Summative Essay 1 for a course called Israel from the Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations, Cambridge, England, administered by Anglia Polytechnic University

by  Gordon Fisher     gfisher@shentel.net

Topic: Discuss the role of religion in the development of Israeli AND/OR Palestinian nationalism.

Zionism may be taken as a name for Jewish nationalism, provided nationalism is taken to involve the formation of a Jewish nation-state and not only a community united by Jewish religion and/or traditions as found in the Diaspora. The purpose here is show that a number of surveys of Zionism present an optimistic view of the course of Zionism, insofar as their authors tended to work toward a happy ending by way of compromise between conflicting views, notably between religious and secular views. These are (1) Shlomo Avineri, The Making of Modern Zionism; (2) Arthur Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea; (3) Naomi Weinberger, "Israeli and Palestinian Nationalism". (Avineri, 1991; Hertzberg, 1959; Weinberger, 2002) By way of contrast, such presentations are compared with another kind of history of Zionism. These are (1) Walter Laqueur, A History of Zionism; (2) Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky, Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel. (Laqueur, 1972; Shahak and Mezvinsky, 1999)

One definition of Zionism is that it is "the dominant expression of modern Jewish nationalism". (Shapira and Reinharz, 1996, 1) But what is nationalism? Many definitions have been given. Shapira gives her definition implicitly when she speaks of "the transformation of the Jewish people from a minority into a majority, and from a diaspora community into a territorial one". Other definitions often used by political scientists and others do not require a nation to consist of some more or less well-defined group of people located in some territory over which these people or their leaders have political control. Jews of the Diaspora have been said to form a nation in this sense even before the formation of the present state of Israel, and nationalism has been used to refer to efforts to hold Diaspora Jews together as a well-defined community. The term nation-state can then be used in the sense which Shapira indicates, to refer to a territorial community.

To begin with, five forerunners of Zionism are often emphasized as being especially notable forerunners of the activist and political Zionism of the later 19th century, namely Yehudah Alkalai, Zevi Hirsch Kalischer, Moses Hess, Ahad Ha’am (Asher Ginsberg), and Abraham Isaac Kook. They conveniently symbolize two antagonistic strands or streams of Zionism, the religious (Alkalai, Kalischer), the secular and socialist (Hess), leading to a synthesis of the two (Ahad Ha’am and Kook). There is in their writings an air of compromise and hopefulness, of spirituality or of social progress, rather than strongly adversarial points of view or emphasis on material and economic gains to be had by forming a Jewish state. With the exception of Moses Hess, there is little emphasis on escaping from antisemitism.

Rabbi Judah (Yehudah) Alkalai (1798-1878) and Rabbi Zevi (Zvi) Hirsch Kalischer (1795-1874) are customarily identified as Orthodox Jews, although they departed from Orthodox views on the question of forming a state of Israel.. Moses Hess (1812-1875) was in his earlier years an enthusiastic socialist, and became in his later years a kind of socialist-nationalist. Ahad Ha’am ("One of the People", born Asher Ginsberg, 1856-1927), has been called an agnostic rabbi. (Hertzberg, 1959, 247)

Alkalai was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia, studied in Jerusalem in his youth, and later made contacts with prominent Western European Jews. Kalischer was German, in the sense that he was born and lived in Prussia, before the unification of Germany under Bismarck. These two rabbis subscribed to departures from pronouncements and traditions that the promised Messiah would have to appear miraculously, as a divine act, before Jews would again come into possession of Eretz Israel, the (geographical) Land of Israel. They argued to the effect that a settlement of Jews in Israel with some degree of autonomy would lead to the fulfillment of the divine covenant. (Hertzberg, 1959, 102-114)

Moses Hess was born in Bonn. After a traditional Orthodox education, Moses Hess initially became a kind of utopian socialist. He associated with Karl Marx when both were young, and they appear to have influenced each other. Hess is sometimes described as the founder of Zionist socialism. He argued on behalf of a "harmonious symphony of national cultures, each expressing in its own way the ethical socialism which remained his quasi-religious faith". (Hertzberg, 1959, 116-139). In his work Rome and Jerusalem, he speaks of returning to his Jewish roots, and of formation of a Jewish state which would be socialist in nature.

