1. Introducing Zion.
2. The Influence Of Babylon On The Idea Of Zion.
3. The Second Temple Period And Onwards: National Ups And Downs.
4. Israel In Exile: Developing The Trends From Babylon.
5. And What Of Reality? Rabbinic Visits.
6. Onwards To Zionism.
7. Zionism In Practice – The Aliyot.
8. Zionism In Practice – The Organisation And Its Tensions.
A. The Cultural Question And The Place Of Religion.
B. The “Jewishness” Of The Zionist Vision.
C. Zionism – Practical Or Political?
D. Eretz Yisrael Or Elsewhere ?
E. Zionism And The Arabs.
9. The Theory Of Zionism – Different Models.
A. The Vision Of Left Wing Zionism.
B. The Vision Of Cultural Zionism.
C. The Vision Of Religious Zionism.
10. Summing Up.
12. Educational Activities.
A. Exile or diaspora.
B. Needing Israel.
C. Watching Israel.
D. Perfect Israel.
WHERE DOES THE WORD ZION COME FROM? WHAT DID IT REFER TO ORIGINALLY? HOW DID THE MEANING VARY OVER TIME? IN THIS OPENING PIECE WE SHALL SEE HOW THE WORD HAS ALTERED OVER TIME SO THAT STARTING OFF AS IT DID AS AN ACTUAL PLACE, IT ACCUMULATED ADDITIONAL ASSOCIATIONS UNTIL IT BECAME AT ONE AND THE SAME TIME A WORD THAT REFERRED TO A REAL PLACE AND A WORD THAT DESCRIBED A CONCEPT MUCH LESS TANGIBLE.
The origin of the word Zionism is, of course, the word Zion. That word, in itself, is one of the stranger words in the Hebrew language, meaning at one and the same time, both a place and an idea. Even the place identified as Zion has changed with time. Originally identified with a Jebusite (Canaanite) citadel, conquered by David and first mentioned in our sources, in that context, the place of Zion shifted substantially with time. Always it meant part of Jerusalem, but which precise part changed to include different parts of the city in different periods. At some times it was used to refer to the whole city.
In addition, it became a concept referring to the entire homeland, especially when viewed from afar. We see this process beginning with the famous lament of the exiles in Babylon at the beginning of the sixth century B.C.E. when they mourn over “Zion” (Psalm 137). As they think of their destroyed homeland, they weep as they “remember Zion” and as their captors demand of them “songs of Zion.” Clearly they are thinking of their entire homeland and not just their capital city – or parts of it!
With time, the dominant usage refers to the homeland viewed from afar and many poems, prayers and laments are written in praise of, or in memory of Zion. Central among these is the famed poetic cycle – Shirei Zion (Songs of Zion) written by the great twelfth century Spanish Jewish poet Yehudah HaLevi, who wrote what perhaps must be considered the ultimate series of poems of yearning for Zion. “Zion, Ha’lo Tishali…” (Zion, Will you not ask after the welfare of your captives…) is among the best known of poems/songs about the deserted and abandoned homeland.
The strange and varied use of the term to denote both a place and an idea is perhaps a central metaphor for understanding in general, the fate of the land itself in the minds of the Jewish people. The land – Zion, Israel, Judah, Canaan – has undergone an extraordinary series of transformations over time. Sometimes it has been seen as a real place anchored in a specific physical reality like all other places. At other times it has been seen as an idea, hovering in an intermediate place between reality and dream, a spiritual entity as much as a physical one. This tension, between the reality and the dream, has very important implications for our subject. Let us briefly explore some of the most prominent aspects of this development. We start with the roots of the process which must take us back to Babylon.
HOW MANY MEANINGS ARE THERE TO THE WORD ZION? WHAT DOES IT REFER TO? LOOK AT THE FAMOUS POEM BY YEHUDAH HALEVI, “Zion, Ha’lo Tishali…” (Zion, Will you not ask after the welfare of your captives…). WHAT DO YOU THINK HE MEANT WHEN HE TALKED ABOUT ZION? HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THE TRANSFORMATION IN THE MEANING OF THE WORD SO THAT SOMETHING THAT STARTED OFF AS THE NAME OF A SPECIFIC PLACE DEVELOPED INTO AN IDEA AND AN ALMOST INTANGIBLE CONCEPT?
TO WHAT EXTENT WAS IT DUE TO THE DESTRUCTION OF THE CITY OF JERUSALEM AND THE FIRST STATE OF JUDAH AND THEIR EXILE FROM THAT CITY AND STATE THAT THE IDEA OF ZION DEVELOPED AND ALTERED INTO A CONCEPT? IN THIS PIECE WE SHALL EXAMINE TWO CENTRAL THOUGHT PROCESSES THAT THE EXILE IN BABYLON APPEARS TO HAVE TRIGGERED OFF. BOTH WOULD HAVE LASTING INFLUENCE IN THE WAY THAT ZION WAS REGARDED BY JEWS OVER THOUSANDS OF YEARS.
There are two central aspects of this process which must be traced back to the period of the Babylonian Exile at the end of the first temple period. It is now, we suggest, that the beginning of the split between reality and ideal can first be perceived. In that same lament quoted above, that has come down to us in the book of Psalms, we hear of the exiles in Babylon defiantly responding to the torments of their captors, by resolving never to forget Jerusalem and their homeland. They will always remember their great capital city. It seems likely that as they sit in Babylon, singing songs of Zion and remembering Jerusalem, the city that they are remembering is not the city that actually exists at that moment – destroyed and in rubble. Rather, they recall the proud city of which they had been a part, with Solomon’s temple standing at its summit. They knew the reality – they had witnessed the fall of the city themselves, but we suggest that they choose to remember the Jerusalem before its destruction. If this suggestion is correct, then this moment represents the beginning of a long and extraordinary process of mythicalisation, whereby Jerusalem becomes an “imagined” city, with little reference to her real, earthly qualities.
Another process that begins in Babylon, a few years before the final destruction of the temple, is the development of the theological interpretation which will have an overwhelming influence on the way that Jews view the possibility of a return to Zion. In a correspondence recorded in Chapter 29 of Jeremiah, who was the leading prophet of the pre-destruction era in Jerusalem, the exiles turn to the old prophet and ask for advice: How should they conduct themselves in their exiled lands of Babylon? The advice Jeremiah gives is significant. He tells them to wait in Babylon, living normal lives “building houses and planting gardens”, until God decides to bring them back. Thus the decision is in God’s hands. It was God who had been responsible for their exile and it would be God who would bring them back. God is quoted as saying “I will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile”, (verse 14). In saying this to the exiles, Jeremiah is acting according to the prophetic idea that states that God is behind everything that happens to Israel, and that exile must be regarded as divine punishment. In line with this idea, return to the land will come after a period of punishment when Israel’s behaviour has persuaded God that true repentance for past sin, has taken place.
Thus, the return of the nation Israel, just like its defeat and exile, are removed from the realm of this worldly politics and are placed firmly in a theological context of dependence on divine decision-making. In this theological scheme of things, the only initiative that the Jewish people are entitled to take, is one of prayer and repentance in order to prepare the way for God’s ultimate decision. This theological construct would be decisive for the future unfolding of the Jewish narrative regarding the return to the Land of Israel.
Fifty years after the destruction of the first temple, when Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon, the Jews were given the opportunity to return to the Land of Israel and permitted to rebuild their temple. Naturally, in the circumstances, this was understood as the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s promise and as representing the hoped-for divine intervention. The theological paradigm was strengthened. These two developments, both of which began in Babylon, were to prove extremely influential in the future relationship between the people and the land of Israel.
