Page 82 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 19

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76
J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
withdrew from the active field. To recuperate from his devastat­
ing trauma, Hess devoted the subsequent decade to the study
of the natural sciences with occasional attention to aspects of
Wis-
senschaft des Judentums.
He interpreted the data in accordance
with certain philosophical canons which, for him, were relevant
and valid: the monism of Spinoza whom he viewed as the
consummate interpreter of Judaism to the modern world; the
dialectics of Hegel and the humanism of Feuerbach. Hess bound
those ideas with his concept of Jewish Messianism.
As a result, he formulated his “genetic” views of nature, history
and society. Our concern is with the last two. He negated
“cosmopolitanism” and affirmed the creative roles of the ethnic
divisions of mankind or races or nations. Every historical radical
group or nation had or has a definite purpose to fulfill. The
decline and disappearance of nations have been determined by
the fulfillment of their historical goals, because they then cease
to be “creative.” Applying this rule to the Jewish people, he
found that “Judaism is not a passive religion but an active life
factor which has coalesced with the national consciousness into
one organic whole . . . The Jews are a nation, having once acted
as the leaven of the social world, which is destined to be re­
surrected with the rest of the civilized nations.”2 And the Mes­
sianic age, “the Sabbath of history,” a social order comprising
the unity, freedom and harmony of the family of “creative”
nations initiated by the French Revolution, will not reach its
full potential until that “leaven” is again at work. Hence the
rebirth of the Jewish nation in the land of the Fathers is vital
for humankind as well as for the Jews.
Hess Returns to His People
Once Hess arrived at this conclusion, he decided to return to
his people and to fight for its regeneration and its national
survival. The opening paragraph of the book delineates this
impulse: “After an estrangement of twenty years, I am back
with my people. I have come to be one of them again . . . to
share the memories and hopes of the nation, to take part in the
spiritual and intellectual warfare going on within the House of
Israel . . . and between our people and the surrounding civilized
nations . . . a thought which I believed to be forever buried in
my heart has been revived in me. It is the thought of my nation­
ality which is inseparably linked with the ancestral heritage and
the memories of the Holy Land, the Eternal City, the birth­
place of the belief in the divine unity of life as well as in the
hope of the future brotherhood of man.”
Since “nothing comes out of nothing,” Hess’ Jewish background
is quite pertinent. He was born in Bonn, in 1812. His parents
2P. 49.