Ahad Ha’am was born near Kiev in the Ukraine, grew up as an Hasidic Jew, but later was influenced by secular studies and the sciences to turn away from Orthodox Judaism, although he remained deeply committed to the Jewish people as a coherent community. He proposed an idea of a return to a territorial Eretz Israel, and worked toward some sort of compromise between religious and secular motives for doing so.

Ahad Ha’am once wrote in a letter: "Do you really think of excluding from the ranks of the nationalists all those who do not believe in the principles of religion? If that is your intention, I cannot agree. In my view our religion is national – that is to say, it is a product of our national spirit – but the reverse is not true. If it is impossible to be a Jew in the religious sense without acknowledging our nationality, it is possible to be a Jew in the national sense without accepting many things in which religion requires belief." (in Hertzberg, 1959, 261). He envisioned cultural and spiritually based community of Jews to be established in Palestine, and not only one in which Jewish religious laws and practices would be paramount. He wrote: "I live for the sake of the perpetuation and the well-being of the community to which I belong ….. When the individual loves the community as himself and identifies himself completely with its well-being, he has something to live for; he feels his personal hardships less keenly, because he knows the purpose for which he lives and suffers." (In Hertzberg, 1959, 256)

The sequence Alkalai, Kalischer, Hess, Ahad Ha’am makes a nice progression toward an optimistic view of how Zionism has worked out, up to the present. There are two fairly Orthodox rabbis who nevertheless offer a religiously sanctioned way to support Zionism, a mainly secular Jew who was a socialist who emphasizes benefits of labor and material gains, and a man whose background was Hasidic, though he was not much of a believer, and who offered a program of retaining Jewishness with or without religion as a basis.

However, during the development of Zionism during the course of the 20th century, views like those of these pioneers generated considerable opposition by many Jews. Many Orthodox Jews, for example, found wholly unacceptable the idea of human intervention in the process of redemption. Many Jews, secular and otherwise, were strongly attached to ideas of assimilation and becoming full-fledged citizens within European and other countries, and were opposed to or uninterested in Zionism.

In his history of Zionism, Walter Laqueur paints a picture of the course of Zionism different from that portrayed in the three optimistic histories. (Laqueur, 1972) The optimistic surveys make only passing mention of how the movement toward formation of a Jewish state began with the haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment which began in Western Europe in the 18th century, and of the impetus given by the Emancipation of Jews following the French Revolution. Laqueur begins his book with Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), and dwells on the effects of Enlightenment ideas as promoted by him, as a prelude to Zionism. He offers the view that this Enlightenment emanated mainly from Germany, and only spread over several decades to other Western European countries, and to a lesser extent into Eastern Europe, and he describes a situation in Western Europe, especially Germany, in which traditional religious Judaisms were severely threatened by growing antisemitism, and the rise of racially based antisemitism. (Laqueur, 1972, Chapter 1)

Laqueur devotes only one parenthetical sentence to the rabbi Yehuda Alkalay, as Laqueur spells his name, during a discussion of the Drishat Zion (Seeking Zion) of the rabbi Hirsch Kalischer, as Laqueur refers to him. (Laqueur, 1972, 54-55) He remarks on the centrality of a return to Zion in Kalischer’s work, but notes that Kalischer may have been the first Zionist writer to mention the Arab question, although Kalischer was of the opinion that the danger from Arabs was remote, since "the present pasha [of the Ottoman Empire] is a just man punishing robbery and theft."

