Jewish Studies Nathan Birnbaum
by
Jess J. Olson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0200

Introduction

Nathan Birnbaum (b. 1864–d. 1937), also known by the pseudonym Mathias Acher (“another Mathias”), was a journalist, theorist of Jewish nationalism, and political activist. Birnbaum was a pioneer in the emergence of both secular Jewish nationalism and Orthodox political organization. Deeply affected by his exposure to rising anti-Semitism in fin-de-siècle Vienna and alienated by what he would term “assimilation mania” (Assimilationssucht), Birnbaum’s ideology was shaped early by two themes that developed throughout his career: belief that there was an intrinsic, unique Jewish identity, and that this identity could be activated as a solution to the oppression afflicting European Jews. Birnbaum’s early work integrated models of central European nationalism filtered through the writings of Moses Hess, Peretz Smolenskin, and Leon Pinsker. In the wake of anti-Jewish violence in Russia in 1882, Birnbaum and other Jewish students at Vienna University founded Kadimah, the earliest Jewish nationalist organization in central Europe. He cultivated an important presence among central European Jewish nationalists, and he was a significant influence on a young generation of “cultural” Zionists. In the early 1890s, he coined the term “Zionism” (Zionismus) to describe Palestine-oriented Jewish nationalism. When Theodor Herzl arrived in Zionist circles in 1896, he sidelined Birnbaum along with nearly everyone else who had preceded him in the movement, but Birnbaum’s opinion on the nature of authentic Jewish identity was already evolving. He eventually became an internal, and ultimately outside, critic of Zionism, concluding that an organic Jewish identity already existed in the folkways, Yiddish language, and communities of eastern European Jews. As an extension of this, he led in organizing the first conference of the Yiddish language in 1908. In the aftermath of the conference, Birnbaum deepened his engagement with the Yiddish language and eastern European Jewish culture and increasingly turned his thoughts to issues of spirituality and religion. After the outbreak of the First World War, Birnbaum announced himself a “ba’al teshuva,” a penitent returnee to Torah-observant Judaism. He was embraced by the Agudah, and his skills as a journalist and activist were put to use in Agudah organizing. Now Birnbaum revolutionized his understanding of the foundation of Jewish identity. Maintaining the ideal of Jewish authenticity as the only route to Jewish cohesion, Birnbaum rejected his earlier ethno-nationalist understanding of Jewish identity, replacing it with Orthodox religious observance and belief in the Torah. He aligned himself with a Hasidic religiosity that was an organic extension of his admiration for eastern European Jewry. A transformation that earned him respect in the Orthodox world and derision among the secular nationalists he had left behind, Birnbaum considered his change consistent with his views on Jewish authenticity. As the situation of European Jewry declined in the late 1920s and 1930s, Birnbaum felt vindicated in his dim view of the possibility of Jewish life outside of a religious identity, and wrote in this vein for the rest of his life. He died in Scheveningen, The Netherlands, in 1937.

Biographies

Birnbaum’s work has attracted modest interest from Jewish historians and biographers, and there are a few works dedicated to detailing his life, political ideology, and contributions to Jewish political and cultural thought. Birnbaum 1964, Herrmann 1914, Kürschner 1936, and Rayzen 1928, are based upon both surveys of Birnbaum’s work and their own personal encounters with Birnbaum. Doron 1988, Kühntopf-Gentz 1990, and Wistrich 1989 represent earlier critical evaluations of Birnbaum’s work, but center largely on his earlier phases (Zionism and nationalist autonomism) while engaging little with his later, Orthodox period. Shanes 2010 and Olson 2013, the most recent studies, deal more evenly with all the major phases of Birnbaum’s work.

  • Birnbaum, Solomon. “Nathan Birnbaum.” In Men of the Spirit. Edited by Leo Jung, 519–549. New York: Kymson, 1964.

