ה' כסלו התשע"ז
05/12/2016

A Symposium : Zionism and Its Awareness of the Jewish Past

Resources » Zionism » Zionism General
 
Author: Eliezer Schweid

A Symposium held on the occasion of the 13th Convention of the Historical Society of Israel in December 1967, featured Prof. Yaacov Katz, Prof. Benjamin Eliav, Prof. Shmuel Ettinger, and Prof. Eliezer Schweid. 

 
Moderator:
 
It is quite superfluous to say that Zionism came into being because of an affinity with the past. If ever a national, or any other movement, has drawn inspiration from foundations laid in the past, that movement is Zionism. There is no need even to explain or argue this point. The Jewish national movement looked to the distant past and sought to return, even if we consider the geographical aspect only, to the place where Jewish history had taken place many years ago. This does not mean that the historical consciousness now manifested and seeking fulfillment had existed from the start. But as soon as Zionism began to develop, it reinterpreted the past. This interpretation gave use at once to more than one explanation and there is in fact a whole spectrum of interpretations of the past in Zionism. Today we want to present a number of these variations, and Prof. Ettinger will begin with one of them, after which we shall proceed further.
 
Yet what we have to consider is more than merely a question of variation. If it were only that, we should find ourselves once again dealing with history in its plainest sense. The variations themselves did not preserve the same form that they had at their inception. After all, Zionism already has its own history. I don't know where it starts, for opinions vary on this point, but even by the most cautious estimates it has a history of some 80 or 100 years. That is a long time for ideas and ideologies to retain their original character: changes occur along the way. Every ideological trend in Zionism changed its shape, form, and the metamorphoses that each variation underwent bring us down to the present. Each of us invited here to present one of the variations will therefore be asked to state what elements in that variation are still alive today. If anyone feels bold enough he may even prophesy about the nature of his particular variation tomorrow.
 
I now turn the chair over to Professor Ettinger.
 
Prof. Ettinger:
 
I should like to begin by quoting the opinion of Carr. In an introduction to one of his volumes on the history of the Bolshevik revolution, he states that, "the essence of history is the continuous tension between the aspiration for change and the forces of inertia." That this is so with respect to radical movements there can be no doubt. Their essence lies in the rebellion and change they usher in, and their ultimate fate is that along with the revolt, and occasionally as a sequel to it, they continue to maintain the heritage of the past. But if this is generally true in regard to radical movements, it is all the more so when we come to examine the Zionist movement which, as Prof. Katz observed, sought its justification in the remote past. The past served it as one of the most important elements for clarifying its aspirations and defining its own nature. Yet Zionism was a radical movement in every respect, i.e. one which opposed the existing condition of the Jewish people and proposed to effect a radical change in accordance with its programme and aims. While this applies to Zionism in general, it applies with even greater force to the socialist trends in Zionism and it is to the examination of these trends in particular that I should like to devote my opening statement.
 
The dialectical tension to which I referred is even more typical of the socialist trends in Zionism than of any other in the Zionist movement. On the one hand, the socialist trends are revolutionary by definition; the changes they wish to introduce in the life of the nation are so far-reaching that nothing of the existing social framework would be permitted to continue as before. On the other hand, there is no doubt whatsoever that their model for a new, ideal society, while borrowing from various modern socialist programmes, at the same time looked back to the heritage of the Jewish past. The fact that the Zionist socialist movements regard the Land of Israel as the goal of their aspirations, where the new national experiment is to be worked out, demonstrates the crucial importance that history holds for these movements, not merely to look to it for precedents or examples, but rather to find justification for their aims. The tension that exists between the need to revolt and draw away from existing forms on the one hand, and the need to base desired changes on historical precedent on the other hand constitutes, in my opinion, the essential nature on which the value judgments of these movements may be based. The revolt is declared not against the entire past, but against the more recent past, i.e., against the social and national institutions that existed during the period when the socialist Zionist movements were first formed, or in which Jewish life had its roots: thus it is the recent Diaspora past that is attacked. This being so, it is not surprising that negation of the conditions of Galut became a leading principle of the socialist Zionist movements, their denial involving them in opposition to large areas of the Jewish people's past. It is possible to negate a way of life or a cultural pattern; it is also possible to negate historical concepts as well, concepts that have become firmly rooted either as ideas or as tangible reality. Without entering into a detailed analysis, I should like to make the point that we have here a revolt against the Jewish historical religious exclusiveness, against the concept of the "chosen people" which had been central to the historical consciousness of the people. All this is rejected by the socialist Zionist movements, which came out in revolt against what they regarded as the exaggerated intellectualism marking the Jewish social, cultural, and ethical ideals in the period of the Galut and severing them from realities. The socialist Zionists repudiated the qualities that had been considered only a generation earlier as highly desirable. For instance, the astonishing adaptability of Jews to the ideas, culture and way of life of the society in which they found themselves was attacked as a kind of slavery or self-abasement. Also criticized was the way in which Jews had earned their livelihood, the socialist Zionists supporting those who claimed that the traditional forms of Jewish employment were unproductive and parasitic in one way or another.
 
In effect, criticism of the Diaspora past took the form of historiosophic constructions, leading to the argument that the Jews could not possibly exist as a free, normal community under the conditions which prevailed in the Diaspora. According to these views, the historic situation of the Jews compelled them to be a marginal element in the society and economy of the nations among which they were living, and thus they would not succeed in escaping from their position on the borders of society, even if they emigrated to other lands. The same marginal position would await them wherever they went, for in every country those in the majority would never make room in a meaningful way for the Jews, or consider giving up their own central position in the social or economic structure. Therefore the radical solution was to overturn the Jewish pyramid, to uproot the Jews and replant them where they could build their society on new land and on rational foundations. The criticism of the past, in the form of repudiation of
 
Galut, was also inevitably accompanied by criticism of traditional Jewish values, especially ethical and religious values. At times moderate in tone, such attacks could also be extreme, as in the case of Yossef Chaim Brenner.
 
