|Israel Table of Contents
The counterpoint to Herzl's political Zionism was provided by Asher Ginsberg, better known by his pen name Ahad HaAm (One of the People). Ahad HaAm, who was the son of a Hasidic rabbi, was typical of the Russian maskalim. In 1886, at the age of thirty, he moved to Odessa with the vague hope of modernizing Judaism. His views on Zionism were rooted in the changing nature of Jewish communal life in Eastern Europe. Ahad HaAm realized that a new meaning to Jewish life would have to be found for the younger generation of East European Jews who were revolting against traditional Jewish practice. Whereas Jews in the West could participate in and benefit from a secular culture, Jews in the East were oppressed. While Herzl focused on the plight of Jews alone, Ahad HaAm was also interested in the plight of Judaism, which could no longer be contained within the limits of traditional religion.
Ahad HaAm's solution was cultural Zionism: the establishment in Palestine of small settlements aimed at reviving the Jewish spirit and culture in the modern world. In the cultural Zionist vision, a small number of Jewish cadres well versed in Jewish culture and speaking Hebrew would settle in Palestine. Ahad HaAm believed that by settling in that ancient land, religious Jews would replace their metaphysical attachment to the Holy Land with a new Hebrew cultural renaissance. Palestine and the Hebrew language were important not because of their religious significance but because they had been an integral part of the Jewish people's history and cultural heritage.
Inherent in the cultural Zionism espoused by Ahad HaAm was a deep mistrust of the gentile world. Ahad HaAm rejected Herzl's notion that the nations of the world would encourage Jews to move and establish a Jewish state. He believed that only through Jewish self-reliance and careful preparation would the Zionist enterprise succeed. Although Ahad HaAm's concept of a vanguard cultural elite establishing a foothold in Palestine was quixotic, his idea of piecemeal settlement in Palestine and the establishment of a Zionist infrastructure became an integral part of the Zionist movement.
The ascendancy of Ahad HaAm's cultural Zionism and its emphasis on practical settlement in Eretz Yisrael climaxed at the Sixth Zionist Congress in 1903. After an initial discussion of settlement in the Sinai Peninsula, which was opposed by Egypt, Herzl came to the congress apparently willing to consider, as a temporary shelter, a British proposal for an autonomous Jewish entity in East Africa. The Uganda Plan, as it was called, was vehemently rejected by East European Zionists who, as before, insisted on the ancient political identity with Palestine. Exhausted, Herzl died of pneumonia in 1904, and from that time on the mantle of Zionism was carried by the cultural Zionists led by Ahad HaAm and his close colleague, Chaim Weizmann. They took over the WZO, increased support for Hibbat Tziyyon, and sought Jewish settlement in Palestine as a prerequisite to international support for a Jewish state.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress