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Secularism, Education, and Emotions

Cultural Tensions in Hebrew Palestine (1882–1926)

Yair Seltenreich

Secularism, Education, and Emotions: Cultural Tensions in Hebrew Palestine (1882–1926) aims to explore the sources of secularism, its social and emotional significances, its various expressions, and its thorny frictions with different religious environments during the first decades of modern settlement of Jews in Eretz-Israel (Palestine). Accordingly, this book develops four main concepts about secularism in Eretz-Israel: (1) Secularism was, in large part, a reaction against religion; (2) Secularism was not an isolated local occurrence but rather a product of the wider European cultural stage, influenced by ideas of contestation against religious dominance and nascent nationalism; (3) Secularism was essentially an emotional phenomenon in Europe and in Eretz-Israel likewise; (4) In the struggle between religious and secularists in Eretz-Israel, education occupied a major place as the main vehicle for the promotion of ideas.
Utilizing these four main concepts, Yair Seltenreich analyzes the general European frameworks of secularism. His studies illuminate secularist features within European Jewry and its subsequent translation into the Zionist movement and the Eretz-Israeli arena. Lastly, he examines the specific struggles between religious and secularist teachers in Galilee, where the culmination of tensions and of emotional expression allows a deeper understanding of secularism as a cultural issue.
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Chapter Four: Zionist secularism



Zionist secularism

Zionism and secularism

One could see the appearance of the Zionist movement as a natural maturation of preliminary moods and sentiments that has existed since Hovevey Zion, yet the movement owed much to its first president, Theodor Herzl (1860–1904), which enriched it with features that ensured its survival and influence. Herzl personified a rare combination of romanticism and vision with realistic approach. Secularist to the bone, Herzl endowed the Zionist movement with solid organization, including an annual international congress since 1897, an acting committee, an efficient fiscal system based on regular massive contributions and a bank, and a fund for land purchases.1 His sudden rise and the extent of his achievements contributed to his charisma, at a moment when an image of paternalistic leader was badly needed for distressed Jewish masses, especially in Eastern Europe. Herzl’s early and sudden disappearance in 1904 at the age of 44 only contributed to his later semi-mythical image. Herzl indeed worked miracles. He succeeded to create an efficient and solid large-scale organization though he himself was a journalist without any administrative experience. He knew how to unite so many contradictory factions and personalities around the leading idea of a Jewish state as a realizable goal. Masses adored him though he was elitist by nature.2 He indefatigably met leading heads ← 67 | 68 → of state, from the German Kaiser to the Turkish Sultan in his efforts to obtain a charter for a Jewish state.

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