The Zion­ist Ideas: Visions for the Jew­ish Homeland―Then, Now, Tomorrow

Gil Troy; Natan Sha­ran­sky, fwd.

By – September 9, 2018

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.

Discussion Questions

A bold new look at Zion­ist ide­olo­gies and thinkers. Gil Troy in The Zion­ist Ideas expands Arthur Hertzberg’s clas­sic work, The Zion­ist Idea, orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 1959. Troy’s work divides Zion­ism into six sec­tions: Polit­i­cal, Revi­sion­ist, Reli­gious, Labor, Cul­tur­al, and Dias­po­ra, and explores the diver­si­ty of Israeli soci­ety with authors who are Ashke­nazi and Sephar­di, men and women, straight and gay, and the broad swath of Jew­ish iden­ti­ty along the religious/​secular spec­trum. The books includes short essays by the found­ing Zion­ist thinkers of the nine­teenth and ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry like Theodore Her­zl and Ahad Ha’am, by those who put Zion­ist the­o­ry into prac­tice, rang­ing from David Ben Guri­on to Reb­bet­zin Esther Jun­greis, and by cur­rent Dias­po­ra and Israeli lead­ers includ­ing for­mer ambas­sador to the U.S., Michael Oren, Leah Shakdiel (who fought to be elect­ed to the Reli­gious Coun­cil of her town of Yer­hucham), and Stav Shaf­fir, of mixed Iraqi and Holo­caust sur­vivor back­ground. Troy’s intro­duc­tion is a true tour de force.