Schlesinger, Akiva Joseph
SCHLESINGER, AKIVA JOSEPH
SCHLESINGER, AKIVA JOSEPH (1837–1922), one of the first visionaries of modern Zionism. Born in Pressburg, Schlesinger was a graduate of Hungarian yeshivot and a student of Kabbalah. He was one of the spokesmen of the extreme religious elements of the Ḥatam Sofer (see Moses *Sofer) school of thought, which advocated complete separation from the "enlightened" and "neologic" elements. In his book Lev Ivri ("Hebrew Heart," 1865), he sharply attacked the "meshannim" and "mitḥaddeshim" ("innovators" and "reformers"). In 1870 Schlesinger went to Ereẓ Israel out of a conviction that the sole hope for religious Jewry lay in the establishment of a religious Jewish community in the Land of Israel. In 1873 he published the book Ḥevrat Maḥzirei Atarah le-Yoshnah orKolel ha-Ivrim ("The Society for the Restoration of Things to Their Former Glory" or "The Community of Hebraists"), in which he expounded his plan for the establishment of a worldwide association for the consolidation of religious Jewry. This association would set up a network of schools to educate the young generation in a religious spirit; its center would be in Jerusalem and its aim would be the establishment of a Jewish community living off the fruits of its own labor and in the spirit of the Torah. In his book Schlesinger expressed ideas similar to those which were later adapted by the Zionist movement (collection of contributions and tithes for the upbuilding of the country, renaissance of the Hebrew language, agricultural settlement, organization of self-defense, abolition of the barriers between communities and kolelim and their amalgamation into one – Kolel ha-Ivrim). Schlesinger was the leader of a group of Jerusalemites who tried to change the *ḥalukkah system and divert the funds to agricultural settlement. The ḥalukkah trustees, who feared Schlesinger's ideas as a threat to their hegemony, boycotted and persecuted him, and he reponded with harsh polemic. In 1878 Schlesinger was one of the founders of Petaḥ Tikvah and, with the establishment of the new settlement, he called on religious Jewry to establish their own settlement movement to encompass truly religious Jews, without "heretical and outside elements."
Minz and Kahane, in: L. Jung, Men of the Spirit (1963), 61–82; A.Y. Shaḥrai, Rabbi Akiba Joseph Schlesinger (Heb., 1942); Y. Trivaks and E. Steinman, Sefer Me'ah Shanah (1938), 387–98.