Zionism and the Creation of a New Society

Zionism and the Creation of a New Society

Zionism and the Creation of a New Society

Zionism and the Creation of a New Society


Israel is a modern state whose institutions were clearly shaped by an ideological movement. The declaration of independence in 1948 was an immediate expression of the fundamental Zionist idea: it gave effect to a plan advocated by organized Zionists since the 1880s for solving the Jewish Problem. Thus, major Israeli political institutions, such as the party structure, embody principles and practices that were followed in the World Zionist Organization. In this respect, Israel is similar to other new states whose political institutions directly derive from the nationalist movements that won their independence. History and social structure are inseparably joined; the contemporary social problems of the new state are clearly rooted in its history, while the shape of its future is being decided by the very policies through which it is trying to solve these problems. At the same time, there are many unique aspects to the birth of Israel. The problem to be solved by acquiring sovereignty in Israel (and establishing a free Jewish society there) was the problem of a people living in exile. The first stage, therefore, was to return to the people a homeland to which they were intimately attached, not only in their dreams but in the minute details of their ways of life. This important book studies the birth of the State of Israel and analyzes the elaborately articulated and variegated ideological principles of the Zionist movement that led to that birth. It examines conflicting pre-state ideals and the social structure that emerged in Palestine's Jewish community during the Mandate period. In particular, Zionism and the Creation of a New Society reflects upon Israel's existence as both a state and a social structure--a place conceived before its birth as a means of solving a particular social malady: the modern Jewish Problem. Jehuda Reinharz and the late Ben Halpern carefully trace the development of the Zionist idea from its earliest expressions up to the eve of World War II, setting their study against a broad background of political and social development throughout Europe and the Middle East.


I came to Brandeis University in 1982 as a successor in the Richard Koret chair of modern Jewish history to my friend and mentor, Ben Halpern. Shortly after I arrived, he suggested that we collaborate on a book he had started some years earlier. It was intended as the second volume to his classic work The Idea of the Jewish State, first published in 1961 and revised in 1969. Ben and I collaborated on this second volume even as we each continued to work on other monographs. Thus, a project that we thought would last a year or two stretched to almost fifteen years. After Ben's unexpected death in 1990, I continued to work on our project as time allowed. Fortuitously and without prior design, this task was completed on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the State of Israel. My only regret is that Ben Halpern is not here to enjoy the bound volume.

I would like to thank Ben's wife, Gertrude, and their sons, Joe and Elkan, for their patience and cooperation throughout. Somehow they continued to have faith that this book would see the light of day, even when I had to postpone work on it as I took on more and more administrative tasks at Brandeis.

I am particularly grateful to my friend and former student Professor Mark A. Raider, who assisted me for the past few years on this and other projects. Mark checked facts, updated bibliographic notes, corrected mistakes, and generally served as an excellent and tough sounding board. Without his help, this volume might well have been delayed a few more years. I would also like to thank Professors Evyatar Friesel, Israel's state archivist, and Anita Shapira of Tel Aviv University for their comments and constructive criticisms. Finally, as so often in the past, Sylvia Fuks Fried, executive director of the Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry at Brandeis University, was helpful in myriad ways.

Waltham, Massachusetts J. R.
November 1997 . . .

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