HOW EXACTLY DID THE FIRST EXILE IN BABYLON CHANGE JEWS’ WAYS OF THINKING ABOUT THEIR LAND? HOW DID THE IDEA START TO DEVELOP THAT THE DECISION TO COME BACK OR NOT TO COME BACK WAS ONE RESERVED FOR GOD RATHER THAN THE PEOPLE THEMSELVES? WHAT ARE THE ROOTS OF THIS THEOLOGICAL VIEW OF HISTORY THAT APPEARS TO HAVE DEVELOPED VERY STRONGLY HERE IN RELATION TO ZION?
WHEN DOES THE JEWISH DIASPORA DEVELOP? WHAT WERE THE RELATIONS BETWEEN THE JEWS IN ERETZ ISRAEL AND THE JEWS IN DIASPORA DURING THE CENTURIES OF THE SECOND TEMPLE? WE WILL BRIEFLY SURVEY THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY IN AND OUT OF THE LAND OF ISRAEL IN THE THOUSAND YEARS FOLLOWING THE RETURN OF SOME JEWS FROM BABYLON, THE PERIOD OF THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SECOND TEMPLE.
The Second Temple period – a period of some six hundred years – might be termed a period of normal national development. It is true that for the great majority of that time, Judah – or Judea, as it came to be called – was not independent. A whole series of empires were the ruling powers in the area. Nevertheless, despite occasional crises, the population grew greatly, from thousands to millions, and a complex and developed national life took form. During this period, we see the development of a large Diaspora, to the west and the east, not unlike the situation of many nations at that time. There was frequent contact between the community inEretz Yisrael and the Diaspora communities. Pilgrimages and visits were common and we hear of immigrants and emigrants.
The story changes after the Roman destruction of the Second Temple. Contrary to popular belief, there is no large-scale forced exile of the Jewish People from their land. Rather, the term Galutor exile is used to describe the period that now begins because of the theological idea that the destruction – as punishment – represents God’s exile of the Jewish people from the land of Israel. In point of fact, a relatively vibrant community lived in the land of Israel for several centuries, albeit in difficult circumstances under Roman (and later Roman-Christian) sovereignty.
By the fifth century, however, motivation to remain in the land of Israel had reached a low point. During the preceding centuries, the majority of the Jewish population had left for Diaspora communities. Now the community fell into a decline that made its survival tenuous. There would always be Jews within the land and their numbers would fluctuate greatly. However, these numbers would always be small and relative to the other populations the Jews would be only a small minority despite their sense that the land was their own.
WHAT WERE THE KINDS OF RELATIONS BETWEEN JEWS IN THE LAND OF ISRAEL AND DIASPORA JEWS IN THE SECOND TEMPLE PERIOD? WHAT WERE THE HIGH POINTS AND LOW POINTS OF JEWISH LIFE IN THE LAND OF ISRAEL?
AS FEWER AND FEWER JEWS LIVED IN THE LAND OF ISRAEL, THE RABBIS – NOW THE ACCEPTED IDEOLOGICAL LEADERSHIP OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE – HAD TO HELP THE PEOPLE MAINTAIN A RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LAND. THIS WAS NOT SIMPLE AS THERE WERE DIFFERENT IDEAS THAT PULLED THEM IN OPPOSITE DIRECTIONS. WHAT DID THE RABBIS DO? HOW DID THEY EDUCATE THE PEOPLE TO SEE AS HOME A LAND IN WHICH THEY DID NOT LIVE BUT WHICH THE RABBIS BELIEVED THEY MUST NOT CHOOSE TO RETURN TO AS A NATION?
For the vast majority of the world’s Jews, the Land of Israel increasingly become an abstraction. Although the rabbinic leadership, based at this time in Babylon, developed a system by which Jews would remain connected to their historic homeland, these initiatives remained essentially spiritual and not concrete. The rabbis soaked the developing liturgy and other aspects of Jewish life with mention of the Land of Israel. Similarly, Jewish ritual life was tailored to remind the diaspora Jew that he or she was a stranger in a foreign land and should always remember that “home” was somewhere other than where they were living. This could not but have a great influence on the Jew. Constantly, the individual Jew was forced to reflect on the situation in the Land and to lament the fact of his/her own absence.
An additional factor that contributed to the negation of practical efforts to return to Zion was the updating of the Jeremian paradigm by which Jews were encouraged to be passive and await God’s appointed time to bring the people back from exile. Strictly speaking, there was no discouragement against individual Jews acting on the strength of their feelings and going to live out their life in “Zion.” The problem, from a theological point of view, was viewed in collective terms. The community as a whole, it was taught, was forbidden to take collective steps to return. To do so would be to rebel against God, whose sole decision it was, it will be remembered, to decide on the date of the deliverance and the return. There were a number of ways that the “prohibition” against the return was explained. The most popular seems to be that invoked by the three oaths which Israel was said to have taken when they accepted the punishment of exile. The details (and the text most popularly quoted) are from the Babylonian Talmud.
What are these three oaths? One that Israel not “ascend the wall” [Rashi: together, by force]: one that the Holy One, Blessed be He, adjured Israel not to rebel against the nations of the world: and one that the Holy One, Blessed be He, adjured the nations of the world not to oppress Israel overmuch.
Bab. Talmud Ketubbot 111a.
These oaths appear to have been invoked whenever there were large groups of Jews who were interested in leaving the lands of the Exile and settling in Eretz Israel. Although they never appear to have had the force of Halachah (Jewish law), they were clearly felt to have considerable moral force. Jews who went in large numbers were typically considered as having “ascended the wall.” But there were those who disagreed. The great medieval Jewish scholar the Ramban, or Nachmanides, certainly took a different line arguing in a commentary on Maimonides that “It is incumbent upon every individual to go up to live [in Israel]” and that this was no less than “a positive commandment incumbent upon every individual in every generation”. He himself was one of a very large group of Jews who went up to the Land in the thirteenth century. Nevetheless, despite the moral authority of the Ramban and other Olim (immigrants to Israel), the majority appears to have felt very differently. According to Aviezer Ravitzky, a professor of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University, the three oaths were widely accepted amongst traditional Jews during the 18th and 19th centuries as arguments against large scale Aliyah to the Land of Israel.
WHAT WAS THE DILEMMA THAT THE RABBIS FACED IN TERMS OF EDUCATING THE PEOPLE TOWARDS THE NECESSARY RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LAND OF ISRAEL? HOW DID THEY ATTEMPT TO DEAL WITH THIS DILEMMA? WHAT DID THEY WANT THE PEOPLE TO THINK? WHAT DID THEY NOT WANT THEM TO DO? HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THIS SEEMING CONTRADICTION?
SOMETHING WAS CHANGING IN THE WAY THAT JEWS SAW THE LAND: FOR MANY JEWS IT WAS BECOMING INCREASINGLY ABSTRACT. AS THE LAND BECAME INCREASINGLY SEEN THROUGH A “VEIL” OF HOLINESS, IT WAS LOSING MUCH OF ITS REAL CHARACTER IN THE EYES OF MANY. HOWEVER IN THE EIGHTEENTH AND NINETEENTH CENTURIES THERE WERE A NUMBER OF IMPORTANT GROUPS OF IMMIGRANTS PRINCIPALLY FROM EUROPE, WHO CAME ON ALIYAH IN ORDER TO TRY AND FULFIL CERTAIN GOALS.
All of these factors explain why, as mentioned before, “Zion” was fast becoming an abstraction in the eyes of Jews throughout the world. The process was becoming increasingly marked after the development of the Kabbalistic messianic doctrines associated with Isaac Luria, the Safed sage of the late sixteenth century. It was the intense kabbalistic activity of the generations that came after Luria that had the effect of accentuating the symbolic aspects of the Land and removing it to a realm of intense over-spiritualisation. The question had to be asked whether in such a rarefied spiritual atmosphere where the idea of the Land was weighed down with so much symbolism, the reality of the Land was not being lost. One who clearly identified this trend and protested against it was the distinguished Chassidic Rebbe, Nachman of Bratzlav. In the early nineteenth century, Nachman made a journey to Israel in mysterious circumstances. Modern research clearly shows that he was pre-occupied with trying to retain the idea of the reality of the Land, even as he accepted so much of the deep symbolism associated with it. Upon his return, he repeatedly emphasised to his followers the physical nature of the land and the fact that so many Jews whom he had met there confessed that prior to their coming to the land they had perceived it in purely spiritual terms.
