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Zionism, Returning, the Land of Israel as a Focus in Jewish History, Benjamin J. Segal, World Zionist Organization, Jerusalem 1987.

the Land of IsraelAcross the centuries of their dispersion, the Jews had much to unite them, from law to literary language, from holy texts to messianic longings. The community in its isolation was itself a binding factor. Whether imposed by law and custom or voluntarily adopted, the ghetto existed as a semi-autonomous grouping, providing an ever-so-imperfect surrogate for independence and state. So effective was the ghetto in isolating Jews from the outside world and inculcating a Jewish life style that most Jews had more in common with their co-religionists across borders and seas than they did with their non-Jewish neighbors a kilometer away.

In the nineteenth century, a fourfold crisis converged on Jewry, bringing massive spiritual and communal dislocation. Emancipation, officially granting equal rights and full participation in the society, provided by far the greatest shock. Arriving as a harbinger of equality and freedom, Emancipation was a mixed blessing at best, for it signaled the end of Jewish separation, and with it, the collapse of the structure which had helped maintain both local community and international unity.

The second contributory factor to the nineteenth century crisis was the new nationalism. Divesting itself of its previous amalgamation with religion, the new movement declared a need for independence and national identification. The now emancipated Jew found himself rushing into a world which demanded new, national loyalties. Religion could be a private affair for the home and place of worship, but in all else the Jew was to be Frenchman, German, Czech, etc.

Complicating the process was another problem, which was much affected by the new combination of Emancipation and nationalism. Anti-Semitism, the third element of crisis, with a long history of its own, was gradually shifting from a religious to a national-and-social ground, laying the basis for the slaughter of one-third of all Jews in the middle of the following century. Particularly in Eastern Europe, outbursts of anti-Semitism abounded, spurring on the Jewish search for answers to this new problem.

The fourth problem arose in the world of study, and if not a crisis, it was certainly a challenge of substantial dimensions. History, since the Enlightenment, had become a matter of objective study, not just a source of guidance and inspiration. Such study showed that change, though among Jews it often had been effected innocently in the name of “interpretation” of God’s will, had been the rule of history. With such an understanding of the past, this generation, desperate for new solutions to new problems, could not accomplish change naively. They could not pursue new paths, allowing themselves to assume they were only continuing in old ways, interpreting texts of the past. If change were to take place, it demanded deliberation, decision, and action.

Thus was born an age of new definitions and realignments. Secularists challenged religious assumptions, at times substituting new beliefs, such as socialism, for the old value system. In the religious sphere, three movements emerged as a bridge from past to future. Orthodoxy insisted that the existing forms and formats be maintained, invested as they were with divine sanction. Interpretation could take place, but not change. On the other end of the religious spectrum, Reform Judaism demanded open reconsideration and radical alteration, for the ghetto had not allowed healthy development, and now Judaism had to be “re-formed.” Between them, the Conservative movement insisted on maintaining the tension between tradition and development, and an on-going dialectic between the two.

The political arena as well gave birth to several reactions. Various groups of Jews sought different degrees and types of accommodation. Some openly espoused assimilation. No less radically, another small group held that the only solution to the new problems facing Jews and Judaism was the re-creation of a Jewish homeland. Thus was Zionism born.
In this age of internal spiritual upheaval, Israel, then called Palestine, returned to the forefront of Jewish concern and concentration. Jews might accept or reject one of the new visions of the people’s return to Israel, but they had little choice but to react to the Zionist challenge.

The study of the relationship of the Jews to Israel in the age of Zionism is not an examination of continuity, but one of emerging problems and their proposed solutions. While drawn within the framework of an historic attachment to the Land, both the crises and the responses were new, a break with the past. The history of Zionism is a tale of a new movement wavering between evolution and revolution, encountering myriad reactions as it raised before the Jewish people and the world the renewed vision of a Jewish homeland.

Zionism—A Chronology

1791 National Assembly, France, grants Jews full civil rights.

1840 Damascus Libel, Jews accused of murder to gain blood for ritual use.

1862 Publication of Moses Hess’ Rome and Jerusalem, first modern Zionist book.

1863 Founding of assimilationist “Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia.”

1870 Mikveh Israel, first Israeli agricultural community and school, founded.

1870s Growth of the Hibbat Zion (Love of Zion) movement, principally in Russia.

1881 Pogroms in Russia following assassination of Czar Alexander II. Beginning of mass emigration from Russia.

1882 Leo Pinsker publishes “Auto-Emancipation.”

1894 Dreyfus trial in France. Theodor Herzl begins Zionist activity in response to mob’s anti-Semitic outbursts.

1896 Publication of Herzl’s The Jewish State

1897 First Zionist Congress, Basle. Founding of Zionist Organization.

1903 -1906 Pogroms in Russia

1903 Uganda Proposal, suggesting African territory as temporary haven for the Jews.

1904 Beginning of major wave of immigration to Israel from Russia. Herzl dies.

1909 Tel Aviv founded. Degania, first kibbutz, founded.

1911 Zionist Congress opts for involvement in cultural and educational programs.

1917 Balfour Declaration, stating that England favors the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine.

1920 British Mandate over Palestine begins (confirmed by League of Nations, 1923).

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