Biography[ edit ] Leon Yehudah Leib Pinsker inherited a strong sense of Jewish identity from his father, Simchah Pinsker , a Hebrew language writer, scholar and teacher. Later he realized that, being a Jew, he had no chance of becoming a lawyer due to strict quotas on Jewish professionals and chose the career of a physician. Jewish activism[ edit ] Pinsker believed that the Jewish problem could be resolved if the Jews attained equal rights. In his early years, Pinsker favored the assimilation path and was one of the founders of a Russian language Jewish weekly see also: Haskala.
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Zionism and Israel On the Web. You will have heard the long drawn sighs that broke from the hearts and lips of the "Lovers of Zion" far and near at the news of their misfortune, and is their grief to be wondered at? Even in days of power and victory an army mourns for the beloved general whom death has snatched away, how much greater the cause for sorrow in a time of distress and confusion such as the "Lovers of Zion" are now enduring-a time when from without they are pursued by evil happenings, by enemies in league with one another, disciples of Shimei ben Cera, whose way it has ever been to pursue the persecuted and grovel in the dust before the favored of fortune; a time when from within.
But what can I tell about "within" that you do not know as well? You yourselves are "within," and your eyes are open to see.
Though it is true that all "Lovers of Zion" feel deeply the loss they have suffered in the death of Pinsker, there are but few who are conscious of the nature of their loss, of the nature of the connection between the leader who is gone and the movement known under the name "Love of Zion. Only a small minority arc acquainted with his very self as it revealed itself in his remarkable book " Auto-Emancipation " This minority alone knew that first and foremost Pinsker was a "nationalist," a lover of his people.
It was only of the depth of his love that the idea of self-emancipation sprang, at first without any relation whatsoever to the land of Israel. Only later he entered the ranks of the "Lovers of Zion," when he thought he discerned in their societies the first step toward the realization of his idea. Nurtured from his early youth in European culture, he was far removed from that ardent, instinctive love for the land of our forefathers which first, last, and always burns in the hearts of those of who were brought up in the Bible and the Talmud.
He knew only the "Holy Land," whose holiness is religious, not national; whose holiness, hence is of the past, not for the future. What we need is a large tract of land for our poor bretheren, our own possession, whence no strange master shall have the power to drive us forth. Thither we should carry with us the holy treasures we rescued from the overthrow of our native land- the God-idea and the Sacred Scriptures.
They and they alone- not Jerusalem and not the Jordan- are what sanctified our olden home. If by lucky chance the Holy Land itself happens to become our land, so much the better. But above all- this is the one thing needful- it must be determined what land is available land, at the same time, fit to offer to the outcast Jews of all countries a safe, undisputed, productive retreat. If his proposals had met with a favorable hearing among Occidental Jews, for whose sake and in whose language he wrote his book, and a commission had been fitted out to seek the "safe retreat": he spoke of, he would have deemed it proper to investigate the claims of Palestine along with the claims of other countries; and had the choice fallen upon Palestine, he would have rejoice in the lucky chance.
But a commission of the kind, there can be no doubt, would have sought the retreat in one of the countries of America or Australia, perhaps even in Africa, anywhere rather than in Palestine, and Pinsker would have consecrated his life, not to colonization in Palestine, but to colonization in the land designated by the commission.
In that case, he would have been classed, as he is now among the faithful of his people who seek its welfare, but he would not have become one of the leaders of the "Lovers of Zion. On the contrary, it is Pinsker who arouses our wonder.
How was it possible for him to entertain the hope that his book would accomplish its aim, seeing that he himself point out the great obstacles in the way, without at the same time showing how they might be removed? The leading idea of his book is to undeceive our Western bretheren as to the efficacy of the civil emancipation of the Jew, and show the falsity of their hope that it will ultimately spread in the wake of humane ideas to all countries of the world.
He demonstrates that hatred of the Jew has its source in a deep rooted natural feeling- it is a "hereditary psychic disorder" transmitted from father to sons- while emancipation is a "postulate of reason and logic," by no means an "immediate, spontaneous issue from the feeling- for justice animating- the nations in the midst of which Israel dwells.
The first, most difficult step is for all the "prominent men of our nation" to resolve unanimously to follow the road and not depart from it until the desired goal is reached. At this point our author should have asked himself the question: If it is true that emancipation based on humanity holds out no hope to our people, because systems dictated by reason alone, without any foundation in feeling, are unavailing to conquer the "psychic disorder" that opposes them; then what result can be expected from his own plan, to impose upon the Jews a new system of living through the merely negative consciousness of its necessity?
This consciousness is itself but a "postulate of reason and logic," and the "national resolution" which results from it, if it should result, "Till not be a "spontaneous issue from feeling," while national indifference, on the other hand, which has been devouring us greedily these many generations, is an "hereditary psychic disorder.
