Their Solutions to That Question

The forerunners of Zionism reacted against the Reform Movement, which sought to "Westernize" Judaism, and Integration, which strove to completely assimilate the Jews into the cultures of their host nations. Rabbi Yehudah Alkalai of Sarajevo, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer of Posen, and the socialist philosopher Moses Hess of Bonn rejected the Reform Movement and Integration, because they believed that neither plan worked. Emancipation gave Jews opportunities that they never had before, especially in western Europe, but it was not a silver bullet.[1] Emancipation, which became popular during the Enlightenment but suffered under Romanticism, had not alleviated the Jews of their misery, and anti-Semitism would not be buried by reason.[2] Alkalai, Kalischer, and Hess each proposed the establishment of a Jewish nation-state as a means to reconcile the Jewish Question. Each of the forerunners' propositions had differences and shared similarities, but the unifying theme of their writing was the return of the Jewish people to Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish nation-state, which, "was not an end in itself, but a means towards the just social order to which all peoples aspired."[3]

Rabbi Yehudah Alkalai was a defender of traditional Judaism. He was not convinced that reformation of Judaism would lead to the Redemption. Anti-Semitism would not vanish simply because Jews sought to appease their host culture by assimilating. Reformation would not benefit the Jews if anti-Semitism persisted after reform, and the Damascus Affair of 1840 confirmed Alkalai's belief that, "[Jews] as a people, are properly called Israel only in the land of Israel."[4] The Jews would not be secure and free until they had a land of their own. Alkalai knew that such a bold undertaking as the creation of a new Jewish nation-state in the land of Palestine out of the Diaspora would present enormous obstacles, but he prepared a brief, yet optimistic answer to the Jewish Question in his The Third Redemption (1843).

Alkalai's solution to the question of land was simple. He called for the creation of a company that would lobby the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, who was in control over Palestine in the nineteenth century, to allow the Jews to pay an annual rent in order to resettle the land.[5] Alkalai suggested that the return to the Holy Land occur over two phases, in which a first group of settlers pioneered the land and made it ready for the rest of the Jews to settle after a period of time. Alkalai ,using Talmudic references, estimated that the first group would need to be at least 22,000 in number.[6] In order for the Jews to prepare for the return to Palestine, Rabbi Alkalai believed that the individual must experience a personal revival of the Judaic religious traditions so as to, "turn away from his evil personal ways and repent."[7] Once individual repentance has taken place, then the entire collection of the Jewish people, spiritually cleansed, should return to the Holy Land. Alkalai's assertion that every Jew must return to Palestine before Redemption can occur appears unrealistically altruistic, but he sincerely believed that it was a phenomena that must transpire in order for Judaic prophesy to be fulfilled. As a Rabbi, Alkalai was concerned with how the weary Jewish people would interact with each other once they resettled in Palestine. The Diaspora was strewn all over the world, across dozens of countries and cultures. This dispersion naturally led the Jews to learn and speak the languages and adopt customs of the various regions in which they inhabited, and ultimately the demand to assimilate culminated in the Reform Movement within Judaism. Alkalai lamented that, "these divisions are an obstacle to Redemption," because they contributed to a decline in the usage of Hebrew, and the Rabbi urged the Jews to, "redouble [your] efforts to maintain Hebrew and to strengthen its position."[8] Language would be essentially tied to the land of the nation under Alkalai's proposal. This would help to form bonds of brotherhood and solidarity among the newly reunited Jews that would hold them over until the Messiah appeared. To oversee and assist in the emigration to the Holy Land, and to eventually govern the Jewish nation-state, Alkalai suggested that an "assembly of elders" be constructed and comprised of, "men of high caliber, who will command respect and obedience...[emphasis added] Redemption depends on this."[9]

Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer's argument for the return to the Holy Land stemmed more from his nationalistic sympathies than with his belief in miraculous Messianism. Kalischer witnessed and experienced first-hand the sting of anti-Semitism and the frustrating shortcomings of assimilation. Yet, as an Eastern European Jew, he was able, as were many Jews in Eastern Europe during the nineteenth century, to maintain a strong sense of the Jewish national identity, because the percentage of the population that was Jewish in Eastern European countries was higher than in Western Europe; it was much easier for Eastern European Jews, Kalischer included, to preserve their cultural heritage rather than assimilate or reform their religion to placate their host countries' anti-Semitism.[10] Kalischer did not want to assimilate or reform on religious grounds, but because he experienced such a strong connection, forged by daily struggle, with his Jewish community, that he perceived no value in assimilation or reform. Therefore, nationalism was Kalischer's way of responding to the Jewish Question in Eastern Europe.[11] Kalischer was also very much inspired by the, "examples of the Italians, Poles, and Hungarians, who laid down their lives and possessions in the struggle for national independence," and he wished to see that kind of passion, regarding the return to the Holy Land, ignite within the hearts of the Jewish people.[12]