In fact, the socialist Zionists' positive programme, including many of their idealistic demands as well as their new way of life, was the direct result of their opposition to the Galut past. The renunciation of all parasitic or unproductive forms of labour led to the extreme of denying (if only for a time) the natural desire to raise a family, and to the grand ideal of subsisting by manual labour, and creation by means of physical work. This became their foremost ethical principle, containing not only a denial of the Diaspora past but also a denial of the Jewish past in the Land of Israel. Thus the pioneers who came here in the period of the second aliyah (wave of immigration) also renounced the idea of making money or of division from the rest of society as individuals, although those who came in the period of the first aliyah had supported or reconciled themselves to this assumption. One of the most outstanding expressions of this development, of course, is the central note that the ideal of Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel has played in the evolution of the Zionist socialist movements, in the formulation of both their ideology and historiography, resulting in what I venture to term a Palestino-centric conception. Hence it is not important to them what may have been the actual significance of Jewish settlement at any given period, even at the time of the inception of the socialist Zionist movements themselves; their main premise is that settlement is the backbone of all feasible processes, and its establishment and evolution should be viewed as the core of the development of the entire people. They are therefore prone to feelings of subjectivity in their role as founding patriarchs. Even if the settlement is small and weak it is still the core of everything. In fact it implies that the destiny of the entire nation has been laid on the shoulders of these relatively few who aspired to form the new society out of what Ben-Gurion has on several occasions called "man's dust."
 
However, all this represents only one of the ideological and historiosophic concepts of the Zionist socialists. Parallel to the rejection and opposition that I have noted is the other side of the coin: the reversion to the ethical teaching of the Hebrew prophets, and reference to creative social experience contained in the ancient history of Israel, as well as the precedents set by Jewish national autonomy and struggles in other periods. The emphasis given to the Hebrew language by the socialist Zionist groups undoubtedly derives from this appreciation of the nation's distant history. On the other hand, certain historical periods are ignored completely. This entails not only a selective sampling of past history to seek precedents for the radical or revolutionary movement, as many such movements have done, but also a complete disregard of a long stretch of history which was in fact most formative in the development of the Jewish people and the shaping of its character.
 
However despite the tension that has accompanied the socialist Zionist groups, to the best of my knowledge, in every stage of their development, there has also been a decrease of tension, which I shall try to elucidate briefly. Its cause lies in the nature of those groups which were more fundamental in their socialism than the others and consequently felt obliged to seek a path of ideational synthesis. That is to say, they felt the need to achieve a fusion of socialism and Zionism, while at the same time defending their loyalty to Zionism from the attacks of the radical socialists who had no use at all for Zionism. In their attempts to arrive at a synthesis, the former were led to connect the ideal future and the past, sometimes even the recent past. Some ideologists began to leave their ranks. out of a desire to assist in building the new Jewish nation in the Land of Israel, while also fighting for the rights of Jews in the Diaspora. They felt the need of transferring certain ideals, such as self-defence, workers' funds, and cooperatives (or cooperative settlements), from the Jewish labour movement in the Diaspora to the Land of Israel.
 
Hence there arose the paradox wherein the Marxist Poalei Zion, or those with near Marxist views, settled in the Land of Israel on the assumption that conditions there would be the most suitable for carrying on the class war. It was these elements who were the first to set up new forms of settlements and resort to new means of self-defence, to which the radical nationalists, the Hapoel Hatzair, objected strongly, even though this was accomplished in the Land of Israel during the time of the second aliya.
 
The second reason for a relaxation of the tension was the rapid rise of the socialist Zionists to become a central factor within the entire Zionist movement. Too quickly they became part of the ruling body, and were obliged to accept some of the concepts that were rooted in past history. But, in addition to this, once harnessed to the common endeavour and beginning to think in the terms common to the Zionist movement as a whole, they also began to concede importance to groups that, from the strictly theoretical point of view, they ought to have opposed. Suddenly they had to take into account the well-placed Jews of Europe and America, realizing that they would be influential in the political struggle of the Jews in the Land of Israel. In facing the political problems of the Yishuv, or even problems of a financial nature, they arrived at an appreciation of Diaspora Jewry, not only of its past, but also of the historic ties which bound them to the Land of Israel.
 
In order to show that I am not merely splitting hairs, I should like to emphasize that the contradiction I have presented has had a great significance for the development of the Jewish people. Under the leadership of the socialist Zionists during the Holocaust, the Zionist movement struck roots that I have called Palestino-centric; it held to the proposition that the nucleus settled on the land was the crucial hinge upon which everything else in Zionism depended, and which had to be guarded at any price. In the terrible dilemma in which the Jews both outside and within the Land of Israel had become caught in those years, priority was given to the aims, the defence, and the needs of the Yishuv in Israel, while overlooking the global needs of the Jewish people. The consequences were extremely serious. 
However, my purpose here is only to present the problem, and not to accuse those who might have influenced the course of events. In my opinion, the tension that I have depicted is still with us today, though in a somewhat different form. All the extreme manifestations of "Yishuvism" or nationalism, when cut off from historically-grounded forms of Zionist action, constitute a kind of continuation of those Zionist trends which reject or criticize the Jewish past. On the other hand, we see a diminution of the sabra's conceit, and of his feeling that "Thou hast chosen us." There is a profound yearning for the defined feeling of identification with Diaspora Jewry which takes the form of fearing assimilation and mixed marriages, even though this, according to the theoretical principles of the socialist Zionist movement, should not worry those holding such views. All this indicates that the tension in a different form still continues today.
 
Prof. Eliav:
 
Ladies and gentlemen, if I, the only speaker before you who is not a member of the teaching profession, have agreed to address you this evening, it is for one reason only. I should like to reveal the facts concerning a tiny group, still with us, which tries to detach itself from the Jewish people. As it happens, I was a personal witness to the growth of the various stages of this sect, and believe I can detect in its history some dialectical principles of speculative leaps, that is quite instructive for understanding tendencies of this kind. I am referring to the sect generally called the "Canaanites," though they do not themselves employ this name. Their official name in Israel was at one time "The Committee for the Integration of Hebrew Youth."
 
The new group grew on the soil of the Revisionist movement, although there is no doubt that neither the Revisionist movement as a whole nor its founder and leader were ever "Canaanites," at least not in the sense referred to, of isolationism from the Jewish people. However there was a certain quality or trait present in Jabotinsky himself and in his movement that was able to lead certain people over the border to break with the Revisionist movement, and arrive at a position of separation from the Jewish people.
 
'The Revisionist movement, to which I belonged from my earliest years, undoubtedly possessed a drive which sought compensation for the inner feelings of humiliation, which were so much a part of Jewish existence in the Diaspora, a drive much stronger among the Revisionists than in other groups. Even people who did not know Jabotinsky but have read his autobiography, will note that he was constantly seeking a way of transposing Jewish symbols to an entirely new complex of "Hebrew," Mediterranean-based culture, taking as his model the Italian people, among whom he had spent his early life and whom he loved. For example, he wanted Hebrew to sound like Italian.
 
