Pinsker, Leon

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PINSKER, LEON (Judah Leib ; 1821–1891), leader of the *Ḥibbat Zion movement. Born in Tomaszow, Poland, Pinsker studied at the school of his father Simḥah *Pinsker, a Hebrew writer and scholar, in Odessa. He was one of the first Jews to attend Odessa University, where he studied law. However, he discovered that being a Jew, he had no chance of becoming a lawyer and studied medicine at the University of Moscow, returning to practice in Odessa in 1849. Pinsker was one of the founders of the first Russian Jewish weekly, Razsvet ("Dawn"), to which he was a regular contributor. The editors attempted to acquaint the Jewish population with Russian culture and encourage them to speak Russian. These aims were more strongly expressed in the weekly Russian-language publication Sion, which replaced Razsvet and of which Pinsker was one of the editors for about half a year. He was also one of the founders of the Odessa branch of the Society for the Dissemination of Enlightenment among Jews, whose aim was similar to that of the periodical. Pinsker contributed to the Russian-language weekly Den ("Day"), founded by the society, which called on Jews to assimilate into Russian society. The pogroms that began in 1871 in Odessa severely shook the enlightened Jews; the weekly stopped publication, and the Odessa branch of the society closed down. Thereafter, Pinsker concentrated on medicine and published a book in German on the medicinal value of the sea and the Liman spa at Odessa (Vienna, 1881). He also became prominent in local public life. When, after an interval of six years, the Odessa Branch of the Society for the Dissemination of Enlightenment was reopened, Pinsker was elected to its committee and helped to collect documentation on the history of the Jews in Russia.

The pogroms that broke out in southern Russia in 1881 and the undisguised antisemitism of the government had a profound effect on Pinsker and caused him to undergo a complete change of heart. He ceased to regard the spreading of Enlightenment and the Haskalah movement as the solution to the future of Russian Jewry, doubted the value of the emancipation of European Jewry, and did not believe that hatred of the Jews would be overcome by humanist ideals. He followed the debates in Jewish newspapers as to which countries were suitable for Jewish emigration. They discussed the need for an emigration organization, some demanding that Jewish emigration be channeled into one country in which a national center be created, in essence a Jewish state. Moses *Lilienblum was an advocate of the Ḥibbat Zion movement's demands that Jews immigrate to the Land of Israel. He saw antisemitism rooted in the fact that Jews were foreigners, a minority of strangers; Pinsker studied the problem of the fate of the Jewish people and reached similar conclusions. In his trip to Italy, to seek a cure for his heart disease (1882), he included visits to the capitals of Western Europe – Vienna, Berlin, Paris, and London – to discuss with leading personalities the need to channel Russian Jewish emigration into one country and to establish a national Jewish center. The chief rabbi of Vienna, Adolph *Jellinek, was unimpressed with the idea. In Paris, the leaders of the *Alliance Israélite Universelle rejected his suggestions; they supported immigration to the U.S., without territorial aims. The person most impressed with Pinsker's ideas was Arthur Cohen, a member of parliament and chairman of the Board of Deputies of British Jews in London. Together they emphasized the need to regard the Jewish question as an international problem and to win governments over to the idea.

It was at Cohen's suggestion that Pinsker published his famous work "Autoemancipation." Mahnruf an seine Stammesgenossen von einem russischen Juden (1882), in which he analyzed the psychological and social roots of antisemitism and called for the establishment of a Jewish national center. The book was intended to serve as a warning to his fellow Jews (Stammesgenossen) and was published anonymously, the author defining himself as "a Russian Jew." The book was written in a passionate style which forcefully expressed the author's deep anxiety for the fate of his people.

Pinsker first states that the reason for the old-new Jewish problem is the existence of the Jews as a separate ethnic entity among the nations, an entity which cannot be assimilated. The radical solution is the acquisition of a Jewish homeland, a country where they can live and which will be theirs, just like other nations. At best, Jews reach technical equality, but this legal change of status is not a real, social, emancipation. There are also economic reasons for antisemitism, because in competition, preference is given to one's own ethnic group and the foreigner is discriminated against. There is a saturation point to the number of Jews in each country, and when they exceed this point, persecution begins.

Pinsker directs his attacks against Western Jewry, the "diploma chasers" who view the dispersion of Jews throughout the world as a "mission." Moreover, the religious approach that the exile must be suffered in silence until the coming of the Messiah also weakened the desire for a Jewish homeland. He indicates that national consciousness has awakened in Russian and Romanian Jewry, in the form of a movement to settle in Ereẓ Israel. Pinsker did not wish to decide whether Ereẓ Israel or a territory in America should be chosen as a Jewish homeland, since he felt that a national Jewish congress should decide the matter. He hoped that the worldwide process of national awakening would be of benefit to the Jewish people and that other nations would help them achieve national independence. He called on Western Jewry and on its "existing alliances" (meaning the Alliance Israélite Universelle, the *Anglo-Jewish Association, etc.) to lighten the suffering of their brethren by founding a homeland and advocated the convocation of a National Jewish Congress to organize the new exodus. In order to settle destitute emigrants, a national fund should also be established.

The book had strong repercussions, both in Russia and abroad. The Ḥovevei Zion received it enthusiastically, though it had many opponents. Lilienblum attempted to convince Pinsker not to wait for a decision by Western Jewry, but to work immediately toward the realization of the plan in Ereẓ Israel. Pinsker, however, refused to make a decision as to the location of the homeland. Nevertheless, Hermann *Schapira, who accompanied Lilienblum, managed to win him over in the summer of 1883. Discussions, also attended by Max *Mandelstamm from Kiev and several others, led to the decision to work for the establishment of a center for Jewish settlement, in Ereẓ Israel if possible, and to convene a congress, with the participation of the Ḥibbat Zion movement, to choose a central executive committee. Afterward Pinsker held a meeting of community leaders at his house, and they chose a committee to organize the movement; he was elected chairman, with Lilienblum as secretary. The committee made contact with existing groups of the Ḥibbat Zion movement, and encouraged the establishment of new groups. The Warsaw branch of the movement was also active in organizing a convention, which met at *Kattowitz on Nov. 6, 1884, and was attended by members of the Ḥibbat Zion from Russia and abroad. Pinsker was chosen chairman of the convention, and in his opening speech he indicated the need for Jews to return to working the land. He did not mention national revival or independence, since this new movement wished to attract Western Jews. At his suggestion, the convention decided to found the Montefiore Association for the dissemination of the idea of agriculture among Jews and to engage their support for Jewish settlers in Ereẓ Israel. Pinsker was elected chairman of the temporary executive committee, whose seat was in Odessa.

Attempts to establish a central bureau of the Ḥovevei Zion outside Russia failed, and Odessa thus remained the center of the movement. Pinsker invited Lilienblum to become secretary of the Odessa office. The limited activities of the committee and its small income, which did not permit any large-scale settlement activity but served to support only a very small number of settlers; the lack of legalization of the committee's activities and internal feuds; and Pinsker's ailing health caused him to resign. He called a convention in Druskieniki (summer, 1887), at which he intended to hand in his resignation and then travel abroad to seek a cure. At the convention, relations worsened between the Orthodox and the maskilim. Pinsker handed in his resignation, but a majority of delegates asked him to continue at his post, and he agreed to do so. Six advisory wardens, including three rabbis, were elected to the leadership.

While abroad, Pinsker attempted to work for the movement. In Paris he met Baron Edmond de *Rothschild, who promised to help the *Petaḥ Tikvah settlement and to acquire land. Rothschild's associates told Pinsker that they would collaborate with the Ḥovevei Zion only if he headed it. As a result, Pinsker ceased to consider resigning immediately. The rabbis who were advisory wardens caused Pinsker considerable difficulty in their demands in religious matters. The declining situation in the movement and his failing health again caused Pinsker to consider resigning. He did not attend the convention held in Vilna in the summer of 1889 for he feared he would be persuaded to continue at his post. At this convention, Samuel *Mohilewer attempted to become head of the movement, but at Pinsker's suggestion in a letter to the convention, Abraham Gruenberg, a resident of Odessa, was chosen as active warden, together with Mohilewer and Samuel Joseph Fuenn. The center of the movement thus remained in Odessa.

In 1890, the Ḥovevei Zion was legalized in Odessa under the name Society for the Support of Jewish Farmers and Artisans in Syria and Palestine (see *Odessa Committee) and Pinsker was again asked to be its head. He agreed, despite his grave doubts about whether the new committee would succeed any better than the old one. While the committee was carrying on its first activities, the Ḥovevei Zion movement revived in Russia, and Jews began to settle in Ereẓ Israel as a result of worsening conditions of Russian Jewry and the expulsion of Jews from Moscow (1891). Pinsker began to hope that his dream would come true in Ereẓ Israel. However, the Turkish authorities issued a prohibition on immigration, and the movement underwent a crisis. The Jaffa committee, which represented the Odessa center, ran into debt, many acquisitions of land in Ereẓ Israel were cancelled, and the contributions of associations for settling the land were lost. Pinsker, who was pessimistic by nature, began to doubt whether Ereẓ Israel would serve as the solution for saving masses of Jews from persecution. He began to believe that the activities of Baron Maurice de *Hirsch, who founded the Jewish Colonization *Association (ica) for the settlement of Jews in Argentina, might solve the problem.

Toward his death, he reached the conclusion that Ereẓ Israel would remain only the spiritual center of the Jewish people. He expressed these opinions in an article that he read to Lilienblum 20 days before his death and which was intended to serve as a supplement to the English edition of Autoemancipation, shortly to be published. Despite Pinsker's wish to publicize his new attitude, the article was never published. His funeral was the occasion for a large Jewish demonstration. In his will he left the sum of 16,000 rubles to various institutions, but only 2,000 rubles to the Odessa committee. In 1934 his remains were transferred and buried in the Cave of Nicanor on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem.


B. Netanyahu, in: Road to Freedom… (1944), 7–73; N. Sokolow, Ḥibbath Zion (Eng., 1935), index; idem, History of Zionism, 2 (1919), index; A. Druyanow, Pinsker u-Zemmano (1953); idem, Ketavim le-Toledot Ḥibbat Ẓiyyon ve-Yishuv Ereẓ-Yisrael, 3 vols. (1919–32), index; Y. Klausner (ed.), Sefer Pinsker (1921); idem, Ha-Tenu'ah le-Ẓiyyon be-Rusyah, 3 vols. (1962–65); M. Yoeli, J.L. Pinsker (Heb., 1960); A. Hertzberg (ed.), Zionist Idea (1960), 178–98 and introd., passim; B. Dinur, Mefallesei Derekh (1946), 21–61; S. Breiman, in: Shivat Ẓiyyon, 3–4 (1953), 205–27.

[Israel Klausner]