The Story of Zionism
 

Background

9. The Theory of Zionism – Different Models

The third issue is that of the different visions developed by the competing ideological streams in Zionism, following the description of some of the tensions that developed within the Zionist movement. It is important to emphasise that Zionism was never a monolithic movement with a general nationalist vision. It was a movement which, for many Zionists, went far beyond the idea of the attainment of a society or state for the Jewish People, even though that was its central plank and its common denominator.

That stated, there were two significant streams within Zionism that were essentially political rather than societal in their orientation, placing the attainment of the state as their major aim, rather than concentrating on the sort of society that should develop after independence. These were the Herzlian movement of Political Zionism and Jabotinsky’s Revisionist movement both of which were were political movements. They were characterised, more than in any other way, by the emphasis they placed on the tactics needed to gain statehood.
- Herzl, as mentioned earlier, put the emphasis on diplomatic activity aimed at the acquisition of a Charter for Palestine from the Ottoman Turks.
- Jabotinsky, during the period of the British Mandate, placed enormous emphasis on measures necessary to gain the Jewish state from the British.

They both regarded the question of the type of society that would develop as secondary to their primary purpose of gaining a state: Herzl talked about a liberal western republic, and so in certain ways did Jabotinsky, fired as he was by a strong opposition to the socialist vision entertained by the leaders of the Yishuv at this time.

Neither of these streams of Zionism put their major efforts into the question of the type of society that should develop in Palestine.

But there were those who did: Zionism, through several different streams, developed a number of visions regarding the form of society that should be established in the future state.

It was not just a question of the future state that was at stake for these different streams in Zionism. All of their proponents were united in the idea that their vision must be reflected in the immediate pre-state world of the New Yishuv in Eretz Yisrael. The future state, if and when it came about, would be a continuation of the present day Yishuv with the security of sovereignty and national borders to safeguard that way of life.

Thus the struggle that developed between the different streams of Zionism was both bitter and, from their own point of view, absolutely justified. There were three major streams whose ideology was of a comprehensive nature, Socialist Zionism, Cultural Zionism and Religious Zionism.

A. The Vision of Left-Wing Zionism

By the First World War, Labour Zionism had become the leading activist movement in the Zionist world and in Palestine. A host of settlements had been set up on a communal basis and thousands of workers were tilling the land and building an urban infrastructure.

The most significant departure in the activity of these workers, from our point of view, is that they consciously took upon themselves the transformation of the Jewish people. Despite the seeming contradiction, these Jewish secularists believed that their work had almost cosmic implications. They consciously perceived themselves as revolutionaries: They had not come to the Land of Israel just to change the situation of the land, but to change themselves - and in so doing they aimed at a revolution in the character of the entire Jewish people.
, We have come to the land to build and to be built was one of their slogans.

The Labour movement had a vision of a New Jew, a polar opposite to the old ghetto Jew, downtrodden, stooped and weak as a result of millenia in the Galut (Exile).

This new Jew would be a type witnessed only in the period of Antiquity: strong rather than weak: brave rather than cowardly: active rather than passive: rooted in nature rather than alienated from it. Moreover, the New Jew would not be a slave to the Halachah, to the rabbis and rabbincal Judaism. The New Jew would be free, relying only on her or his own abilities and strengths.

By their own strength and work, they will bring their own salvation.

The concept is utopian, but it is a utopia which will be created by the efforts of the people themselves. They adopted the activist tradition in messianic thought – that concept that believed that Jewish actions themselves could hasten the coming of the Messiah - and secularised it. They were responsible for creating a better world for themselves, for the Jewish people and even perhaps for the wider world; they were their own Messiah.

Perhaps the greatest of all the Labour thinkers of the time was A.D. Gordon. He rejected the label “Socialist” because it smacked too much of the cold, “scientific” socialism of Marx, who had believed that the world was moving in the direction of socialism because of capitalism’s inevitable class tensions.

Gordon rejected this, but his ideas put him right at the centre of the Labour Zionist camp: the new society, the new world, could only be built up by the efforts of the people within it. He envisaged the basis of the great society of the future in the relationships and the way of life created by the workers. In their labouring to build up their society, they would create the foundations of the new way of life.