I can recall a discussion that was once held on the subject of uniforms for the youth of the movement. It was not the question of the colour, but of the kind of uniform, that was in issue. Jabotinsky declared: "If only it were possible to include the four fringes of the prayer shawl as a basic item in the uniform." Although not religious, having a decidedly secular conception of nationalism, he tried to take the emblems of the past and "sublimate" them to symbolize a healthy, strong, proud and positive national existence.
At the beginning of the 1930's, I was with him in Paris. He was surrounded by a circle of people of various ages, among whom there was an orientalist, although whether professional or amateur I cannot remember. It was only a few years after the excavations had begun in Ras Shamra Ugarit. We two young men (this was thirty five years ago) would walk the streets of Paris entire nights, the orientalist telling me about the important discovery of the "Hebrew" Semitic pantheon, in Ugarit. He emphasized how this would widen our historical consciousness, explaining to me that the Phoenicians and their colonies were one of the foundations on which the later Jewish Diaspora grew up. It is well-known that a similar theory exists with regard to North Africa; and our conception of history would now have to take into account the mythology, the literature, and the legendary figures of Ugarit, and anything likely to be connected with it, no less than the Bible and Jewish history.
 
This young man told me in one of our conversations, I do not know even today whether it is true, but it does throw light on the psychological mechanism that I am describing, that among the "Hebrew" gods excavated somewhere north of Rosh Hanikra was one statue whose features were clearly Jewish: a Jew with side curls standing erect and holding thunderbolts in his hands. The god's name could almost be Yiddish: "Ashmon Tsalach." Should we not claim him as our own, this Hebrew god with side curls and a Jewish-sounding name? I am far from wishing to reduce this man's conversation to an anecdotal level, and no more. The question of "Ashmon Tsalach" was a kind of emotional outburst on his part, through the desire to connect the Yiddish-speaking Jew of our time with the Hebrew god having side curls and holding thunderbolts in his hands.
 
I was a passive listener, but his words did not offend me. The broadening of consciousness it implied was most fascinating: the Phoenicians today belong to no one, so why should they not belong to us? They spoke Hebrew, and we have deciphered Ugarit, we know now how much the Ugaritic discoveries have influenced biblical research and other matters. At the time, however, this was all new to me.
 
This orientalist tried to win over Jabotinsky to his innovations. By the way, the circle around Jabotinsky had been seeking precedents of this nature; to give instances, Jewish pirates in the Middle Ages; or the question whether Columbus was a Jew-in an attempt to "balance" Jewish history by the expedient of widening it and finding in it new models and patterns which would redeem us from our list of martyrs, from passivity and enslavement. In this connection, the word "slavery" is all-important. Jabotinsky relates in his autobiography how, when about 18 years of age and living amongst an entirely non-Jewish circle in Rome, he at one time sinned against the truth. His young Italian friends had been discussing Catholicism, when suddenly the girl near him turned to him and said: "You are Greek-Orthodox, aren't you?" knowing that he was Russian. He tells us that, for the first time and last time in his life, he sinned in this way, answering the question in the affirmative. Then he continues: "Actually, I could have said, 'I am a Jew,' but somehow I didn't want to admit, before this group of free spirits, that I was a slave." We notice, in this connection, the importance of the word slavery.
 
You may still read the "Canaanite" articles today by the man I am speaking about, in the periodical entitled Keshet. He tried on the occasion to which I have referred, to "Canaanize" Jabotinsky, but without success, for Jabotinsky rejected these ideas, and they did not penetrate the movement. Still, a small circle sprang up round this young man, and at one time they started to publish a periodical in French, bearing the name Shem. By that me I had left Paris for the Land of Israel. Up till now I have been speaking of the "Canaanite" stage in the movement, which tried both to broaden the Jewish consciousness and also to embrace within it the world of the Phoenicians and its Hebrew treasures. When my turn comes to speak once more, I intend to connect this Canaanite stream with that in Israel, which exists in various forms today, for example, as projected by the periodical I mentioned, and its editor to whom I referred.
 
During the Paris stage, there was as yet no negation of the Jewish people, or of the continuity in Jewish history. Instead, one sensed an emotional need to compensate for, or balance, the feelings of "slavery" and degradation in exilic Judaism by incorporating in it an additional historical consciousness. If I am not mistaken, incidentally, the excavations at Ras Shamra were carried out by a French team which, of course, explains why their work made an impression in Paris earlier than elsewhere.
 
Prof. Katz:
 
In order that the spectrum before us may be as wide as possible, I would like, before turning the chair over to Eliezer Schweid, to speak briefly about another current in Zionism. The two groups we have heard about have something in common, namely, (a) their deep reservations regarding the Judaism of their generation; (b) that traditional Judaism which prevailed everywhere until conventional customs of society started to crumble. 
However, there exists another trend in Zionism which while not simply remaining part of traditional, orthodox Judaism, preferred instead to join two loyalties into one: that of remaining faithful to the fundamental principles of traditional Judaism, while at the same time realizing religious ideals within a framework of national development. I am tempted to call this a fundamentalist nationalism, implying by this a nationalism which desires to prevent traditional values from melting away, and hence strives to build anew so as to rescue and preserve old values in their fullness. We may take Akiva Joseph Schlesinger as a well-known example of what I mean. Settling in the Land of Israel before the Zionist movement arose, he attempted to build a new community wherein the traditional values of Judaism could be realized in the fullest sense, while he apparently still remained within the traditional community. Someone has said that Akiva Joseph Schlesinger is the grandfather of both Zionism and the religious fanatic Neturei Karta, and I believe there is truth in the remark. While I do not know which of these is prouder to claim him as its own, nevertheless both Zionists and Neturei Karta have adopted some of their central ideas from his teaching, or at least have drawn inspiration from him.
 
