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Leo Pinsker, Pioneering Zionist Writer, is Born, 1821

On This Day in Jewish History: December 13th, 1821


Many of you have heard of Theodore Herzl, the founding father of the modern Zionist movement. But how many of you have heard of the legendary Leo Pinsker? Zionism did not begin with Herzl, the concept of Zionism or Hebrew nationalism has been around for thousands of years, since even before the founding of the Kingdom of Israel under Saul, David and Solomon. But for a millennia of brutal and often violent exile, Jews always held on to the dream of one day returning to their ancient homeland and re-establishing their independent Jewish State, and so Zionism has always very much been at the heart of Judaism, to separate the two and pretend like they have nothing to do with each other is to ignore our culture and history. Leo Pinsker was one such dreamer, inspired by his father the learned Simcha Pinsker who passed this age old dream down to his son Leo, who would light the flame of Zionism which continues to this day.

Judah Leib Pinsker, aka, Leon, was both a physician and early pioneer of modern Zionism. Born in the town of Tomaszów Lubelski in what was then the Kingdom of Poland on December 13th, 1821, he received a rich Hebrew education, his father stressing the importance of what he called Hebrew Nationalism. Leo would later move to Odessa, in modern day Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire, where he received his formal education studying law but was prohibited from practicing as a lawyer due to his Jewish identity. Such were the laws of the old world against Jews.

He led a life-long struggle for equal rights for Jews and other minorities in Russia as well as all over Europe, stressing his arguments most eloquently in the most prestigious circles of Russian and greater European society, met with both praise and antagonism on all sides. His dream of equal rights would be crushed after having witnessed and survived the Odessa Pogroms and other hostile antisemitic attacks between 1871 and 1881, events which shook Leo to his core and convinced him that Jews could no longer depend on the whims of their host nations, inspired by a quote from the ancient Jewish sage Hillel, who said “If I am not for myself, who will be for me..,” he wrote his most famous work, Auto-Emancipation.

Auto-Emancipation was a pamphlet written in German upon his visit of Western Europe, where Pinsker gave a warning to all his people and stressed the importance for Jews to free themselves of antisemitic racist oppression and fight for independence in their historic homeland. He believed that the nations would come to respect Jews more once we had fought and won our own freedom just as countless other nations had done.

Pinsker rejected the word “antisemitism” due to its questionable origins and preferred the term “Judeophobia.” He stressed that the roots of this ancient and irrational hatred, the oldest form of racism, stemmed from thousands of years of Jews having no country of their own. He famously wrote, "To the living the Jew is a corpse, to the native a foreigner, to the homesteader a vagrant, to the proprietary a beggar, to the poor an exploiter and a millionaire, to the patriot a man without a country, for all a hated rival." In his view there was only one solution, going home to Zion. He agreed that Jews were foreigners everywhere except for their native homeland of Israel.

He founded Hovevei Tzion (Lovers of Zion) in 1884, and became intensely active in the early Zionist activist movement, the organization seeking to gain permission from the Ottoman Empire to resettle Jews into Ottoman Occupied Palestine. They had managed to gain permission from the Russian Empire for the establishment of the Society for the Support of Jewish Farmers and Artisans in Syria and Palestine, internal strife led to the Sultan prohibiting the move, barring Jews from settling ancient Judea. Leo was thrown into doubt in his final years, but he nonetheless still held on to his faith that Jews would inevitably make it home and auto-emancipate themselves.

Leo Pinsker died one year later on December 9th, 1891 in Odessa. Though he was not able to see his vision completed in his own lifetime, his followers continued to carry that spark of courage and devotion to his fellow Children of Israel to live in freedom in the land of Zion and Jerusalem, a spark which also happened to inspire and ignite the fires of faith in another great Zionist leader, Theodore Herzl himself, who headed the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in August of 1897.

If you would like to read Auto-Emancipation by Leo Pinsker, you can visit this link and enjoy. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/quot-auto-emancipation-quot-leon-pinsker



Founding Fathers of Zionism - by Benzion Netanyahu

Netanyahu, B. (Benzion), 1910-2012.

Noble, Ok. : Balfour Books ; Jersualem, Israel : Gefen Publishing, c2012., c2012




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