From History to Modern Era Essay
From History to Modern Era
The great virtue of this estimate of Zionism is that it seems to succeed in providing the modern movement with a long history of which it is the heir. Zionism is made to stand in an unending line of messianic stirrings and rebellions against an evil destiny which began right after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans, with the Bar Kokba revolt in the next century.
This theory highlights the story of frequent “ascents” of small groups of pietists from the Diaspora to the Holy Land, occurring in every century of the medieval and pre- modern age, as expressions of a main theme — indeed, of the main theme — of “return,” which gave meaning to Jewish experience in the exile. The bond between the people and its land, which it never gave up hope of resettling, was thus never broken, and Zionism is, therefore, the consummation of Jewish history under the long-awaited propitious circumstances afforded by the age of liberalism and nationalism.
Despite its neatness and appeal, this construction, which is chiefly identified with the name of the distinguished Israeli historian, Ben Zion Dinur, must be subjected to serious criticism. In the first place, it is really a kind of synthetic Zionist ideology presented as history. The assumption of being in the midst of an “end of days,” of a final resolution of the tension between the Jew and the world, is as yet unprovable. To date, even after the creation of the state of Israel, Zionism has neither failed nor succeeded.
The position of the Jew is still unique in the world, and only those who are certain that their theories foretell the future can be convinced that, for example, the Diaspora will soon be dissolved. This may, indeed, be true, but an interpretation of the meaning of Zionism in Jewish history which boldly asserts that it must come to pass — as this theory does — is suspect of being doctrinaire. Much more could be said in detail about the implications of this theory that Zionism is Jewish messianism in process of realizing itself through this-worldly means.
This description fits that stream of Zionist thought which remained orthodox in religious outlook, and therefore limited its tinkering with the classical messianic conception of the Jewish religion to the question of means; but this thesis pretends to apply to the main body of the movement, and, as such, it is artificial and evasive. What is being obscured is the crucial problem of modern Zionist ideology, the tension between the inherited messianic concept and the radically new meaning that Zionism, at its most modern, was proposing to give it.
Zionism: Messianic Era Religious messianism had always imagined the Redemption as a confrontation between the Jew and God. The gentile played a variety of roles in this drama — as chastising rod in the divine hand, as the enemy to be discomfited, or, at very least, as the spectator to pay homage at the end of the play — but none of these parts are indispensable to the plot. In the cutting edge of Zionism, in its most revolutionary expression, the essential dialogue is now between the Jew and the nations of the earth.
What marks modern Zionism as a fresh beginning in Jewish history is that its ultimate values derive from the general milieu. The Messiah is now identified with the dream of an age of individual liberty, national freedom, and economic and social justice — i. e. , with the progressive faith of the nineteenth century. This is the true Copernican revolution which modern Zionism announced — and it patently represents a fundamental change not merely in the concept of the means to the Redemption but in end values. Every aspect of Jewish messianism has been completely transmuted by this new absolute.
So, classical Judaism had, for the most part, imagined that at some propitious moment an inner turning by the Chosen People would be the preamble to evoking the saving grace of God. Zionism, too, knows that the Jewish people must be remade in order to be redeemed — indeed, its sweeping and passionate demands lent themselves to being spoken in language reminiscent of the prophets — but it is supremely aware that its millennium is out of reach without the assent and co-operation of the dominant political powers.