During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries some important rabbinic figures encouraged their followers to make the journey to the Land of Israel and to live there. Among those who immigrated were Chassidic students of the Ba’al Shem Tov and anti-Chassidic followers of Elijah, the Gaon [eminence, genius] of Vilna, and of the Hatam Sofer, the leader of strictly-Orthodox Hungarian Jewry. The motives were varied. They included an attempt to create a “pure” Jewish centre of Torah learning in Eretz Israel, away from the “polluted” lands of Europe where Reform Judaism and assimilation were having increasing influence; a response to clear Messianic excitement within the traditional Jewish communities of Europe; and a desire to fulfil the mitzvot (commandments) that could only be performed in the Land of Israel.
Some of these initiatives included practical efforts at settlement on the Land and are therefore especially noteworthy. During the late 1870s, attempts were made to found two agricultural settlements, one in Petach Tikva and the other in Gai Oni (the original Rosh Pinah), but essentially the ideational framework of these initiatives remained traditional, that is based on a Messianic view of the world.
The same might be said for the interesting ideas of a number of nineteenth century rabbinic thinkers, who started to talk enthusiastically of the need for the return of Jews to the Land of Israel. However, these figures, who include Rabbis Judah Bibas of Corfu, Yehuda Hai Alkalai of former Yugoslavia and Zvi Hirsh Kalischer of Posen and Thorn, were also influenced by contemporary European events particularly the unfolding of the emancipation process and the rise of nationalism, both of which led them to believe that the first stage of the redemptive process might be brought about by natural, human means. Despite their considerable efforts including the mapping of practical programs, their influence was limited. In this sense, they fit the category of being forerunners of Zionism and precursors of religious Zionism.
WHAT WAS THE EFFECT OF THE “CONTRADICTORY” MESSAGES OF RABBINIC JUDAISM ON THE WAY THAT JEWS SAW THE LAND? WHAT HAPPENS TO THE LAND IN THE EYES OF MANY JEWS? DO YOU THINK THAT THIS WAS A GOOD OR A BAD THING? WHAT DID RABBI NACHMAN OF BRATZLAV TRY TO DO? HOW CAN WE EXPLAIN WHY SO MANY TRADITIONAL JEWS MADE ALIYAH FROM THE LAST YEARS OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY BEFORE THE BEGINNING OF THE ZIONIST MOVEMENT? WHAT WERE THEY HOPING TO ACHIEVE?
NOW WE ARRIVE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE ZIONIST MOVEMENT. HOW DO WE EXPLAIN THE EMERGENCE OF ZIONISM IN THE LATE NINETEENTH CENTURY? ZIONISM NEEDS TO BE SEEN AGAINST THE BACKGROUND OF THE GREAT EMIGRATION MOVEMENT THAT STARTED TO AFFECT HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF EASTERN EUROPEAN JEWS. MOST OF THOSE WANTED TO GO WEST, TO AMERICA AND THE LANDS OF A NEW WORLD. BUT THERE WERE THOSE WHO THOUGHT DIFFERENTLY…
It is with all this background that we now turn to the movement that is called Zionism. There are a number of different stages, even in early Zionism. The word itself was coined only in the early 1890’s (by Natan Birnbaum, a fascinating figure who started out as an assimilated Jewish student and ended up amongst the leadership of the Agudat Yisrael movement). Prior to this, the movement tends to be called Hibbat Zion [Love of Zion] and its proponents Hovevei Zion [Lovers of Zion]. The roots of these groups can be detected in the 1860’s but their growth is really connected to the traumatic pogroms in the Russian Pale of Settlement in 1881. It was these attacks on the Jews, of a kind and scope that had not been evident for several generations, which opened up an enormous debate in the Jewish street and media about the question of emigration from Russia.
Two main schools of thought arose. The masses quickly started to vote with their feet, choosing America and the west. But a number of young intellectual figures, who would later emerge as a cadre of leaders within Eastern European Jewry, supported the idea of emigration to the old-new land of Zion. For them it was not only that the Jews had left the ghetto, Judaism had also come out of its closed environment. According to these circles, Judaism now faced a crisis as it encountered an ocean of foreign culture that could only be managed if the Jews recreated their national home in their historic homeland. By creating a homeland of their own, the Jews would be able to negotiate their relationship with European values and beliefs without being swamped by their immediate environment. America might be a solution for the individual but could it also provide an answer to the spiritual and cultural needs of the Jewish masses, they asked. And so, under the slogan of “Auto-Emancipation,” – self-liberation – a number of societies began to form, calling for immigration to, and productive labour in, Eretz Israel. Even before the phrase was born, the idea of practical Zionism began to create a stir in sections of the Jewish public. In the early 1880’s, many groups began to prepare their Aliyah with the hope of founding agricultural settlements in the Land of Israel.
At this point, the Zionist story splits into three different, if connected, parts. The first concerns the practical developments in Eretz Israel as waves of immigration began to transform the small Jewish community into a viable basis for a national home. The second concerns the development of a Zionist movement and organisation whose diplomatic efforts and political structure would provide the tools for the establishment of an autonomous Jewish community in Palestine. The third concerns the emergence of competing streams of Zionist thought and their interaction. Without any one of the three parts, there would have been no whole. The state of Israel is a result of their interaction. We will briefly survey the first of these and then turn to the second and third in more detail, examining the practical and theoretical underpinnings of Zionism as an ideology. We understand the term ideology to mean, “a coherent, action-orientated set of ideas that provides those who subscribe to it with a comprehensive cognitive map of their position and purposes.”(Shils and Friedrich)
WHAT WAS IT THAT THE EARLY ZIONISTS WANTED TO ACHIEVE? WHAT DID THEY HAVE IN COMMON WITH THOSE WHO WANTED “AMERICA”? WHAT DIFFERENTIATED THEM FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF THEIR IDEAS FROM THE WOULD-BE AMERICAN IMMIGRANTS? WHAT DID THEY MEAN BY THE PHRASE “AUTO (OR SELF) EMANCIPATION?
ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECTS OF THE NEW ZIONISM WAS SHOWN BY THE WAVES OF ALIYAH THAT BROUGHT JEWS, PRINCIPALLY FROM EUROPE, TO THE LAND OF ISRAEL IN THE LATE NINETEENTH AND EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY. THE NEW WAVES OF “OLIM” (IMMIGRANTS) WERE DIFFERENT IN MANY WAYS FROM EACH OTHER BUT ALL OF THEM WERE JEWS WHO SAW NO PROBLEM IN LARGE SCALE ALIYAH TO THE LAND. MOST OF THEM HAD BROKEN TOTALLY FROM THE HALACHIC FRAMEWORK OF JEWISH LIFE. THOSE WHO HAD NOT, UNDERSTOOD THAT THE NATION NEEDED THEM TO “GO UP” NOW.
In Eretz Israel, we get the beginning of a series of waves ofAliyah, which would bring the Jewish population up from about 25,000 in the years immediately prior to the first wave to around 650,000 at the time of Israel’s independence in 1948. Each wave of Aliyah, was characterised by different traits that distinguished it from its predecessors. For example, whilst the first wave of immigration originated mainly from Russia and Rumania, the fifth Aliyah was predominantly from Germany and Austria. Each wave of immigration was also propelled by a specific set of circumstances and ideas regarding the sort of society its “members” wished to create. If the dominant character of the first wave of Aliyah (1881-1903) was traditionally religious, the second Aliyah (1904-14) was popularly considered to have been influenced by the socialist and pioneering ethos. The third Aliyah (1919-1923) was composed in the main by those committed to the building of a Hebrew workers economy whilst most of those who came in the fourthAliyah (1924-1929) were petit-bourgeois Jews from Poland.
