Jewish Studies Ahad Ha' am
by
Steven J. Zipperstein
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 July 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0075

Introduction

Ahad Ha’am is a pen name for the Russian Jewish essayist, editor, and Zionist thinker Asher Ginzberg (b. 1856–d. 1927), meaning in Hebrew “one of the people,” a consciously jarring choice for an intellectual whose central preoccupation was the need for Jewry to consolidate a new, postreligious elite; Ahad Ha’am consolidated around himself an entire school of Jewish nationalist thought called “cultural” or “spiritual” Zionism. In the form of essays, mostly brief, he savaged Zionism from within the movement—of which he was also in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the preeminent intellectual voice. He loathed (and was probably also jealous of) Theodor Herzl, the movement’s head until his death in 1904, and critical of his reliance on diplomacy, his understanding of culture, his secrecy, and the excitement that he engendered, which, as Ahad Ha’am saw it, encouraged a potentially lethal messianic fervor. Drawing eclectically on a wide range of thinkers in German, English, French, Russian, and, of course, Hebrew, he argued that culture, embodied for Jews first in statecraft, then in rabbinic law or philosophy, and now ever more frayed because of modernity’s assimilatory pressures, was what held Jews together or, potentially, undermined it. Jewish history was built out of successful accommodation with the larger world, creative integration whereby Jews drew on the best of what other cultures had to offer while making it their own. In modernity, this now required a geographical concentration of Jews in the Land of Israel where in a Hebrew-speaking milieu modern currents could more dexterously be blended into Jewish life. His primary theme centered on the prerequisites of leadership, prophetic in their origins, resolutely moral—he was the first major Zionist thinker to call attention to the corrosive impact on Jews of the oppression of Arabs—and gradualist in his approach to the building of the Land of Israel. He envisioned an enterprise with great cultural institutions at its core, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; the mainstay of Israel’s liberal press, Haaretz; its Federation of Hebrew Writers; the founding principle of the city of Tel Aviv, whose long-standing mayor, Meir Dizengoff, was a disciple of Ahad Ha’am—all owe their early inspiration to his teachings. He inspired (and sought) the loyalty of his followers, creating around him in the late 1880s a Masonic-like, semisecret group called the Bnei Moshe (Sons of Moses), whose devotion to him not infrequently morphed into fierce opposition. To varying degrees, his followers included Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann; Hebrew’s canonic poet, Hayyim Nahman Bialik; and founder of Reconstructionist Judaism in the United States, Mordecai Kaplan. Ahad Ha’am also emerged as a touchstone for binationalism. Ahad Ha’am lived much of his life in Odessa, moving to London in 1907 and to Tel Aviv in 1921, where he died.

Published Work, Anthologies

Ahad Ha’am’s readers, especially those who first encountered him when he was at the height of his popularity at the turn of the 20th century, treated him as a systematic philosopher; he never managed to systematize his thought, which was made up of a rich array of essays, mostly quite brief. The bulk of them were included in his four-volume collection Ahad Ha’am 1921, published in various editions, the first in 1895–1913. His published writings are included in Ahad Ha’am 1949, and rich collections of his correspondence can be found in Ahad Ha’am 1923–1925, Ahad Ha’am 1931, and Ahad Ha’am 2000, edited by Shulamit Laskov. Laskov has combed archives in Israel for otherwise unpublished letters and other documents relevant to Ahad Ha’am. Among the best English translations of his essays are Ahad Ha’am 1912, Ahad Ha’am 1973, and Ahad Ha’am 1946. The most readily accessible volume containing a small selection of his essays is Hertzberg 1997 (cited under Life and Thought), accompanied by a superb introductory essay on the entire Zionist enterprise in which Ahad Ha’am’s thought is highlighted.

  • Ahad Ha’am. Selected Essays by Ahad ha-ʼAm. Translated by Leon Simon. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1912.

    E-mail Citation »

    The standard English-language edition of his essays, which leans, excessively, in the direction of Ahad Ha’am as dispassionate prophet rather than (as later biographical literature has tended to see him) as a keenly engaged political activist.

  • Ahad Ha’am. Al parashat derakhim: Kovets ma’amarim. 4 vols. Berlin: Yudisher Ferlag, 1921.

    E-mail Citation »

    These volumes, originally published separately starting in 1895, contain nearly all of Ahad Ha’am’s published work. He designed them with great care, and they also provide signposts to his own understanding of his career as a public intellectual and politician.

  • Ahad Ha’am.Igrot Ahad Ha’am. 6 vols. Jerusalem: Hotsa’at Moriyah, 1923–1925.

    E-mail Citation »

    A generous but by no means comprehensive collection of his correspondence culled and annotated by Ahad Ha’am himself in the last years of his life with the help of an assiduous, devoted young editor, Yohanan Pogabinsky, who would after Ahad Ha’am’s death oversee his library and archives.

  • Ahad Ha’am. Pirke zikhronot ve-igrot. Tel Aviv: Bet Ahad ha-’Am, 1931.

    E-mail Citation »

    Included in this slim volume is an illuminating late-life interview conducted with Ahad Ha’am about his life and teachings conducted by devotees Hayyim Nahman Bialik and Joshua Rawnitsky.

  • Ahad Ha’am. Essays, Letters, Memoirs. Translated and edited by Leon Simon. Oxford: East & West Library, 1946.

    E-mail Citation »

    A well-annotated, insightfully selected edition of his writings, correspondence, and other pieces, with an English translation of his late-life memoir.

  • Ahad Ha’am. Kol kitve Ahad Ha’am. 2d ed. Tel Aviv: Devir, 1949.

    E-mail Citation »

    In one oversized volume, essentially a complete collection of his published work, and it includes a selection of his letters and autobiographical snippets written late in his life in Palestine.

  • Ahad Ha’am. Ten Essays on Zionism and Judaism. Translated by Leon Simon. New York: Arno, 1973.

    E-mail Citation »

    Another well-selected translated collection by Leon Simon of a cluster of Ahad Ha’am’s more important essays, with an emphasis on those dealing specifically with Zionism.

  • Ahad Ha’am. Mikhtavim be-’inyene Erets-Yisra’el (1891–1926). Edited by Shulamit Laskov. Jerusalem: Hotsa’at Yad Yitshak Ben-Tsevi, 2000.

    E-mail Citation »

    A businessman for much of his life—first self-employed with his father and, after 1907, an executive for the Wissotzsky Tea Company branch in London—Ahad Ha’am possessed a keen sense of practical implications of his cultural/political agenda, which is amply apparent in his superb volume, another of Laskov’s invaluable, meticulous contributions to the documentary history of the building of Jewish Palestine

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