It is not necessary to cite unusual individual examples of this kind in order to prove that certain demands, recurring in Zionism ever since its inception, envisage the realization of traditional religious values that were not kept up in the Diaspora. Rabbi Kalisher, that important central figure in the history of religious Zionism, spoke of the need of sacrificing one's life, if need be, for one's ideal. This of course is not something new to us, and there was no need to proclaim it on the occasion of the liberation of Jerusalem during the Six Day War; but it was an integral part of the philosophy of this pioneer Zionist. In this ideal, Rabbi Kalisher saw the human instrument that would eventually open the way to divine intervention. He viewed this seriously, not because he wished to worship God by means of such special sacrifices, but because he viewed supreme sacrifice as an integral part of a restored religious tradition.
 
I shall give one more example, less extreme this time. We know that Zionists, including now the General Zionist movement that feels no express need for religious tradition, had always referred to the need for restoring Hebrew law. Laws are part of a people's inmost traditions and an expression of their spirit, so that it was natural to make the demand under the Mandate, and also once statehood was achieved, to annul all foreign laws and establish Hebrew laws in their place. (In this connection it cannot be said that the legal foundations were not present, since these laws had also regulated the affairs of the Jewish community in the Diaspora.) Hence it would be all the more desirable within the framework of the Hebrew culture of the Yishuv or the Jewish State. There were those, however, who were not content with pressing for a return of Hebrew laws, and their adaptation to modern needs. They sought the renewal of ancient legal institutions, as well; institutions that had been obsolete for generations. I am referring now to the wish to re-establish the Sanhedrin, which was not, as so many believe, merely the hobby-horse of the late Rabbi Maimon. A considerable body of literature exists concerning this particular demand, which was heard from several quarters.
 
There were other aspirations connected with it; thus, in was thought that a Sanhedrin might be instrumental in aligning religion to the needs of daily life, and so forth; and also that it would enjoy greater authority than a mere Rabbinate. However it was not its utilitarian value which guided the thinking of these men, but the desire to see the restoration of ancient institutions that had been etched in the Jewish historical consciousness and memory.
 
Such affinity with the past is not the heritage of religious Jews only, for a similar tendency can be seen among the wider Jewish public, expressing itself, even today, as the conviction that ancient historical principles are the best means of solving present problems. At times I even have the impression that some people are trying to fix the desirable boundaries for the State of Israel by consulting the article in the General Encyclopedia on "The Land of Israel," which offers an historical account of the boundaries, while others go according to the Talmudic Encyclopedia, where the boundaries are described in accordance with Halacha. They seek a basis either in historical facts, or else in the rulings hidden in historical sources. All this has some similarity to the fundamentalist ambitions of the early Zionists.
 
I've just been speaking as one of the participants in the symposium. In my function as moderator, I shall try to summarize briefly: It is evident, from the opposing views that have been presented for our consideration, that we have quite a broad band of variation within Zionism.
 
We have mentioned only three trends, and yet it would have been easy enough to add a few more. The question before us now is this: Is it possible to see Zionism as a unity; and, if so, what kind of unity? Concluding with this question, I turn the chair over to Eliezer Schweid. He may wish to discuss yet another trend in Zionism, or to discount a certain trend. Or he may treat all three of these trends simultaneously.
 
Prof. Schweid:
 
I am afraid I shall have to "discount" one of the streams among all those which should be discussed within the framework of our subject, especially since I shall not be speaking about what I should have chosen had I been given enough time to prepare myself properly. In my opinion the previous speakers have seized upon matters which are peripheral to our subject, and thereby ignored the mainstream of Zionist thought and contemplation in which Jewish consciousness of the past is best revealed. It is true that socialist Zionism has contributed more than any of the other movements to realization of the Zionist idea, and from this viewpoint it is right to depict it as the most important stream. Yet, when we examine consciousness of the Jewish past, and approach socialist Zionism for answers to our questions, I doubt whether we shall find its thinkers exhibiting much of this consciousness.
 
On the other hand, philosophical thinkers who were not directly connected with the Jewish labour movement have expressed themselves on this very subject. To give an example, I will mention the name of Ahad Ha 'am. He was not of the labour movement; neither was he a socialist or a spokesman for socialist Zionism. Yet concerning Zionism's relation to the Jewish past, he was a dominant influence in the various circles of the labour movement, since he expressed their viewpoint no less than he expressed that of other Zionist trends. There is also the example of Aaron David Gordon, though there exist differences of opinion with regard to him. He may with justice be described as a socialist Zionist thinker, though he did not regard himself as a socialist, and, what it even more important, expressed his attitude to the Jewish past in concepts very different from those used in socialist ideology. In this respect he was much closer to Ahad Ha'am than he was to Ber Borochov, Nahman Syrkin, and others. In short, Zionism's consciousness of the past may be looked for beyond the bounds of the different political ideologies in Zionism; we find our answers in thinkers who did not identify themselves with any of those ideologies.
 
I am in complete agreement with Prof. Ettinger's assumption that there is a certain ambivalence in socialist Zionism's attitude to the past, but I would define it in a different manner. To explain myself, let me make this general observation about our subject: Prof. Katz has stated with justice that Zionism relied on the Jewish past, and spoke in its name. It seems to me, however, that having established this fact does not tell us much, for the question soon arises: what is the actual substance of Zionism's reliance upon the Jewish past? This is clear enough if we base our deductions on the historical experience of the Jewish people; but when we come to the question of Jewish intellectual and cultural origins, the whole issue becomes charged with contradictions and inner tensions. Thus, on the one hand, we find all the different trends within Zionism, asserting that the aspiration to return to Zion expresses loyalty to a principal motif in the religion of Israel.
 
But on the other, these same groups (and I include here the religious Zionists) have sought to separate themselves from Jewish existence in the Diaspora, severely criticizing a state of affairs largely caused by their own religion. More than once, the previous speakers have said, speaking generally, that Zionism was oriented toward the future; it acted in anticipation of a desired reality, while maintaining a negative attitude to the past and present. Quite naturally, even a movement that is directed toward the future must be dependent on the past, and seek its raison d'etre, its justification, from the past. However, when seeking vindication in this manner there is a serious danger that one's longing will have repercussions upon concrete reality; just as there is a danger in postulating a fictional dependence which shows more evidence of estrangement and a turning away than it does of a true affinity with the past. That is to say, at times we notice a naive reliance upon certain sources, and certain movements within Judaism, which a closer look reveals to be not ties connecting the past, but rather separation from it; while the realities with the past may be revealed in some fields by thinkers who are not especially concerned with defending their own particular social or political ideology.
 
