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Reviewed by:
  • Zionism and the Roads Not Taken: Rawidowicz, Kaplan, Kohn
  • David Shneer
Zionism and the Roads Not Taken: Rawidowicz, Kaplan, Kohn, by Noam Pianko. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010. 277 pp. $25.95.

Zionism and the Roads Not Taken is a well-researched intellectual history of Zionism without a state of Israel, of Jewish nationalism without the presumption of political sovereignty. Pianko focuses on three important thinkers of [End Page 181] the interwar period, who have been lost to the canonical intellectual history of Zionism that goes from Herzl and Nordau to Ben Gurion and Jabotinsky.

Pianko devotes a chapter to each of the three thinkers. Scholar and essayist Simon Rawidowicz envisioned a Zionism through the lens of global Hebraism, in which language and culture, not a state, would bind the Jewish nation. For Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, most famous for founding the Reconstructionist movement in the U.S., Zionism was a central facet of his vision of Jewish civilization, but not in the form of a state. Rather, he envisioned a global world bound through the ties of peoplehood, through history, culture, politics, and religion. And Hans Kohn—most well known as a Buber disciple and liberal American intellectual who theorized civic versus ethnic nationalism—articulated a Zionism of cultural humanism, in which the Jewishly particular and the universally human would work in tandem, rather than opposed to one another, a concept prescient for its time.

Pianko shows how all three envisioned a way to be nationalist in commitments to the global Jewish people and patriotic in relation to the country of which one was a citizen. In other words, he breaks open the phrase "nation-state." Many of these non-statist Zionists traced their intellectual roots to Ahad Ha'am and cultural Zionism (usually opposed to Theodor Herzl's political Zionism). But rather than suggesting that Ahad Ha'am was a cultural as opposed to a political Zionist, Pianko, via his thinkers, shows that it is an equally political statement to say that Zionism does not ipso facto mean a Jewish state. Pianko makes other arguments illuminating a more complicated history of Zionism, like the important role of religion in binding the modern Jewish people or the fact that American Zionism did not demand any less of a commitment to Jewish national ideals than European Zionism.

But the crux of the book is that Pianko thinks they paved an alternative path to a gentler, less militaristic (since states demand a military) form of Jewish nationalism, which got relegated to the dustbin of history after World War II, the Holocaust, and the triumph of the Jewish state. As Pianko states, "They didn't leave Zionism. Zionism left them" (p. 5).

While reading the book, it was statements like this where I began having a creeping suspicion that these thinkers have had more of an impact than Pianko may give them credit for, even if it's not a direct intellectual correlation. Perhaps Zionism did not leave them permanently. Rather they seem to have been ahead of, not behind, the times. It is in the twenty-first century that their visions of Zionism are gaining political currency.

Pianko's lament for the lost opportunities of a diverse, global Zionism prevents him from seeing how times have changed since David Ben Gurion proclaimed the state and told global Jews to pack up and move. For example, [End Page 182] Pianko suggests that Rawidowicz's global Hebraism was a failure, since "Hebrew culture has had almost no impact on American Jewish life" (p. 204). This just simply isn't true. Israeli Hebrew pushed Ashkenazi Hebrew out of Jewish educational institutions in the 1970s and 1980s (although the Ashkenazi pronunciation is making a comeback in ultra Orthodox environments). There are now parents, Jewish and not, clamoring to enroll their kids in Hebrew-language charter schools in New York and Florida, and Hebrew language courses on college campuses are a must for any university with a Jewish Studies program, which is all major American universities. If Yiddish was the international lingua franca for most of global Jewry in the interwar period, in the year 2010 Hebrew has come to serve that function. Because of...


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