Gordon was a moralist and believed that all people were endowed with potential for good: in the service of the nation, in their work on the land, this potential would be realised. The power of the land would work on the soul of the individual Jew and a moral society would come into being.

Many of the pioneers perceived the communities that they created as the seeds from which would grow the better future that they envisaged. The new society of equality and morality would spread out from the settlements and would ultimately encompass the whole of the country.

There were those who dreamed of turning the country into one big communal enterprise, one whole kibbutz. Indeed, when it became clear to many in the late 1920’s that this would not happen, there were those - albeit a very small minority - who left the country and returned to Stalin’s Russia believing that this would prove a more viable road to Utopia. But for the majority of Labour Zionists the plan was to create a Hebrew workers society not by class struggle and revolution but rather by piecmeal, gradualist efforts popularly known as Constructivist Socialism.

The building blocks of this co-operative effort were not only the kibbutz but primarily the Histadrut, with its dominant role in the economic, welfare, educational and cultural sectors of the society. The leaders of this school of thought were men like David Ben-Gurion, Berl Katznelson and Yitzhak Tabenkin.

B. The Vision of Cultural Zionism

The second group were the Cultural Zionists, traditionally associated with their great intellectual leader, Ahad Ha’am (the pen name for Asher Ginsberg).

Ahad Ha’am is a fascinating figure, a deeply learned Jew from a Chassidic family, he left the world of Torah-intensive Judaism and struggled to find a synthesis between the free thinking of the western world with his understanding of Judaism’s core system of ethics and values, in order to create a normative, secular Judaism.

He used religious language and injected it with secular content. He believed that the Jews had developed a unique system of values and beliefs that had evolved throughout the course of Jewish history. For the religious, these values were, of course, transcendent - the source of the values was G-d. It was hard for Ahad Ha’am, without a concept of an external transcendental source of values (G-d) to explain where these values had come from, how they had actually arisen, but he was convinced of their existence.

When Ahad Ha’am thought about the autonomous society that he hoped would be built in Eretz Yisrael, he was thinking, first and foremost, of a moral society. The state as a political framework had no value for him - a state was a neutral organism; if it had value, it was in its ability to safeguard the culture and the way of life of a nation. What was important to him was the way of life lived within the framework of the society or state. Here, for him, there could be no compromise: if the new Jewish society in Eretz Yisrael had any purpose, any raison d’etre, it could only come from the morality of the life that would be lived within that social framework.

It was from the Prophets, those moral geniuses with their extraordinary sensitivity to the human condition, that he derived his moral system for Jewish society - his aim was no less than an ideal society based on the teaching of the Prophets. The aim of Zionism – the only conceivable aim of Zionism for him – was the creation of a society of total righteousness, that would act as beacon to the world. Political power was not a value: he looked to the past, to the time that the Jews had political power and he saw the corruption, the power politics, the internal strife, the blind hatred that had been like a disease on the body politic of the nation.

This was not what the nation needed. Only a restoration of values at the heart of a reborn culture could possibly deal with the contemporary sickness of the Jewish people. He believed, moreover, that any Herzlian hope of bringing the majority of the world’s Jews to the new Jewish centre was unrealistic, and that the country would only attract – could only attract – a minority of Jews. He called, instead ,for a small group to come to the new society and dedicate themselves to a mission – the building of a Jewish culture based on the prophetic ideas of justice and righteousness. He believed that the new society, having built up its base in its own soil, could then start to radiate its message and experience to the Jewish communities of the world thereby reinforcing Judaism in the Diaspora - this, he felt, was realistic.

The concept of a society based on justice and righteousness was indeed a secularised version of the Prophetic idea. Heaven on earth – without the theological framework of traditional messianic thought – was the aim here. Once again, as in the case of the socialist-Zionists, the work of creating the messianic society would be taken on by the Jews themselves, or to be more precise, by a small elite within the Jewish people. Again, the Jews would be their own Messiah.

C. The Vision of Religious Zionism

The third group was the religious-Zionists, who we shall represent through their greatest thinker, HaRav Abraham Isaac Kook. Rav Kook was unquestionably one of the most challenging and profound of all Zionist thinkers. Indeed, to call him a Zionist thinker is to do him a certain discredit, for in truth he was far more than that. Nevertheless, for our purposes here, we will regard him as such.