Now I come to my main thesis in replying to Prof. Ettinger: in dealing with socialist Zionism's relationship to the Jewish past, we ought to distinguish between the socialist principle and the Zionist principle. Thinkers like Syrkin and Katznelson, it is true, opposed such a discrimination, claiming that for them as Jews, Zionism and socialism amounted to the same thing: with respect to socialist teaching they regarded themselves as Zionists, and with respect to Zionist doctrine, as socialists. We cannot object to this argument, for from their point of view it was true. Still, if we examine the origin of each of these principles, which together comprise their worldview, we may say, I believe, that the socialist principle has manifested its influence as an element quite external to the well-defined sphere of Jewish society and culture, having, in fact, no relevance to a consciousness of the Jewish past. And this is so even if we recognize that it was no mere chance that drove Jews to embrace socialism so enthusiastically, just as it is no mere chance which makes them view the feasibility of Zionism as resting on socialist principles only. But they did not arrive at their idea of socialism through their ties with Jewish culture. True, one can always claim that socialism is Jewish in origin, citing as evidence of this the words of the Hebrew prophets, the example of the Essenes, or even the Hassidic movement; and one may also say that Karl Marx was a Jew. But these classic instances merely demonstrate a fictional dependence, being evidence of the need to lean on the past, without demonstrating a real bond. Any school child today knows there is no real connection between prophecy and modem socialism; or between the Essenes and communism. What is more important, that which drove a large group of Jewish intellectuals, after some investigation, into the arms of socialism, is not the connection they saw between the aforegoing ideas. In fact, if there is any justification for claiming a dependence on the remote past, all the evidence is on the negative rather than the positive side. Many have gone back to the past of the prophets out of a need to reject their immediate past as the prophetic stratum in Jewish culture embodies for them nothing more than a way of life that has long disappeared. Prof. Ettinger has mentioned the Zionist labour movement's loyalty to the Hebrew language, citing this fact as evidence of its bond with the past. It is clear that this tie was not due to socialist ideology, but rather to Zionist radicalism; just as it is a recognized fact that large segments of the Jewish socialist movement were attracted to Yiddish (and not to Hebrew) after being subjected to socialist ideology. It is clear, also, that the zeal with which the Hebrew tongue was defended expressed a spirit of revolt against the prevailing conditions of Jewish existence in the Diaspora, as well as against the recent past that was responsible for these conditions, and against Yiddish as a symbol of these realities. That is to say, there was more of a revolt against the present than identification with the past.
 
We now come to the question of relationship to the Land of Israel. It is easy to prove, while adhering to socialist principles, that the Jewish people also have a right to their own homeland: that is, to a territory, and to political and economic independence. Zionism, from this viewpoint, can then be depicted as a logical inference from socialist ideology. But why choose just the Land of Israel, in that case? It is here that we encounter the question of relationship to the Jewish past and support of the Jewish heritage. From the perspective of socialist doctrine, this was a point of considerable difficulty. I venture to suggest that the real motives of the socialist Zionists in adhering to the Jewish past were suppressed into the realm of the sub-conscious, since it was as difficult to find their ideological justification as it is to divide the Red Sea in two. The more radical socialist doctrine becomes -i.e. the more faithful it is to basic Marxist principles-the more questionable is its connection with elements drawn from the world of religion. The most extreme, as well as the most instructive example of this, is the case of Ber Borochov: to what lengths of Talmudic sophistry did he have to resort in order to demonstrate, in accordance with his Marxist point of view, that the solution to the Jewish problem could only be found in the Land of Israel! Obviously if he had reasoned in a way consistent with Marxism, he would have had to be in favour of any territory whatsoever; but at this point he was unable to remain loyal to his doctrines.
 
Another example which is even more problematic, but in many respects more interesting and more characteristic, is that of Yossef Chaim Brenner. While Brenner did not adhere to any single ideology, or call himself a socialist, there can be no doubt about his links with the pioneering labour movement in the Land of Israel. In one particular direction at least, he expressed the mood which rejected the necessity for, and the reality of, Jewish life in the Diaspora with far greater severity than many who belonged to the labour movement. Here all the elements of Jewish existence were rejected: religion, culture and history. What then brought Brenner to Zionism and to the Land of Israel, of all places? There is no answer from the ideological point of view, and Brenner, himself, was honest enough to admit as much; in fact, perhaps this is the reason why he viewed ideologies with such suspicion. He said what he had to say as a writer. For him experience, being stronger than any ideology, is the bed-rock on which everything is founded. As a story-teller, Brenner reveals his close ties with the Jewish religion against which he rebelled, the ties which explain both his Zionism and his loyalty to the Land of Israel.
 
It seems to me that this is the tragedy of the Jewish labour movement. Its ideology is incapable of fully expressing its experience and therefore becomes so weakened that it must remain silent even though the continuity with the Jewish past lies hidden in this experience, and not in the fictional dependence on which Zionist labour ideology is based.
 
In conclusion, I should like to say a few words about the reasons for the lessening of tension and the change in our day, which Shmuel Ettinger has mentioned. I believe that these reasons also must be sought in the contrast that exists between ideology and experience. Ideology could not stand up to the shock of the Holocaust. The annihilation of Jewish families strengthen ed the living ties with Jewish traditions and values, while the factors which had formerly bolstered socialist ideology grew weaker. After the establishment of the State of Israel, the labour movement became less infrangible and less attentive to purely ideological considerations. But this is perhaps a subject for discussion in itself.
 
Prof. Katz:
 
It cannot be said that the tension is not increasing; the question is whether we shall succeed in handling it. If I were not the moderator, I would jump into the ring.
 
Prof. Ettinger:
 
Dr. Schweid, I think, has also defined the problem as being ideological rather than historical and he has attempted to tackle it through certain ideological assumptions. Since, however, I do not base my own position on any sort of ideological hypothesis, I must try to bring the discussion back to the historical track with which I began.
 