There were many differences and tensions between the waves of immigration. Relations were far from simple. Even between groups who had ostensibly a great deal in common, the differences were often overwhelming. Although the first Aliyah, as we have said, was primarily traditional they found themselves in great tension with many of the Jews of the “Old Yishuv” (pre-Zionist community in Eretz Israel) because of their “laxity” and pragmatism in dealing with matters of halachah (Jewish law). Both the second and the third Aliyah (1919-23) involved socialistic pioneers, but they saw the world in very different terms, the third Aliyah being a product of the First World War which led them to perceive their reality in more radical terms.
It must not be thought that all of the “members” of a particular wave of Aliyah – as judged by the time period were the same or even similar in outlook. There were many who came in the same years as the early waves of Aliyah, for example, who actually were ideologically aligned with the members of the pre-Zionist community, the “Old Yishuv” (named in distinction to the “New” Zionist Yishuv). And during the fourth Aliyah there were many immigrants who were members of pioneering youth movements. Nevertheless, whatever their differences, the majority of the immigrants represented a new nationally conscious type of Jew who understood that in one way or another, the nation needed a real living homeland, and that they had to assume responsibility for building it. It was these Olimwho with the help of both Jews and Gentiles outside the country would in due course transform the small community into a thriving state.
WHY DO WE DIVIDE THE OLIM (IMMIGRANTS TO THE LAND) INTO DIFFERENT NUMBERED WAVES? WHAT DIFFERENTIATES THE DIFFERENT WAVES FROM EACH OTHER? DID ALL RELIGIOUS (ORTHODOX) JEWS IN THE COUNTRY AGREE WITH EACH OTHER? WHY NOT? WHAT DO WE MEAN BY THE “OLD YISHUV”? WHAT DID ALL THE MEMBERS OF THE NEW YISHUV HAVE IN COMMON?
HERZL ESTABLISHED THE WORLD ZIONIST ORGANISATION IN 1897, INCORPORATING ALL PREVIOUS ZIONIST SOCIETIES AND ASSOCIATIONS. FROM NOW ON THERE WAS ONE BODY WHICH DEALT WITH THE ZIONIST PROGRAM. HOWEVER, THERE WAS GREAT DISAGREEMENT WITHIN THE ORGANISATION OVER SOME VERY CRUCIAL AND DIFFICULT ISSUES. THE FACT THAT THERE WAS NOW ONLY ONE ORGANISATION MADE THE TENSIONS GREATER THAN PREVIOUSLY. ALL DISPUTES HAD TO BE SETTLED INTERNALLY: THE STAKES WERE VERY HIGH.
Before the official founding of the World Zionist Organisation by Herzl in 1897, the spearhead of the movement was the movement of Hibbat Zion or the Hovevei Zion, most of whose members were based in Russia. This had been formally brought into being at the Kattowitz conference of 1884 which served to unify the scattered Zionist societies that had emerged in the wake of the 1881 pogroms. In these early years, the movement dedicated itself to settlement activity and educational work in Palestine. Under its leadership, thousands made Aliyahto the agricultural settlements and other new projects that were to form the lifeblood of the New (Zionist) Yishuv.
When Herzl appeared on the scene in the mid-1890’s, he was all but ignorant of the contribution of the Hovevei Zion and initially went about his plans without taking them into account. Herzl’s supporters were, like him, drawn from the ranks of those Jewish intellectuals who had endeavoured to integrate into the cultural milieu of Central and Western Europe. Many were drawn to Zionism because of their perception, often based on painful personal experience, that emancipation and real integration into these societies was not possible. When Herzl founded the World Zionist Organisation in Basle at the First Zionist Congress (1897) it was meant to absorb all of the Eastern European and other Zionist organisations that had existed heretofore. His program, as outlined in the essay, ‘The Jewish State,’ envisaged the creation of a number of national institutions that would provide the political framework from which the state would emerge. Chief among these were the Keren Kayemet (the Jewish National Fund), the chief land purchasing agency of the Zionist movement, the Anglo-Palestine Bank (laterBank Leumi) and the Keren HaYesod, the major financial institution, which was actually organised some fifteen years after Herzl’s death. The organisation was the arena, once again, for a number of clashes between different forces and interest groups. There were five major clashes.
A. The Cultural Question And The Place Of Religion.
For some Zionists, especially the East European Jewish intellectuals, Zionism was not only a national movement committed to the establishment of a Jewish homeland. It also wished to create a modern, secular Jewish identity. According to this formulation it was not religion that was to provide the basis for Jewish identity but ethnicity and nationalism. The Hebrew language, the land of Israel, Jewish history, literature, customs, folklore and their interplay were to provide a new more open-ended paradigm for Jewish identity. Of course such a formulation was bound to meet with vehement opposition from those who argued that this was a rebellion against the Jewish people’s covenental relationship with God. As the influence of these secularists, popularly known as cultural Zionists, increased within the nascent Zionist movement, their religious opponents warned that future cooperation would be impossible if a single education program was to be adopted by the Zionist movement. They demanded that on matters spiritual and educational, they, the religious Zionists, would enjoy autonomy.
And so as early as 1911, two departments of education existed within the Zionist Organization, one that was based on the secular, cultural approach and the other on the Mizrachi group, a religious-Zionist sub-group within the larger Zionist movement which sought to encourage a traditional erligious – but Zionist – understanding of Jewish self-identification. This situation was mirrored in the school system in Palestine and indeed continues until today. For more or less the whole of its pre-state existence, the Zionist Organisation experienced a variety of controversies concerning Orthodox and secular Jews (free-thinkers) who debated the meaning and place of “Jewishness” in the Zionist movement and the Yishuv. This should not surprise us as the stakes were very high – no less than the attempt to define the Jewish character of the first Jewish state since the destruction of the Second Temple. Although a status-quo agreement was made in 1947 between the secular, Labour dominated Provisional Government and the orthodox political parties, this issue was to remain an ongoing cause of tension after the creation of the State.
B. The “Jewishness” Of The Zionist Vision.
The non-religious Zionists were not monolithic in their understanding of the purpose of the Jewish State. In the early years of the Zionist movement there were serious differences between Herzl and his relatively assimilated western supporters and the Eastern European Zionists, many of whom were secular, but all of whom came from an intensely Jewish background. Many of the Eastern Europeans had repudiated theyeshiva education they had received in their youth, but this had in no way affected the intensity of their Jewish consciousness or their view of the importance of Jewish exploration. In these respects they stood in total contrast to the western Jews, including Herzl himself, whose knowledge of Judaism was weakened by lifelong exposure to modernity. The great critic of Herzl was Ahad Ha’am (of whom more below). An ardent secularist, Ahad Ha’am was critical of what he saw as Herzl’s wish to create a state of refuge for the Jews that would have little Jewish character and which would not be imbued with Jewish values. When Herzl’s book, Altneuland was published in 1902 purporting to describe the Jewish State twenty years after its establishment, Ahad Ha’am attacked and even ridiculed Herzl for its lack of Jewish content. Ahad Ha’am claimed that Herzl had created a state of Jews but not a Jewish State. Despite the disbanding of the Bnei Moshe society founded by Ahad Ha’am in 1888 to promote Jewish education and national consciousness within the Zionist world, from the time of the 1897 congress, the ideological attack on Herzl’s stance on this question continued.
