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Reviewed by:
  • Nietzsche and Zion
  • Ritchie Robertson
Jacob Golomb . Nietzsche and Zion. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2004. xii + 274 pp. $39.95. ISBN 0-8014-3762-8.

It should surprise nobody that many early thinkers associated with the Zionist movement took a strong interest in Nietzsche. Whether they were brought up amid Western European culture, like Max Nordau, or reached it by breaking away from the traditional Jewish culture of Eastern Europe, like Micha Josef Berdichevski, they could not fail to register the overwhelming presence of Nietzsche's thought, especially after 1890. As Steven Aschheim has comprehensively shown in The Nietzsche Legacy in Germany, 1890–1990 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992), Nietzsche provided inspiration for an astonishing range of people—proponents of socialism, feminism, the youth movement, or the Germanic spirit—who rejected the ossified, patriarchal culture of bourgeois Europe and sought new ways of living. Shlomo Avineri also produced sharp sketches of individual thinkers in The Making of Modern Zionism (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1981). Jacob Golomb, in this new study, emphasizes Nietzsche's call to reinvent oneself, to "become what you are," which had a special resonance for Jews seeking a new identity and often a new name: Nordau was previously Simha Südfeld; Berdichevski called himself bin Gorion.

Golomb's method is to make each thinker in turn the subject of a study in intellectual influence. This method works best when there is sufficient material. Thus Berdichevski often affirmed his allegiance to Nietzsche, from whom he acquired a belief in vitalism and a view of the Jewish people as having allowed abstract priestly doctrines to suppress their natural, animal energies. Nordau also provides an intriguing case, since his tirade against avant-garde European culture, Degeneration (1892), attacks Nietzsche as a decadent, adapting a Nietzschean concept, and denounces his polemical style in tones that are even more vehement. Golomb is doubtless right in surmising that projection is at work here.

The influence-study method breaks down when there is inadequate material, as with Theodor Herzl, whose sole reference to Nietzsche is "Nietzsche is a madman." Since Herzl owned most of Nietzsche's books, Golomb seeks to identify specific influences from Nietzsche in Herzl's texts. Thus Jacob in Herzl's play The New Ghetto (1894) is said to resemble Zarathustra in trying to create new values; but, in fact, the tragedy is that the idealist Jacob takes seriously the old values of honor and loyalty that the cynical European society around him has discarded. Herzl certainly wanted Jews to cast off servility and acquire nobility, but he was not, as Golomb suggests, talking about the very specific moral complexes that Nietzsche called slave morality and master morality. Even more oddly, Golomb thinks that Herzl's Zionist project aimed to revive the past in accordance with the theory of eternal recurrence; yet Herzl's Jewish state was not intended to restore the past but to be [End Page 71] an ultra-modern state where European languages, not Hebrew, would be spoken, and it certainly had nothing to do with Nietzsche's speculations about cosmology.

These errors of judgment may be connected with Golomb's interest in Nietzsche as an existentialist. He maintains that "a 'pure' Nietzschean [would be] a thinker who urges us to overcome our entire cultural upbringing and historical roots and to exist, as it were, in an ahistorical vacuum" (81). Hence he claims that his chosen Zionists responded to Nietzsche's teaching on authenticity and tried to attain individual harmony. That certainly seems to apply to Ahad Ha'am, the proponent of cultural Zionism, whose dispute with Berdichevski's vitalism is recounted here in detail. When we come to the early Martin Buber, however, a concern with Nietzschean authenticity is only one element in Buber's program for a Jewish renaissance. In many essays, including the famous Three Speeches on Judaism delivered in Prague in 1909 and 1910, Buber set out a psychology, physiology, and pathology of the Jew that owe a considerable though diffuse debt to Nietzsche's exaltation of the body over the spirit (see, for example, "Of the Despisers of the Body" in Zarathustra). This aspect of Buber...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4594
Print ISSN
0968-8005
Pages
pp. 71-72
Launched on MUSE
2006-06-14
Open Access
No
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