Wherein, then, consists the superiority of the idea of self-emancipation over the hope of emancipation? Neither springs from the heart. The only difference between them is that emancipation lacks support in the heart of non-Jews, and self-emancipation lacks it in the heart of Jews. The one deficiency is as irremediable as the other.
These questions obtruded themselves upon Pinsker, but he did not give them definite shape. He evaded the details, because he could not find satisfactory solutions. Believing fully in the efficacy of his idea, he believed also in the power of his words to create the "national resolution. He desired to believe that it call, and he did believe it. Then he proceeds to explain the causes which stifled national feeling will us, accompanying his explanation with thrilling words of rebuke and admonition.
But the question remained unanswered: Whence shall we obtain the feeling we have lost no matter how, and without which his plan lacked foundation and support? He espied a crumb of comfort. The situation of the Jew, he believed, was changing somewhat for the better, The precipitate exodus to Palestine, disastrous though it was, may nevertheless be taken as a sign of the sound instinct in the heart of the people, which realize that it must have a fixed home.
On the other hand, the great ideas of the eighteenth and the nineteenth century did not fail to leave their impress upon the Jewish people. We, too, feel our "manhood," and we no longer are Jews merely; we are also men, and we desire to live as men and form a nation like all other men.
Let us grant what is very doubtful, that the instinct of which he speaks exists among the masses, who are seeking the barest means of subsistence.
It yet forms an extremely weak foundation for the vast structure he hopes to rear. For work of such magnitude the combined forces of all the "prominent men of the nation" are necessary. It is necessary, moreover, that a genuine desire to execute the work should fill the hearts of those able to execute it, of those who will not blindly follow whithersoever instinct leads them.
But these "prominent men of the nation," "the sons of modern culture" who are animated by the ideas of the eighteenth and the nineteenth century, if they feel their manhood, have a long road to travel before they arrive at the point at which they feel also their Jewish nationality.
But what is to be done if in spite of logic no desire of the sort is generated ill us? Or, still worse, suppose other desires, actually living in our hearts oppose the desire we are endeavoring to create, and lead us to pervert the very laws of logic and prove that it is not at ail incumbent upon us to desire, that we are not even at liberty to desire? On the contrary, since the publication of the brochure, they in turn have been busy adducing proofs, irrefutable in their opinion, to show the uselessness of such arguments, to demonstrate that the idea of self-emancipation is "a fleeting dream," a noxious poison deadly to modern culture.
Gradually, however, a class of Jews came to the fore who did not rest satisfied with thinking and investigating, They were of our own Jews, those on whom the sad logic of circumstances bad forced the realization and even the feeling, however temporary, of the necessity of a "safe retreat.
Such work could not find favor with a man like Pinsker. Yet anything was better than to sit with hands folded like the occidental Jews. It is true, no heed was taken of his advice to send out an expedition composed of experts, who were to examine the land and determine whether it was the best possible spot for the realization of our aim. It is true, instead of a national board of directors, which was to control all affairs with insight and ability, a number of societies were formed, almost everyone with a program of its own all pursuing aims of its own.
Thus Pinsker became a "Lover of Zion," or rather, if the expression is permissible, a lover of the "Lovers of Zion," The author of "Auto-emancipation" saw dearly that words and logic were impotent to create a something out of nothing, and the movement for the colonization of Palestine appeared to him to be at least an embryonic something. To this he devoted himself with all his heart and energy, acting on the conviction that it would not be beyond the power of man to impose form and shape upon the longstanding chaos.
For about eight years Pinsker labored in the cause of the colonization of Palestine. As the years passed he gathered a rich harvest of experiences-bitter and depressing experiences. At every step insuperable obstacles presented themselves. Sparse in numbers and crippled in means, the colonies, established in hot haste, were not able to maintain themselves.
They had constantly to be begging for support, and the "Lovers of Zion" in the Diaspora, who were never weary of prating about their ardent love for Zion, manifested it in vehement words against their adversaries instead of in clinking coin for the colonists. Far from generous in supplying the needs of the colonies, they were all the more lavish of advice and opinions.
In all that time, so far from changing their factional into a national movement, the "Lovers of Zion" did not even succeed in consolidating themselves into a single united party. All the days of Pinsker were excitement and grief. There was constant discord and nagging, constant strife among- the petty interests of individuals and societies. And he was right.
On a small scale Palestine colonization revealed the same "rottenness" that corrupted the life of the nation as a whole. The weakness of a patient becomes apparent only when he arises from his couch and essays to stand on his feet. In the last two years, after the "Hovevei Zion," with Pinsker as its official head, had become the "relief society," the state of affairs changed greatly.
The so-called leaders in each community no longer could force themselves into authoritative positions, and do, or order others to do, their capricious pleasure.
The chief was better equipped than before to safeguard the peace and order of the organization. Through this and other weightier reasons, the cause gained an accession of strength, carrying it forward with a sudden impetus. At first sight it might have seemed that, as almost all interested in it believed, the movement had taken possession of the people, and would continue to spread unhindered, soon to expand into a true "national resolution. You all know what happened as well as I do.