C. Zionism – Practical Or Political?
Herzl and his followers developed what came to be called “Political Zionism”. An essential plank was the idea that Palestine should be secured for the Jews by way of diplomatic activity with the Turks, who controlled the territory at that time. As such, Herzl was critical of any activity that might increase Turkish antagonism towards Jews and Zionism. For example, he believed that too much practical settlement activity would provoke anti-Semitism, something that could put the entire Zionist enterprise in jeopardy. On this issue, he was strongly opposed by those who called themselves “Practical Zionists,” largely drawn from the Eastern European supporters of theHovevei Zion, who had made settlement activity their main purpose since the early 1880’s. They believed that without the growth of the Jewish population in Palestine and the expansion of a Jewish economy and infrastructure, the claim for statehood would be too weak and therefore unsuccessful. After Herzl’s death in 1904, the failure of the East Africa project (see below) and the continuing inability of the movement to secure political promises from the Great Powers, there was little alternative but to make concessions to the practical Zionists and to espouse a mixed agenda of diplomacy and settlement work. This uneasy alliance, born of necessity, came to be called “Synthetic Zionism.” The man who coined this term and implemented its program was Chaim Weizmann, later to become Israel’s first president.
D. Eretz Yisrael Or Elsewhere ?
One of the most serious controversies that threatened to split the Zionist movement during its early years was the question of where exactly the Jewish state should be situated. It was clear to many that the idea of establishing a Jewish state or homeland was a good one, but the sense of emergency concerning the Jewish situation led several supporters to contemplate alternatives to the Land of Israel. Two of the most important political thinkers in those early years, Leo Pinsker (“Auto-Emancipation” 1882) – who became the leader of Hibbat Zion, and Herzl (“The Jewish State” 1896), the founder of the World Zionist Organisation, were both uncertain. In neither pamphlet is a clear statement on the subject made. Likewise, their important predecessor, the early Jewish nationalist theoretician and publicist, Peretz Smolenskin, was similarly uncertain. As far as these thinkers were concerned, at least initially, the critical aim of Zionism was to create a political, territorial framework for the Jewish nation in the most viable location. However, for most of the Eastern Europeans, including Pinsker and Smolenskin, by the mid-1880’s, it was clear that the only possible venue could be Eretz Israel. It was the only place, so they believed, that had the capacity to enthuse the Jewish masses, whose support was essential.
The question of which territory would answer the needs of the Zionist movement reached a climax when Herzl recommended to the delegates at the 6th Zionist Congress (1903) to examine a British option to settle Jews in East Africa (the so called Uganda proposal). Although the Congress voted to dispatch a committee of inquiry to the area, it refused to allocate funds for this purpose. At the 7th Zionist Congress held in 1905 (after Herzl’s death) a resolution was passed rejecting territories other than Palestine for the creation of the Jewish State which led a small group to leave the movement and form the Jewish Territorial Organisation. They were led by the Anglo-Jewish novelist Israel Zangwill and continued to examine alternatives to Palestine, arguing that the situation of the Jews was too desperate to await the procurement of the Land of Israel. However, following the British Government’s issuance of the Balfour Declaration, the Territorialists’ activities were undermined and the organisation was formally disbanded in 1925.
E. Zionism And The Arabs.
A further area of dispute amongst Zionists emerged over the movement’s relationship with the Arabs. Although this issue was discussed at the turn of the century by some Zionist thinkers, the riots of 1920-1 and 1929 forced a deeper examination of this question. Over this issue the movement divided into three broad camps. The more radical of these were the Revisionists led by Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky who warned that the conflict with the Arabs was inevitable and that talk of compromise and negotiation would have no sway with the local population. Although the Arabs had a claim, the Zionist cause, he believed, enjoyed the greater merit (justice). The needs of the Jews were, he said, a matter of starvation whilst those of the Arabs were to satisfy their appetite. Jabotinsky demanded that the British implement their obligations under the Mandate and establish a Jewish State with a Jewish majority on both banks of the Jordan. In the face of the inevitable Arab opposition, Jabotinsky called for the construction of an ‘iron wall’ consisting of Jewish military force supported by the British. Only by demonstrating a dogged commitment to the Land of Israel would the Zionist movement overcome the Arab national movement and force the latter to make peace. When the time for peace came, Jabotinsky promised to be magnanimous.
At the other end of the spectrum was a group of intellectuals whose leader was the great philosopher Martin Buber. In 1925, he and his followers founded Brit Shalom (Peace Covenant) which called for mutual reconciliation between the Jewish and Arab national movements in Palestine. Buber rejected the idea of Zionism as just another national movement and desired instead that it create an exemplary society. Such a society could not, he said, be characterised by Jewish domination of the Arabs. It was incumbent on the Zionist movement to reach a consensus with the Arabs even at the cost of the Jews remaining a minority in the Land. Brit Shalom embraced the idea of bi-nationalism and saw in its promise of a single state the moral and just solution to a tragic conflict.
The third camp led by David Ben-Gurion and Haim Weizmann (who were otherwise frequently in political conflict), took a more pragmatic approach. Although they were committed to the establishment of a Jewish State, they adjusted their position in accordance with the changing circumstances not only in Palestine but beyond. For example, following the Arab riots in 1929 and the British decision, later curtailed, to limit immigration and land sales, these leaders were led to pursue negotiations with the Arab national movement and its representatives, both inside and outside Palestine. In their efforts to find a compromise they even appeared to have contemplated bi-nationalism as a solution. This may of course have been a tactical consideration allowing for a more conciliatory position vis-a-vis the British in the hope that the future building of Palestine would continue until circumstances changed in Zionism’s favor. However, it is of little surprise that both leaders supported the acceptance by the Zionist movement of the partition proposals of 1937 and 1947. For these leaders the slogan, ‘Palestine is for the Jewish nation and the Arabs who live there’ is a useful summary of their position.
As different groups rose and fell within the movement and great leaders of charisma and power (Weizmann, Ben Gurion) came to prominence, old tensions fell and new ones arose. The rise of Revisionist Zionism under Ze’ev Jabotinsky in the 1920’s and 30’s created new waves of tension within the movement. The rise of a strong political centre in Eretz Israel representing theYishuv, also caused significant tensions in the struggle for the leadership of the movement. However, we can certainly say that the movement was over time strengthened by immigration, economic expansion, the building and development of community institutions and a strong sense of national purpose despite these internal tensions. Following the destruction of one third of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, the Zionist movement rallied with the help of world Jewry to press more vigorously for the establishment of the Jewish State.
WHAT WERE THE FIVE MAJOR DISAGREEMENTS WITHIN THE ZIONIST ORGANISATION? WHY WERE THE ARGUMENTS SO STRONG? WHICH OF THE DISAGREEMENTS SEEM TO BE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU? HOW MANY SEEM TO HAVE BEEN SETTLED OVER TIME? WHICH SIDE OF EACH ARGUMENT DO YOU THINK WAS MORE PERSUASIVE? WHICH OF THE ARGUMENTS APPEARS TO BE LEAST CAPABLE OF SOLUTION?
OVER AND ABOVE THE SPECIFIC ARGUMENTS MENTIONED ABOVE, THE ZIONIST MOVEMENT WAS CHARACTERISED BY A NUMBER OF STREAMS WHICH DEVELOPED DIFFWERENT VISIONS OF THE FUTURE SOCIETY THAT ZIONISM HOPED TO BUILD. NOT ALL THE STREAMS OF ZIONISM TOOK THE QUESTION OF THE KIND OF SOCIETY THEY HOPED TO BUILD AS THEIR CENTRAL ONE. THERE WERE THOSE WHO PUT THE EMPHASIS ON THE ATTAINMENT OF THE STATE. HOWEVER, AT LEAST THREE CENTRAL AND DIFFERENT VISIONS OF THE FUTURE SOCIETY DEVELOPED.