When we are dealing with a public movement, I do not believe we can say, with any significance, that its statements, aims, or utopias have their roots in real experience, in products of the imagination, or in other psychological factors. Nor do I believe that movements whose ideologies and aims could best be apprehended in the clear light of reason and pure science were necessarily more successful and more influential than other movements in history. I have, with my own eyes, witnessed the success of the Nazi ideology, which by any test of strict rationality or scientific diagnosis was totally absurd and yet it conquered a people, a culture, and almost half the world. Though we despise this movement, we cannot deny it a place in history. Returning then, to socialist Zionism, I disagree, essentially, with what the previous speaker has said on this subject. I do not think that socialist Zionism drew its strength from external alien factors rather than from Jewish creativity and Jewish existence. I believe it grew up as a consequence of the social and ideational developments which preceded it and left a deep impression on it. These were, specifically, the "Workers' movement," the Jewish revolutionary movement which bequeathed its legacy to socialist Zionism no less than the theories of European and other thinkers. That "non-socialist," Yossef Chaim Brenner, was once a Bundist, at least during one period of his life. I am not, however, discussing individual instances, but rather the creation of a social concept which is adopted by people. Dr. Schweid may admire or not admire social utopias which aspire to change social systems or human relationships fundamentally; it must be admitted that all pretensions of this sort are impractical and disappointing in the end. Still, while there may be dozens of ways of criticizing socialism, it is not my function to do so and I do not regard the socialist movements in this light.
 
I do not believe that Jewish youth would ever have set out to realize socialist ideas -regarding themselves as responsible for the fate of the whole nation while attempting to build a new society from the ground up-if they had not believed in the same principles that the reconstructed societies believed in, namely socialist principles. I do not therefore see socialism as a new kind of spice of inferior quality which makes its appearance as a decorative addition to a social movement that was nourished on primitive Jewish experience. Instead, I regard socialism as essentially an ideological position which most faithfully expressed the views of large groups of Jewish youth, both intellectuals and near-intellectuals. It is here that the dialectical contradiction within socialism emerges. This is not a contradiction between Zionist and socialism, but rather (as I have tried to define it and still view it) a dialectical contradiction between reliance upon the future (if the future is envisaged as being all-important) and reliance on the past as a source of inspiration.
 
I have emphasized-and here I completely disagree with Dr. Schweid -that in Zionism the reliance upon the past is not expressed by the search for some precedent or example for making a revolutionary change, as the Jacobites and the Paris Commune served as concrete examples for Lenin. Decidedly not! Its relationship to the past is an integral part of Zionism, not merely an intellectual ingredient, and the justification of Zionist action is concealed in this relationship to the past. The point about fictional or non-fictional dependence upon the past is beyond my power of comprehension. 
I am of the opinion that each generation depicts the past from its own viewpoint, and even the most objective historian cannot escape the concepts of his age. I do not laugh at the sages of the Talmud for depicting King David sitting in the Sanhedrin and giving his opinion on some point of the Law, for I can understand the historical and ideational concepts by which they arrived at this picture. Equally, I do not make fun of those who have taken their aspirations for social justice or social criticism from the ethical teachings of the prophets. I do not consider their "sin" so terrible even if they were neither historians nor ideologists.
 
In fact, the works of the greatest historians reverberate with the problems and conflicts of their own day. Thus, the studies of Caesar's or Pompey's actions in Roman history reflect the clash of party political factions existing at the time of the 19th century historians writing about them. And if this is true about historians, how much more so is it true of ideologists!
 
Thus, I really regard the affinity to the Land of Israel and the reversion to the Hebrew language as a legitimate dependence on and tie with the past. It is true that Borochov catches us by surprise when we see him giving about fifteen reasons for settling in the Land of Israel and we search in vain among them for a suggestion of historical feeling or consciousness. Yet he was expressing his own relationship to the country. There was a need for tie with the Land of Israel in order to link him with the contemporaries; as a means of convincing the younger generation of Jews in Russia that they should forget about fighting at the barricades there and go to settle in Eretz Israel instead. It was necessary to base his ideas on these ideologies. Those who read his letters and come upon the expression the "Faithful to Zion," can understand the place and importance held by Zion in the heart of Borochov, the supposed casuist who attempts to find reasons for a cause that would seem irrelevant to his views.
 
I should nevertheless like to widen the discussion a little. In my opinion, the tension we have been talking about is typical of the whole Zionist movement, and I see a close connection between socialist Zionism and the aspirations of Herzl himself. Herzl's social utopia is very similar to the utopias of the socialist Zionists, although the foundation for his trend of thought and motivation is not to be found in the principles of social philosophy, but rather in a vision of European technology and European imperialism. This is not important for the subject of our symposium; of significance, however, is the tension that exists between the past and the future, which determines the whole scope of the movement's goals. Certainly if the historical arguments of the socialist Zionists were fictional, how much more fictional must Herzl's have been.
 
Prof. Katz:
 
I notice that we are reaching a most fruitful point in our discussion. I should like to ask Mr. Eliav if he wishes to contribute something at this stage.
 
Prof. Eliav:
 
I feel somewhat like the writer of the feuilleton section of a newspaper: as though I do not belong to the main body of news. Perhaps not completely so, for the tension that I was referring to has .reached an absurdly high level. People from Palestine, who met the Paris group on the eve of the outbreak of the World War (I am thinking of one individual, in particular known to you as the poet Yonathan Ratosh, whose real name was Halperin or Shelach), carried their ideas to absurd lengths when they returned home. According to them, our past has its real roots in a pre-Judaistic period, while they view our future as transcending the boundaries of the Land of Israel. These men have consciously separated themselves from Jewish continuity; there is a sort of deliberate flight from belonging to the Jewish people-not the flight toward assimilation with another people, but a flight into dreams of past and future which have no foundation in reality. 
You have probably come across the case I am referring to in the course of your reading because, as I have already said, it exists today in various forms and stages, as well as in its "orthodox" form, and finds expression, at least in part, in the serious literary periodical which I have mentioned. Although this individual case is unusual, extreme, and divorced from reality (I have no wish to use "clinical" terms), it expresses a broader tendency that now and again evinces itself among the young generation in this country that is an escape from Judaism, from belonging to the Jewish people, and from historical continuity. All this is essentially destructive, for there can be no culture without continuity. The tension of having to live between the past and the future will not assist in building the nation if this is not accompanied by consciousness of our cultural and historical continuity. This is really an attempt to break down the fence of continuity, to demolish foundations, while escaping into day dreams.
 
My contribution to the symposium has been to offer an extreme example, but I ask you not to belittle it. It is a manifestation of many feelings today -the desire to shed the heavy burden of four thousand years of Jewish history.
 
Prof. Katz:
 
We certainly do not disparage your contribution. On the contrary, I think it gives us another nuance.
 
