convinced himself intellectually that religion was for the time being essential to prevent the total disintegration of the Jewish people, he could not in his private life muster sufficient enthusiasm to live up to his new discovery. He had found in himself the feeling of solidarity with his people and a belief in its future, but religious belief could not be reproduced at will. Nor is the religious element in Rome and Jerusalem altogether essential to the main theme; its introduction strikes an inharmonious note. Hess was no doubt aware of the dilemma of the post-religious Jew, but he preferred not to dwell on it. And yet, with all its lapses and shortcomings, the book is more than a powerful and moving plea; it is in part a work of prophetic genius. His analysis of the problems facing the Jew in modern European society was incomparably superior to that of any of his contemporaries, including far more sophisticated thinkers than himself. Later Zionist writings, even the most influential among them, such as Pinsker’s Autoemanzipation and Herzl’s Judenstaat, only gave concise expression to issues that had been discussed for years; their basic ideas had been in the air. Hess on the other hand was a genuine pioneer, breaking fresh ground. When Herzl read Hess for the first time, soon after completing his Judenstaat, he noted in his diary: ‘Everything we tried is already there in his book.’

Hess was bound to make little impact precisely because he was so far ahead of his time. The Kulturjuden, as he called them, bitterly attacked him. Abraham Geiger, the leader of Reform Judaism, referred to him contemptuously as a virtual outsider who ‘after bankruptcy as a Socialist and all kinds of swindles wants to make a hit with nationalism. Along with Czech and Montenegrin nationality, he wants to restore Jewish nationality.’ Most Socialists and liberals knew nothing of the book, while those who read it rejected it as a romantic-reactionary chimera, on the same level as the antisemitic rantings of Bruno Bauer. A very few Jewish writers welcomed it, the most prominent among them being the historian Heinrich Graetz. As for a broader public, Rome and Jerusalem was rediscovered only forty years after its publication. While Hess regarded it as essentially philosophical in character, it was of course a political book. But in the 1860s its basic ideas seemed altogether impractical.

Hess continued to take part rather half-heartedly in Jewish activities in Paris. After 1862 he again devoted his main attention to the Socialist movement, as a leader in Lassalle’s new party and a member of the First International. His views on things Jewish did not change, but the problem lost some of its urgency. He was neither a leader nor a prophet, and felt no call to take the initiative. Or perhaps he simply realised that the time was not ripe for his plans? During his last years he returned to the study of natural science, and died, a forgotten man, in Paris in April 1875. A few newspapers published short and incorrect obituaries; no representative of any Jewish organisation spoke at his funeral.

Few east European Jews at the time had heard of Rome and Jerusalem, which was translated into Hebrew and Yiddish only many years after the death of its author. Yet by a curious coincidence a little pamphlet in Hebrew, entitled Drishat Zion (Seeking Zion) was published in the same year (1862) in a small town in the extreme north-east of Germany. Based on totally different ideological premises, it advocated a doctrine and political solutions remarkably similar to those outlined by Hess. Hirsch Kalischer, its author, was a rabbi in Thorn, a town in the province of Posen. A man in his sixties, he wrote in the classical and somewhat clumsy Hebrew then used by orthodox rabbis; his book opened with statements by several renowned religious scholars certifying that the reverend author, illuminated throughout his life by the study of the holy Torah, could be trusted even when venturing outside his own field of specialisation - that of Talmudic legalism.

On every page of his short pamphlet Kalischer refers to the Bible, the Mishna and the Talmud. But shorn of its ritualistic invocations, and with all its lack of philosophical sophistication, it is a modern, almost existentialist piece of writing, with a message that could not be more outspoken: the Redemption of Israel will not come as a sudden miracle, the Messiah will not be sent from heaven to sound a blast on his great trumpet and cause all people to tremble. Nor will he surround the Holy City with a wall of fire or cause the Holy Temple to descend from heaven. Only stupid people could believe such nonsense; wise men knew that redemption would be achieved only gradually and, above all, would come about only as the result of the Jews’ own efforts. If the Almighty were to work a miracle, what fool would not be willing to go to Palestine? But to renounce home and fortune for the sake of Zion before the days of the Messiah - that was the real test and challenge. Kalischer maintained that from a religious point of view it was highly meritorious to live in Palestine. There were a great many Jews in Europe with political and economic influence; it was up to them to take the necessary first steps towards the resettlement of the Holy Land. Time and circumstance favoured such an endeavour. Kalischer refers to the Italian Risorgimento, the national struggle of the Poles and Hungarians, and asks: why do these people sacrifice their lives for the land of their fathers while we, like men bereft of strength and courage, do nothing? Are we inferior to other peoples who disregard life and fortune when it is a question of their land and nation?

Kalischer was primarily concerned with the principle of the return to Zion. (It should be noted at least in passing that another rabbi, Yehuda Alkalay, writing in Serbia twenty years earlier, had already drawn up a practical programme towards the same end, suggesting the establishment of an association on the lines of a railroad company to ask the sultan to give the Jews their land at an annual rent.*) Nor was Kalischer an impractical man. Towards the end of his book he discusses some of the arguments likely to be used against his scheme. Would not the property of the Jews in Palestine be insecure? Would not rapacious Arabs rob the Jewish peasants of their harvest? This is probably the first time the Arab question is mentioned in Zionist literature. But the danger, Kalischer says, is remote, for ‘the present pasha is a just man severely punishing robbery and theft’.

The impact of Drishat Zion on east European Jewry was as limited as that of Rome and Jerusalem on Jews in the west. The only practical outcome was the establishment of an agricultural school in Mikve Israel, on the outskirts of Jaffa, by the Paris Alliance Israélite, largely owing to the untiring efforts of Kalischer. But this remained an isolated initiative. It gave no fresh impetus to immigration into Palestine or to any major political effort. On the contrary, the pious Jews of Jerusalem protested against the profane and dangerous enterprise of teaching young Jews how to earn a living and thus deflecting them from the study of the holy scriptures. The time was clearly not yet ripe for the realisation of the dreams of these early prophets of Zionism.

Eastern European Jewry

Mention has been made so far almost exclusively of the Jews of Germany and western Europe, the challenges and problems facing them, their thinkers and leaders. But the great majority of the Jewish people were to be found in the towns and villages of Lithuania, White Russia, Poland, Galicia and Rumania. More than five million lived in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century, about ten times as many as in Germany. They were concentrated in the western areas of the tsarist empire, which they were not permitted to leave. Only about two hundred thousand of them, well-to-do merchants, university graduates, veterans (with twenty-five years of army service) and some others were permitted to live in places like St Petersburg, Moscow or Kiev, and other towns outside the so-called pale of settlement. Jews accounted for about 16-18 per cent of the inhabitants of the Warsaw, Grodno, and Minsk administrative districts, and 24-8 per cent in the Jassy, Cracow, and Lemberg areas. But since they were not allowed to live in villages, the urban percentage was far larger; cities like Vilna, Brest Litovsk, Bialystok, Zhitomir, Berdichev or Vitebsk were predominantly Jewish. At the turn of the century Warsaw, with 220,000 Jews, had the biggest Jewish community in Europe, followed by Odessa with 140,000. Under a law promulgated in 1858, they were not allowed to live within forty miles of the frontier, and according to other regulations they had no right to reside in several important cities within the pale, such as Kiev, Sevastopol or Yalta - the last perhaps because the tsar did not want to see too many of them from his palace.

Their economic situation was bad and after 1880 continued to deteriorate. True, a few Jewish millionaires such as the Ginzburgs and Poliakovs were prominent in banking and later on in the development of railways. The sugar and textile industries were largely Jewish, as were the grain and timber trades, and, to a lesser extent, the milling, brewing, tobacco and leather industries. There were many artisans in the Jewish ghettoes but they were gradually being squeezed out of business as modern industry spread, just as coachmen were being displaced by the railways. Few Jews lived from the soil; efforts were made to increase the number in agriculture, and this did indeed rise from 80,000 to 180,000 between 1860 and 1897. But the majority in the pale of settlement were men without a definite occupation, living from hand to mouth, ‘Luft-menschen’ without roots and without hope. Each morning they congregated in the market place or in front of the synagogue, waiting for any job, however degrading, however badly paid, to come their way. Many professions were closed to them; they were virtually barred from entering government service, except as physicians, but few had the opportunity to study medicine; there was a numerus clausus for Jews in the universities - 10 per cent in the pale, 5 per cent outside it, and 3 per cent in Moscow and St Petersburg.

