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Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer's Birthday, 1795

On This Day in Jewish History: March 24, 1795

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On this day, 1795, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer was born. On this day, 1795, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer was born in Posen, an area of Poland annexed by Russia in the 1790s. An orthodox rabbi and a proto-Zionist, he helped lay early foundations of the Zionist vision and is regarded as a pioneer of religious Zionism. A spiritual student of Rabbis Akiva Eger and Jacon of Lissa, Kalischer referred to himself as a “rabbi of the old school” and was an opponent of Reform Judaism. He refused a salary for his work with the community and was recognized as devout and erudite. Kalischer was among the first to use nationalism as an argument for the return to Zion. He used the rising nationalism of his time as an example for the Jewish people. In his 1862 book, “Seeking Zion” Kalischer wrote, “Why do the people of Italy and of other countries sacrifice their lives for the land of their fathers while we, like men bereft of strength and courage, do nothing?” This position was in contrast to the stance of Reformers who wanted to individually emulate the Gentiles through Jewish assimilation, while Kalischer wanted to use the example of the Gentiles to revive a corporate Jewish nationalism. Kalischer did not align himself with the popular idea of the time that redemption would only arrive when God willed it. He saw this as fatalistic and instead thought that “The Redemption will begin in a natural manner, set in motion by a human agency and prompted by the willingness of governments to resettle a small proportion of Israel's dispersed in the Holy Land.” Kalischer thought that supernatural redemption required physical deliverance. That is, a return of the Jews to Israel. He is first seen expressing this publicly in 1836, when he wrote a letter to Baron Amschel Mayer Rothschild, urging him to purchase Palestine. Despite the lack of response from Rothschild, Kalischer travelled throughout Germany for a decade, petitioning Jews with wealth and influence to support settlement projects. Kalischer devoted himself to establishing a Zionist movement and creating settlements in the Holy Land. In 1864, he founded the Central Committee for Settlement in Eretz ­Israel in Berlin. In his book, “Seeking Zion,” he also introduced the idea of a modern Jewish agricultural settlement in Israel. He proposed this idea to the Alliance Israelite Universelle asking them to aid agriculture in Eretz Israel, ultimately leading to the opening of the Mikve Yisrael Agricultural School in 1870. Kalischer gave his life to advancing the return to Zion and worked towards this goal until his death. Though he would never set foot in Israel himself, he rejoiced in the Hebrew journal "Ha-Maggid" that the first Jewish colony had been established at Motza near Jerusalem in 1874. He died later that same year and was buried in Thorn, Poland where he had served the community for 40 years. The Chovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) continued Kalischer’s work after his death, and in the following two decades colonies began emerging all over the Holy Land. Tirat Zvi, a kibbutz in the Jordan Valley, is named for Kalischer.

Sources:

Efforts of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer. Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought, 16(1), 56-76. Lehman-Wilzig, S. (1976). Proto-Zionism and it’s Proto-Herzl: The Philosophy and Libowitz, R. (1994). Zionism: Introducing the Topic. Shofar, 13(1), 2-7. Newman, A. (1962). Zvi Hirsch Kalsicher - Father of the Third Return to Zion. Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought, 5(1), 76-89.

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