The Russian-born author and philosopher Ahad Haam (1856-1927), whose real name was Asher Tsvi Ginzberg wrote essays on the Jewish nation that caused great debate within the Zionist movement.
Asher Ginzberg was born in Skwera in the Russian district of Kiev. His father, a fervent Hasid, was learned and affluent, and he educated his son in the spirit of Hasidism. Even as a youth, Asher was renowned as an expert in Talmudical and Hasidic literature. At the age of 17 he married, remaining in his father's home while continuing his studies of all aspects of Jewish learning. He later became interested in secular culture, Western languages, and science.
In 1884 Ginzberg settled in Odessa, where he remained for the next 20 years. There he actively joined in the work of the Lovers of Zion. In 1889 he published his first programmatic article, "This Is Not the Way," under the pseudonym Ahad Haam (meaning "one of the people"). In this essay he attempted to demonstrate that, without a revival of the national consciousness which had dwindled over the long years of exile, the program of the Lovers of Zion could not succeed. In the same year he founded in Odessa the Sons of Moses, an organization dedicated to providing the future leadership for a Jewish national revival.
In 1891 Ahad Haam made his first visit to Palestine. He wrote the article "Truth from Palestine," which aroused intense reactions and vehement opposition among Zionists. In 1896 he became head of Achiasaph, an important Hebrew publishing house in Warsaw. In the following year he founded in Berlin the monthly Hashiloach and remained its editor until 1902. He then was employed by the Wisotsky Tea Company, first in Odessa and from 1907 in London.
Ahad Haam visited Palestine five times and in 1922 permanently settled there. He undertook the collection of his many articles and letters, took an active part in the community life, and continued in his Zionist speculations. In 1927 he died and was buried in Tel Aviv.
Ahad Haam was an original and penetrating thinker. He was one of the first opponents of Theodor Herzl's political Zionism, and he proposed instead national redemption through a spiritual Zionism. Such a goal, he thought, could be reached only through a center of learning, ethics, philosophy, and science in Palestine. This center would safeguard the Jewish nation against cultural assimilation and would strengthen feelings of national solidarity among Diaspora Jewry. He argued that solutions to the economic and political problems of millions of Jews were unattainable, since "an ingathering of the exiles would be nothing short of miraculous." But he stressed that a spiritual revival of Judaism was well within the realm of the possible. The influence of Ahad Haam upon Jewish literature and Zionist thought was great, and he found many adherents among both political leaders and Jewish authors.
For a collection of Ahad Haam's works in English see Ahad Haam: Selected Essays, translated by Sir Leon Simon (1912). Simon also wrote a biography, Ahad Haam, Asher Ginzberg (1960). For a general introduction see Shalom Spiegel, Hebrew Reborn (1930), and Meyer Waxman, A History of Jewish Literature (4 vols., 1930-1936; new ed., 5 vols. in 6, 1960).
Zipperstein, Steven J., Elusive prophet: Ahad Ha'am and the origins of Zionism, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. □