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    Written by Birnbaum’s oldest son and life-long intellectual interlocutor, Solomon Birnbaum’s short biography of Nathan Birnbaum offers a subtle, incisive, and evenly-structured account of his life and work. Although part of a compendium of biographies oriented toward a devotional rather than scholarly readership, as a linguist and academic, Solomon Birnbaum’s account is highly informative, in particular with regard to his descriptions of Nathan Birnbaum’s later work in the Orthodox Jewish community.

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  • Doron, Joachim. Ha-guto ha-tsiyonit shel Natan Birnbaum. Jerusalem: Ha-sifriyah ha-tsiyonit al-yad ha-histradrut ha-tsiyonit ha-olamit, 1988.

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    Study of Birnbaum’s early work in Zionism, Doron’s book utilizes extensively his published essays on nationalist thought, attitudes toward “practical” settlement in Palestine, and places his work in the context of other early Jewish nationalists and Zionists.

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  • Fishman, Joshua. Ideology, Society and Language: The Odyssey of Nathan Birnbaum. Ann Arbor, MI: Karoma, 1987.

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    Linguist Joshua Fishman was fascinated by Birnbaum, emerging from his work in Yiddish linguistics. Fishman’s sociolinguistic analysis of the 1908 Czernowitz conference anchors this collection, along with a collection of biographical essays. It is the first academic text to take Birnbaum’s later embrace of Orthodoxy seriously as a part of his larger intellectual legacy. Fishman presents a collection of Birnbaum’s writings from multiple points of his career, giving the reader a broad sense of his ideological development.

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  • Herrmann, Leo. Nathan Birnbaum, Sein Werk Und Seine Wandlung. Berlin: Jüdischer Verlag, 1914.

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    A short intellectual biography of Nathan Birnbaum published by the Jüdischer Verlag, a central publisher of cultural Jewish nationalist texts founded by Martin Buber, Chaim Weizmann, among others. Herrmann, a cultural Zionist with close connections to the Verlag circle, presents Birnbaum as a central figure in the emergence of early Zionism and as a model of cultural Zionist activist.

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  • Kühntopf-Gentz, Michael. “Nathan Birnbaum. Biographie.” PhD diss., Fakultät für Kulturwissenschaften der Universität Tübigen, Dusseldorf, 1990.

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    An unpublished dissertation evaluating the early career of Birnbaum. It is one of the earliest detailed syntheses of Birnbaum’s journalistic output. The author explores Birnbaum’s published articles primarily from the periodicals Selbst-Emancipation, Jüdische Volkszeitung, Ost und West, among others. The text is primarily focused on Birnbaum’s interaction within Zionism and his departure from the World Zionist Organization after the turn of the century, but does not explore in significant depth his work after 1910.

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  • Kürschner. “Birnbaum, Nathan.” In Grosse jüdische National-Biografie. Edited by S. Winninger, 379–381. Cernauti [Chernivtsi, Ukraine]: Druck “Orient,” 1936.

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    An encyclopedia of Jewish nationalist biographies, Kürschner’s entry on Birnbaum discusses his career in Jewish nationalist politics in the context of his contribution to Zionism and Yiddish autonomism.

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  • Olson, Jess. Nathan Birnbaum and Jewish Modernity: Architect of Zionism, Yiddishism and Orthodoxy. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013.

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    In-depth biography of Nathan Birnbaum. This intellectual history identifies the coherent threads that draw together the three primary political orientations Birnbaum adapted: secular cultural Zionism, Yiddish-oriented national autonomism, and Orthodox political activism. It makes extensive use of the Nathan and Solomon and Nathan Birnbaum Family Archives (cited under Archives). Aside from printed and published materials, this book utilizes the personal correspondence of Nathan Birnbaum that is preserved in the archives.

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  • Rayzen, Zalman. “Birnboym, Nosn.” In Leksikon fun der yidishe litertur, presse un filologiar. Vol. 1. 101–104. Vilnius, Lithuania: Vilner farlag fun b. Kletzkin, 1928.

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    Entry in Rayzen’s classic biographical encyclopedia of contributors to Yiddish culture. Contains detailed entry on Birnbaum with particular focus on his work on Yiddish culture and Jewish autonomist nationalism.