It has been made too clear for even the most fervid imagination to deny it, that success was precluded, on the one hand, by the outward obstacles in the land of Israel, and, on the other hand, by the spiritual decay in the people of Israel. What effect was all this bound to have on the author of "Auto-emancipation? Nothing of the sort happened, however. In his latter days, it is true, he came to the conclusion, which he communicated to some of his friends, the present writer among them, that "the land of Israel was not fit to offer the Jews a safe retreat.
Nevertheless, it appeared that his eight years devoted to Palestine colonization had not been in vain. Though he felt that Palestine was unpromising as a "safe retreat," yet he did not, as he might have done earlier, advise its utter abandonment and betaking ourselves with our "holy treasures" to some other new country, to be chosen for the purpose. In the land of Israel we can and we must establish a spiritual national center. How had this idea entered his mind, an idea not hinted at in his brochure, one that has no connection with the plan unfolded there?
So I seem to hear you ask wonderingly, and in all probability the consistent logicians among you will explain it as a mere "compromise" between complete despair on the one side and the labor of years on the other. As for myself, I find a much more recondite source for this new idea in his spiritual life. This final proposition of his-that the plan of self-emancipation can relieve itself of the encumbrances connected with Palestine by seeking a "safe retreat" elsewhere-did not remove all obstacles.
The inner "rottenness" remained in full force-a "psychic disorder" for which no remedy has yet turned up. What boots it to find us a: fit land, if we, the people, are not fit. Where was there a visible, unfailing source of Jewish national feeling from which all sections of his scattered people might draw warmth and life, and whose waters would wash away the rottenness that was putrefying the whole body?
Such reflections lead up to the realization of our primary need, transcending in importance even the "national resolution," What we lack above all is a fixed spot to serve as a "national, spiritual center," a "safe retreat," not for the Jews, but for Judaism, for the spirit of our people. The establishing and development of such a center is to be the limited work of all the members of our nation wherever they may be scattered.
Their common efforts are to effect the mutual approximation of those hitherto separated in space and spirit, and the visible center created by their limited striving is in turn to exert an influence upon every point at the periphery of the circle reviving the national spirit in all hearts, and strengthening the feeling of national kinship. Arrived at this stage, even if he has not, like Pinsker, been devoting days and years to the colonization of Palestine, the thinker cannot escape the next following thought, tile inevitable conclusion from his own mental processes-that only in the land of Israel we are able, and there we are compelled, to establish a national, spiritual center in this sense of the word.
This is my understanding of the "national will"-so Pinsker himself called it left by the author of "Auto-emancipation.
Do not be alarmed, gentle reader! From this point on I shall not afflict you with logical, or "philosophical," deductions, as our modern writers are in the habit of calling whatever is not actually perceptible to the senses. Experience long ago taught me that in our time these two distinct questions, the question of tile Jews and the question of Judaism, have been so entangled and confused with each other that mere arguments and logical proofs signally fail to convey to an ordinary mind the vast difference that exists between them, For instance, set yourself the task of proving that a certain solution is appropriate and valid for the one of the two questions but is totally inapplicable to the other.
Your opponent will listen to you with attention, occasionally nodding his head by way of assent, as if he thoroughly understood the drift of your words. Presently he will interpose a "What you say is fine, but. He reverts to his old standpoint, and again proceeds to confuse and entangle the two questions as if you had not uttered a word. To discriminate clearly between them, we must picture an imaginary state of affairs, in which it will be easy to draw a line between tile two sets of interests, those affecting the Jews, and those affecting Judaism, all I ask of you is to include in a brief waking dream with me-surely not a great drain upon the powers of "Lovers of Zion,"" the banner-bearers of the future.
If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if not now, when? Meanwhile the Jewish refugees, with the very funds collected for their immigration, are being -- "repatriated"! But the Western Jews have again learned to suffer the cry, "hep! The eruption of blazing indignation over the shame to which they were subjected has turned to a rain of ashes, gradually covering the glowing soil. Shut your eyes and hide your head like an ostrich -- there is to be no lasting peace unless in the fleeting intervals of relaxation you apply a remedy more thoroughgoing than those palliatives to which our hapless people have been turning for years.
Texts Concerning Zionism: "Auto-Emancipation"
While conducting a medical practice in Odessa, Pinsker maintained a deep interest in Jewish community affairs. He joined the Society for the Promotion of Culture Among the Jews of Russia , an assimilationist organization founded in He advocated secular education for Jews and the translation of the Bible and Hebrew prayer books into Russian. A pogrom in Odessa in shook but did not destroy his beliefs; in , however, another severe pogrom broke out in Odessa, not only ignored but even abetted by the government and defended by the press. His assimilationist beliefs were shattered, and he turned to Jewish nationalism. Ein Mahnruf an seine Stammesgenossen.