With your permission, I shall now join in the discussion that has been taking place on either side of me. Dr. Schweid claims that socialist ideas were taken from external sources. If, therefore, socialism has been accepted from without, we must infer that in his opinion, nationalism comes from within. It is possible to reject this claim; for, just as non-Jewish socialism existed before Jewish socialism, so, also, national movements existed before there was Jewish nationalism. Thus there is nothing to prevent the argument that, if one factor entered from the outside, so did the other. In short, I fail to see the validity of Dr. Schweid's contention. With regard to the ideologies of the various trends in Zionism that have social and political aims, we have learned not to analyze them too dogmatically; and this becomes relatively easy after one has studied critical historiography and the sociology of ideas. Take Borochov or anyone else -he need not necessarily be a Zionist, for a socialist or nationalist will do just as well -when you analyze him by what we may describe as removing the ideological validity of his words, you will still find that something vital has remained. The sociologist or historian analyzing in this manner has arrived at what the English call "debunking," which means that he is uncovering contradictions and inconsistencies of thought. However as yet he has accomplished little more than this, still having to touch on more important matters.
 
Nevertheless if we examine the subject from the viewpoint of the man whose system of thought we are analyzing, matters appear in a different light.
 
If we take Borochov as our example, we shall find that many of his ideas strike us as being ridiculous; and yet I am prepared to analyze the writings of a man like Ahad Ha'am alongside of Borochov, being convinced that here also the scalpel of historical analysis will quickly reveal the weak spots in his ideas, even though he was much more consistent and incisive than Borochov was. We would have to say of Ahad Ha'am what he once said of himself: that there are things which a man feels to be true without being able to give reasons for them. However, no one doubts the stature and importance of either of these men. When we come to tackle contemporary affairs, we must be still more careful. While I give my opinion about a given problem, if at that moment I dare to express a doubt whether my opponent is being serious in his claim or not, I sin against truth, for I have no reason to assume that my opponent is not just as convinced of the truth of what he is saying, as I am-even though his words may strike me as being divorced from reality. It is a fact that we are much more discreet in approaching a contemporary discussion; when it comes to past history, we allow ourselves the luxury of analyzing.
 
By means of such analyses, we are capable of destroying ideologies that exist today, and so we are eventually left with nothing. Actually, this is abolishing the validity of reasoned argument, for we are in effect accepting the idea that rational discussions have no power, and that therefore we ought to seize, instead, upon mystical or "vitalist" principles, which is dangerous indeed. For this reason, I would never permit myself to do what our friend Schweid has done, for in effect he is saying to certain persons and to Zionism as a whole: your ideology is worth nothing, but your achievements are great, being based on experience and reality.
 
The point is true, yet no one has the right to deny the inner intellectual honesty of the men who followed these ideologies in the past or present, so that these ideologies deserve our respect.
 
Prof. Schweid:
 
It seems that the historians of philosophy were right saying that misunderstanding is the most fertile principle of all in the development of man's thought. In any case, the interesting responses to my remarks are the consequence of misunderstanding, for I must say that I did not recognize my own opinions in the form in which they came back to me. Apparently I have expressed myself in a most inexact way, and so I must now retrace my steps and correct the distortion.
 
First of all, I had no intention of diminishing the character and importance of socialist Zionism; nor did I say that the socialist loyalties of the pioneering immigrants had no importance. Such a viewpoint cannot be attributed to me as I regard myself as a socialist, and feel quite certain that the socialist perspective was not only most vital, but also indispensable, so that without it the project for settlement on the land could not have been undertaken. This should be self-evident to anyone taking the trouble to spread out a map of the country, so I shall not go into it here. However, this does not mean that, when we study the fundaments of Zionism in the Jewish past, we must attribute special importance to the various socialist ideologies that Zionists adhered to. When I tried to distinguish between the Zionist and the socialist principle, I did not deny the importance of the latter in the life of the active pioneer but I established the fact that one cannot find, in this socialist faith, a strong bond with the Jewish past, and that all the precedents relied on were fictional. Now you tell me that every ideology has a fictional relation to the past, and that this fact does not annul its essential dependence upon the past. Up to a point I would agree with you. The very fact that a thinker looks for support from the past for his views of the present indicates a relationship to the past, but I feel that we ought to differentiate between a general need to lean on a past dimension, on the one hand, and real dependence upon a given, well-defined past, on the other.
 
Reliance upon the Jewish past in the sphere of Jewish Zionist socialist thought represented an expression of a general need to lean on the past dimension in order to strengthen the claims of socialism. But this is not proof of a real derivation from the past that these thinkers profess to maintain. On the contrary: when we examine the problem in detail, we find concerning this very issue that there was an endeavour to separate from and revolt against the recent past. It is "dependence" of this sort that I term fictional reliance on the past. The example given by Pro£. Ettinger of the Jewish sages who envisioned King David as a judge in the Sanhedrin is not worth refuting. It is doubtful whether descriptions of this kind are ingenuous to the same degree as the theory that the prophets of Israel had envisioned socialism. But even so, such descriptions do not begin to exhaust the relationship which the sages of the Talmud enjoyed with the past, a relationship which expressed continuity and not revolution. The phenomenon before us is altogether different for, as I have remarked, the leap backward into prophecy and the Scriptures expressed both a rejection of the present and longings for a past age from which Jewish existence is now estranged. In this respect, the attitude of the Jewish socialists did not differ fundamentally from that which Benjamin Eliav described for us. Only those thinkers whom he mentioned went much further into the recesses of the past in order to free themselves from the bonds with the present. If this "Canaanite" phase represents a fictional reliance on the past, the reliance of Jewish socialists upon Hebrew prophecy and the Essenes was also fictional.
 
Prof. Katz has agreed that it is also possible to demonstrate that Jewish national ideology derived from an external source, as Jewish socialism did. This is true, in my opinion. Indeed, Zionism's ambivalent attraction to the Jewish past and to socialism inheres in this fact, for this ambivalence stems from Zionism's attempt to continue the chain of existence of the Jewish people, and of Jewish creativity and culture within a social and political framework and cultural and ideological concepts drawn from outside sources. This was the solution to the aspiration for "normalization" of Jewish life, a tragic inconsistency under which we still labour today.
 
However, the difference between nationalism and socialism still persists, in regard to the relationship with the past. In its nature, socialism does not evince any particular attachment to a specific cultural tradition. It was no accident that the cosmopolitan leanings preva lent among the Jewish intellectuals at the beginning of the twentieth century led them to embrace socialism so ardently that socialist Zionist leaders went to great lengths to prove that being a socialist did not mean having to relinquish the Jewish national idea. As opposed to this, the national ideology demands continuity of the specific heritage that is the birthright of every people: thus it is legitimate to look for Zionism's consciousness of the past specifically in the domain of nationality.
 