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  • Shanes, Joshua. “Birnbaum, Nathan.” In YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, 2010.

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    Substantive biographical sketch of Nathan Birnbaum’s life and work written by a historian of Jewish politics in Austria-Hungary. The text offers an ideal introduction to Birnbaum’s career and intellectual life for quick reference.

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  • Wistrich, Robert. “The Metamorphoses of Nathan Birnbaum.” In The Jews of Vienna in the Age of Franz Joseph. By Robert Wistrich, 381–420. Oxford and New York: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1989.

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    A biographical survey by an Israeli historian of central European Jewish history and anti-Semitism, part of his volume of essays on Viennese Jewish history. Features important biographical details, focused primarily on Birnbaum’s work in Zionism and autonomous nationalism.

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Primary Resources

Remarkably, most of Birnbaum’s personal papers, published papers, and correspondence are preserved and generally available to researchers.

Archives

The following are the principle locations of most of the available primary material. The Solomon and Nathan Birnbaum Family Archives offers the most complete repository of Birnbaum’s archival material, while YIVO Archives and the Central Zionist Archives each contain holdings of considerable biographical value.

  • Solomon and Nathan Birnbaum Family Archives. Toronto, ON.

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    The privately-held personal papers of Nathan Birnbaum and his son, Solomon, its original curator. Maintained by David Birnbaum (grandson of Nathan and son of Solomon), this is a near complete documentation of the Birnbaum family’s history. Includes correspondence and personal libraries of Nathan and Solomon Birnbaum and full collections of all periodicals created or edited by Nathan Birnbaum, as well as the unpublished papers of Nathan and Solomon, and clippings of all Birnbaum’s published writings.

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  • Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem (accession number A188).

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    The Birnbaum holdings at the Central Zionist Archives consists primarily of a microfilm copy of the Nathan Birnbaum correspondence located in the Solomon and Nathan Birnbaum Family Archives. Also present, and located in numerous other archival holdings, are Birnbaum’s letters to other figures, and editions of various publications in the Zionist and Jewish nationalist press.

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  • YIVO Archives, New York.

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    The YIVO archives has several files which contain correspondence from Birnbaum, as well as a library with some of the items below. Of particular interest is the correspondence between Birnbaum and later follower Eliezar Schindler, a young man whom Birnbaum befriended and who was active in Birnbaum’s later projects in Orthodox politics.

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Published Primary Sources

Although he published prodigiously, Birnbaum’s works have seldom seen reprinting or anthologizing. Most are in German and Yiddish, and only a tiny fraction translated into English; a number were translated during Birnbaum’s life into multiple languages including Hebrew, Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian (in this bibliography, only language of original publication appears). Similarly, in spite of Birnbaum’s considerable influence in at least three distinct areas of Jewish political action, his work has received a limited amount of attention from scholars. At the same time, some of the periodicals created and edited by Birnbaum have not been digitized. The following list reflects those materials that are available in print or digital form.

Periodicals Edited by Birnbaum

Before the creation of Compact Memory, the impressive database of digitalized editions of historical German Jewish periodicals currently maintained through the library website of Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, most of Birnbaum’s writings were available only through the scant remaining copies extant in some archives. The Solomon and Nathan Birnbaum Family Archives (cited under Archives) contained a complete collection of the original periodicals in which Birnbaum had published, but it is kept in a private residence and is of limited accessibility. Now, however, several of the periodicals that Birnbaum founded and edited are available through Compact Memory, and those are listed here.

  • Der Aufstieg. Eine jüdische Monatsschrift. Berlin and Vienna: Verlag von Braunfeld & Eisen (“Verlag Aulim”), 1930–1933.

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    One of Birnbaum’s last projects, Aufstieg is a politic and cultural journal that details Birnbaum’s later, Orthodox political ideology. Although associated with the Agudat Yisrael in the last decades of his life, in this journal Birnbaum charts a strongly independent path, notably opining on his vision for a youth-oriented Orthodox settlement program, the “Oylim” or “Aulim,” as well as taking a critical stance toward both Agudist and Zionist political activities in Europe and Mandate Palestine.