Laqueur describes the Rome and Jerusalem of Moses Hess as an influential work, but describes the younger Hess as "forever bursting with childlike enthusiasm", and as promoting the idea that the dead institution of religious Judaism should be abandoned and that Jews should assimilate themselves in the socialist states which, he thought, were to be. Hess stopped political writing for about a decade before he wrote his Rome and Jerusalem (1862), and Laqueur states that this later work only became influential some decades after that, again after the growing antisemitism in Europe of which Hess was an early and pessimistic harbinger. (Laqueur, 1972, 46-53) Laqueur asserts that the Drishat Zion of Kalischer had as little effect on Eastern European Jewry when it appeared as Rome and Jerusalem did on Western European Jewry.

Nevertheless, Shlomo Avineri, who is a professor of political science at Hebrew University in Israel, and noted for his studies of Hegel and Marx, says: "While Alkalai and Kalisher remained lone figures within the rabbinical establishment of the nineteenth century, it was this adaptive potential which, a few generations later, enabled wide sectors of the Orthodox community to adopt Zionism despite the initial negative response Zionist activists encountered among the traditionalists." (Avineri, 1981, 55) Thus Avineri refers to the isolation of people like Alkalai and Kalischer among Orthodox Jews in the early years of the rise of Zionism, but suggests optimistically that most Orthodox Jews have come to adhere to Zionist principles and practices by way of adjusting or re-interpreting beliefs which held sway for many centuries.

Reflecting his background as a political scientist with interests in Hegelianism and Marxism, Avineri precedes his treatment of Alkalai and Kalisher with discussions of Moses Hess, and also of Nachman Krochmal and Heinrich Graetz. He presents Krochmal as having fit Jewish traditions into an Hegelian historical pattern which involved dialectical evolution in time. Similarly, on a grander scale, Graetz in his monumental history of the Jews is said to have deeply historicized Jewish laws and traditions, and emphasized the adaptive and continuing changes of Judaism over the millennia. This, of course, contrasts with Orthodox views of the establishment once and for all of Jewish practices and beliefs in the written Torah, the prophets, and the oral Torah as formulated in the two Talmuds. Avineri proposes that works of Krochmal and Graetz contributed importantly to secularization and breaks with religious tradition. It is a conflict between the timeless and the historicist.

One of the most notable of religious Jews who favored and promoted Zionism, Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, who became the first Chief Rabbi of the Ashkenazi Jews in Palestine under the British Mandate. Kook often appears in optimistic surveys of Zionist history as a kind of foremost final forerunner of the successful fulfillment of a combination of religious and nationalist aims with the formation of the modern state of Israel in 1948, after the interruption of the anti-Jewish Holocaust promoted by the Nazis. Avineri states that people like the rabbis Shmuel Mohilever and Yitzhak Yaakov Reines, who worked to "lay foundations for a Zionist alternative within Orthodoxy itself" were "isolated voices, and their intellectual impact on the religious Jewish Community was extremely limited. Only in the writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) … is there any systematic attempt to integrate the normative centrality of the Land of Israel within the religious tradition into a radical and revolutionary reinterpretation of the political and practical activity of Zionism and the resettling of Palestine. … Rabbi Kook is the one who finally presents a comprehensive Zionist religious-national philosophy, and thus the gap between religious Judaism and modern Jewish nationalism could be closed." (Avineri, 1981, 188)

Thus, as presented by Avineri, Kook for the first time put together a workable synthesis of religious and secular nationalism. Avineri describes Kook’s concepts as based on three main principles. First, according to Avineri, Kook argued against interpretations of Eretz Israel as only a heavenly or ideal realm, and on behalf of the view that Jews living in the Diaspora were living to some degree in an unholy way, inasmuch as they were not pursuing their religious duties in the Holy Land. Second, Kook explains the secularity of pioneers who came to Palestine, before the new Jewish state was founded, by declaring that the true motives of a person’s actions may not be known to the person. Third, Kook places the Restoration of Israel in a wider context than that of the Jews and their Land. Kook promoted the view that all the nations of the world would benefit from the coming of the Messiah.