Unlike Ahad Ha’am, or the Labour-Zionists, his world view was deeply rooted in the transcendental, in the covenantal relationship with G-d.

Rav Kook was a messianist and held a very clear notion of the Redemption of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel, a redemption that was part of the Divine plan - not just for the Jews but for the whole world. Indeed, he believed that ultimately there could be no redemption for the Jewish people without redemption for the entire world. The converse was also true: world redemption depended on the redemption of the Jews.

It was clear to Rav Kook that such a redemption could only be carried out within the framework of a Jewish state so the Jewish people therefore needed a state of their own. Only in a state could they return to the Divine and national way of life that G-d had commanded them. The true glory of G-d’s name could not be expressed when it was confined to the study houses and synagogues of the Diaspora and limited to the world of the spirit - it needed to expand to the full dimensions of national life.

Moreover, Judaism itself needed to reflect every area of that national life. Rav Kook’s Judaism was not limited to prayer and study; it was a full, three-dimensional way of life that would penetrate the physical and the spiritual together, as one. He placed emphasis on the need for religious youth to develop their bodies physically: it was a perversion of Judaism to limit Judaism to the world of study. Judaism should be unlimited in the world of life- and this could only happen within a Jewish state, he argued.

However, he saw dangers inherent in the life of the Jewish state: political life leads when unharnessed to all the abuses that come from using power. The Jewish people was not immune from this descent into the world of political dirt and corruption: the two previous attempts by the Jews to live a full political life within their own state had ended in failure.

In both cases different abuses had crept into the life of the people causing a perversion of the healthy national life demanded by the Torah. The second Jewish state had fallen because the Jews had not learnt how to use power responsibly without its corrupting effect. That, according to Rav Kook, was why the Exile had lasted so long; the Jews needed to be purified from the influence of the abuses of power, to be cured of their lust for power. Only when they had once again become an ethical people had the national impulse arisen in the people: for Rav Kook, this was tantamount to a sign from G-d.

The need for the exile was over; the time for the beginning of redemption was at hand; now was the time for Jews to leave the lands of exile, as quickly as possible. These lands were by their very nature unclean, unholy: it was time for Jews to take themselves to the only land that was intrinsically holy, the land in which they could build once again their sacred national life. Here they would be free of the limitations and of the uncleanliness of life in exile and would be free of the need for power for power’s sake, which had characterised them in their previous life as a state in Eretz Yisrael.

In their state they had the opportunity once again to rebuild their pure life as a nation.

What was the holy national life that they were called upon to lead in their own state?

We have already stressed that it must be a full three-dimensional life. We have mentioned, too, that it was to be a life where all aspects of Torah in the widest sense were to be given expression. Now we must emphasise the implications of this idea.

Just as for Ahad Ha’am, the life to be lived was a life of total morality. The same obligations that bound the individual in her or his relations with the world around – both people and things – also obligated the national state. A nation must in other words live up to the highest standards of morality: other nations and states did not; the Jewish state must.

This was a source of great concern to Rav Kook. He knew well that it would be impossible for a Jewish state to behave in a substantially different way from other states in a real world. Thus he linked the fate of the Jewish state with the fate of the other countries of the world.

The Jewish state could only exist in the way that G-d demanded from it if it was part of a world which G-d was redeeming. The Jewish redemption, a redemption that could only occur in the framework of a Jewish state, was part of a universal redemption - the two could not be separated, for they were both part of G-d’s plan. G-d had given the Jews the task of redeeming the world, of guiding the rest of the world towards righteousness and the acceptance of G-d; it was this that would lead to their redemption by G-d.

However, unlike, for example, the Reform movement that also stressed the mission of the Jews in the world, Rav Kook was certain that the Jews needed to separate themselves from the other nations in order to fulfill this obligation - they must turn themselves and their state into a stage for G-d’s glory and for G-d’s rule on earth, which was the path that would ultimately lead to the redemption of the world.

In this version of messianism, the Jews themselves had a vital role: they had to show the will, the resolve and the ability to rebuild their national life. This was part of G-d’s plan, for which G-d waited: G-d would bring the redemption, but it was up to the Jews to supply the pre-conditions.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
 
 

 

 

 

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06 Jul 2005 / 29 Sivan 5765 0