The government saw to it, however, that they were fully represented in one not very popular field of service: they accounted for 4 per cent of the total population but provided 6 per cent of all army recruits. The heart-rending scenes accompanying the call-up of Jewish boys, often no more than twelve or fourteen years old, were frequently described in contemporary literature:


It was one of the most awful sights I have ever beheld [Alexander Herzen wrote]. The boys of twelve and thirteen might somehow have survived it but infants of eight and ten. … No brush, however black, could portray such horror on canvas. And these sick children, without attention, without a caress, exposed to the icy wind which blows unhindered from the Arctic Ocean, were going to their graves.*

The state of health in the ghettoes being what it was, they were ill-prepared for the rigours of military life. They could be away from home for up to twenty-five years and they were not, of course, able to observe the commandments and prohibitions of their religion while in the army. In the early 1890s the American government sent two emissaries to Europe to investigate the reasons for the sudden rise in immigration to the United States. Messrs Weber and Kempster were not professional do-gooders but hard-boiled immigration officers; in their report, published in 1892, they declared flatly that they had never seen such incredible conditions of poverty and misery in their lives, nor did they ever hope to witness them again. The majority of Russian Jews lived in conditions even worse than the poorest of Russian peasants and workers. Many families were crammed into one small house, infant mortality was high, and labour productivity low. If the bread-winner fell ill this usually spelt doom for the whole family. Even antisemitic Russian newspapers admitted that the bulk of Russian Jewry was exposed to slow death by starvation.

The tsars and their advisers had no clear idea how to solve the Jewish question, and throughout the nineteenth century often changed course. Many of the laws restricting freedom of movement and choice of profession dated back to the late eighteenth century. Alexander I, on the other hand, pursued a relatively liberal policy: Jewish children were permitted to attend public schools, Jews could buy land and settle on it. Nicholas I entered Jewish history as a second Haman, whereas the reign of Alexander II, who abolished serfdom, was considered the golden age of Russian Jewry. Under his comparatively enlightened rule the restrictive laws were reviewed and some modest efforts made towards the political and social integration of the Jews. Most of the restrictive laws were not in fact abolished, but with the new spirit of toleration hope prevailed that at some future date they would receive full civil rights, at any rate to the extent that such rights were compatible with tsarist autocracy. In a popular song expressing the spirit of the period, Alexander II was apostrophised as an angel of God who found the flower of Judah soiled by dirt and trampled in the dust; the good tsar rescued it, reviving it with live water, and planted it in his garden where it would flourish once more.

With the murder of Alexander II and the accession to the throne of Alexander III, the situation deteriorated rapidly. As a result of the ‘provisional laws’ of May 1882 (most of which remained in force up to the downfall of the tsarist régime) tens of thousands of Jews were expelled from the villages in which they had settled and also from cities outside the pale of settlement. Official chicanery and persecution had disastrous consequences, but there were even more ominous events; beginning with 1881, pogroms became an almost permanent feature of the Russian scene. There had been minor anti-Jewish excesses before, as in Odessa in 1859 and 1871, but no particular significance had been attached to these events at the time since they seemed no different in character from the clashes between other nationalities which had occurred from time to time in the empire of the tsars. But the attacks which occurred in April-June 1881 shortly after the murder of Alexander II were more widespread and far more vicious in character. They took place mainly in southern Russia, in cities such as Elizavetgrad, Kiev and Odessa, where Jews had been slightly better off than in Poland and White Russia. These pogroms (from the Russian verb pogromit, to destroy) continued in 1883 and 1884 in Rostov, Yekaterinoslav, Yalta and other cities. In all these places Jews were killed and injured by a fanatical mob and much of their property destroyed. According to rumours which gained wide currency among the illiterate masses, they had killed the good tsar, and his successor had issued an order to plunder the Jewish quarters. The government did little to provide protection. Indeed, in some cases the attackers were abetted by the local administration and the police. These attacks ceased in 1884, but after an interval of about twenty years of relative quiet a fresh wave of pogroms on a much larger scale broke out.

In the Kishinev riots of April 1903, forty-five Jews were killed and many more wounded. Similar attacks followed in Gomel and Zhitomir. The outbreak reached its climax in October 1905 when in the course of twelve days 810 Jews were killed in riots all over western and southern Russia. The number of victims was small in comparison with the catastrophe that befell the Jewish people in Europe forty years later, but the particular brutality of the attacks, the inactivity of the central government, and the positive incitement by many of its local representatives aroused a storm of protest in western Europe and the United States. This was in many respects a more civilised age than our own. Unashamed cynicism on the part of governments and individuals in the face of acts of barbarism had not yet become an accepted fashion. Some populist groups had played a certain part in stirring up anti-Jewish sentiments during the early phase of these attacks, on the mistaken assumption that riots against ‘Jewish parasites’ would eventually turn into a revolutionary movement directed against the government, the landowners and capitalists. The main instigators, especially during the later period, were the ‘Black Hundred’ and other movements of the extreme Right, which preached a mixture of extreme nationalism and religious obscurantism.

The tsarist government was rightly accused of aiding and abetting the pogromists in the hope of diverting popular dissatisfaction. But anti-semitism was not manufactured by the administration or forced upon an unwilling or indifferent population. It had deep roots among at least part of the population, and not much encouragement on the part of the authorities was needed to kindle the flame of race hatred. This mood was not restricted to one specific section of the people. It was found among the peasants and the aristocracy, the middle classes and even the intelligentsia, some of whose members firmly believed that the Jews were an alien body which could not and should not be assimilated. Some of the accusations against them, such as wholesale exploitation, were ludicrous; in their overwhelming majority they were penniless; the Jews of Mogilev, who constituted 94 per cent of the town’s population, could not have made a living by exploiting the remaining 6 per cent in that city. They were also accused of harbouring subversive sentiments, and it was certainly true that there was little love lost among them for a government that cruelly oppressed them. While the number who took an active part in the revolutionary movement in the 1880s and 1890s was small, more and more young Jews joined in the following years the one movement which held out the promise of a better future in Russia.

As already mentioned, the government had no clear and consistent policy. From time to time half-hearted measures were contemplated to further cultural assimilation, promote agricultural employment, open the gates of the pale of settlement, and allow the Jews to disperse over the vast territories of the empire. But few of these projects ever got beyond the planning stage, and those which did were tackled without much conviction. What other possible solutions existed? With all their oriental ferocity, the rulers of Russia were neither cruel nor systematic enough to contemplate the physical extermination of the Jews. They did not expect much from encouraging or enforcing mass baptism. There were simply too many of them. Emigration was the last resort; and in despair the Jews began to flee the country of their birth in thousands. Mass emigration, mainly to America, and to a much lesser extent to Britain, South Africa, and western Europe, followed the May Laws and the pogroms of 1882. It is estimated that between that year and 1914 about two and a half million Jews left eastern Europe, including Austria, Poland and Rumania. During the fifteen years before the outbreak of the First World War, 1.3 million Jews emigrated from Russia. The wave reached its peak in 1903-6, the years of the worst pogroms, when four hundred thousand Jews left Russia for the United States.

Thus a new, major chapter opened in the long history of Jewish migration. This is not the place for a detailed analysis of the mass exodus, nor for an account of the hardships and privations they had to endure. But it was not a tale of unmitigated woe. Their sufferings hardened them. The fight for survival brought out some of the qualities which explain their success in the country of their adoption. The challenges facing them generated an enormous fund of resilience, inventiveness and intelligence. Those who stayed behind drew closer together. A western observer, Harold Frederic, visiting Russia in the 1880s noted the ‘remarkable solidarity, at once so pathetic and prejudicial’, which marked the Russian Jews:


Once you cross the Russian frontier, you can tell the Jews at railway stations or on the street almost as easily as in America you can distinguish the Negroes. This is more a matter of dress - of hair and beard and cap and caftan - than of physiognomy. But even more still is it a matter of demeanour. They seem never for an instant to lose the consciousness that they are a race apart. It is in their walk, in their sidelong glance, in the carriage of their sloping shoulders, in the curious gesture with the uplifted palm. Nicholas [the First] … solidified [the Jews] into a dense, hardbaked and endlessly resistant mass.*

Frederic expressed astonishment that any religion and any rudimentary notion whatever of honesty survived in these terrible conditions.


The great bulk remained simple and devout people, clinging doggedly to their despised faith, helping one another where they could, keeping up virtues of temperance and family affection which their Russian taskmasters hardly knew by name.

