Written for the Emanu-El Sisterhood, and read by Mr. C. L. Sulzberger before the Judaeans, March 3d, 1898, and republished from the American Hebrew.
By Claude G. Montefiore.
The subject is so important, and I myself am so determined an opponent of Zionism in every form that it is exceedingly difficult for me to write about it with moderation and brevity. But I will try to put down the heads as it were of an essay on the subject and send them forth in their baldness for condemnation. I am quite willing to believe that the value of anything I say must be largely discounted by the confession that Zionism runs directly athwart all my most cherished hopes, aspirations and beliefs.
It is interesting to note that Zionism has made a new cleavage in Israel, for orthodoxy and reform contribute alike to its fiends and its foes. I am not sorry that this should be the case.
Zionism has two main classes of supporters: First, there are those who have no interest in the Jewish religion in any of its forms and phases. These people are nationalists pure and simple. As to the motives of their nationalism a word later. The second division ofZionistsincludes all those who do believe, or are interested in one prase [sic?] or another of Judaism; of the Jewish religion; — and this division is split up naturally into two sections; the orthodox and the reformers.
Orthodox Jews may, for our present purpose, be regarded as those who desire to maintain in Judaism the strict coalescence of religion and race. To them Judaism in its entirety is, and must ever be, a religion for members fo the Jewish racer [sic?] and for them only. Orthodox Jews are also supposed to believe in the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, and in the literal truth and accuracy of the predictions of the Hebrew prophets.
They believe in, and they pray for, a return of the Jews to Palestine and for the restoration of the Temple and for the sacrificial rights. It is not to be wondered at that some of the orthodox should become advocates of Zionism. I hear that many Jews in Bokhara are asking anxiously whether Dr. Herzl is not the Messiah. But, happily, most Orthodox Jews of culture and enlightenment declare that the restoration must be brought about entirely, and, ab initio, by supernatural agencies, and therefore they are against Zionism just because they do not believe in the messiahship of Dr. Herzl. Happy, too, one canbelievein arestorationwithout the smallest desire to see it accomplished; one can believe in it without that belief having any influence upon action. Therefore it is just as possible for Orthodox Jews to be good citizens of England and the United States, as for orthodox Christians to provide and work for a tolerably distant future, even, though theybelievein the second coming of Christ and in theend of the world.And among the most intelligent and earnest antagonists of Zionism, among those who realize most acutely the mischief it has wrought and may continue to achieve, are many sincere and devoted Orthodox Jews, such as my honored friend, Dr. Adler, the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire.
But Zionism has also many supporters who are reformers. This fact seems bewildering. For the reformer is clearly one who does not desire the coalescence in Judaism of religion and race. He wants to denationalize his religion; to do-orientalize it, that it may live and flourish in Europe and America. At first sight, then, it seems strange that such a one can desire the return of the Jews to Palestine; How can any one who glories in being e European or an American, desire to abandon his American or European home, his American or European civilization? For he no longer believes in the literal truths of the old prophecies; he does not believe in the rebuilding of the temple which is an inseparable part of them.
The explanation, I take it, is as follows: It does not appear to have been often given in all frankness and lucidity. The Reformer can be a universalist in religion, and at the same time, apart from religion, a nationalist. There is no reason why the Reform Synagogues of New York and Chicago should not be transplanted to Palestine. Why should there not be a Jewish Nation, holding more than one kind of Jewish religion, who do not belong to the Jewish nation (whether they be of Jewish blood or no), just as there are persons who belong to the Anglican church who are not Englishmen? A revived Jewish state might prove most emphatically that the Jewish religion is wider than the Jewish nation, wider even than the Jewish race.
Such a position is perfectly logical; but this variety of religious opinions among the advocates of Zionism, although often artificially concealed, only adds to the insurmountable difficulties fro the achievement of its aims and ends.
