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Zionism has never seriously posed this question: Why, during these two thousand years, have not the Jews really tried to return to this country?

Extracts from this essay...

Introduction

Zionism has never seriously posed this question: Why, during these two thousand years, have not the Jews really tried to return to this country? Why was it necessary to wait until the end of the Nineteenth Century for a Herzl to succeed in convincing them of this necessity? Why were all the predecessors of Herzl, like the famous Sabbatai Zebi, treated as false Messiahs. Why were the adherents of Sabbatai Zebi fiercely persecuted by orthodox Judaism? Naturally, in replying to these interesting questions, refuge is sought behind religion. "As long as the masses believed that they had to remain in the Diaspora until the advent of the Messiah, they had to suffer in silence," states Zitlovski,i whose Zionism is moreover quite conditional. Nevertheless, this explanation tells us nothing. What is required is precisely an answer to the question of why the Jewish masses believed that they had to await the Messiah in order to be able to "return to their country." Religion being an ideological reflection of social interests, it must perforce correspond to them. Today religion does not at all constitute an obstacle to Zionism.ii In reality just so long as Judaism was incorporated in the feudal system, the "dream of Zion" was nothing but a dream and did not correspond to any real interest of Judaism. The Jewish tavern owner or "farmer" of Sixteenth-Century Poland thought as little of "returning" to Palestine as does the Jewish millionaire in America today. Jewish religious Messianism was no whit different from the Messianism belonging to other religions. Jewish pilgrims who went to Palestine met Catholic, Orthodox and Moslem pilgrims. Besides it was not so much the "return to Palestine" which constituted the foundation of this Messianism as the belief in the rebuilding of the temple of Jerusalem. Start of the book! The Zionist awakening was perceived by the Rabbinic authorities as a secular human initiative, undertaken by heretics and freethinkers which at the same time pretended to achieve goals traditionally assocated with messianic hopes , and as such deeply grounded in Religious faith.

Middle

At the same time, the new ideas were deeply immersed in the reservoir of classical Jewish concepts and sources stiring up long dormant messianic elements, and causing the ancient feelings of activism to re emerge and strengthen. These thinkers thus challenged the prevailing passiver concept of messianism with confidence in their grounding in tradition. They went so far as to castigate the popular view of the Messiah as heretical, an obstacle in the nation's path. Kalischer warned "If a man should come before you and sanctimoniously declare, orally or in writing, that the Messiah will be sent from heaven from one stoke, you shall pour coals upon his head, saying you are a denier of prophesy" (43) In the same spirit, his ally Alkalai writes "our holy rabbis are delaying the consolation of our land....the people expect a man to come from heaven in a fiery horse-drawn chariot and gather up the scattered remanent of Israel but this ourwarn idea has become a stumbling block to the people of Israel." (44) The two are thus focused to delve into Jewish literature and either extract from it an activist, practical approach (as does Kalischer) or at least find in it sanction for such an approach (as does Alkalai) The Harbingers see messianic redemption not at as a one time event but as a process, not as revolution but as eveloution. "Israel's salvation will come little by little slowly with the horm of redemption flower" (Kalischer) (45) This the messianic of the Harbingers of Zionism In contrast to the prevalent Haredi one, no longer regards partial national reconstruction as a phonemenon that shatters, uproots and destroys the whole but rather as an organic link in the very development of that whole. As such partial redemption become legitimate. By the same token, this doctrine neutralises certain revolutionary elements that have accompanied the messianic idea, removing from it the paradoxial tone of crisis which it has always been overlaid.

Conclusion

Even Reins have had advocated limiting Zionist activity to the persuit of material objectives firmly hoped that a return to the people and the land would ultimately bring about a return to god. It has become apparent that the religious mind found it difficult to view Zionism and messianism as two unrelated parallel phenomena, rather it tended to see them as overlapping. To many elements in Zionist activity and rhetoric evoked the classical version of redemption for a view that unwaveringly distinguished between the two to capture peoples imaginations for long. From a different standpoint however, the Zionist eneterprise seemed to challenge messianic faith. Worldly salvation by human means, purely secular activity, redemption without any need for repentance- these elemtns were to significant for the religious mind to regard them with indifference. While Zionism and messianism both seemed to be playing in the same arena they were playing with different rules unti the trauma of the destruction of the Jews in Europe reinforced the growing tendency within the religious camp to link Zionism with messianism in particularly the two radical positions the one viewing the state of Israel as an unmistakably messianic phenomenon, the other as egregiously antimessianic. Both schools tried to formulate a religious response to the holocaust seeking to supply a 'reason' or a 'meaning' to counter the abyss that yawned in the great destruction. The one sees in the Zionist enterprise a metaphysical counterpoise to the gapping ruin, while for the other Zionism is the collective sin, the demonic rebellion against heaven that actually precipitated the destruction. The more the Zionist idea was translated into reality, the more insistently were messianic claims made for it by the religious-zionist camp on one hand and its legitimacy called into question by the Haredi on the other. The present time and the present place were seen by many in the perspective of the messianic age and the Temple while the earthly state of Israel was summoned to give account before the ideal kingdom of Israel and the ideal congregation of Israel.

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