Zionism: Foundations

Moses Hess (Germany, 1812–1875): Spinozist, founding father of revolutionary socialism, deemed by colleagues the "first secular Zionist" and “the Communist Rabbi.”

Excerpts from: Rome & Jerusalem (1862)

I believe that the national character of Judaism does not exclude universalism and modern civilization; on the contrary, these values are the logical effect of our national character. If I nonetheless emphasize the national root of Judaism rather than its universalist blooms that is because in our time people are all too prone to gather and deck themselves out with the pretty flowers of the cultural heritage rather than to cultivate them in the soil in which they can grow. Judaism is the root of our whole contemporary universalist view of life.

As long as the Jew denies his nationality, as long as he lacks the character to acknowledge that he belongs to that unfortunate, persecuted, maligned people, his false position must become ever more intolerable. What purpose does this deception serve? The nations of Europe have always regarded the existence of the Jews in their midst as an anomaly. We shall always remain strangers among the nations. They may even be moved by a sense of humanity and justice to emancipate us, but they will never respect us as long as we continue to make absolute loyalty to our host countries our guiding principle, and place it above our own great national aspirations.

Religious fanaticism may cease to cause hatred of the Jews in the more culturally advanced countries; but despite enlightenment and emancipation, the Jew in exile who denies his nationality will never earn the respect of the nations among whom he dwells. He may become a naturalized citizen, but he will never be able to convince the gentiles of his total separation from his own Jewish nationality.

Peretz Smolenskin (Eastern Europe, Vienna, 1842-1885): a prominent Hebrew writer and early proponent of Zionism

Excerpts from It Is Time to Plant (1875-1877)

THE JEWISH PEOPLE has outlived all others because it has always regarded itself as a people—a spiritual nation. Without exception its sages and writers, its prophets and the authors of its prayers, have always called it a people. Clearly, therefore, this one term has sufficient power to unite those who are dispersed all over the world. Jews of different countries regard and love one another as members of the same people because they remember that the tie that binds them did not begin yesterday; it is four thousand years old. Four thousand years!

This sense of history alone is a great and uplifting thought, an inspiration to respect this bond and hold it dear. Any sensitive person must feel: For four thousand years we have been brothers and children of one people; how can I sin against hundreds of generations and betray this brotherhood? How can I fold my hands and fail to help as the cup of wrath is poured over my people?

Every sorrow and every joy will renew the covenant and strengthen the tie of Jews to their people. In a time of trouble each will remember that the afflicted are his brothers and that he must help them bear their burdens. In happier times he will rejoice that his brother's estate has been uplifted. By helping one another in difficult days, by retaining a sense of closeness even though dispersed in various lands, by not being separated in spirit despite the barriers of the various languages they acquired, the Jews have succeeded in withstanding every storm and tumult. Even in their frequent exiles, Jews were not lonely, for everywhere they found brothers-the sons of their people-in whose homes they were welcome.

Yes, we are a people. We have been a people from our beginnings until today. We have never ceased being a people, even after our kingdom was destroyed and we were exiled from our land, and whatever may yet come over us will not eradicate our national character.

But we are not today a people like all others, just as we were not a people like the others even when we dwelt in our own land. The foundation of our national identity was never the soil of the Holy Land, and we did not lose the basis of our nationality when we were exiled. We have always been a spiritual nation, one whose Torah was the foundation of its statehood. From the start our people has believed that its Torah took precedence over its land and over its political identity. We are a people because in spirit and thought we regard ourselves bound to one another by ties of fraterity. Our unity has been conserved in a different way, through forms different from those of all other peoples, but does this make us any the less a people?

Leon Pinsker (Russia, 1821–1891): An assimilated Jew who turned to Jewish Nationalism after the pogroms of 1881

Excerpts from: Auto-Emancipation: An Appeal to His People By a Russian Jew (1882)

THE ETERNAL PROBLEM presented by the Jewish question stirs men today as it did ages ago. It remains unsolved, like the squaring of the circle, but unlike it, it is still a burning question. This is due to the fact that it is not merely a problem of theoretic interest, but one of practical interest, which renews its youth from day to day, as it were, and presses more and more urgently for a solution.

The essence of the problem, as we see it, lies in the fact that, in the midst of the nations among whom the Jews reside, they form a distinctive element which cannot be assimilated, which cannot be readily digested by any nation. Hence the problem is to find means of so adjusting the relations of this exclusive element to the whole body of the nations that there shall never be any further basis for the Jewish question.

The Jews are not a living nation; they are everywhere aliens; therefore they are despised.

The civil and political emancipation of the Jews is not sufficient to raise them in the estimation of the peoples.

The proper and the only remedy would be the creation of a Jewish nationality, of a people living upon its own soil, the auto-emancipation of the Jews; their emancipation as a nation among nations by the acquisition of a home of their own.

We should not persuade ourselves that humanity and enlightenment will ever be radical remedies for the malady of our people.

The lack of national self-respect and self confidence, of political initiative and of unity, are the enemies of our national renaissance.

In order that we may not be constrained to wander from one exile to another, we must have an extensive and productive place of refuge, a gathering place which is our own.

The present moment is more favorable than any other for realizing the plan here unfolded.

The international Jewish question must receive a national solution.

Of course, our national regeneration can only proceed slowly. We must take the first step. Our descendants must follow us with a measured and unhurried pace.

A way must be opened for the national regeneration of the Jews by a congress of Jewish notables.

No sacrifice would be too great in order to reach the goal which will assure our people's future, everywhere endangered.

The financial accomplishment of the undertaking can, in the nature of the situation, encounter no insuperable difficulties.

Help yourselves, and God will help you!

Ernest Renan (1823–1892): French Philosopher, historian, & scholar of religion

Excerpts from: “What is a Nation?” (1882)

The essence of a nation is that all of its individuals have many things in common, and also that everyone has forgotten many things. No French citizen knows whether he is a Burgund, an Alain, a Taifala, or a Visigoth.

Man is a slave neither of his race, his language, his religion, the course of his rivers, nor the direction of his mountain ranges. A great aggregation of men, in sane mind and warm heart, created a moral conscience that calls itself a nation. As long as this moral conscience proofs its strength by sacrifices that require the subordination of the individual to the communal good, it is legitimate and has the right to exist.