With all this, life in the ghetto was dismal, even if its inhabitants were not always aware of the full extent of their degradation. True, from Mendele Mocher Sfarim (In those days) onwards, there has been a tendency to grow sentimental about the ghetto, to describe it in a rosy, almost idyllic way. Life in the pale had its bright sides and not a few of those who grew up in the ghettoes of eastern Europe later on stressed the vitality, the warmth, the solidarity, the we-are-the-people aspect which was so sadly absent among later generations. But the darker aspects of life in the pale were of course far more striking and provided much bitter comment among contemporaries. A.A. Gordon wrote about the ‘parasitism of fundamentally useless people’, Frischmann about the disgust generally evoked by Jewish life. Berdichevsky said that the Jews in the pale were ‘not a nation, not a people, not human’, and Joseph Chaim Brenner, the most radical critic of all, used such epithets as ‘gypsies and filthy dogs’. The anomalies of Jewish life were bound to find expression in the search for radical solutions to the general misery, the Judennot which was not just political and economic, but increasingly also psychological in character.

Intellectual Life

The mood of east European Jewry was reflected in changing religious fashions and intellectual currents. Hassidism had developed partly under the impact of the Khmelnitsky massacres in 1648, and had a strong hold in the Ukraine, Podolia, and eastern Galicia. It was not a philosophical movement but anti-rationalist, based on religious emotion and with strong elements of Messianism. For the Hassidim, God was not an abstract concept; they saw his presence in every particle of the world, inherent in all creatures, animals and plants; the relationship between man and God was immediate. In this and other respects Hassidism resembled other mystical movements and the pantheism of previous centuries. It tried to combine mutually exclusive elements; its leaders argued that divine providence was omnipotent and omnipresent, that the Creator was present in every act of man, that divinity (shechina) manifested itself in all human activity, even in sin. If so, what was left of the traditional Jewish idea of the freedom of the individual and, incidentally, of the concept of sin? Such philosophical contradictions did not trouble the leaders and followers of Hassidism. It was a folk religion, with a tremendous appeal for the common people precisely because it stressed qualities of real piety in contrast to the rabbinical tradition with its emphasis on external performance, on the observance of all the commandments and taboos of the Torah. Hassidism preached not asceticism but the enjoyment of life, considering such enjoyment a form of worship. It took a poor view of the leading rabbis and their arid style of learning and scholarship, stressing instead contemplative understanding of religion. The Hassidic prayer was not a mechanical duty but an act of direct communion with God. The right kind of prayer could cure the sick, make the poor rich, avert all kinds of evil. All depended on the intensity of prayer; the ecstasy of the Hassidim at the time of prayer, their wild bodily contortions and their dances were the most dramatic characteristics of the movement.

By the middle of the nineteenth century the original impetus of Hassidism had largely petered out. Instead a cult of Zadikim had spread, the cult of saint-leaders; they were the real mediators between God and the world, inscribing amulets, providing special prayers (in Yiddish) and incantations for their followers. On a lower level the Magidim, the itinerant preachers and miracle men, became very popular. Hassidism had given birth to a great religious revival, but there were many who had watched its manifestations with serious misgivings because of its ‘cult of the personality’, its unbridled emotionalism, and other features utterly opposed to Jewish tradition. A thirty-year war between Hassidism and its opponents split east European Jewry right down the middle; the two camps physically attacked and outlawed each other, and even denounced the other side to the Russian authorities, asking for their intervention against the hated enemy.

Hassidism appealed to the masses; it was unlikely to satisfy the more sophisticated elements who were witnesses to the great material and intellectual changes in the world around them. Such men were likely to find their place in the Haskala, the movement of enlightenment, which from the early years of the nineteenth century tried to combine some elements of Jewish tradition with modern secular thought. In Germany and western Europe the Haskala led towards cultural and political assimilation; in eastern Europe, with its millions of Jews, it was bound after similar beginnings to take a different course. The early centres of the east European Haskala were Odessa and to a lesser extent Vilna. Some of the leaders of this school regarded it as their main task to bring about a revival of Hebrew literature - in contrast to the Yiddish vernacular. Others felt that a purely literary movement would fail to make any substantial impact on Jewish life, and consequently emphasised the need to guide the Jewish masses towards a more normal and productive life. Their activities were followed with suspicion and active opposition not only by the orthodox rabbis but by the great majority of simple Jews, distrustful of western education, western attire, and the western way of life in general. The life of the early small-town Maskil, described in countless contemporary autobiographies and novels, was not enviable; divided by an abyss from the mass of fellow Jews, his call for reform all too often fell on stony ground. Socially isolated, deeply hurt by the open hostility facing them, some of the early Maskilim despaired of their people who, they thought, were bound to remain forever ignorant and backward. Others, more optimistically inclined, collaborated with the Russian authorities who during the 1850s and 1860s favoured the reform movement. The appeal of Russian culture was considerable, and there seemed to be a real prospect that cultural assimilation would bring about a radical change in the entire position of the Jews.

Thus the new age of reason finally reached the ghettoes of eastern Europe. A new world was arising as the forces of darkness were receding; the moral and intellectual regeneration of the Jewish people seemed only a question of time. ‘Awake! Israel and Judah arise! Shake off the dust, open wide thine eyes’, Abram Ber Gottlober wrote; and Yehuda Leib Gordon: ‘Arise my people, ’tis time for waking! lo, the night is o’er, the day is breaking!’* This was the keynote of the period. The poetry was not beyond reproach but the message was clear. The spread of secular education was no longer to be stopped. When Rabbi Israel Salanter learned that his son had gone to Berlin to study medicine, he removed his shoes and sat down on the floor of his house to observe the traditional seven days of mourning for the death of a beloved relative. Such uncompromising attitudes towards the winds of change sweeping the ghettoes became rarer during the 1860s and 1870s. ‘Let there be light’ was the motto chosen in 1860 for the first Jewish newspaper in the Russian language. The general trend was towards Russification; even those who wrote in Hebrew were not at all certain whether the language and the culture had a future: Who knows, Gordon asked in a famous poem, whether I am not the last of the writers of Zion - and you the last readers? Our children, the same poet lamented on another occasion, have become strangers to our nation. The conflict between fathers and sons, described in Turgenev’s famous novel, had its parallel in the Jewish quarters. The Jewish Bazarovs, too, ‘believed in nothing’, to quote one of Turgenev’s Russian heroes. They took to radical ideas like thirsty men to water; populism and early Socialist ideas found enthusiastic followers in this generation of young Jews, among them quite a few such as Eliezer Ben Yehuda, Yehuda Leib Levin, and Yehiel Chlenov, who were later to become Zionist leaders.

The pogroms of the early 1880s and the anti-Jewish policy of Alexander III were a shattering blow to the hopes of these men and women for a gradual integration into Russian society. More young Jews joined revolutionary groups, others turned to the new movement calling for a national revival of the Jewish people. The beginning of this movement dates back several decades, more precisely to some early writers of the Haskala, who were the leading advocates of the national revival. Abraham Mapu and Yehuda Leib Gordon were contemporaries of Tolstoy and Dostoievsky (which is not to say that their contribution to world literature was of equal significance). They were above all mentors and educators and only incidentally writers; this much they had in common with the Russian radical writers of the period such as Nekrasov (who was much admired by Y.Y. Gordon), Pisarev, and Chernyshevsky (who strongly influenced Lilienblum). They regarded their poems, their essays and their novels as the most suitable vehicle for their message. Their writings are of considerable interest, reflecting various social and cultural facets of Jewish life at the time. Even the most ambitious novels, such as Smolenskin’s Hatoeh bedarke hehayim (The Wanderer on the Path of Life) are weak judged by purely literary criteria. Shrill, verbose, lacking psychological refinement, oblivious of nature, these Jewish Bildungs-romane all describe the difficulties faced by small-town Maskilim. The young heretics are usually expelled from their parental home (or the Yeshiva); they make their way to Odessa or some other centre of the Haskala. They are invariably poor but honest - in glaring contrast to the leaders of the community. Their material problems are often solved by sudden legacies from rich uncles in America. The villains (such as Rabbi Zadok in Mapu’s Ayit Zavua, or Menasse in Smolenskin’s novel) are criminals or at best boors and imposters who, posing as pious people, somehow manage to dominate their communities and use their influence to oppress the weak and poor Maskilim. At their best these novels describe the great Hassidic rabbis holding court, the exploits of the itinerant miracle men, the forerunners of both Barnum and modern revivalism. Jewish society as it emerges from these novels is engrossed in unending internal strife, engulfed in obscurantism and prejudice, stubbornly resisting any reform. True, there are redeeming features, such as the traditional respect for learning; but the traditional subjects are criticised for their total irrelevance to the modern world. The Yeshiva student thus ceases to be the glamour boy of Jewish life. He is not even any longer the ideal husband. More than once the Haskala novel deals with the conflict arising from the unwillingness of an educated Jewish girl to marry the Yeshiva student picked for her by her parents.

