During his years as a Young Judaea camper, Gil Troy was introduced to Arthur Hertzberg’s The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader. First published in 1959, the book remains a classic introduction to Zionist thought and its key thinkers. Six decades later, Troy, himself a prolific thinker and writer on Zionism, has edited, expanded, and revitalized Hertzberg’s work. He has retained excerpts from twenty-six of the thirty-seven thinkers featured in the original anthology, and added 143 entries.
Troy, in the anthology’s introduction, traces Zionism’s development as a “thrice-born idea” that emerged in the biblical era, again in the mid-nineteenth century, and, finally, in the modern age. After placing each era of Zionism within its larger historical context, Troy outlines the central ideas of six Zionist schools of thought (Political, Labor, Revisionist, Religious, Cultural, and Diaspora), simultaneously providing both a broad and nuanced overview of each. He sketches out Zionism’s key ideas, challenges, and critical moments of development while introducing the thinkers whose ideas are found in the pages ahead. He also encourages readers to use the book to host a salon for a text-based discussion “examining Zionist dreams, values, and visions about the Zionism of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.” The introduction concludes with a challenge for readers to “look back accurately — with a dash of romance — and to look forward creatively — with a touch of rigor — weighing what Zionism can mean and become, today and tomorrow.”
The book is divided into three sections that separate the sources into three phases of Zionism: pre-1948, 1948 – 2000, and 2000 to the present. In each section, Troy’s update places each thinker within one of six schools of thought; this structure gives the reader a choice to read chronologically, or to read the writings of a particular ideology across its historical development. The excerpt of each writer is preceded by a brief biographical sketch. Interestingly, the collection not only includes the European and Israeli-born thinkers one would expect, but also the work of Israeli poets, excerpts from Israeli legislation, and the writings of prominent, postmodern Zionist thinkers in the Diaspora. Troy also includes passionate Zionist voices that are critical of Israel, as well as the writings of female thinkers. Hertzberg’s work did not include any female voices.
The Zionist Ideas is an important update and essential addition to every Jewish studies library. The wealth of ideas found between its pages gives the reader an extraordinary opportunity to explore how his or her own thinking can fit into the spectrum of Zionist thought. Troy’s update has revitalized Hertzberg’s groundbreaking work and opened a new opportunity for conversation about Zionism and the central place of Israel in Jewish life.
Jonathan Fass is the Managing Director of Educational Technology and Strategy at The Jewish Education Project of New York.