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A Zionist Before Zionism

Lawrence Bush
October 15, 2017

Rabbi Zevi Hirsch Kallischer, an Orthodox leader who published a widely circulated book in 1862 that endorsed Jewish resettlement in the land of ancient Israel, and traveled to several German cities to help spark the formation of colonization societies, died at 79 in Thorn, Prussia on this date in 1874. A vehement opponent of Reform Judaism, he spent “most of his life as a rabbi in Thorn (now Torun, Poland),” writes the Jewish Virtual Library, “serving without salary.” (his wife supported the family with a small store). In 1882, Kallischer declared that the messianic redemption had to be catalyzed by action by the Jewish people, a view that was highly controversial in Orthodox and chasidic circles.

Kallischer’s 1862 book, Seeking Zion, “proposed collecting money from Jews of all nations; buying and cultivating land in Eretz Israel; founding an agricultural school there or in France; and, ultimately, forming a Jewish quasi-military guard for security of the settlements,” according to Marilyn Oser’s “Streets of Israel” website. It was “the first Hebrew book to appear in eastern Europe on the subject of modern Jewish agricultural settlement, proposing settling the Land of Israel with homeless Jews of eastern Europe and also providing beggarly Jews in Palestine the ability to support themselves by agriculture.”

“It was he who formulated the ideology of national orthodoxy -- that the Jewish people were a nation and that their aspiration to re-establish their historical homeland was fully legitimate. This idea had a strong influence upon Heinrich Graetz . . . among others, becoming the foundation for later religious Zionist thought.” --Marilyn Over

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.