Thon, Osias

views updated


THON, OSIAS (Jehoshua ; 1870–1936), rabbi, early Zionist, and Polish Jewish leader. Born in Lemberg (Lvov), Thon studied philosophy and sociology and was one of George *Simmel's most brilliant students. During his student years, he joined Theodor *Herzl, whom he assisted in preparing the First Zionist Congress. In 1897 he published a philosophical study, the first of its kind, on Zionism, Zur geschichtsphilosophischen Begruendung des Zionismus. His Zionist views did not prevent him from being appointed in 1897 to the rabbinate of Cracow, which, like most of the Jewish communities at the time, was under the control of assimilationists. He continued to hold this post until his death. Thon's activities were initially educational and literary. He was a gifted orator, and his influence was not confined to the Jews of Cracow, but spread throughout Galicia and Poland. His literary and scientific activities were conducted in Hebrew, Yiddish, German, Polish, and English and encompassed journalistic essays and articles, as well as academic philosophy. He wrote a book on the philosophical and sociological method of Herbert Spencer (Heb., 1910).

Thon regarded himself as a faithful disciple of *Aḥad Ha-Am, despite the fact that he was not prepared to accept his exclusive concentration on cultural matters. His articles and essays from the 1890s until his death were published in many Jewish newspapers and journals. Thon played a prominent role as the president of the West Galician Zionist Federation and as a member of the Zionist General Council, as well as one of the foremost speakers at the Zionist Congresses. He also dedicated himself to Zionist work in the Diaspora in accordance with the program of the *Helsingfors Conference (1906). In the same year Thon stood as a candidate of the Jewish National Party in the town of Kolomea, East Galicia, in the elections to the Austrian parliament. Although he lost the election to his Polish opponent, Thon continued his political activities and intensified them after World War i. He represented the West Galician Jewish National Council on the Comité des Delegations Juives at the Versailles Peace Conference and shortly afterward (1919) was elected to the first Polish parliament (the Sejm). His parliamentary activities continued until 1931. His speeches in the Sejm received undivided attention and were not interrupted by the many antisemites present. In 1925 Thon, together with Leon *Reich, conducted negotiations with the Polish government and agreed that Jewish members of parliament would guarantee their support of government policy in exchange for certain domestic concessions in favor of Polish Jewry. This agreement (called *ugoda) aroused a storm of protest in wide sections of the Jewish public, which regarded it as endangering the principle of an independent progressive Jewish policy. In the end the agreement came to nothing due to the coup that established a new regime in Poland and the reactionary and antisemitic direction of Polish policy in the 1930s.

Thon was also one of the leaders of the Hebrew language movement. He helped found the network of *Tarbut schools in Poland and officiated as its president for five years. He was also among the founders of the Institute of Jewish Studies in Warsaw, the foremost academic institution of Polish Jewry. Collections of his articles on Zionism appeared in German in 1930, including the memorable monographs on Zionism and Herzl (the latter first appeared in print in 1914 and was translated into Hebrew, Polish, Yiddish, and Hungarian in 1922). An anthology of his sermons appeared in Polish in 1938. His memoirs appeared in the anthology Pirkei Galiẓyah (edited by I. Cohen and Dov Sadan, 1957, 343–85). Bet Yehoshu'a in Israel is named after him.


N. Hollander, Jehoshua Thon (Eng. 1966); I. Gruenbaum, Penei ha-Dor, 1 (1957), 278–94; lnyl 4 (1961) 35–37; J. Tenenbaum, Galitsie Mayn Alte Heym, 1 (1952), index; N.M. Gelber, Toledot ha-Tenu'ah ha-Ẓiyyonit be-Galiẓyah, 2 (1958), index.

[Aryeh Tartakower]