We turn now to the third issue, that of the different visions developed by the competing ideological streams in Zionism. We have already portrayed some of the tensions that developed within the Zionist movement. It is important to emphasise: Zionism was never a monolithic movement with a general nationalist vision. It was a movement which, for many Zionists, went far beyond the idea of the attainment of a society or state for the Jewish People, even though that was its central plank and its common denominator.
That stated, there were two significant streams within Zionism that were essentially political rather than societal in their orientation, placing the attainment of the state as their major aim, rather than concentrating on the sort of society that should develop after independence. These were the Herzlian movement of Political Zionism and Jabotinsky’s Revisionist movement. Both of these were political movements. They were characterised more than in any other way, by the emphasis they placed on the tactics needed to gain statehood. Herzl, as mentioned earlier, put the emphasis on diplomatic activity aimed at the acquisition of a Charter for Palestine from the Ottoman Turks. Jabotinsky, during the period of the British Mandate, placed enormous emphasis on measures necessary to gain the Jewish state from the British. They both regarded the question of the type of society that would develop as secondary to their primary purpose of gaining a state. Herzl talked about a liberal western republic, and so in certain ways did Jabotinsky, fired as he was by a strong opposition to the socialist vision entertained by the leaders of the Yishuv at this time. Neither of these streams of Zionism put their major efforts into the question of the type of society that should develop in Palestine.
But there were those who did. Zionism, through several different streams, developed a number of visions regarding the form of society that should be established in the future state. The fact is that it was not just a question of the future state that was at stake for these different streams in Zionism. All of their proponents were united in the idea that their vision must be reflected in the immediate pre-state world of the New Yishuv in Eretz Israel. The future state, if and when it came about, would be a continuation of the present day Yishuv with the security of sovereignty and national borders to safeguard that way of life. Thus the struggle that developed between the different streams of Zionism was both bitter and, from their own point of view, absolutely justified.
There were three major streams whose ideology was of a comprehensive nature, Socialist Zionism, Cultural Zionism and Religious Zionism.
A. The Vision Of Left Wing Zionism.
By the First World War, Labor Zionism had become the leading activist movement in the Zionist world and in Palestine. A host of settlements had been set up on a communal basis and thousands of workers were tilling the land and building an urban infrastructure. The most significant departure in the activity of these workers from our point of view is that they consciously took upon themselves the transformation of the Jewish people. Despite the seeming contradiction, these Jewish secularists saw that their work had almost cosmic implications. They saw themselves, consciously, as revolutionaries. They had not come to the Land of Israel just to change the situation of the land. They had come to change themselves, and in so doing they aimed at a revolution in the character of the entire Jewish people. אנו באנו ארצה לבנות ולהיבנות – we have come to the land to build and to be built – was one of their slogans. It is a strong and meaningful slogan. We have come to this country to transform it, but in so doing we will transform ourselves.
The Labor movement had a vision of a New Jew, a polar opposite to the old ghetto Jew, downtrodden, stooped and weak as a result of millenia in the Galut. (Exile) This new Jew would be a type witnessed only in the period of Antiquity: strong rather than weak: brave rather than cowardly: active rather than passive: rooted in nature rather than alienated from it. Moreover, the New Jew would not be a slave to the halachah, to the rabbis and rabbinical Judaism. The New Jew would be free, relying only on her or his own abilities and strengths.
By their own strength and work they will bring their own salvation. The concept is utopian, but it is a utopia which will be created by the efforts of the people themselves. They have taken the activist tradition in messianic thought – that concept that believed that Jewish actions themselves could hasten the coming of the Messiah – and secularised it. They are responsible for creating a better world for themselves, for the Jewish people and even perhaps for the wider world. They are their own Messiah.
Perhaps the greatest of all the Labour thinkers of the time was A.D. Gordon. He rejected the label “Socialist” because it smacked too much of the cold “scientific” socialism of Marx. Marx had believed that the world was moving in the direction of socialism because of capitalism’s inevitable class tensions. Gordon rejected this. But his ideas put him right at the centre of the Labour Zionist camp. The new society, the new world, could only be built up by the efforts of the people within it. He saw the basis of the great society of the future in the relationships and the way of life created by the workers. In their laboring to build up their society, they would create the foundations of the new way of life. Gordon was a moralist. He saw all people as being endowed with potential for good. In the service of the nation, in their work on the land, this potential would be realised. The power of the land would work on the soul of the individual Jew. A moral society would come into being.
Many of the pioneers saw the communities that they created as the seeds from which would grow the better future that they envisaged. The new society of equality and morality would spread out from the settlements and would ultimately encompass the whole of the country. There were those who dreamed of turning the country into one big communal enterprise, one whole kibbutz. Indeed, when it became clear to many in the late 1920’s that this would not happen, there were those, albeit a very small minority, that left the country and returned to Stalin’s Russia believing that this would prove a more viable road to Utopia. But for the majority of Labor Zionists the plan was to create a Hebrew workers society not by class struggle and revolution but rather by piecemeal, gradualist efforts popularly known as Constructivist Socialism. The building blocks of this co-operative effort were not only thekibbutz but primarily the Histadrut, with its dominant role in the economic, welfare, educational and cultural sectors of the society. The leaders of this school of thought were men like David Ben-Gurion, Berl Katznelson and Yitzhak Tabenkin.
B. The Vision Of Cultural Zionism.
The second group is that of the cultural-Zionists, traditionally associated with their great intellectual leader Ahad Ha’am (pen name for Asher Ginsberg). Ahad Ha’am is a fascinating figure. A deeply learned Jew from a Chasidic family, he left the world of Torah intensive Judaism and struggled to find a synthesis between the free thinking of the western world with his understanding of Judaism’s core system of ethics and values. This in order to create a normative, secular Judaism.
He used religious language and injected it with secular content. He believed that the Jews had developed a unique system of values and beliefs that had evolved throughout the course of Jewish history. For the religious, these values were of course transcendent. That is to say that the source of the values was God. It was hard for Ahad Ha’am, without a concept of an external transcendental source of values (God) to explain where these values had come from, how they had actually arisen. But he was convinced of their existence.
When Ahad Ha’am thought of the autonomous society that he hoped would be built in Eretz Israel, he thought, first and foremost of a moral society. The state as a political framework had no value for him. A state was a neutral organism. If it had value it was in its ability to safeguard the culture and the way of life of a nation. What was important to him was the way of life lived within the framework of the society or state. Here, for him, there could be no compromise. If the new Jewish society in Eretz Israel had any purpose, any raison d’etre, it could only come from the morality of the life that would be lived within that social framework.
It was from the Prophets, those moral geniuses with their extraordinary sensitivity to the human condition, that he derived his moral system for Jewish society. His aim was no less than an ideal society based on the teaching of the Prophets. The aim of Zionism – the only conceivable aim of Zionism for him – was the creation of a society of total righteousness, that would act as beacon to the world. Political power was not a value. He looked to the past, to the time that the Jews had political power and he saw the corruption, the power politics, the internal strife, the blind hatred that had been like a disease on the body politic of the nation. This was not what the nation needed.
Only a restoration of values at the heart of a reborn culture could possibly deal with the contemporary sickness of the Jewish people. He believed moreover that any Herzlian hope of bringing the majority of the world’s Jews to the new Jewish centre was unrealistic. The country would only attract – could only attract – a minority of Jews. He called instead for a small group to come to the new society and dedicate themselves to a mission – the building of a Jewish culture based on the prophetic ideas of justice and righteousness. He believed that the new society, having built up its base in its own soil could then start to radiate its message and experience to the Jewish communities of the world thereby reinforcing Judaism in the Diaspora. This he felt was realistic.
