Page 76 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 15

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THE INTELLECTUAL WORLD OF AHAD HA‘AM
By
D
a v i d
P
ol i sh
T
HE centennial of the birth of Ahad Ha‘Am should direct us
anew to a study of his thought system. Such a study is
particularly important at a time when the very rejection of his
ideas in some circles indicates how urgently the Jewish world
needs to reunite itself with many of them.
Ahad Ha'Am’s thesis is enunciated in the following terms:
1. Judaism is dedicated to establishing the principle of absolute
justice. Its primary concern is therefore with social instead of
individual salvation.
2. To preserve the principle of absolute justice, Judaism must be
preserved.
3. Judaism can be preserved only under conditions which do
not hamper its spiritual development and which safeguard it from
submergence by overwhelming external influence. These conditions
can obtain only in Palestine.
Ahad Ha‘Am reaches these conclusions by reconciling three
dichotomies — spirit and matter; universalism and particularism;
nation and individual. In resolving these dichotomies he arrives
at what is known as cultural Zionism. Ahad Ha‘Am was primarily
concerned with the spiritual regeneration of the Jewish people.
He felt that this objective could be achieved through the establish­
ment of a cultural center in Palestine, but he was also adamant in
his conviction that the Jewish people must undergo a spiritual
transformation before a Jewish state could be created.
Subsumed, then, under the first dichotomy is the proposition
that spiritual salvation must precede political salvation. This
premise is based on the realization that the Jewish spirit is decayed,
as is manifested in the bigotry of Jewish hyper-legalism denounced
by Judah Loeb Gordon and by Zangwill. “Is there . . . a cure for
this old ailment?” Can the Jewish spirit again be joined with life
and still remain Jewish? This renewal can be consummated by
“a vigorous drive for the nation’s unity, for its revival . . . in
accordance with its spirit and general humanitarian principles.”
This is
Torah she-balev
(Torah of the heart) as distinguished
from
Torah she-biktav
(the written Torah). “Were we to
devote our best energies to spiritual perfection . . . days would
come which would endow the Jewish spirit with a character most
fitted for our purpose.”
The Zionist contention of the inevitability of anti-Semitism
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