Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies

"The New Jew" in the Zionist Movement: Ideology and Historiography

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies

"The New Jew" in the Zionist Movement: Ideology and Historiography

Article excerpt


The archetype of "the New Jew" was created during the radical change in the life of the Jewish people during the Enlightenment in Europe. As the Jews became integrated as citizens in modern states, alongside changes in their legal status came the expectation of change in the Jewish life style. The efforts of Jewish maskilim, initiators of the Jewish Enlightenment, also contributed to the creation of the new Jew, characterized as "man," "citizen," and "Jew" (Feiner 2004:87-162). Like every revolution since the Enlightenment period, Zionism, which began in the late nineteenth century, also aspired to create a new man who differed from the traditional one, a Jew who would know the Jewish past but stride forward toward the desired future. The new Jew had to be autonomous and rational, free of the "diseases" of the Diaspora (Almog 1992:242-261). Thus there is a close relationship between the creation of the new Jew and the Zionist principle of negating the Diaspora.

This article explores the idea of "the New Jew" in the Zionist movement. We will ask: is this a monolithic figure, or are there different types of new Jews? The first part of this article examines several models of the new Jew. The second part deals with historiographic aspects of this idea in Zionism. I will address the question of the relationship between historiography and ideology: how is the idea of the new Jew expressed in Zionist historiography? Did ideology have an influence on the Zionist consciousness of the Jewish past, and how?

Many researchers have addressed the question of the relationship between Zionist historiography and Zionist ideology. 1 Some tend to place greater emphasis on ideology in Zionist historical writing, while others see historiography as a more scientific type of writing, even if it is influenced by the Zionist viewpoint. Among researchers of Zionist historiography, some have proposed that all of Zionist historiography, including the academic, is an expression or even a tool of Zionist ideology. Uri Ram, in his research on Ben Zion Dinur, determined that Zionist historiography is an expression of the Zionist project of "inventing tradition".

Here we are concerned with the role of historical writing in the formation of the new Jewish-Israeli nationalism, a role carried out by the Zionist movement as its representative, and afterwards, by the State of Israel. We will argue here that nationalism, in the modern Jewish case as well, is a constructed image, or, in the words of Hobsbawm and Ranger--"invented." [...] Composing the national narrative is exactly the role that the Zionist ideologues--the Jewish nationalist intellectuals, including the historians--took upon themselves (Ram 2006:24).

The argument of Shlomo Sand is more radical. To him, prominent Jewish historians, from Graetz to the Zionist "Jerusalem School", invented not only the modern Jewish nation, but the Jewish people as well (Sand 2008:78-115). Henry Wasserman and Yossi Dahan, mainly based on the opinion of Eric Hobsbawm, also supported the view of Jewish nationalism as a project of "inventing tradition" (Dahan and Wasserman 2006:11-28; Wasserman 2007:11-33). According to this approach, the idea of the new Jew is part of the broad initiative of inventing national tradition implemented by the Zionist elite: ideologues and historians who applied this concept from the top downwards.

In contrast to this approach, which asserts that Jewish nationalism is the fruit of the efforts of Jewish intellectuals and historians, I will try to show that Jewish nationalism is a broader and more varied historical phenomenon. It represents a development that began from within the Jewish people as a result of the historical circumstances of the modern period. In this article, I will point out the variety in Zionist ideology and historiography with relation to the desired image of the new Jew, and show that there were competing types as well. …

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