For what are its aims and ends? The only goal one can properly discuss is the definite one of establishing (or shall I say, of re-estabilshing?) in Palestine, a Jewish state, a sort of Belgium or Greece without a monarchy. For I understand the state is to be a republic, until the advent of the real Messiah.
This state is said to be the only solution of the Jewish question. Assuming for the moment that this is so, a great deal seems to turn upon the mood in which this solution is accepted. Is it a sad solution or a glad one? Is it a mournful necessity, or a glorious ideal? The serious feature in the situation seems to me to be this: That there are many educated persons in Western Europe and American who have taken up Zionism, not as a mournful necessity, but as a glorious ideal, as a glad solution, not a sad one. For no one can desire a Jewish Tate as a glorious ideal, as a glad solution without himself desiring to be a member of that state, if it were established. And no one can desire to be a ember and yet claim to be a true and whole-hearted citizen of the state wherein now he lives. No one can be a citizen of two states; no one can be a true citizen of one state, and desire to be the citizen of another. His heart will not be in his citizen's work; his allegiance is no longer whole and single; in any international question he can no longer look at the matter from the point of view from the state wherein he lives; he has at least one ye directed upon the state that is to be, and regards the question as it affects, or may affect, its interest and chances. His citizenship squints.
Zionism as a glorious ideal must increase anti-Semitism. I am aware that Englishmen who live in a country which is almost wholly free from anti-Semitism are always said be unable to judge the question. And I can also understand that it may be argued that in order to obtain the glorious remedy, it is quite worth while to accentuate the disease. But speaking for England at any rate, and limiting myself to that country, I am convinced that nothing is so calculated to beget and foster anti-Semitic feelings as Zionism, and more especially, Zionism as a glorious ideal instead of, at best, a mournful necessity.
Zionism, from this point of view, plays into the hands of the anti-Semites. It proves their case.See,they say,the enthusiasm which thenational ideahas created. The Jews, as we have said all along, do not want to be citizens. They do not want to be Europeans. They want to live in Asia, to be Asiatics.
A sad solution or a glad one?For in the answer to this question lies the west of the true and whole-hearted nationalist. Let me put my meaning more clearly. Let me assume that anti-Semitism suddenly ceased tomorrow. Let me assume that the jews in Russia and Romania were suddenly and completely emancipated, that the social ostracism and hatreds from which the Jews suffer in Austria, Germany and (mirabile dictu) even in the United States, were suddenly to vanish and disappear. Let me assume that the condition of the Jews all over the world were suddenly to become entirely the same as their condition in England. As asad necessityZionism would immediately cease. It would have no locus standi. But how about Zionism as aglorious ideal?The truenationalistought to say:Anti-Semitism or no anti-Semitism, I desire a Jewish state, even as the Greeks of old desired the re-establishment of their own separate polity.But how any educated citizen of the United States or of England or of France could say so, passes my understanding. At all events, if there be those who honestly can say so, they have accepted the accusation of their enemies; they are aliens in a foreign land. No one, then, can believe in Zionism as a glad solution, and as a glorious ideal, and yet claim to be a true and perfect citizen of the land wherein now he dwells. And from all I hear, even to the persecuted Russian Jews, Zionism is far more a sad necessity than a glorious ideal. Give him emancipation, and he will bid Zionism an ever-lasting and enthusiastic farewell.
But then, how about Zionism as a mournful necessity? I understand the feeling. I can understand, as Dr. Herzl himself said to me, an Austrian Jew saying:We have tried to be thoroughlyWho is there and who cannot intellectually understand such a position, and who is there who cannot emotionally sympathize with those who hold it?Austrian,and indeed we have succeeded. We have become thoroughly Austrian, in interest, in aspirations, in culture, in manners, in views, in all the burdens and duties of citizenship. But you turn and spit upon us. You revile us and despise us. You defame and hate us. Well, at last, we are wary of the strife. We are weary of this fatherland for which we have labored and fought, which we have honored and loved — and all in vain. With heavy hearts we will leave it, we will shake its dust from off our feet, we will free you of our hated presence, and we will go seek and found a home for ourselves in the country of our fathers, where, with our fellows in suffering from other lands, we will establish a state of our own, and live in peace without hatred and contention.