The writers of that age are now remembered for their role as social critics and prophets of a national revival. To this extent their impact on Jewish circles is comparable to that of Belinsky and Chernyshevsky, and there was a certain similarity with regard to the problems facing them. The Jews, like the Russians, had their ‘westernisers’ and their ‘Slavophiles’ in the 1860s and 1870s. The westernisers (assimilationists) had many supporters; later on the majority turned to the ideal of a national revival. The slogan of the Slavophiles, ‘pora domoi’ (literally: it is time to go home), had its equivalent among the Jews of eastern Europe.

One of the first to attack cultural assimilation in the name of the Jewish cultural idea was Peretz Smolenskin, born near Mogilev in 1842. At the age of twenty-five he settled in Vienna where he edited Hashachar (The Dawn), the most influential Hebrew newspaper of the time. He was also its main contributor, proof reader, distributor, and sometimes even typesetter. In a series of long articles he attacked the Berlin Haskala and, in particular, Mendelssohn (whom he called ‘Ben Menahem’) for having assumed that the Jewish nation was irrevocably dead and for preaching an ‘artificial cosmopolitanism’. The Jews, Smolenskin emphasised time and time again, were a people, a nation. They never ceased to be a people even after their kingdom was destroyed. They were a spiritual nation (Am Haruach); the Torah was the foundation of its statehood. It was the unforgivable sin of the German Haskala to have made the love of their own people unfashionable among Jews. Then they had proceeded to destroy the other pillar of Judaism - its religion - and as a result the house of Israel had completely collapsed.

The accusations were of course one-sided; Smolenskin, moreover, tended to forget that his own nationalism was by no means part of the Jewish tradition but stemmed from other spiritual sources, and that he too had advocated religious reform in his earlier years. He frequently quoted the evil precedent of the German Haskala in his struggle against both Russification and cosmopolitanism. He preached Jewish nationalism when it was not yet fashionable to do so and he was also one of the few to predict antisemitic outbreaks well before the riots of 1881. The source of antisemitism, Smolenskin maintained, was not primarily economic rivalry - though this too played a part - but the Jewish lack of self-respect and national honour, their low position among the nations. In a series of verbose essays (some running to several hundred pages)* which constantly digressed from his main theme, he developed his ideas - unsystematically, and, on the whole, not on a high level of intellectual sophistication. His criticism was often quite effective, his constructive proposals much weaker. Smolenskin believed that without Hebrew there was no Torah, and without the Torah, no Jewish people. For that reason he opposed all religious reforms, which could only further divide the Jewish people. The main task was to establish schools for teachers and rabbis who were to infuse new life into the young generation, to teach it Hebrew, and thus to promote national consciousness and loyalty to its people. Smolenskin had little hope that Hebrew would again become a spoken language, and up to 1881 he advocated a national revival in the diaspora rather than in Palestine. Only in his last essays did he express the idea that it would be best for the Jews to leave Russia, to migrate to Eretz Israel, to set up agricultural colonies there and thus to ‘re-establish the real unity of the Jewish people’.

Smolenskin’s writings, antiquated as they now appear, had a great impact on many young Jews. Groups of students in Moscow and St Petersburg gave him an enthusiastic welcome when he went back for a visit. Others were not so captivated by a religious romanticism which appealed almost exclusively to the emotions. A younger generation of intellectuals refused to take Jewish values and traditions for granted. Micah Joseph Berdichevsky, subjecting this heritage to searching criticism, complained about the narrowness of traditional Jewish life and its bondage to a system of outdated laws. He demanded a Nietzschean ‘transvaluation of values’.* Shaul Hurwitz (who translated Moses Hess into Russian) maintained that Judaism could not satisfy the modern Jew who had become estranged from the ghetto. Hurwitz and Berdichevsky were twenty years younger than Smolenskin. The issue was put with even more brutal frankness by a representative of an even younger generation, Joseph Chaim Brenner. Smolenskin once referred to the verse in Ecclesiastes about living dogs and dead lions. Brenner took up the comparison: true, the live dog was better off, but what was the worth of a ‘living people’ whose members had no power except to moan and hide until the storm blew over? Existence was pleasant, Brenner countered, but it was not a virtue in itself. It was not necessarily the noblest who survived: ‘Caravans come and go, as Mendele Mocher Sfarim put it, but the Luftmenschen of Kislon and Kabtziel go on forever.’ Jewish survival was indeed a mystery, but the quality of Jewish existence was not a source of great pride. Masses of them continued to live in a biological sense, but there was no longer a living people in a sociological sense, as a social entity: ‘We have no inheritance. No generation gives anything of its own to its successor. And what is transmitted - the rabbinical literature - were better never handed down to us.’

Such an attitude would have been anathema to Smolenskin, with his fiery appeals for a national revival. During the 1860s and early 1870s he was very much a voice in the wilderness, but towards the end of the 1870s, and particularly after the riots of 1881, he was no longer fighting the battle alone. Among those who joined him was Yehuda Leib Gordon (Yalag), the greatest Hebrew poet of the time. He had been in favour of cultural assimilation. His saying ‘Be a human being outside and a Jew at home’, had been often and widely quoted. Moses Leib Lilienblum, the leading essayist of the period, had been in his earlier years one of the sharpest critics of the Talmud, and an advocate of Socialist ideas. He too now became a confirmed nationalist; so did Eliezer Perlman, better known under the pen-name Ben Yehuda, formerly a convinced Narodnik who had fully identified himself with the national aspirations of the Russian people and the southern Slavs.

By the late 1870s, Gordon no longer believed in cultural and political integration. In an anonymously published pamphlet he suggested the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine under British suzerainty.* For Lilienblum, the rise of modern antisemitism in the west, and the riots of 1881, were a shattering blow, and he too became one of the main spokesman of early Russian Zionism. ‘We need a corner of our own,’ he wrote in 1881. ‘We need Palestine.’ Ben Yehuda, under the impact of the Bulgarians and Montenegrins, reached the conclusion that the Jewish people, too, had to become again a living nation. The revival of Hebrew was to become his life work, but he realised very early that there was no future for the language in the diaspora; it could flourish only if the nation was revived and returned to its homeland.

The riots of 1881 put an end to many illusions and gave rise to much heart-searching among Russian Jewry. Was there a future for them in the empire of the tsars? If not, where should they turn? What were the causes of antisemitism? Lilienblum, in a remarkably astute analysis of antisemitism, had reached the pessimistic conclusion that ‘aliens we are and aliens we shall remain’. The progress of civilisation would not eliminate anti-Jewish persecution based on nationalism rather than on religious prejudice. The trend all over Europe was towards nationalism. Perhaps it was a progressive development but as far as the Jews were concerned it was the very soil on which antisemitism was flourishing. Nor should their hope be put in Socialism and the proletariat, as Lilienblum himself had done in earlier years. If the workers came to power they would regard the Jews as rivals who deprived them of their livelihood: ‘We will be regarded as capitalists and as usual we will fill the role of the scapegoat and the lightning rod.’ Antisemitism, Lilienblum maintained, was not a transient phenomenon, not an anachronism. A return to the Middle Ages seemed inconceivable to many Jews, but Lilienblum was less optimistic. The Jewish question could be solved only if the Jews were transferred to a country where they constituted the majority, where they would no longer be strangers but able to lead a normal life. Such a possibility did not exist in Spain nor in Latin America nor even in the United States, but only in Palestine. It was pointless to wait for an initiative on the part of the Jewish plutocrats; the impetus could come only from the ranks of the people.*

The question whether to emigrate and where to turn agitated Russian Jewry for many years. Smolenskin became a Zionist after the riots of 1881 and in his writings listed the advantages of Palestine over the countries of North and South America. He noted that only a few years earlier the very word Eretz Israel had been derided by almost all Jews except those who wished to be buried there. Now there was talk about establishing agricultural settlements; this in fact was becoming the chief topic of conversation among all those who loved their people. Other publicists were less sanguine about Palestine. These included Dr Zamenhof, the inventor of Esperanto; Dubnow, then a young historian; and even Sokolow, one of the future leaders of Zionism. They had serious doubts about the feasibility of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine. Was it not above all a practical question? Jews could migrate to America, whereas substantial numbers could not for the time being settle in Palestine. Palestine was not a solution for the acute problems facing Russian Jewry; moreover, they would not be safe or free there, but exposed to the unpredictable whims of the sultan and his local representatives. Yalag, on the other hand, who knew his rabbis, was more afraid of theocracy in a Jewish state than of the arbitrary rule of the sultan. The idea of a Jewish state in America was aired only to be dismissed. The Jew could not compete with the Yankee and there was no guarantee that European antisemitism would not ultimately infect America as well. Ignatiev, the Russian minister responsible for the May Laws, expressed a preference for Palestine because there, he told Jewish visitors, the Jews would be able to work on the land and could also preserve their national identity, which they could not do in America.

