Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A book to review





Theodor Herzl :A New Reading by Georges Yitzhak Weisz

Definition, definition, definition... 

At the heart of the arguments on Herzl is really definition of specific words and terminology used. What is zionism? Who is a Jew? Why a Jewish state? We assume that we share the same definitions so when we debate the issue and the words are used, some how there is shock at the amount of disagreement. Our beliefs define our words.

"Who is Theodor Herzl?" is one of these questions that have been defined and redefined. Herzl's lack of observance and degrees of assimilation have been used to call into question his "Jewishness." That would be another question waiting to be defined, "How observant should one be?" This issue is in constant debate whether you are in HaEretz or the Diaspora. Which rabbi performed your son's bris? your daughter's wedding? Where you Bar Mitzvah'd? and the age old "How Jewish are you?" are question that circle round and round. These basic questions divide our communities, even to the point of being able share a cup of tea together or say brachahs.

In an interview with Haaretz, Dr. Yitzhak Weisz, stated the he believes that Herzl is more relevant than ever today, and that the discourse should go back to focusing on Jewish identity, as he conceived it. “We must return to Herzl,” he declares. Herzl’s approach, asserts Weisz, provides the basis for redefining the religious debate: “We need to uproot the Jewish terminology of religious-and-secular and start to talk about Jewish identity.”
While on vacation with his wife, he happened to read Herzl’s book “Altneuland” ‏(“Old-New Land”‏) Reading the book gave me a shock, because I grasped intuitively that there was a fraud, a distortion under way here, which unites segments of society otherwise divided by an abyss: the Haredim on the one hand and the post-Zionists on the other,” he says. “When I got back to Jerusalem, I started to read Herzl systematically. Suddenly I understood how symptomatic Herzl is of the identity crisis that is wracking Israeli society.”
“Herzl thought that a Jew remains a Jew even if he discards all the precepts. But that never happens, because observing the precepts is a collective act.” Herzl’s approach, asserts Weisz, provides the basis for redefining the religious debate: “We need to uproot the Jewish terminology of religious-and-secular and start to talk about Jewish identity.”


The news lately has reported on the return to faith of 60-70 kibutz communities that are practicing a Reformed Judaism rather than Haredi. Many lesser observant or secular Israelis leave their own country in order to get married as there are so many difficulties placed in getting a legal marriage in Israel. An Inquiry is being made into the Aliyah process, as to how it is being/has been handled.

Dov Newmark, Nefesh B'Nefesh UK Director: “So really Aliyah is the process of emigrating to Israel. It’s a fairly straightforward process - under Israel’s immigration law, which is the Law of Return, if you, if you qualify then Israel has very much an open door policy. As far as the government basket of benefits it ranges from free ulpan - which is learning the language, there’s also health benefits as well, and there is a monetary gift depending on size of family that is also awarded to you, on behalf of the Israeli government”.

Depending on which Rabbi signed your papers....

This is why this book is relevant. Beginning with the infamous Dreyfus Affair, mentioning the legendary link between George Eliot's Daniel Deronda and Herzl, the need for a common tongue and resurrecting spoken Hebrew, Weisz seeks to create a whole picture of Herzl. Looking back from this place in time, with an established Israel, post Holocaust, with Hebrew being spoken and written in, it is hard to believe that there was a time when the Encyclopedia Britannica reported things to be as unlikely as Hebrew ever being a spoken language.

Besides history, there is a faith that enters into the equation of zionism and Israel. This book is an excellent resource to the great debate.

‘A return to Jewishness is an absolute condition for a return to the Land of Israel.’ - Herzl

Now that we have a book redefining Herzl, maybe we can find a common ground in our "Jewishness" ...if we can agree on a definition.


This book was provided to me at no cost, for review purposes. I receive no compensation and the opinions are my own. And all the legal stuff that tells you I am only biased by my own opinions.

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