The questions, therefore, present themselves: (1) Is Zionism a necessity? (2) Is it practicable? The second question is required as a complement to the first. For it can be argued: Zionism would indeed be a solution (if a sad one) for the evils of the presentsituation,but it is not practicable. Therefore let us not exacerbate the situation by awakening hopes that cannot ever be realized; let us not stimulate anti-Semitism by the advocacy of a cure, radical, indeed, but impossible to apply.
Is Zionism a necessity? These words mean, must anti-Semitism be permanent? Must there always be aJewish Question?It would be absurd for me to attempt in a few sentences to answer such complicated problems as these questions involve. Very few persons possess the knowledge which could justify the belief that their answers were worth the ink with which they were written. The pseudo-philosophical reasons by which Dr. Herzl has attempted to prove that anti-Semitism must be permanent, seem to me absolutely worthless. They resemble the camel which the German philosopher evolved out of his inner consciousness. If one is to put forward a priori arguments, I would prefer to hold to the view that race and creed hatred are doomed to disappear. I cannot bring myself to believe that the people of the United States will long continue the social ostracism about which my Jewish friends of America tell me such (to English ears) strange and even disgraceful stories. The anti-Semitism of America and Austria can only be a temporary recrudescence of barbarous prejudices that die hard, but die surely. And if all the energy that is now devoted to Zionism were wholly devoted to our own self improvement, would not anti-Semitism be greatly lessened?Are there not with us, even with us, sins against the Lord our God?[Sic? I think this meanteven within usinstead.] As to Russia, where the vast proportion of the Jewish race abide, I will note speak, for the problem is too large and deep. But it is a remarkable fact that the members of the Hirsch Committee in St. Petersburg whom I, as a member of the Council of the Jewish Colonization Association, often receive long and confidential reports as the condition of the Jews in that Empire, however much they differ among themselves in points of detail, all agree in this: That the problem of the Russian Jews can only be solved in Russia; that Zionism is a cruel delusion which has caused, and is causing, harm, and which makes the situation worse instead of better.
I know that the retort is frequently made,It is all very well for you to talk. You are not living in a country trained with anti-Semitism.But may the prosperous never say to those in affliction, take courage and endure? Fight the good fight, and despair not. Remove to the utmost your own faults, those faults which, causing, perhaps, some of them little more than a smile or a frown on the face of God, are most hateful in the sight of man? With such self-purification and brave endurance await the better time that civilization will surely bring, when you will be one with your country again, and your fellow citizens will claim you as their own.
To my fellow-reformers in America may I at least not venture to say, Is not this a far higher ideal than the petty Belgium in Asia, which even if it were established, must be mainly recruited from those who would seek to drive the hands of the religious clock backward, to prove the emptiness and falsity of all the ideals for which you have fought and striven so earnestly, and so long?
And then, finally, is Zionism practicable? Here again, I am aware that I have not sufficient knowledge to give a categoric denial. But I have never read or heard of any arguments which lead to me to believe that any Jewish state could be founded in Palestine with the smallest prospects of success. The piteous appeals for help which desert the Jewish Colonization Association from the few hundreds of Jewish colonists already established in Palestine, make me more and more doubtful whether even a fraction of the Jewish race could ever find a home there. But in Russia alone there are probably over six million Jews. It is, of course, very easy to arouse enthusiasm among ignorant and persecuted masses for thehome of their ancestorsand for theNational ideal.But any amount of such enthusiasm is no evidence, as it seems to me, for the possibility of theideabecoming a fact. And why a tiny Jewish state should induce Russia or Austria to become lessanti-Semitic,I cannot conceive. Its effect, if any, would surely be the exact reverse.