The conception of a society based on justice and righteousness was indeed a secularised version of the Prophetic idea. Heaven on earth – without the theological framework of traditional messianic thought – was the aim here. Once again, as in the case of the socialist-Zionists, the work of creating the messianic society would be taken on by the Jews themselves, or to be more precise, by a small elite within the Jewish people. Again, the Jews would be their own Messiah.
C. The Vision Of Religious Zionism.
The third group is the religious-Zionists, who we shall represent through their greatest thinker, HaRav Abraham Isaac Kook. Rav Kook is unquestionably one of the most challenging and profound of all Zionist thinkers. Indeed to call him a Zionist thinker is to do him a certain discredit for in truth he was far more than that. Nevertheless, for our purposes here, we will regard him as such. Unlike Ahad Ha’am or the Labour-Zionists his worldview was deeply rooted in the transcendental, in the covenental relationship with God.
Rav Kook was a messianist and had a very clear notion of the redemption of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel, a redemption that was part of the divine plan – not just for the Jews but for the whole world. Indeed, he believed that ultimately there could be no redemption for the Jewish people without redemption for the entire world. The converse was also true. World redemption depended on the redemption of the Jews. It was clear to Rav Kook: such redemption could only be carried out within the framework of a Jewish state. The Jewish people needed a state of their own. Only in a state could they return to the divine and national way of life that God had commanded them. The true glory of God’s name could not be expressed when it was confined to the study houses and synagogues of the diaspora and limited to the world of the spirit. It needed to expand to the full dimensions of national life.
Moreover, Judaism itself needed to reflect every area of that national life. Rav Kook’s Judaism was not a Judaism that was limited to prayer and study. It was a full three-dimensional way of life that would penetrate the physical and the spiritual together, as one. He put emphasis on the need for religious youth to develop their bodies physically. It was a perversion of Judaism to limit Judaism to the world of study. Judaism should be unlimited in the world of life. This could only happen within a Jewish state, he argued.
However, there are dangers inherent in the life of the Jewish state. Political life leads when unharnessed to all the abuses that come from using power. The Jewish people was not immune from this descent into the world of political dirt and corruption. The two previous attempts by the Jews to live a full political life within their own state had ended in failure. In both cases different abuses had crept into the life of the people causing a perversion of the healthy national life demanded by the Torah. The second Jewish state had fallen because the Jews had not learnt how to use power responsibly without its corrupting effect. That, according to Rav Kook, was why the exile had lasted so long. The Jews had to be purified from the influence of the abuses of power. They had to be cured of their lust for power. Only when they had become once again an ethical people had the national impulse arisen in the people. This for Rav Kook was tantamount to a sign from God.
The need for the exile had finished. The time for the beginning of redemption was at hand. Now was the time for Jews to leave the lands of exile as quickly as possible. These lands were by their very nature unclean, unholy. It was time for Jews to take themselves to the only land that was intrinsically holy, the land in which they could build once again their sacred national life. Here they would be free of the limitations and of the uncleanliness of life in exile. Here, too, they would be free of the need for power for power’s sake which had characterised them in their previous life as a state in Eretz Israel.
In their state they had the opportunity once again to rebuild their pure life as a nation. What was the holy national life that they were called upon to lead in their own state? We have already stressed that it must be a full three-dimensional life. We have mentioned, too, that it was to be a life where all aspects of Torah in the widest sense were to be given expression. Now we must emphasise the implications of this idea.
Just as for Ahad Ha’am, the life to be lived was a life of total morality. The same obligations that bound the individual in her or his relations with the world around – both people and things – also obligated the national state. A nation must in other words live up to the highest standards of morality. Other nations and states did not. The Jewish state must. This was a source of great concern to Rav Kook. He knew well that it would be impossible for a Jewish state to behave in a substantially different way from other states in a real world. Thus he linked the fate of the Jewish state with the fate of the other countries of the world.
The Jewish state could only exist in the way that God demanded from it if it was part of a world which God was redeeming. The Jewish redemption, a redemption that could only occur in the framework of a Jewish state, was part of a universal redemption. The two could not be separated. They were both part of God’s plan. God had given the Jews the task of redeeming the world, of guiding the rest of the world towards righteousness and the acceptance of God. It was this that would lead to their redemption by God.
However, unlike the Reform movement, for example, that also stressed the mission of the Jews in the world, Rav Kook was certain that the Jews needed to separate themselves from the other nations in order to fulfill this obligation. They must turn themselves and their state into a stage for God’s glory and for God’s rule on earth. That was the path that would ultimately lead to the redemption of the world. In this version of messianism, the Jews themselves had a vital role. They must show the will, the resolve and the ability to rebuild their national life. This was part of God’s plan. For this God waited. God would bring the redemption but it was up to the Jews to supply the pre-conditions.
WE HAVE HERE TALKED OF FIVE DIFFERENT STREAMS OF ZIONISM. WE HAVE SUGGESTED A DIVISION INTO TWO SUB-GROUPS. WHAT IS THAT DIVISION BASED ON? WHO LINES UP ON EACH SIDE? WHICH OF THE SPECIFIC STREAMS’ VISION OF THE TYPE OF SOCIETY THEY WISHED TO SEE HAS COME NEAREST TO FRUITION, IN YOUR OPINION? WHICH VISION, IF ANY, DO YOU MOST SUPPORT AS THE BASIS FOR THE JEWISH STATE? WHY?
HERE WE ATTEMPT A PERHAPS SOMEWHAT PREMATURE ATTEMPT TO SUM UP THE SUCCESSES AND FAILURES
OF THE ZIONIST MOVEMENT. SHOULD ZIONISM BE SEEN AS A SUCCESS OR A FAILURE OR PERHAPS MORE AS A WORK IN PROGRESS? HOW SHOULD WE ASSESS THE SUCCESS OF THE MOVEMENT?
It is not for nothing that the secular streams of Zionism – ultimately the dominant streams – were often called messianic. No less than religious Zionism, although in a very different way, their vision was concerned with the idea of the redemption of the Jewish people. All of these streams within Zionism had strong and distinct visions concerning the people, the country and the society to be established in the Land of Israel.
We have examined three major aspects of Zionism as it developed in the pre-state period: the waves of Aliyah that provided the human resource for the building up of the Jewish national home, the organisational developments that provided the structural mechanism for realising the movement’s goals and in most detail, the competing visions that provided the conceptual map for achieving the movement’s goals. Any attempt to portray Zionism without all three dimensions will do a great injustice to its understanding.
Zionism is an extraordinary new development in Jewish history. At one and the same time it must be seen as both the continuation of and a rebellion against previous trends in Jewish history. Zionism attempted to adjust the Jewish condition to the new set of circumstances that had been brought about by the modern period. In this sense the demand for autonomy, which had always safeguarded and empowered Jewish life was not new. However, whilst in the past self-rule had been confined to the parameters of community, the demand now was for national autonomy at least and full sovereignty at best. This engagement in national politics and diplomacy was indeed an innovation. Similarly, the relationship with the Land of Israel had since dispersion continued to act as an important factor uniting the Jews. Now, an attempt was made to actualise a return of the Jewish people to the land and this was conceived not merely as a geographical change or even as a political change in the fortunes of the Jewish people but as a means of transforming the Jewish people.
In certain very obvious ways the Zionist movement has achieved its basic goals. The Declaration of Israel’s Independence in 1948 was the achievement of its fundamental goal. The hopes of ingathering the exiles have also been realised. Of course there will be those maximalists who express disappointment that a large number, indeed a majority of Jews still live outside the state of Israel. Yet on reflection the demographic revolution is quite remarkable. From a Jewish population of around 25,000 just over 120 years ago, the number of Jews in Israel has at the time of writing passed the 5,000,000 mark. According to demographers, during the next decade Israel is likely to surpass the United States of America as the home of the largest Jewish community in the world.
