Seeking Zion

Modernity and Messianic Activism in the Writings of Tsevi Hirsch Kalischer

By Jody Myers

Tsevi Hirsch Kalischer (1795-1874) was one of the first impeccably Orthodox rabbis to argue that the Jewish people must engage in diplomatic and economic initiatives to return to Palestine. Educated by great Polish rabbis, he utilized his command of rabbinic literature to interpret the unusual events unfolding around him. What was the divine plan behind the rise of individual Jews to great power? Kalischer grew convinced that God was preparing the way for messianic redemption. He anticipated that, in his own lifetime, he would see the ingathering of the Jews, the renewed fertility of the Land of Israel, and the rebuilt Temple. Rejecting supernatural messianic fantasies, Kalischer insisted that the new age would arrive gradually and naturally. He placed the responsibility for historic change directly upon the Jewish people themselves. They were obligated by God to 'seek Zion.' Kalischer became personally engaged in this quest as early as 1836 when he approached the banker Amschel Mayer Rothschild with a plan to acquire Jerusalem and revive sacrificial worship. Shortly thereafter, lacking Rothschild's cooperation, as well as the approval of his rabbinic colleagues, Kalischer set aside his dream for almost 20 years. The granting of equal rights to Jews and European assistance to the Jews of Palestine spurred him again to action and, in 1862, he published his theories in Derishat tsiyon (Seeking Zion). From then until his death, Kalischer promoted and raised funds on behalf of the establishment of agricultural communes in Palestine. Now in paperback, this book explores the full range of Kalischer's writings: philosophical essays, correspondence, halakhic research, and biblical exegesis. The book shows how Kalischer's approach marks a pivotal transition in the history of the messianic idea. It presents and critically analyzes Kalischer's groundbreaking formulation of modern messianic activism, which paved the way for later Religious Zionism. It explains how Kalischer designed his arguments to appeal to religious Jews, as well as to the newly emancipated Jews of western Europe who, grateful for their own fortune, wanted to assist the impoverished Jews of the Middle East. At the same time, his proposals generated controversy and uncovered the growing schisms between Jews in modern times. Through Kalischer's eyes, the reader gains a fascinating perspective on what it means to be both religious and modern.


270 pages

Publication Date: 1/1/2012
Format: Paper
ISBN: 9781906764265