In conclusion, I had no intention of detracting by my remarks, from the validity of reasoned explanations, nor do I wish to nullify the value of ideologies. I believe ideology is a most necessary foundation of every organized social movement, and we should review an ideological argument in a relevant and serious manner. Yet an investigator has the right to express his astonishment at the extent to which certain factors at work within a given movement have emerged in its ideology. Thus, the socialist ideology in Western Europe, in my opinion, expressed in a more balanced manner factors which were central to the Social-Democratic movement.
 
On the other hand, the Jewish labour movement did not succeed in achieving an ideology to express its aims perfectly, for there was an inherent conflict between the concepts necessary to express its tie with movements external to Judaism and the factors arising from the Jewish experience which activated it from within. I should like to offer another example, which I have not yet mentioned. Prof. Ettinger stated, when he began to speak, that socialist Zionism had rejected the traditional idea of Israel being chosen, that is, being a people chosen by God. This cannot be disputed. The basic reason for this rejection is clearly seen both from the socialist side, which does not admit the possibility of a relationship of this kind, and from the Zionist side, since it expresses an aspiration for normalization. Still, it cannot be denied that, here and there, we can observe a strange recidivism with regard to this idea, specifically from socialist Zionist thinkers themselves. Thus, Nahman Syrkin concludes his programmatic article, "The Jewish Problem and the Socialist Jewish State," with the following enthusiastic cry: "Israel will return, and will be first among the nations." Then there is that characteristic touch in the writings of Vitkin, who in one article wrote that the idea of chosenness, though we may ridicule it at times, is the main motive power behind settlement in the Land of Israel. I believe such statements to be distinctively characteristic, and not simply unusual outbursts of emotion. However they reveal the existence of a serious conflict between an ideology that has already crystalized and experience that has not yet attained its full and legitimate expression. It would require a high degree of pathos to portray what is involved here, if one wishes to sense the contrast existing between the experience itself and the generally held principles of the movement. For it means that socialist Zionist ideology did not express all the motivations that stirred within the socialist Zionist movement; nor did it fuly express the bond with the Jewish past. I think one may be permitted to say this without diminishing the value and importance of ideology in general.
 
Prof. Katz:
 
I am glad that the discussion is getting clearer. Let us see whether we should broaden it still further, or if there is anything more to add.
 
Prof. Ettinger:
 
I have not much to add; and I also agree with the concluding remarks of Dr. Schweid. I will just say that our differences have become clear to me, for they do not lie in that fertile principle he referred to misunderstanding -but in fundamental differences of opinion between us. He considers that the contradiction existing between fundamentals, such as ideology and experience, may be explained by the tension existing between men's thinking and reality; while for me the presence of tension or dialectical contradictions is the essence of all developing or aspiring thought. Perhaps I should state in a general way what I have said at the beginning: I believe that the entire Zionist movement has on the one hand aspired to radical changes in the national and social conditions of the Jewish people, while on the other hand, as a movement based on the concept of the existence of the Jewish nation -a very important point for us to remember -it has been dependent upon the past. Our national movement arose at the same time as liberal and socialist thinkers among both Jews and other nations had come to the conclusion that the idea of nationalist, Jewish existence was anachronistic. They argued that there was no Jewish nation in existence at that moment, but, instead, historic groups of people descended from the Jewish nation who now belonged to certain nations or various national European bodies. Anyone wishing to hold to the idea of a universalist Jewish nation -which Lenin called a reactionary idea -was of necessity obliged to depend on past history for his most compelling argument, whence arose the tension between reliance upon the past as justification and the aspiration for change, as a future goal. This tension is certainly real, and affects the entire Zionist movement. I have referred here to the opinion of Carr and other writers, who believe that this tension can be found within every revolutionary or radical movement.
 
Prof. Katz:
 
Gentlemen, I think we have come to the end of our symposium; and I shall attempt somewhat to summarize. It appears to me that the final discussion was fruitful on both sides, and to the point; and indirectly gave a reply to the question that I asked after the first round.
 
My question was, how can we combine together all these trends, which, though found within a single movement, are so opposed to one another? Have the various groupings come together by chance? One might think so at first glance, if acquainted only with their differing doctrines, without perceiving the reality uniting them.
 
The truth is, however, that reality does unite all these trends, so that in this I would agree with Eliezer Schweid when he declares that reality or experience is deeper and broader than ideology. But what he regards as a defect -that socialist Zionism has no ideology capable of expressing its real nature -this I find is to its credit. So many opposing ideologies were able to grow in the same context, existing in the final analysis side by side, while they succeeded in propelling an entire people in a certain direction; at the same time they attracted to themselves such a range of prolific forces and fruitful energies that one can barely take it all in at a glance. All this is proof of an essential vitality that is greater than could be conjectured by merely studying the ideologies themselves. The greatness of the Zionist movement can be seen in the very fact that its various ideologies do not quite express it. I would even go so far as to say that if the man could be found who was able to express both Jewish reality and Jewish nationality in a single comprehensive ideology, we might then find ourselves in a position where opinion (or knowledge) would cancel actual experience, which is not something we want. We want a movement that is living -may it continue to bloom and progress -but we also wish to see more intellectuals who are sincerely in need of the Zionist condition of existence, and who will try to give it their own interpretation. Here there is only one criterion, sincerity. So long as the joining in is sincere and without calculated self-interest, we may surely leave to future historians the problem of analyzing the tie that exists between ideology and reality and may their study be a fruitful one.
 
Print Version   |   Send to Friend
Delegitimation of Israel kav Israel Education  kav  Zionist Education  kav Delegitimation of Israel  kav  Israel Education  kav Zionist Education 
 
 
 

The World Zionist Organization is a global organization with the support of the Keren Kayemet Le'Israel, Keren Hayesod and the Government of Israel.

 

Shlichut | Zionism | Mount Herzl | Shlichim | World Zionist Congress | World Zionist Organization | Zionist Activities in the Diaspora | Zionist Young Adult Movements | Making Aliyah 2013 | Activities in Israel and Countering Antisemitism | Israel Advocacy | Delegitimation of Israel | Israel Education | Zionist Education | Herzl