Parallels Meet: Religion and Nationalism in the Early Zionist Movement (1882-1904)

Parallels Meet: Religion and Nationalism in the Early Zionist Movement (1882-1904)

Parallels Meet: Religion and Nationalism in the Early Zionist Movement (1882-1904)

Parallels Meet: Religion and Nationalism in the Early Zionist Movement (1882-1904)


The marriage of traditional Judaism and Zionism was never easy and today it remains greatly troubled. In his absorbing account Ehud Luz tells the story of the conflict that arose between religionists and secularists.


The first years of Ḳibbat Ẓiyyon (1882-1897), when the foundations were laid for Orthodox-secular cooperation, determined the character of the new movement. There was an unbroken and at times stormy struggle between the two partners over leadership of the movement, public opinion, and the character of the new settlements in Eretz Yisrael. All alternatives were still open; the direction in which Zionism would develop depended on the energy, initiative, and strategy of each side. The majority of Eastern European Jews, as well as the movement's adherents, were Orthodox. In theory, at least, the Orthodox could direct the movement wherever they wanted. Aware of their majority status, they vigorously asserted their demands, exerting strong pressure within the movement to make its path conform with their aspirations. At the beginning of this period, in fact, the religious profile of the New Yishuv growing up in Palestine was hardly different from that of most Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. Gradually, however, the reins fell from the hands of the Orthodox and were grasped by the maskilim, who displayed superior powers of organization, dedication, and enthusiasm. By the end of this period, it was evident to the farsighted that the New Yishuv would not be the society and culture that the traditionalists had sought to build.

Who Will Lead?

The question of leadership arose along with the first attempts to unite the various Zionist societies in a central organization. The Orthodox majority, who saw themselves as the patrons of the yishuv, coveted the leadership positions for themselves. Rabbi Samuel Mohilewer, the first outstanding leader of this camp, wanted to unite all the societies in one organizational framework, which he would head.

Rabbi Mohilewer's distinguished career as an energetic and effective community activist began in the early 1870s. He was the first Russian rabbi blessed with the personality of an outstanding national leader. He was familiar with the new currents of thought sweeping the Jewish world, and his liberal attitude toward the maskilim was quite rare for that day and age. His tolerance brought down on his head the bitter enmity of a number of leading rabbis, who denounced his willingness to meet "atheists" on some middle ground and his criticism of the spiritual leaders of his generation. Rabbi Mohilewer . . .

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