The Russian-educated Maskilim of Odessa and southern Russia, strongly affected by Russian culture, tended on the whole to choose America, whereas the more traditional Jews of Lithuania and White Russia were more attracted by the idea of a Jewish revival in Palestine. But it is also true that with a few exceptions the initiative for the establishment of a pro-Palestine committee also came from south Russia (Odessa, Kiev, Kharkov, Elizavetgrad). On the whole, the America vs. Palestine debate was not one of fundamental principles. Those who preferred America did so not from any aversion to Palestine, but because emigration to Palestine was in the given circumstances not a practical proposition. The tired, poor and huddled masses of Russian Jews (‘the wretched refuse of your teeming shores’), the hundreds of thousands who left during the 1880s and 1890s, could not wait.

Leo Pinsker

There existed in Odessa in the 1870s a society for spreading enlightenment among the Jews; its main assignment was the teaching of the Russian language and of secular subjects to the younger generation. At a meeting of this group in the summer of 1881 one of its oldest and most respected members announced in great agitation that he was resigning on the spot; it was pointless to discuss whether this or the other deserving student should be given a stipend at a time when the whole Jewish people was under attack and when what was needed was leadership and initiative to save the nation, rather than the chance for a few individuals to improve themselves. Leo Pinsker, who provoked this showdown, was then sixty years of age, a physician who had in the past been one of the leading advocates of cultural assimilation.* The son of a distinguished Hebrew scholar, Pinsker had graduated from Moscow University. For his services in the Crimean War he had been rewarded by the government. The Odessa riots of 1871 had first sown doubts in his mind about the future prospects of the Jews in Russia, and the attacks of 1881 finally convinced him that his life-work, propagating cultural assimilation, had been in vain. Out of this recognition grew a pamphlet which, published anonymously in German in Berlin, became a milestone in the development of Zionist thought.

Some of the basic ideas in Pinsker’s Autoemanzipation were not altogether novel, but never before had they been developed systematically, with such clarity and logic. Never before had it been said with such passionate conviction that unless the Jews helped themselves, no one else would. Before Pinsker it had been the rule among the Jews in both west and east Europe to explain antisemitism solely as the result of the backwardness of a given country and the evil character of its inhabitants. A dispassionate analysis, taking account of the anomaly of Jewish existence, had not been attempted before, with the sole exception of Hess’s forgotten book. Perhaps it was Pinsker’s training as a physician that made it easier for him than for so many of his contemporaries to face unpleasant truths. He was not satisfied to interpret antisemitism solely in terms of jealousy or obscurantism. He, too, regarded Judaeophobia as a psychic aberration, but in his view it was hereditary. Transmitted as a disease for two thousand years, it was incurable, at least so long as its cause was not removed. To combat this hatred by way of polemics he regarded as a waste of time and energy: ‘Against superstition even the gods fight in vain.’ Prejudice, subconscious notions, could not be removed by reasoning, however forceful and clear.

This was a revolutionary thesis. For several generations Jewish assimilationist spokesmen all over Europe had maintained precisely the opposite. They had argued that antisemitism could be reduced or even eradicated altogether by patient reasoning and argument, by explaining time and time again that Jews did not commit ritual murder, that they were willing to accept civic responsibilities and were capable of making positive contributions to the economic, social and cultural life of their countries. This had been the basic belief of the various leagues and associations for combating antisemitism which came into being during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. It was also shared, with some slight modifications, by most Jewish Socialists. Writing about antisemitism in the 1890s, Bernard Lazare, a fervent Socialist, one of the main figures in the campaign to rehabilitate Dreyfus and later on a Zionist, still maintained that mankind was moving from national egotism towards a spirit of brotherhood. Under Socialism, even during the transition towards Socialism, the Jews were bound to lose some or all of their own particular characteristics. Antisemitism was in the last resort a revolutionary agent, working towards its own ruin, for it paved the way for Socialism and Communism, and so for the elimination of the economic, religious and ethnic causes which had engendered antisemitism.*

Pinsker did not share the optimism of the liberals and Socialists. The anomaly of Jewish existence, he claimed, was such that the disease could be cured only by getting at its roots. Having lost their independence and fatherland, the Jews had become a spiritual nation. The world had come to see in them the frightening spectre of the dead walking among the living. Everywhere they were guests, nowhere at home. Thanks to their adaptability they had usually acquired the alien traits of the people among whom they dwelt. They had absorbed certain cosmopolitan tendencies and lost their own traditional individuality. They had deliberately renounced their own nationality, but nowhere had they succeeded in obtaining recognition from their neighbours as citizens of equal rank. All this was no mere accident or misfortune. There was a certain logic in it. No people, Pinsker wrote, has any predilection for foreigners. But the Jew was subject to this general law to an even greater degree than other foreigners precisely because he had no country of his own, because he was the stranger par excellence. Other foreigners had no need to be, or to seem to be patriots. They could claim hospitality and repay it in the same coin in their own country. The Jew, having no country, could make no claim to hospitality. He was a beggar rather than a guest.

Relentlessly Pinsker went on to destroy illusions in which only a few years before he had shared: that Jews had lived in a certain country for many generations did not change the fact that they remained aliens. True, they were, or would be, legally emancipated and accorded civil rights, but they would not be socially emancipated and accepted as equals. Emancipation was always the fruit of a rational cast of mind and enlightened self-interest, never the spontaneous expression of the feeling of the people. Therefore the stigma attached to the Jews could not be removed even by legislative emancipation imposed from above ‘as long as it is the nature of this people to produce vagrant nomads, as long as they cannot give a satisfactory account of whence they come and whither they go, as long as the Jews themselves prefer not to speak in Aryan society of their Semitic descent and prefer not to be reminded of it - as long as they are persecuted, tolerated, protected, emancipated’. Pinsker concluded his analysis of antisemitism with a definition of the image of the Jew:


For the living, the Jew is a dead man; for the natives an alien and a vagrant; for property holders a beggar; for the poor an exploiter and a millionaire; for patriots a man without a country; for all classes, a hated rival.

Having described the etiology of the disease, Pinsker went on to discuss possible treatments - if not total cure. Jews were foolish to appeal to eternal justice and to expect of human nature something which had always been in short supply - humanity. What they needed was self-respect. They had waged a long and often heroic war for survival, but for survival not as a nation with a fatherland, but as individuals; in this struggle they had been forced to adopt all kinds of dubious tactics detrimental to their moral dignity, sinking even further in the eyes of their opponents. What they lacked was not genius but self-respect and dignity.

Nor were they justified in making the outside world responsible for their misfortunes. They had no providential mission among the nations, but should seek their own salvation in the struggle for independence and national unity. They were a sick people, for many of them did not even feel the need for an independent national existence, in the same way as a man affected by disease did not feel the desire for food and drink. But there was no other way out. The Russian Jews would have to emigrate unless they wanted to remain parasites and thus exposed to constant pressure and persecution. But since no other country was likely to open its gates to a mass immigration, they needed a home of their own. They were now passing through an important historical moment which might not recur. The consciousness of the people was awake, the time was ripe for decisive action - if only they were willing to help themselves. The Jewish societies already in existence, Pinsker suggested in conclusion, should call a national congress to purchase a territory for the settlement of several millions of Jews. At the same time the support of the powers should be obtained to ensure the perpetual existence of such a refuge. He did not expect that the entire people would emigrate to the new state; western Jews would probably remain where they were. But there was a saturation point in every country beyond which the number of Jews could not increase without exposing them to persecution, which might recur not only in Russia but also in other countries. Only in this way would it be possible to secure the future of the Jewish people, now everywhere endangered. He implored his fellow-Jews not to allow the great moment to pass. Self-liberation was the commandment of the hour: help yourselves and God will help you!