For Rabbi Alkalai, Redemption would flow from adherence of dogma, but Kalischer believed that Redemption would only happen after the faith of the Jewish people had been truly tested by the resettlement of Palestine. "To concentrate all one's energy...for the sake of living in Zion...there is no greater merit or trial than this."[13] Kalischer concurred with Alkalai's postulation that Redemption would come gradually, and that the resettlement of Zion would need to be broken down into two stages, with the first stage concentrated on the creation of a sustainable agricultural foundation from which the Jewish nation-state could develop. To that end, Kalischer urged the awakening of philanthropic support, and suggested that, "an organization be established to encourage settlement in the Holy Land, for the purpose of purchasing and cultivating farms and vineyards."[14] I believe that Rabbi Kalischer visualized the physically demanding manual labor, required to usher into existence a new Jewish country in Palestine, as the crucible that would define the faith of the Jewish people. Kalischer speculated that then, after all the strife endured by the Jews, persevered through by faith, "surely God would bless [the Jews'] labor," and, "hasten the Day of Redemption."[15]

Moses Hess' return to Judaism and interest in Jewish nationalism was sparked by the clash between his ethical socialist philosophy and the realization that anti-Semitism would not be assuaged by assimilation and religious reform. After the Damascus Affair of 1840, Hess stated, "[Jews] shall always remain strangers among the nations," and, "will never be able to convince the gentiles of his total separation from his own nationality." The more the Jew tried to assimilate himself into his host nation, the greater attention he drew to just how different he actually was, which only further alienated him and added to his anguish. Hess did acknowledge that assimilation in France was possible, but he deplored the condition of German Jewry. In a land where race is valued higher than the state, "how, then, can [the Germans] conceive the granting of equal rights to other races than the dominant one?"[16] Hess reconciled the juxtaposition of the success of emancipation in France and its utter failure in Germany by calling for a Jewish national independence. "A common, native soil is a primary condition," if the Jews are to attain any meaningful political and social progress in the world.[17] Moses Hess believed that national rebirth was the solution for anti-Semitism as well as religious reform. Hess wrote, "it is only with national rebirth that the religious genius of the Jews...will be endowed with new strength and again be reinspired with the prophetic spirit."[18] For Hess, the establishment on an independent Jewish nation would be the answer to the problems caused by anti-Semitism, the inadequacies of Integration, and the Reform Movement.

Moses Hess proposed a fundamentalist program that would reawaken Jewish self-identity and prepare the Jews to embrace their mission of national rebirth. Hess suggested affiliation with an "old Synagogue...which would contribute to the elevation and education of the congregation, without...undermining ancient worship."[19] A traditional synagogue's teachings would not be smeared with reformist ideas, which could instigate doubt concerning the necessity of Jewish nationalism. Hess also advocated the restudy of Jewish history. Integration sought to erase Jewish history through the absorption of it into the host nation's history, but Hess sought to give the Jews their history back, "and rekindle in the hearts of our young generation the spirit which was the source of inspiration to our profits and sages."[20] Patriotic sentiment among the progressive Jews was vital to Hess' plan to ensure the necessary energy that would be required to support the Jews who traveled to Palestine in order to establish the Jewish state. Since most of the educated Jews would surely not give up their coveted socioeconomic positions in their host countries and relocate in the Holy Land, they must at least, "support [the Jewish nation] in its historical mission, when it will have the courage to reclaim its ancient fatherland in a natural, human way."[21] Donations from philanthropists who would not resettle would be used to purchase land in Palestine, setup a police system that would protect the emigrants, and create an agricultural school that would enable the Jewish state to become self-sustaining. Hess' plan called for all commerce and society to be arranged, "on the common ground of Jewish patriotism," according to "Mosaic, i.e., social principles."[22] Nationalism would bring about social and political equality for the Jewish people under Moses Hess' system.

Rabbi Yehudah Alkalai, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer, and socialist philosopher Moses Hess rejected the Reform Movement and Integration, because they believed that neither plan worked. Alkalai, Kalischer, and Hess independently proposed the establishment of a Jewish nation-state as a means to reconcile the Jewish Question. Each of the forerunners' outlines had differences and shared similarities, but the unifying theme of their writing was the return of the Jewish people to Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish nation-state as the solution to the Jewish Question.


  • Hertzberg, Arthur. The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1997.
  • Hess, Moses. The Revival of Israel: Rome and Jerusalem, The Last Nationalist Question. Lincoln: Bison Books, University of Nebraska Press, 1995.
  • Laqueur, Walter. A History of Zionism: From the French Revolution to the Establishment of the State of Israel. New York: Schocken Books, 2003.
  • The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History Second Edition, edited by Paul Mendes-Flohr & Jehuda Reinharz. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
  1. Moses Hess. The Revival of Israel: Rome and Jerusalem, the Last Nationalist Question. (Lincoln: Bison Books, 1995), 74.
  2. Walter Laqueur. A History of Zionism: From the French Revolution to the Establishment of the State of Israel (New York: Schocken Books, 2003), 30.
  3. Laqueur, 52.
  4. Yehudah Alkalai. "The Third Redemption" (1843) in The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader, Arthur Hertzberg (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1997), 105.
  5. Alkalai, 107.
  6. Alkalai, 105.
  7. Alkalai, 106.
  8. Alkalai, 106.
  9. Alkalai, 107.
  10. Laqueur, 33.
  11. Arthur Hertzberg. The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1997), 110.
  12. Zvi Hirsch Kalischer. "Seeking Zion" (1862) in The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader, Arthur Hertzberg (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1997), 114.
  13. Kalischer, 112.
  14. Kalischer, 111 & 113.
  15. Kalischer, 113.
  16. Hess, 73.
  17. Hess, 165.
  18. Hess, 77.
  19. Hess, 99 & 100.
  20. Hess, 105.
  21. Hess, 261.
  22. Hess, 172.

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