Arthur Hertzberg says: "The essence of Kook is within. He was a mystic whose entire career was determined by experiences of inner illumination; he was a religious Zionist engaged not in defending the ritual observances – though, of course, he practiced and preached them with unique fervor – against secularism but in living out an approaching "end of days." This serves to remind one that as far as religious influences on development of Jewish nationalism is concerned, a very important factor was the development and promotion of ever present beliefs in messianism.

Laqueur, on the other hand, lists Rav Kook only once in the index of his History of Zionism. One finds only one sentence mentioning Kook, an offhand remark about a possible influence of an action of Kook’s as spiritual head of the Ashkenazi community in Palestine having possibly influenced Vladimir Jabotinsky in a certain situation.

Some idea of the kinds of conflict between the religious and the national or political which still exists today in Israel can be seen in the work of Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvitsky. With regard to how the nations of the world would benefit from formation of a Jewish state, they observe that Kook and Alkalai were heavily influenced by the Kabbala, where, according to these authors, the emphasis is on salvation for Jews only, unlike the Talmud. In the Lurianic Cabbala, non-Jews are predicted to fare especially badly after the Messiah comes. (Shahak and Metzvitsky, 1999, 58) Shahak is a professor of chemistry at Hebrew University, known for his anti-religious and anti-Zionist views, and perhaps a questionable authority on the Kabbala and the Talmud. This work, and earlier work by Shahak, bring out a pessimistic strain in relations between religion and secularity and nationality which, it appears, is still a strongly divisive influence in Israeli affairs. It also points to a kind of interpretation of Zionism as being messianic in nature, a messianism to which Shahak is opposed.

In his discussion of the influence of Rav Kook on relations of religious to secular Judaism, Avineri says little about Kook’s role within religious Orthodoxy. One gets an idea of the extent of this influence reading the essays collected in a book edited by Lawrence Kaplan and David Schatz (1995). The first of the three parts of this book is devoted to Kook as Talmudist, Kabbalist, philosopher, and poet. The second part is concerned with Kook’s monism or harmonism, unity of sacred and profane, and ofindividual and community – a kind of unity which, according to Kook, entails policies of pluralism and tolerance. The third part deals with relations between Zionism and messianism, as seen by Kook. Kaplan and Shatz say: "Rav Kook saw the return to Zion, the upbuilding of the land of Israel, and the renaissance of the Jewish people in that land as an integral part of a broader historical process invested with messianic significance." (Kaplan and Shatz, 1995, Introduction) "Messianic significance" sounds a little mild, in view of the fact that Kook seems to have held that he was living in an age in which preparations for a coming Messiah were under way.

A more extensive evaluation of the work of Rabbi Kook, and a description of how it evolved over the course of Kook’s lifetime, is found in a book by Aviezer Ravitzky. about the role of messianism in connection with Zionism. (Ravitzky, 1993, 1996, Chapter 3) Ravitzky is professor of Jewish philosophy and thought at Hebrew University. He says: "The nationalist ideology of Rabbi Kook and his followers views the history of Zionism as an inevitable and decidedly messianic process, leading to the realization of prophetic predictions; ‘the state of Israel as the fulfillment of the biblical vision of redemption.’" (idem, 80). Ravitzky points to the conflict between two basic strands of Kook’s thought and practice, namely, toleration – even welcoming – of secularism, and enforcement of halakhah. He says: "Indeed, the gap between these two points of view, that of messianic historiosophy [the true meaning of the path of history, the concealed meaning of manifest developments] and that of concrete history, would eventually emerge as the central problem in Kook’s teachings." (idem, 117)

Ella Belfer, of the Department of Religious Studies at Ber-Ilan University, in her discussion of Zionism and messianism in Kook’s thought says of Kook’s attitude to Zionism that "the response of Rav Kook is unique, inasmuch as it defines Zionism as "athalta di-geulah", the beginning of the redemption." Kook, she says, takes a "maximalist messianic approach, which includes within itself two complete planes of existence – the completely material and completely spiritual – [and] sets forth a highly dialectical conception of the lawful processes determining the messianic dynamic." (in Kaplan and Shatz, 1995, 260) The formation of a Jewish state is said to be the beginning of redemption, and, Belfer says, "The end of this path will be reached when the Jewish people will fulfill its mission to mend the world and be a light unto the nations." (idem, 260)