Pinsker’s appeal received wide notice from Jewish writers in Russia but hardly any attention from the people for whom it had been intended and from whom he expected leadership, namely western, and more particularly German, Jewry. When he discussed his views with Jellinek, the chief rabbi of Vienna, he was advised to take a rest in Italy to restore his obviously shattered nerves.* Most Russian-Jewish writers commented that there was little new in Autoemanzipation; similar ideas had been propagated in the Russian-Jewish Press for a number of years. A little patronisingly, Smolenskin wrote that Autoemanzipation could perhaps fulfil a useful function among German Jews, for whom such views were novel. Others criticised Pinsker for his ambiguous attitude towards Palestine. In his pamphlet he had stated that they should ‘above all not dream of restoring ancient Judaea. … The goal of our present endeavours must be not the “Holy Land” but a land of our own.’ Elsewhere he mentioned a territory in North America or a sovereign pashalik in Asiatic Turkey as alternative possibilities. He was preoccupied with the immediate political problem facing Russian Jewry. The religious-national longing for Palestine was for him, as for Herzl fifteen years later, not the primary concern. When he wrote his pamphlet he was a territorialist, not a Zionist. Only later, under the influence of Lilienblum, Max Mandelstam (an ophthalmologist from Kiev), and Professor Herman Shapira (a mathematician at Heidelberg, of Russian origin), was he converted to the Zionist cause. During his last years - he died in 1898 - he took a leading role in the ‘Lovers of Zion’ (Hoveve Zion), the forerunners of political Zionism. Like Herzl after him, he has been criticised for largely ignoring what others before him had written and done about a Jewish state. This criticism is justified. When Pinsker wrote Autoemanzipation he was not aware of Moses Hess and Kalischer, nor even of the proto-Zionist groups that had sprouted a few years earlier in various Russian cities. Herzl in his turn was not aware of Pinsker and other predecessors of Zionism when he wrote the Judenstaat. But it is doubtful whether a knowledge of these various activities on behalf of Palestine would have induced Pinsker to modify his basic beliefs, that the leadership of the new national movement had to come from central and west European Jewry. He did not have a very high opinion of the political and organisational ability of his fellow Russian Jews, and his scepticism was, as subsequent events were to show, not unfounded. By the time Pinsker died the Lovers of Zion had failed in most of their endeavours, and with the rise of political Zionism the centre of gravity moved to Vienna and Berlin, to Cologne, and subsequently to London.

When Pinsker wrote Autoemanzipation he was past sixty, and much as Zionism became the centre of his life, he lacked the dynamism of youth, and also the ambition and vanity which were so characteristic of Herzl. The time was ripe, but he could not and would not be the new Moses. ‘History’, he once wrote, ‘does not grant a people such guides repeatedly.’ Pinsker’s name figures larger in the history of ideas than in the history of Jewish politics. The immediate political impact of his work was limited; not many were converted to Zionism as the result of reading Autoemanzipation, but those few constituted the nucleus of the Zionist movements in eastern Europe in the 1890s. Without their support it is doubtful whether Herzl and Nordau would have been able to accomplish what they did.

The Lovers of Zion

Associations for the promotion of Jewish emigration to Palestine were founded during 1881-2 independently of each other in a number of Russian cities. The first was set up in Suvalki near the Polish-Lithuanian border, another in Kremenchug, while Rabbi Mohilever of Radom was instrumental in establishing several such associations in Poland. They were a mixed lot. Some consisted mainly of orthodox Jews, others of radical students who got their inspirations largely from the then fashionable narodnichestvo(populism). Some took the question of emigration very seriously, preparing themselves for immediate departure, while others were mainly philanthropic in character, collecting money for the support of the few Jewish colonies already in existence. At first there was hardly any coordination among them; the various groups sent emissaries to Palestine to find out about conditions there. Those who went on behalf of the Suvalki group had instructions to get the answers to no fewer than twelve hundred queries. The most active group was that founded by high-school and university students in Kharkov in 1881; it called itself Bilu (Bet Yaakov lechu ve nelcha - ‘O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us go’, Isaiah II, 5). They decided upon immediate emigration and some of them left for Odessa on their way to Constantinople and the Holy Land. The history of the Jewish colonisation of Palestine usually dates from their arrival - the first aliya (immigration wave). Their subsequent fate is typical of the whole movement. Out of three hundred members, a third set out for Odessa, but only forty reached Constantinople. About sixteen ultimately arrived in Palestine. They first established a working group on Socialist lines, predating the efforts of the Kibbutzim and Kvutzot. For a start they went to work at Miqve Israel, the agricultural school which had been established a decade earlier. Later they established Gedera, an agricultural settlement south of Jaffa which still exists, though it ceased to be run on Socialist lines a long time ago.

The enthusiasm of the Biluim was matched only by their lack of preparedness. They knew nothing about agriculture, and found the work in unaccustomed climatic conditions almost unbearable. Above all, they had no money to buy land and equipment, and there were no funds for the construction of houses. Since, according to a contemporary account, they had neither horses nor oxen nor agricultural implements, they had to work the stony land with their bare hands. The orthodox Jews of Jerusalem were far from enthusiastic about these new arrivals, in whom they saw both dangerous subversive elements and also rivals for the distribution of the money sent each year by Jewish communities abroad for use in Palestine (Halukka). Occasionally they showed open hostility towards the Bilu, informing on them to the Turkish authorities. There was not a single pair of Tefilin (phylacteries) in the whole colony, the rabbis complained. Young men and women were dancing together: ‘It would be preferable that the land of our forefathers should be again an abode of jackals than become a den of iniquity.’ This was how the orthodox for many years viewed the activities of the ‘Russian anarchists’.

The Turks too were suspicious of the newcomers, in whom they saw potential agents of a power threatening the very existence of their country. The Bilu members, who had set up a central office in Constantinople, waited therefore in vain for a firman (official permit) to establish a series of settlements in Palestine which would create the basis for mass immigration. The Turkish government put many obstacles in their way, and in 1893 banned altogether the immigration of Russian Jews into Palestine and the purchase of land. These orders were frequently circumvented by registering the land that was bought in the name of Jews from western Europe and by distributing baksheesh among the local administration. In this way a few settlements were established, but these were hardly the conditions envisaged by Pinsker for mass immigration, let alone the establishment of a Jewish state.

Among the first agricultural settlements established during that period were Zikhron Ya’akov, south of Haifa, and Rosh Pina, built by new immigrants from Rumania. Petah Tiqva, north of Jaffa, had been founded as early as 1878 by young Jews from Jerusalem, but they had to leave because most of them were affected by malaria. They returned after a year and in 1883 Yessod Hama’ala, and in 1884 Mishmar Hayarden, were founded, both in Galilee. Other colonies organised before the turn of the century included Rehovot (1890), Moza and Hadera (1891), Metulla and Har Tuv (1896). Everywhere the new colonists faced harrowing trials and not a few perished of exhaustion or disease; malaria claimed the heaviest toll at Hadera. Only after the draining of the swamps was it possible to envisage normal agricultural work. In Russia, meanwhile, attempts were being made to coordinate the activities of the various local Lovers of Zion groups. At a conference in Kattowitz in Upper Silesia in 1884, a central organisation was established. Pinsker was elected president, and stressed in his opening address the importance of a ‘return to the soil’. The conference decided to establish two main committees, one in Warsaw, the other in Odessa, as executive bodies of the movement. The former soon ceased to exist but the latter remained up to the outbreak of the First World War the main centre of Zionist activity in Russia.

The Kattowitz conference has entered the annals of Zionist history as one of its most important milestones. In fact it was a very modest beginning. The thirty-six delegates were in general agreement that something ought to be done for Palestine, but there was no real attempt to define clearly the scope and purpose of the new organisation, let alone to consider ways and means of carrying out practical plans. Rich Russian Jews were reluctant to support Zionist initiatives and as a result the new organisation had hardly any funds at its disposal. The discussions at Kattowitz were taken up by such questions as whether one or two emissaries should be sent to Palestine and how much money should be allocated to the individual colonies.* This and subsequent conferences of the Lovers of Zion clearly showed that it was basically a philanthropic, not a political association, and not a very effective one at that - they collected a mere 15-20,000 roubles a year. Some of its members emigrated to Palestine, but the great majority consisted merely of well-wishers and sympathisers. A movement of this kind could not make a substantial contribution towards solving the most burning issue facing Russian Jewry - that of emigration. About twenty thousand Jews left Russia in 1881-2, but only a few hundred went to Palestine, and in later years the disproportion became even more marked. When Pinsker wrote Autoemanzipation, and when Smolenskin and Lilienblum issued their manifestos and appeals, they had thought of more ambitious projects than the creation of a few tiny settlements in the Mutessariflik of Jerusalem and the districts of Nablus and Acre. The movement was torn by internal strife. The rabbis, led by Mohilever, tried to get rid of the ‘free-thinkers’, and Pinsker was gradually squeezed out of the leadership. These internal squabbles consumed much time and energy and temporarily paralysed the movement.