Israel is of course still desperately engaged in a struggle to be fully accepted amongst the family of nations. This Zionist dream remains unfulfilled despite the ups and downs of the last two decades. The economic blockade on the country that was implemented from the day its establishment has been undermined and Israelis now enjoy almost all of those products that find their place in the high streets of cities in Western countries. Israel’s economic performance and standard of living certainly place it amongst the so-called first world countries, although this does not mean that all of its citizens enjoy prosperity. Far from it.
In the cultural sphere, Israel has provided a new context for Jewish cultural creativity. The revival of the Hebrew language and the expansion of its lexicon to meet the needs of the twentieth and twentieth first centuries has been impressive. Through it, music, theatre and literature have been widely acclaimed both inside and outside Israel. Despite the limitations of language acquisition amongst Jews in the Diaspora there has been a good degree of success in establishing Ahad Ha’am’s cultural centre in Zion. Sadly, his vision of a moral society has been compromised by the country’s ongoing conflict with neighbouring Arab communities and undermined too by the complex internal dynamics of state and societal building.
Paradoxically, one of Herzl’s major goals, that through the establishment of the Jews’ State, an end would be put to anti-Semitism has not been achieved. Expressions of anti-Jewish hatred have ironically been directed towards the Jewish State and not a few Jewish communities outside of Israel see the repercussions of Israel’s continuing conflict reflected through attacks on individuals and property. Perhaps Ahad Ha’am was correct when he said that Zionism would not solve this question.
The Messianic hopes of Rabbi Avraham HaCohen Kook and his son have not been realised. The Six Day war in 1967 with its conquest or liberation of large scale territories in the historic Land of Israel, seemed to many in this group to be a sign of God’s forthcoming redemption and a vindication of their ideals and beliefs. However, for their followers, the peace process has been a traumatic experience with its demand that Israel relinquish large tracts of land considered a birthright. The physical presence of the large Palestinian Arab population in the territories has provided a singular challenge to all Zionists. Can one maintain a Jewish State yet at the same time control Judea, Samaria and Gaza without undermining the democratic fabric of the Israeli state? Such dilemmas continue to challenge the people of Israel.
Zionism was a response to the Jewish condition at the end of the nineteenth century. It was based on the assumption that in a world where the key organizational framework was that of the nation-state, the Jewish people required self-determination in their own land. Despite the development of global politics and regional economic blocks, the sense of national and ethnic-identity has hardly disappeared. One key question concerning Zionism and those concerned with the future of the Jewish people is to examine the global paradigm and Zionism’s response to it. In an age where national borders are seen to have less importance than in the formative years, do we have to adjust or change our Zionist vision? The truth is that there are many questions that Zionism still leaves open. In many ways, there are signs of success. We have mentioned political, economic, cultural and demographic achievements. But we suggest that it is far too early, as yet, to evaluate the success of the enterprise. The criteria for success are not yet clear and we will need many more decades to know whether the Zionist experiment really worked. So far, there are promising signs but the sky is still cloudy and Zionism’s aim of creating some kind of a normal national life for the Jewish People still seems far away. Some believe that Zionism completed its mission when the state of Israel was born. We suggest here that the work of Zionism is not yet done.
HAS ZIONISM SUCCEEDED? IF SO, IN WHICH WAYS? WHAT IN YOUR OPINION WOULD BE NEEDED FOR ZIONISM TO BE REGARDED AS A FULL SUCCESS? WHAT ARE THE ASPECTS OF ZIONISM THAT SEEM TO BE MOST SUCCESSFUL TO YOU? IS IT IN THE POWER OF THE ZIONIST MOVMENT OR THE STATE OF ISRAEL TO CHANGE THOSE ASPECTS THAT ARE LEAST SUCCESSFUL AT THE MOMENT? WHAT CONCLUSIONS CAN BE DRAWN FROM THE STORY OF ZIONISM UP TO THIS POINT?
W. Laqueur. A History of Zionism. 1972.
A. Hertzberg. The Zionist Idea. 1959.
S. Avineri. The Making of Modern Zionism: Intellectual Origins of the Jewish State.
H. M. Sacher. Aliyah: the Peoples of Israel
H. M. Sacher. From the Ends of the Earth: the Peoples of Israel
H. M. Sacher. A History of Israel. 1979.
M. Gilbert. Israel. 1998.
C. Diament (ed.). Zionism – the Sequel. 1998.
A. Exile or Diaspora
·How do the students see the place where they live? Make a list of associations and put them on a board.
·Now put two other words up. DIASPORA and GALUT or EXILE. Work out the differences between them. Is it just an issue of persecution?
·Divide the associations that have been put up into two lists, according to whether they fit the word Diaspora or Galut. Which is the longer list?
·What would Zionism say about that? Why?
·Is there any way in which the students feel that they live in Galut? Discuss.
·Divide the students into small groups. Let;f the groups come up with a scenario about themselves living in a state of exile while the othe half comes up with a scenario about living in diaspora.
·Act the scenarios out and discuss them.
·Finally ask each group to adjust its scenario so that it keeps the same basic plot and characters but moves it over to the other definition. Those who talked of exile should play out their scene as diaspora and vice versa.
·Finally discuss, whether and in which circumstances, diaspora can slip into a situation of Galut.
B. Needing Israel?
·Do Jews need Israel? In small groups discuss the issue including some or all of the following points.
– Israel brings a lot of problems and occasional embarrassment to diaspora Jews.
– Israel brings a lot of pride to diaspora Jews.
– Judaism is a spiritual religion or a culture which has no need for a land of its own any more than Christianity.
– The Jews are in fact a people or nation and as such they must have a land of their own.
– Having a Jewish country opens up Jews to the charge of not being completely loyal to their own country where they live and thus inhibits the full acceptance and sense of belonging of Jews.
– It is vital for Jews everywhere to have their own country because history teaches us that Jews are never safe in the long run in any place.
·Divide the class into two groups. One group has to come up with reasons why Jews need Israel. The other half have to come up with the opposite reasons.
·Run a full scale debate where the representatives of the two groups take different sides on the motion:-
WE BELIEVE THAT ISRAEL IS NOT NECESSARY FOR THE JEWS OF (whichever country you live in).
·At the end of the debate prepare for the final vote but prior to it break out of character and discuss the real feelings of the group before voting.
C. Watching Israel.
·Use an Israeli film to bring up issues of young Israelis and examine the feelings and experiences of some of the characters. Do this by stopping the film every so often and asking the viewers to explain what they think is going to happen next and why, or by examining at crucial junctures what a character is thinking and feeling at that moment.
Three suggestions among many.
1. Late Summer Blues: About the conflicts of young Israelis about to go into the army.
2. Nadia: About the conflicts of being an Israeli Arab.
3. Noa at 17. About the tensions between being an individual in Israel and following the demands of society.
D. Perfect Israel?
·Ask the students to spend a week following Israel in the Israeli press on the internet through either the Jerusalem Post Internet edition or the Ha’aretz English language website.
·Ask each student to bring in two articles: One should show the ugly side of Israel and one should show the best side of Israel an Israelis.
·In small groups let each student show both articles and explain what they feel about them and why they chose them.
·The group as a whole should now make two collages – one of “good” Israel and one of “bad” Israel.
·Discuss whether Israel needs to be a “Light to the Nations” or whether it needs to be a nation like all the other nations. Bring arguments for and against. You might want to bring in pieces from the writings of Ahad Ha’am, A.D. Gordon or Rav Kook to suggest why they think Israel must be different. [Look primarily in “The Zionist Idea” by Arthur Hertzberg.] You might want to bring in pieces from Amos Oz suggesting why Israel should not see itself in these terms. [See especially the last pages of his “In the Land of Israel”.]
·Debate and sum up bringing the pros and cons of the issue