Seeking Zion

BookSeeking Zion

Seeking Zion

Modernity and Messianic Activity in the Writings of Tsevi Hirsch Kalischer

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


June 1st, 2003

Access Token


Other Formats



'A well-written, carefully documented work ... highly recommended.' Daniel D. Stuhlman, AJL Newsletter 'Myers's treatment of Kalischer's life and thought provides an excellent window into a momentous period in Jewish life and a significant theological issue that continues to challenge Jews today ... Recommended.' A. J. Avery-Peck, Choice 'Professor Myers is an expert on the history of Zionism and her outline of Kalisher's life and work is a labour of love.' Uri ben Alexander, European Judaism 'Fascinating ... an important contribution to our understanding of modernization of Judaism and it relates to many issues of modern Jewish thought.' Shaul Stampfer, Religious Studies Review

Tsevi Hirsch Kalischer (1795-1874) was one of the first Orthodox rabbis to advocate direct political action in order to radically transform Jewish life. Kalischer lived in a time when Jewish tradition was increasingly challenged by rational thought and social integration. Applying his knowledge of rabbinic literature to the unusual historical events unfolding around him, he became convinced that behind the rise of individual Jews to great power was a divine plan to prepare the way for messianic redemption. Kalischer anticipated that in his own lifetime he would see the ingathering of the Jews, the renewed cultivation of the land of Israel, and the restoration of sacrificial worship. This would be achieved not through supernatural agency but by the efforts of the Jews themselves, in the spirit of the time. The Jewish people was obligated by God to 'seek Zion'. Kalischer began his quest as early as 1836 when he approached the banker Amschel Mayer Rothschild with a plan to acquire Jerusalem and revive sacrificial worship. However, lacking Rothschild's co-operation and the approval of his rabbinic colleagues, Kalischer set aside his dream for almost twenty years. In 1862, spurred to action by the granting of equal rights to Jews and European assistance to the Jews of Palestine, 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. In this book Jody Myers explores for the first time the full range of Kalischer's writings-philosophical essays, correspondence, halakhic research, and biblical exegesis-presenting and critically analysing his groundbreaking formulation of modern messianic activism, which paved the way for later religious Zionism. She shows how Kalischer's approach marks a pivotal transition in the history of the messianic idea, and explains how he designed his arguments to appeal both to religious Jews and 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.

Author Information

Jody Myers, who received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles, is a Professor of Religious Studies and Co-ordinator of the Jewish Studies Interdisciplinary Program at the California State University, Northridge. She has written various articles on modern messianic and religious Zionist thought, and on new forms of religious expression among contemporary Jews.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Half Title2
Title Page4
Note on Transliteration and Sources14
1: The Messianic Idea in Late Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century Europe, 1782–181916
The Foundations of Messianic Thought17
The First Conflicts24
Messianism and Conflict over Liturgical Reform34
2: Raising a Rabbi in the Posen District, 1795–182346
Polish Jewish Society at Kalischer’s Birth47
Marriage and Earning a Livelihood67
3: The Letter to Rothschild, 183674
The Messianic Theory75
Kalischer’s Proposal84
The Prussian Territories during the 1820s and 1830s89
The Prussian Political Ethos97
4: Sacrifice and Redemption, 1836–1837104
Halakhic Problems and Solutions, 1836105
Seeking Rabbinic Consent to the Renewal of Sacrifice, 1836–1837112
5: Finding a Proper Faith, 1837–1855120
Reason and Traditional Learning121
God’s Role in History130
The Meaning of the Sacrifices135
Responding to Religious Innovation145
6: The Return to Activism, 1855–1861157
Poverty and Agricultural Labour158
The Rise of Jewish Notables and Jewish Civic Emancipation165
The Restoration of Sacrificial Worship172
7: Seeking Zion, 1862–1874181
The Land183
Defending Realistic Messianism192
The Interpretative Key and Contemporary Hidden Miracles198
The Secondary Rationales210
The Sacrifices226
Index of Biblical and Rabbinic References256
General Index258