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Kalischer, Ẓevi Hirsch

KALISCHER, ẒEVI HIRSCH

KALISCHER, ẒEVI HIRSCH (1795–1874), rabbi and harbinger of the Zionist idea. Born in Lissa (Leszno), Posen district, Kalischer studied under the great scholars of his day, Jacob of Lissa (Lorberbaum) and Akiva Eger. In 1824 he settled in Thorn, where he lived until his death, rejecting invitations from many communities to serve as their rabbi. Even in Thorn he served only as unpaid acting rabbi and lived off the meager income supplied by his wife's small business. He published books on halakhah (Even Boḥan; Moznayim la-Mishpat, 1843–55) and on religious philosophy (Emunah Yesharah, 1843), and contributed to the Hebrew press for many years. (Before the existence of a regular Hebrew press, his articles were published in German translation in the German-Jewish press.) His major activity, however, throughout his life, was advocating the idea of mass settlement of European Jewry in Ereẓ Israel. In his discussions with members of the Reform movement on the observance of religious precepts, the belief in the coming of the Messiah, the mitzvot connected with Ereẓ Israel, etc., Kalischer revealed not only his strong attachment to religious tradition but also his preoccupation with the problems of the day.

As early as his meeting with Anschel *Rothschild in 1836, Kalischer revealed his opinion that the redemption of Israel would not come, as had been believed for generations, through a miracle, that "suddenly God would come down from the heavens or suddenly send His messiah," but rather that salvation would be brought about by human endeavor. He stressed the idea that the natural redemption would serve as the first and main stage before the miraculous redemption at the end of days. This was a revolutionary departure from over 1,000 years of Jewish thinking about redemption. His system initially included the observance of the mitzvot connected with Ereẓ Israel, especially those of sacrifice, as basic steps toward the future redemption, but at a later stage he disregarded this element in his ideology. Indeed, he wrote to Rothschild detailing the halakhic issues involved in renewing the practice of sacrifice on the Temple Mount. Shortly thereafter, Kalischer corresponded at length with his former teacher Akiba *Eger about the sanctity of the Temple Mount, the problems regarding the laws of purity and the genealogies of the priests. Unfortunately for Kalischer, Eger, who opposed Kalischer's ideas, died in 1837 before they could come to a resolution. Following Judah *Alkalai, he based his doctrine on the talmudic saying "It [the coming of the Messiah] depends solely on the return [to God]" (Sanh. 97b), interpreting the word "return" as return to Ereẓ Israel. He based this interpretation on Tikkunei Zohar. Thus he introduced an active human element into the concept of the redemption of the Jewish people, in opposition to most of the Orthodox rabbis of the time, who objected to this interpretation and its practical implications. His urge to gather supporters for the return to Ereẓ Israel was reinforced by the various national movements in Europe, which were specifically cited by Kalischer. Pointing to the struggles of European nations to achieve independence, Kalischer chastised his fellow Jews for being the only people without such an aspiration. He was particularly critical of the Reform Jews who tried to emulate the gentile lifestyle. Kalischer urged them to emulate gentile nationalism as well by returning to the Jewish homeland, Ereẓ Israel. Kalischer was a realist. He was aware that only a catastrophic event or the very slow process of education would change the attitudes of Europe's Jews. However, he felt that the mid-nineteenth century was ripe for this change, for there were enough wealthy Jewish leaders who could influence the European political leadership without begging for their mercy and good will. After Rothschild gave a noncommittal response, Kalischer approached Moses *Montefiore. Unfortunately, his correspondence with Montefiore has not survived. Nevertheless, the result was the same lukewarm response that did not produce any practical results.

