Jewish Emancipation and Self-Emancipation

Jewish Emancipation and Self-Emancipation

Jewish Emancipation and Self-Emancipation

Jewish Emancipation and Self-Emancipation

Excerpt

Emancipation and Self-Emancipation, the two headings under which the articles in this volume are subsumed, occurred in this order historically and were conceived of by contemporaries as mutually exclusive. Emancipation was the slogan that served Jews in England and on the Continent, starting in the late twenties of the nineteenth century, as a battle-cry in their struggle for legal and political equality. By the seventies of the century this struggle seemed to have been crowned with definite success except for Russia, where concessions on the part of one tzarist government were followed by their revocation by another. Yet at the end of that very same decade, reaction set in to the Jewish success achieved in the West, notably in Germany, Hungary, and then also in France, in the shape of the anti- Semitic movement, while in Russia all hope for an ultimate enfranchisement was dashed at the sight of the bloody pogroms in the spring of 1881. It was under the impact of these disappointing events that Leon Pinsker, formerly a staunch and optimistic champion of the idea of Jewish emancipation in Russia, came forward with his "Autoemancipation." The thrust of his pamphlet, written in German, was an appeal to Jewry in East and West alike to become aware of the futility of the endeavor to achieve a lasting solution of the Jewish problem by an emancipation granted by the European states. The solution should instead be sought in the foundation of an independent Jewish commonwealth--an anticipation of the idea of political Zionism, propagated a decade and a half later by Theodor Herzl.

Although in its original context the idea of self-emancipation was pitted against its antecedent, I think it will strike the reader of the essays presented in this volume that in historical perspective it far from signified absolute denial and abandonment of emancipation. First, in contrast to exponents of self-emancipation like Pinsker and Herzl, who were outsiders of Jewish society proper, certain insiders preceded them in propagating the idea of establishing a Jewish state, not out of disappointment with emancipation, but rather perceiving such a state as its natural consummation. This is the theme of my essay on The Forerunners of Zionism. Some of the other studies show that the striving for self-emancipation did not necessarily entail the rejection of all emancipation stood for. Besides the struggle for civil equality, emancipation also meant the transformation of Jewish society . . .

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