Ahad Ha'am

The Jewish State and the Jewish Problem (1897)

It is not only the Jews who have come out of the ghetto; Judaism has come out, too. For the Jews the exodus from the ghetto is confined to certain countries and is due to toleration; but Judaism has come out (or is coming out) of its own accord wherever it has come into contact with modern culture. This contact with modern culture overturns the inner defenses of Judaism so that it can no longer remain isolated and live a life apart!

The spirit of our people desires further development; it wants to absorb the basic elements of general culture which are reaching it from the outside world to digest them and to make them a part of itself, as it has done before at various periods of its history. But the conditions of its life in exile are not suitable for such a task. In our time culture expresses itself everywhere through the form of the national spirit, and the stranger who would become part of culture must sink his individuality and become absorbed in the dominant environment. In exile, Judaism cannot, therefore, develop its individuality in its own way. When it leaves the ghetto walls, it is in danger of losing its essential being or—at very least—its national unity; it is in danger of being split up into as many kinds of Judaism, each with a different character and life, as there are countries of the dispersion.

In sum: Hibbat Zion, no less than “Zionism,” wants a Jewish state and believes in the possibility of the establishment of a Jewish state in the future. But while “Zionism” looks to the Jewish state to furnish a remedy for poverty and to provide complete tranquility and national glory, Hibbat Zion knows that our state will not give us all these things until “universal Righteousness is enthroned and holds sway over nations and States”—it looks to a Jewish state to provide only a “secure refuge” for Judaism and a cultural bond to unite our nation. “Zionism,” therefore, begins its work with political propaganda; Hibbat Zion begins with national culture, because only through the national culture and for its sake can a Jewish state be established in such a way as to correspond with the will and the needs of the Jewish people.