Practical activities for the settlement in Ereẓ Israel did not come into being until 1860, when Ḥayyim *Lorje established the first society for this purpose in Frankfurt on the Oder and Kalischer supported it. The society quickly attracted many of the leaders of the European Jewish community. Among them were Albert *Cohen, R. Joseph Blumenthal of Paris, R. Nathan *Adler of London, S.J. *Finn of Vilna, R. Judah *Alkalai and Dov Meisels, chief rabbi of Budapest. The society did not last long, basically because of the eccentric personality of its leader, but it did manage to publish Kalischer's book Derishat Ẓiyyon (1862), which for many years served as the basic book to explain the idea of the return to Ereẓ Israel to Orthodox groups (the book came out in a number of editions, was translated into German, and portions of it were translated into English and other languages). In the book, Kalischer expounded at length his theory that redemption would come in two stages: the natural one, return to Ereẓ Israel and labor – particularly agricultural – in the country, and the supernatural one to follow. The first stage would invigorate the yishuv and put it on a healthy economic foundation instead of its dependence upon donations from abroad (ḥalukkah). In his program he did not ignore the unstable security situation (this argument was used against him mainly by the rabbis in Ereẓ Israel), and he devoted one paragraph especially to the necessity of appointing guards trained for war and police duty. He also envisioned the establishment of an agricultural school for the younger generation. The book had a great influence on, inter alia, Moses *Hess, who included portions of it in German translation in his book Rome and Jerusalem. Even though the society founded by Lorje collapsed, it left Kalischer with numerous contacts and key friendships. One was with Rabbi Joseph Natank of Hungary, who became a loyal and assiduous worker on Kalischer's behalf. From the time Kalischer published Derishat Ẓiyyon, his life was devoted to traveling through Europe in order to enlist the support of Jewish groups for his idea. He tried to win leading Jewish personalities over to his plan. He also published sermonizing articles in many Hebrew newspapers and journals. At the same time he continued his writing in the field of halakhah as well as his struggle against those who, in his opinion, undermined the foundations of religious tradition. He also found himself disputing with the rabbis who objected to his ideas on religious grounds, and especially with the rabbis in Ereẓ Israel, who also brought up the argument that conditions, especially of security, in Ereẓ Israel were not yet ripe for beginning agricultural settlement. Their vigorous opposition was also based on theological objections to Kalischer's view of redemption. At the same time, they feared that mass settlement would lead to the lessening of their authority. Kalischer stood his ground even before the great rabbis of his time. He distinguished between philanthropy on behalf of Ereẓ Israel, in which German Orthodox rabbis were active, and settlement activity of redeeming value in the future. Thus he adopted a critical attitude toward the building of houses in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 1860s (the "Battei Maḥaseh" in the Old City), as he saw this project as a private endeavor and not promoting the "main objective." He believed that only agriculture on a large scale could serve as a stable solution for both the yishuv and the victims of persecution in Europe. Kalischer saw a small beginning of his ideal realized toward the end of his life when the agricultural school was opened at Mikveh Israel (1870) and even thought of settling there at the invitation of the school's director, Charles *Netter, to supervise the observance of the mitzvot connected with Ereẓ Israel, but his desire was not realized. His son Ze'ev Wolf continued Kalischer's activity and, at his initiative, a tract of land near Rachel's tomb was purchased from the funds in Kalischer's estate. A selection of his Zionist writings was published together with an introduction by G. Kressel (1943). All his Zionist writings were collected with an introduction by I. Klausner (1947). Both collections have full bibliographies.

In practical terms, there was little difference between Kalischer's plans and those of Herzl: A Jewish state based on agriculture, with its own police and army. So why did Kalischer fail to start a mass Zionist movement? Kalischer was a bit of an anomaly. East European Orthodox Jews thought that his messianic ideas were too modern and were thus afraid that they might lead to assimilation. West European Jews saw him as an East European rabbi who spoke and wrote using a talmudic and rabbinic idiom that was foreign to them.

bibliography:

J. Katz, in: L. Jung, Guardians of Our Heritage 1724–1953 (1958), 207–28; N. Sokolow, Hibbath Zion (Eng., 1935), index; A. Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea (1960), 108–14; A.I. Bromberg, Ha-Rav Ẓ.H. Kalischer (1960). add. bibliography: J.E. Myers, Seeking Zion: Modernity and Messianic Activism in the Writings of Tsevi Hirsch Kalisher (2003); Y. Asaf, "Reshit Hitgavveshutah shel Ortodoksiyah Le'ummit ba-Me'ah ha-19: Ha-Mikreh shel ha-Rav Ẓevi Hirsch Kalischer" (Dissertation, 2002); S.N. Lehman-Wilzig, in: Tradition, 16:1 (1976) 56–76; I. Klausner, in: In the Dispersion, 5–6 (1966), 281–89; M.N. Penkower, in: Judaism, 33:3 (1984), 289–95; Y. Salmon, in: Danzig, Between East and West: Aspects of Modern Jewish History (1985), 123–37; idem, in: Ereẓ Yisrael be-Hagut ha-Yehudit be-Et ha-Ḥadashah (1998), 424–46; D. Koliv, in: Ge'ulah u-Medinah: Ge'ulat YisraelḤazon u-Meẓi'ut (1979), 293–303; M. Hildesheimer, in: Sefer Avi'ad: Koveẓ Ma'amarim u-Meḥkarim le-Zekher Yeshayahu Wolfsberg-Avi'ad (1986), 195–214; M.S. Samet, in: Cathedra, 33 (1985), 54–56; A.H. Shishah, in: ibid., 38 (1986), 195–200; J. Ticker in: Working Papers in Yiddish and East European Studies, 15 (1975); E. Segel, Jewish Free Press (March 30, 2000), 14–15; http://www.wzo.org.il/en/resources/view.asp?id=1338&subject=70.

[Getzel Kressel /

David Derovan (2nd ed.)]

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