In the meantime the news from the colonies became more and more alarming. The lack of agricultural experience was taking a heavy toll, and there were no funds to see the settlers through their early setbacks. The land which had been acquired by the emissaries of Russian and Rumanian Jewry was stony or marshy and infested with malaria. They did not know that the planting of eucalyptus trees was indicated in conditions such as those obtaining at Hadera, and they would not have been able to carry out afforestation, for lack of means, even had they known this. Generally speaking, they had no idea what to grow or how or when to grow it. They lived in caves and wretched hovels, exposed to an unfamiliar and usually inclement climate. The original enthusiasm could not sustain them forever. Within a few years many of them had reached breaking point. Some returned to Russia, others went on to America. A few moved on to Jerusalem, assisted by Christian missions, since they failed to obtain the support of the local Jewish community. The whole venture seemed doomed. To save the colonies, Rabbi Mohilever and an English Christian Friend of Zion, Laurence Oliphant,* enlisted the help of Baron Edmond de Rothschild and Baron Maurice de Hirsch, another noted Jewish philanthropist. Hirsch made his cooperation conditional on a contribution of 50,000 roubles on the part of Russian Jewry, and when this did not materialise he decided to concentrate his efforts on Jewish colonialisation in the Argentine. Rothschild was ready to help, and it was only owing to his support that Rishon, Zikhron, Rosh Pina and the other colonies survived. He also assisted in the establishment of two new colonies, Ekron and Metulla. With the arrival of another small wave of immigration in 1890-1 following the expulsion of Jews from Moscow, some more land was bought and two major colonies, Rehovot, south of Rishon le Zion, and Hadera, midway between Jaffa and Haifa, came into being. Altogether twenty-one agricultural settlements existed by the end of the century, with about 4,500 inhabitants, of whom two-thirds were employed in agriculture.

Rothschild did not trust the abilities of the colonists and insisted on direct supervision and control by his agents. A paternalistic régime was established, which was not at all to the liking of the Hoveve Zion. For Rothschild this was just another philanthropic scheme. Initially it caused much resentment among the recipients, but without his help the colonists would not have survived. It is estimated that during the 1880s the Baron spent about $5 million on supporting the settlements, whereas the Hoveve Zion were able to provide only about 5 per cent of that sum. Its support was limited in fact to Gedera, the original Bilu settlement. Under the supervision of Rothschild’s representatives vineyards were planted in Rishon and Zikhron; elsewhere the cultivation of wheat and of silkworms and the manufacture of rose oil was initiated. All these early trials were costly and some unsuccessful. The colonies became going concerns only during the first decade of the twentieth century when they began growing citrus fruits. The dependence of the colonists on Rothschild’s generosity had some negative consequences. At first there were many complaints about the interference of the baron’s agents in all their activities, but gradually the settlers came to take this for granted. They lost all initiative and became accustomed to turning to Paris whenever they encountered difficulties. Of their pioneering enthusiasm little was left when, after three decades, they had overcome their early troubles. The Zionist-Socialist convictions of the early settlers had given way to very different attitudes. By 1910 the settlers were owners of plantations employing mainly Arab workers. Their own children were sent for education to France, and a fairly high proportion of them did not choose agriculture or did not even return to Palestine. When a new wave of immigrants began to reach Palestine in 1905-6, the newcomers found it exceedingly difficult to obtain employment in these settlements, which preferred the cheaper and more experienced Arab labour. After this long philanthropic interlude the Zionist initiative thus became a strictly commercial venture. This was no doubt preferable to the degrading and unproductive existence of the old Jewish community in Jerusalem, which made organised begging a way of life, but it was hardly what the Lovers of Zion had dreamed about.

The decline of the movement was hastened by the insistence of the orthodox on certain biblical injunctions, such as the one which forbade the working of land each seventh year. The orthodox rabbis of Russia and Jerusalem insisted on strict observance of the Sabbatical year. But how could modern agriculture be combined with such outdated customs? The orthodox rabbis, meanwhile, were involved in a bitter quarrel with their ultra-orthodox colleagues as to whether the ethrogim (apples of Paradise needed for the ritual observance of the Feast of Tabernacles) should be imported from Corfu (as the latter demanded) or from Palestine, according to the wishes of the former. It is not surprising that a subsequent generation of Russian Zionists, which was to include Weizmann, was most reluctant to collaborate with the rabbis in their Zionist enterprises.

Pinsker and Lilienblum had been concerned with the future of the Jewish people, its national revival, the issue of mass immigration. Now, as leaders of the Odessa committee, they found themselves preoccupied with the livestock at Gedera and the question whether attacks by the inhabitants of Masmieh, the neighbouring Arab village, constituted a serious danger to the Jewish settlement. This was not what they had envisaged, and the conviction grew among them that their early approach to the problem had been mistaken. In 1891 and again in 1893 one of the leading younger members of the Odessa committee, Asher Ginzberg (Ahad Ha’am), was sent to Palestine, and in a series of articles entitled ‘The Truth from Eretz Israel’, he sharply criticised the methods pursued by the Lovers of Zion. Colonisation could be successful, he maintained, only if undertaken not in a hurry, but with practical sense and on an adequate scale. All these factors were missing in Palestine, which could not absorb the Jewish masses; it should be a cultural and spiritual centre but not the political or economic basis of the Jewish people.

In 1890 the Lovers of Zion were at last permitted by the Russian government to register as an association; previously they had had to pursue their activities in conditions of semi-legality. Now they founded an association for the promotion of farming and manufacture in Palestine and Syria, but the fact that the organisation was now legal did not give a fresh spur to its activities. The leaders of the Hoveve Zion, with their many sterling qualities, had neither the vision, the genius and ambition of leadership, nor the relentless energy needed to make a success of their movement. Internal dissensions further weakened it: Pinsker and Lilienblum, the secularists, were opposed by the rabbis and their followers. Only a few rabbis had been interested in the movement for a national revival, among them Ruelf of Memel, Pinsker’s close friend, Zadok Kahn of Paris, and Israel Hildesheimer, one of the leaders of German-Jewish orthodoxy. Later on, a great many were willing to support it, but only on condition that the movement would be religious in character. Lastly there were Ahad Ha’am’s disciples preaching cultural Zionism. According to their views the majority of the Jewish people were to stay in the diaspora and only a small, select group was to settle in Palestine. Such ideas were unlikely to serve as the basis of a political mass movement.

Organisationally and politically the Hoveve Zion was a failure, but although its visions did not materialise, thousands of its members and sympathisers continued to believe that one day their dreams would come true. These men and women were found not only in Russia and Poland; there were also small groups in Vienna and Berlin. Nathan Birnbaum, with a few friends of Jewish-Polish and Rumanian background, founded a national students organisation which, following a suggestion by Peretz Smolenskin, adopted the name Kadima, meaning both ‘forward’ and ‘eastward’. Birnbaum was a man of sharp critical intelligence and great ambition. His early essays reveal an original, sometimes prophetic frame of mind.* He was a Zionist well before Herzl. Indeed, the movement owes its very name to him. Better than the Lovers of Zion he understood the importance of political Zionism. It was not sufficient to establish a few colonies whose economic and political existence was by no means secure. Zionism had to gain the confidence of the Turkish government. Birnbaum’s analysis of anti-semitism was more sophisticated than Pinsker’s and Herzl’s. As a Socialist he did not deny the importance of economic factors in history, nor did he believe that national hatreds (including antisemitism) would last forever. But he also realised that antisemitism was not primarily an economic phenomenon, that a revolution in the social structure would not by itself affect it, and that, lastly, it might take a thousand years to eradicate it. During this interim period Socialism simply did not have an answer to the Jewish question.

Birnbaum was isolated and desperately poor. His mother sold her little shop to finance her son’s literary efforts, which covered the publication of Selbst-Emanzipation, a Zionist fortnightly, in which, anticipating Herzl, he developed a plan for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, discussing in detail all the implications and refuting possible counter-arguments. Birnbaum had every reason to expect to be among the leaders of the Zionist movement when, following Herzl’s initiative, it received a new lease of life. But for a variety of reasons (partly through his own fault) he never found his place in the new movement. Soon he left it altogether and drifted from Zionism and Socialism to preaching an active, national Jewish policy in the diaspora, which only a few years earlier he had declared a priori impossible. The former Hebraist became a fervent advocate of Yiddish, the popular language which was anathema to most Zionists. The free-thinker joined the ultra-orthodox Agudat Israel, of which he eventually became a leading official. At every stage of his erratic intellectual development he defended his current views with great conviction. He lacked neither intellectual depth nor honesty but his instability disqualified him as a political leader.