This recalls Avineri’s reference to the importance of Hegel’s influence on such people as Nachman Krochmal and Heinrich Graetz, and their contribution to secularization and breaks with religious tradition among Jews. (v.s.) Ravitzky says: "If we carefully examine the change in his thinking over the years, in which he [Kook] came to see the secular rebellion as itself part of the process of religious redemption, we find a movement from the one concept of progress [Turgot, Comte, et al.], from the ‘innocent’ view that rules out destructive backtracking, to the dialectical view [Schelling, Hegel, et al.] that sees revolution as an integral part of the constructive march of events." (Ravitzky, 1993, 1996, 104-5) This suggests that Kook managed, among other things, to argue on behalf of a synthesis of religious messianism and socialism.

Kook goes beyond Hegel, however, when he works later 19th century evolutionary theories into his views. Lawrence Fine, professor of Jewish Studies at Mount Holyoke College, says: "It is well known that Rav Kook admired the Darwinian concept of evolution and that he interpreted it in spiritual terms. … Kook identified the evolutionary process with Kabbalah in general, and frequently with the notion of tikkun [redemption, repair] in particular." (in Kaplan and Shatz, 1995, 35) Fine quotes Kook: "The doctrine of evolution, which is presently gaining acceptance in the world, has a greater affinity with the secret teachings of the Kabbalah than all other philosophies. Evolution, which proceeds on a course of improvement, offers us the basis for optimism in the world." Here Kook runs afoul of the views of most evolutionary biologists today that there is no good scientific evidence that evolution, in the sense understood by most Darwinists and neo-Darwinists and geneticists in the scientific communities, does indeed proceed on a course of continual improvement, rather than, say, on a course of adaptation to ecological niches by way of natural selection and reproductive advantage. Be that as it may, it appears that Kook, given his assumption about the beneficent course of evolution, came some distance toward uniting strands of Orthodox Judaism, especially involving Kabbalism and messianism, with the secularizing thought of such people as Krochmal and Graetz and others who were influenced by Hegel, and with the growth of scientific evolutionary theories.

In the light of the opposition of many Jews to the formation of a state of Israel as proposed in the earlier years of political Zionism, politically effective Zionism is generally described as predominantly carried out by Jews who were more secular than religious. This is reflected, for example, in the book The Zionist Idea by Arthur Hertzberg, who organized his book around individuals whose writings he considered to be influential in Zionist movements. Of the 37 people he considers, some 8 or 10 can be considered to be concerned centrally with religious matters in connection with the Restoration of Israel. However, by many accounts, religious influences on the political affairs of modern Israel are still very pronounced, and still the subject of deep-seated differences among citizens of Israel (Jewish or not).

The views of Rav Abraham Kook exerted considerable influence on the political evolution of the nation-state of Israel, not least by way of the influence and doctrines of the Gush Emunim, the Party (or Bloc) of the Faithful, the settlement movement, founded in early 1974 by some of Rav Abraham Kook’s followers, most notably his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook. A comparison of the views and influence of father and son is given by Ravitzky (1993, 1996, Chapter 3).

One may wonder about the place of Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) in the histories of Zionism being considered here. Herzl was born in Budapest, educated in the spirit of the Haskalah, and moved to Austria in 1878, where he settled. Naomi Weinberger, a professor at Columbia University in the USA, notes in one of her lectures that if you ask an average Israeli schoolchild who the father of modern political Zionism was, the child will generally say, Theodor Herzl. In her lectures, she describes Herzl as a pronounced secularist and pragmatic politician whose work, especially in connection with the first six Zionist Congresses of 1897-1903, was instrumental in setting Zionism on a path toward realization of its political ideal of a Jewish state governed by Jews. (Weinberger, 2002)

