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Zionism and Israel - Encyclopedic Dictionary

Cultural Zionism


Cultural Zionism - 1. Belief that successful settlement and re-population of the land of Israel required revitalization of Jewish culture and Hebrew language. It was based primarily on ideas of Ahad Haam and Eliezer ben Yehuda.  The land of Israel could then become the cultural and spiritual center for Diaspora Jewry. Secular learning and secular concepts of Judaism would replace part of the Orthodox program taught in Jewish schools. The conflict between cultural Zionist education and orthodox education was a major issue both in the tiny Jewish Yishuv in the land of Israel, and in the Diaspora. The "Heder," where children had learned the Talmud and acquired an exclusively religious education was the basis of orthodox Jewish life. There was no other sort of Jewish education until the Zionists appeared.

This idea aroused fierce opposition among orthodox Jews.  This revolution in national consciousness was necessary, in the view of Achad Haam, before it would be possible to create a Jewish national home. Achad Ha'am ridiculed the alternative approaches of Political Zionism and Practical Zionism.

In 1889, Achad Ha'am wrote This is not the way ("The wrong way") attacking the enthusiasm of the BILU and Hovevei Tzion for settling the land, and the efforts of Jewish philanthropists to support such colonies. He claimed that it was premature and would not be able to stand up against Arab resentment,  But his eulogy for Pinsker, An Open Letter to my Brethren: Pinsker and his Pamphlet, Auto-Emancipation made it clear that there was no real contradiction between his approach and that of the settlers, and that he was not opposed to settlement in the land of Israel.

The Zionist Congress organized by Theodor Herzl aroused his ire again. This revolution in national consciousness was necessary, in the view of Achad Haam, before it would be possible to create a Jewish national home. He pointed out that the Jews were so weak and so uninterested in immigration that it would be, in his view, impossible to obtain international political support for a Jewish state as required by Political Zionism. He insisted that without broad Jewish support this movement could have little chance of success  (see Jewish State, Jewish Problem)

The great successes of cultural Zionism were the resurrection of the Hebrew language through the efforts of Eliezer ben Yehuda and the networks of modern Hebrew education that were created both in the land of Israel and abroad. Without these two achievements, Zionism would not have been possible. Modern Hebrew education abroad also helped to stem the tides of assimilation, by providing an alternative to Orthodox Judaism that was viable in the modern world.

2. Belief that revival of Jewish cultural is a sufficient end of Zionism in itself, unrelated to creation of a Jewish homeland. This is sometimes misattributed to Ahad Haam. However, Achad Haam was a committed Zionist in the conventional sense, who settled in the land of Israel and died in Tel Aviv.

Ami Isseroff

October 6, 2008

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information: Zionism

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H< - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch>ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

Definitions of Zionism  General History of Zionism and the Creation of Israel   History of Israel and Zionism   Historical Source Documents of Israel and Zionism

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