Small groups of Lovers of Zion existed in many parts of the world. Newspapers and periodicals taking a special interest in the Jewish colonisation of Palestine were published from Bucharest (Hayoez) to Boston (Hapisga) and Baltimore. In Jerusalem there was a Zionist periodical, Ben Yehuda’s Ha’or. Max Bodenheimer, a German-Jewish lawyer, published a brochure in 1891 (What to do with the Russian Jews), followed two years later by another (Syria and Palestine as a haven for Russian Jews), in which he developed Zionist ideas quite independently of the Lovers of Zion or any other Jewish organisation. In 1896 the young engineer Menahem Ussishkin, brusque and opinionated but business-like and dynamic, took over the leadership of the Odessa committee. Ahad Ha’am established a little semi-conspiratorial corps d’élite, called Bnei Moshe. These men shared Ahad Ha’am’s views about the central importance of a cultural renaissance of the Jewish people; many of the later leaders of Russian Zionism belonged at one time or another to this group. Its immediate political importance was not very great, nor was it meant to be. Ahad Ha’am’s biographer says that Milton’s ‘They also serve who only stand and wait’ could well have been its motto.*

In Berlin a Verein of Jewish students from Russia had been founded in 1889. In this (the Russian-Jewish Scientific Association) young nationalists like Leo Motzkin, Nahman Syrkin and Shmaryahu Levin were active. Later on Chaim Weizmann became one of its members. They were desperately poor but full of ideas and enthusiasm. They met at the Hotel Zentrum on the Alexanderplatz where (as Weizmann recalls) they could get beer and sausages on credit.


I think with something like a shudder of the amount of talking we did. We never dispersed before the small hours of the morning. We talked of everything, of history, wars, revolutions, the rebuilding of society. But chiefly we talked of the Jewish problem and Palestine. We sang, we celebrated such Jewish festivals as we did not go home for, we debated with the assimilationists, and we made vast plans for the redemption of our people. It was all very youthful and naïve and jolly and exciting; but it was not without a deeper meaning.

The Verein existed ‘outside time and space’. It had no connection with German Jewry; only a few young students such as Heinrich Loewe were to attend its meetings and become converts. The gap between these Russian students and German Jewry seemed unbridgeable, but Loewe was not easily discouraged. He helped to establish a student’s association with a Jewish national orientation. In his little magazine Zion he reported on his study trip to Palestine in 1896, and the handful of Zionists were greatly encouraged by the fact that in the same year Berlin Jews were given their first taste of Rishon wine. Still, all these activities were on a small scale and quite ineffectual. In 1896 no one but half a dozen rabbis, a few young people in Berlin and Cologne, and some older intellectuals and businessmen hailing from Russia, even knew about the idea of Zionism.*

The religious-national longing for Zion in eastern Europe had deep emotional roots and constituted a great potential reservoir for a political movement. But no mass movement had arisen during the fifteen years since the publication of Pinsker’s Autoemanzipation. Only a few Lovers of Zion groups engaged in cultural and philanthropic work, and some small newspapers kept alive the visions and dreams of a national revival and a return to the homeland. The twenty-odd colonies founded in Palestine since 1881 had survived, but as the century drew to its close it was only too clear that they could not serve as a base for mass immigration. The old mythical and messianic Zionism was a source of edification, but it had proved incapable of inspiring a political mass movement. If its history had ended in 1897 it would now be remembered as one of the less important sectarian-Utopian movements which sprouted during the second half of the nineteenth century, an unsuccessful attempt at a Jewish risorgimento, trying to graft the ideas of the Enlightenment on to the Jewish-religious tradition.

Zionism, in brief, was comatose when in 1896 Theodor Herzl appeared. Within a few years he was to transform it into a mass movement and a political force.

* For a full discussion of the earliest uses of the term Zionism (Zionismus, Zionisten), see Alex Bein, ‘Von der Zionssehnsucht, etc.’, in Robert Weltsch zum 70. Geburstag, Tel Aviv, 1961, p. 33 et seq.

* Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, 1840, p. 542 et seq.

 Neujudäa. Entwurf zum Wiederaufbau eines selbständigen jüdischen Staates von C.C.C. New edition by Heinrich Löwe, Berlin, 1903.

* Orient, 27 June 1840. The discussion triggered off by this project is reviewed in Gelber, Vorgeschichte des Zionismus, Vienna, 1927, chapter XI.

* Quoted from A. Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea, New York, 1959, based on an earlier translation by Meyer Waxman.

* Edmund Silberner, Moses Hess. Die Geschichte seines Lebens, Leiden, 1966, pp. 23-4.

 Quoted in Theodor Zlocisti, Moses Hess, Berlin, 1921, p. 257.

 Laharanne, a young non-Jewish official in the French government, thought highly of the Jews and their historical mission: ‘Yours is a mighty genius. You were strong in the days of antiquity, and strong in the Middle Ages. You have paid a heavy tax of eighteen centuries of persecution.’ But those who remained were still strong enough to erect anew the gates of Jerusalem. Joseph Salvador, a philosopher of Jewish origin on his father’s side, who belonged to a famous Sefardi family in the south of France, was preoccupied with the idea of Judaism, with its enduring elements rather than with its present difficulties. His philosophy, developed in a series of books beginning with Loi de Moïse et du peuple hébreu, was that the basic ideas of Judaism were, on the one hand, the unity of the human race, its equality and fraternity, and, on the other, a new and higher messianism, called upon to establish a new order replacing Caesars and Popes. To that end he advocated the establishment of a new state between orient and occident, on the coast of Galilee and Canaan. According to Salvador, there were only two races in Asia Minor capable of civilisation and progress, the Greeks and the Jews, and notwithstanding their deep degradation the Jews were still capable of infusing new life into the mountains of Judea. Salvador’s writings, permeated with deep belief in the future of the Jewish nation, were very much in the tradition of mid-nineteenth-century speculative philosophy of history, concerned with the destiny of the European nations, Russia and America.

* Quoted in Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea, p. 121.

* Laharanne, it should be added in parenthesis, also envisaged the emergence of a big Arab state which would include Syria and Mesopotamia as well as Anatolia. The sultan was to be left only with his European possessions to prevent their falling into Russian hands. As for the inhabitants of the New Judea, a great calling was reserved for them: they would be the bearers of civilisation to peoples as yet inexperienced, the mediators between Europe and Asia. They would come to the land of their fathers wearing the crown of age-long martyrdom, and there at last would be healed of their ills.

* Das Jahrhundert, 1857, p. 363, quoted in Silberner, Moses Hess, p. 420.

 Tagebücher, Berlin, 1923, vol. 2, p. 599.

* Kitve Rabbi Yehuda Alkalay, Jerusalem, 1954, vol. 1.

* A. Herzen, Byloe i Dumy, vol. 1, p. 189.

 Reports of the commissioners of immigration upon the causes which incite immigration to the United States, Washington, 1892.

* Harold Frederic, The New Exodus, London, 1892, pp. 79-80.

 Ibid., p. 32.

* Quoted in Jacob S. Raisin, The Haskalah Movement in Russia, New York, 1913, pp. 231-2.

* Am Haruach (The Nation of the Spirit); Et Lata’at (It Is Time to Plant); Et La’assot (It Is Time for Action).

* Nemushot and Erakhim, 1899, passim (Berdichevsky).

 Hashiloach, VII, 1904 (Hurwitz).

 Revivim, v, Jerusalem, 1914, p. III, quoted in A. Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea, New York, 1959, p. 307.

* Die jüdische Frage in der orientalischen Frage, Vienna, 1877. The pamphlet was for a long time thought to have been written by Disraeli. More recently historians have come to attribute it to Yalag. See Alkoshi, in Kiryat Sefer, Jerusalem, 1959.

 Rassvet, 1881, pp. 41-2.

 King Alfons XII had offered asylum to some of the victims of the Russian riots.

* On Lilienblum’s writings after the riots of 1881, see Baderekh Teshuva, Warsaw, 1889, passim.

 See the summary of the discussions in Israel Klausner, Behitorer Am, Jerusalem, 1962, pp. 104-17.

* The scene was described years later by M. Lilienblum, in Voskhod, 6, 1902.

 Autoemanzipation, ein Mahnruf an seine Stammesgenossen, von einem russischen Juden, Berlin, 1882.

* Bernard Lazare, Antisemitism. Its History and Causes, New York, 1903, pp. 373-5.

* Later on Jellinek came to take a more positive view of Pinsker’s ideas.

* M. Gelber (ed.), Die Kattowitzer Konferenz 1884. Protokolle, Vienna, 1919, p. 24.

* Author of Land of Gilead, 1879; Oliphant settled in Haifa.

* See, for instance, ‘Die Jüdische Moderne’, in Nathan Birnbaum’s Ausgewählte Schriften, Czernowitz, 1910.

* Leon Simon, Ahad Ha’am, Philadelphia, 1960, p. 81.

 Chaim Weizmann, Trial and Error, New York, 1966, p. 37.

* Richard Lichtheim, Die Geschichte des deutschen Zionismus, Jerusalem, 1954, p. 122.

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