It would appear from descriptions of this sort that Herzl had little interest in either religious messianism or a messianism based on socialism. However, reading the biography of Herzl by Amos Elon (Elon, 1975) and looking into the diaries of Herzl himself for 1895-1904 (Herzl, 1960), one finds a different picture, one which is emphasized in Laqueur’s history.(Laqueur, 1972, 84-135)

Before he became a passionate and unrelenting Zionist, besides being a journalist, Herzl practiced with indifferent success as a lawyer and a playwright. In 1895, when Herzl was in the process of writing his highly influential Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), he wrote in his diary about the greatness of his mission, and how he would be named among the great benefactors of mankind. Then, on another day, he would feel depressed about his mission, and speak of giving up the whole thing, since there was, he said, no helping the Jews for the time being, due to their "disintegrated ghetto natures". (Laqueur, 1972, 90) He spoke of antisemitism ceasing, and how "a wondrous breed of Jews will spring up from the earth" when a Jewish state became a reality. (idem, 95)

A majority of Jews who commented on Der Judenstaat, says Laqueur, thought it was a chimera, a kind of revival of medieval messianism. Even among Zionists, reception of it was lukewarm at best. Ahad Ha’am was especially critical of the work, on the grounds that there wasn’t anything specifically Jewish about Herzl’s vision of a Jewish state. However, says Laqueur, Herzl’s contemporaries misjudged him. Herzl became possessed by his Zionist vision, and sacrificed everything to his ideas and to the movement. Laqueur says, speaking of what he calls the narcissistic streak in Herzl’s character, that "Herzl relished the role of the Messiah-King which he was to assume during the years to come." (Laqueur, 1972, 96-97) In his diary, Herzl wrote: "In Basle [at the first Zionist Congress] I founded the Jewish state ….. Maybe in five years, certainly in fifty, everyone will realize it."

Amos Elom in his biography of Herzl and Paul Charles Merkely in his work tracing Christian influences on and participations in Jewish Zionism discuss the remarkable influence which William Henry Hechler, an Anglican clergyman, had on Herzl, and through Herzl on Jewish Zionism. (Elom, 1975, 187-194 et passim; Merkley, 1998, 3-34). Herzl and Hechler collaborated closely from 1896 to Herzl’s death in 1904. It was Hechler who opened a path for Herzl to German royalty, up to and including Kaiser Wilhelm II, and put Jewish Zionism in the arena of world politics. Hechler believed that a return of Jews to Palestine was underway as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and that Herzl was the man destined to implement it. Hechler wrote in 1898, "We are now entering, thanks to the Zionist Movement, into Israel’s Messianic Age." (Merkley, 1998, 15)

Neither Merkley nor Elon make firm conclusions as to the extent to which Herzl came to believe that he and Hechler were engaged in some sort of messianic enterprise, or the extent to which Herzl was simply being a practical politician in collaborating with Hechler, using his services as an intermediary and taking other kinds of advice from him. Still, Merkley reports on a dream Herzl said, late in his life, that he had had as a boy of 12: "He [the Messiah] took me in his arms and carried me off on wings of heaven. On one of the iridescent clouds we met … Moses. ….. Then the Messiah called out to Moses, ‘For this child I have prayed!’ To me he said, ‘Go and announce to the Jews that I shall soon come and perform great and wondrous deeds for my people and for mankind! I kept this dream to myself and did not dare tell anyone." Elon asks, "Was it a true dream, which Herzl had kept secret until a few months before his death or the belated construction of a fertile literary and political mind?" (Merkley, 1998, 5-6, quoting Duvernoy, 1966, 83-84; Elon, 1975, 16)

Merkley asks, "Did he, then, come to believe in the Messiah? If he did, he never admitted it in plain words. He supposed … that the Messiah of his dream stood for something else: perhaps for modern science and technology, which were really redeeming mankind!" (idem)



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International and Public Affairs and Associate Research Scholar at the Middle

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