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  • Der Ruf (L’Appel): Ein Unabhaenginge. Rotterdam: Uitgeverijen “Ruf,” 1934–1937.

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    This, Birnbaum’s last periodical, was edited in partnership with Alfonso Pacifici and Aimé Palliére, who continued to publish it for a short time after Birnbaum’s death in 1937. An “independent” Jewish newspaper, the biweekly journal continued Birnbaum’s engagement in Jewish politics and Orthodoxy. Heavily tilted toward opposition to Zionist politics and activities in Palestine, as well as a critical stance toward the activities of the Agudath Yisrael.

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  • Neue Zeitung: unabhängige jüdische Wochenschrift. Vienna: Druck des “Wienischer Verlag”, 1906–1907.

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    Beginning publication simultaneously with Birnbaum’s shift away from Zionism to Jewish national autonomism, this “independent Jewish weekly” was the primary repository of Birnbaum’s writing in the period leading up to the Czernowitz Yiddish language conference of 1908. Significant amount of Birnbaum’s political and cultural writing, especially his deepening engagement with the culture and politics of eastern European, Yiddish-speaking Jewish communities. In 1907, it was folded into the Jüdische Zeitung, and Birnbaum stepped away from his position as chief editor.

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  • Selbst-Emancipation: Zeitschrift für die nationalen, sozialen und politischen Interessen des jüdischen Stammes. Vienna: Druck von Karl Burkert, 1884–1893.

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    The first periodical founded by Birnbaum. Published intermittently between 1885 and 1893. An essential primary source in the history of Jewish nationalism and Zionism before Theodor Herzl, with extensive content authored by Birnbaum and other central figures in early Zionism. Engages nearly every area of early Zionist interest, including reports on early Zionist organizations, biographical sketches, and cultural subjects that represent basic outline of early Zionist identity formation. In 1895, the paper resumed publication under the title Das Volk.

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Periodicals with Significant Birnbaum Contributions

As a working journalist, Birnbaum published his work in numerous periodicals outside of those which he founded and edited himself. As with those described above, a significant number of these newspapers and journals have been digitized through Compact Memory. Below is a selection of those to which Birnbaum contributed a significant number of articles and which are accessible in digital form. As Birnbaum published literally hundreds of items in dozens of periodicals, this is not an exhaustive list, but it gives a sense of the breadth of Birnbaum’s extensive affiliation with Jewish print culture in the early 20th century.

Published Writings and Anthologies

Although the vast majority of Birnbaum’s writings appeared only once in periodicals, several of his more significant, long-form writings appeared as independent booklets. Only one anthology of Birnbaum’s work, Ausgewählte Schriften zur jüdischen Frage, appeared in his lifetime.

  • Achad Ha’am: Ein Denker und Kämpfer der jüdischen Renaissance. Berlin: Jüdischer Verlag, 1903.

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    Book-length essay introducing the ideology of Russian Zionist Ahad Ha’am (Asher Ginsberg) and his relevance to central European Jewish nationalism. Birnbaum’s and Ginsberg’s thought developed simultaneously, but this is Birnbaum’s first sustained analysis of Ahad Ha’am’s ideas. In this essay, published while Birnbaum was affiliated loosely with the “Jewish Renaissance” group of Martin Buber and the Jüdischer Verlag, he offers a lengthy analysis of his estimation of Ahad Ha’am’s significance in Zionist thought. Published under the pseudonym Mathias Acher.

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  • Die Assimilationssucht. Ein Worte an die sogenannten Deutschen, Slaven, Magyaren etc. mosaischer Confession. Von einem Studenten jüdischer Nationalität. Vienna: Verlag der Buchhandlung D. Löwy, 1883.

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    Birnbaum’s first publication, an analysis of anti-Semitism and Jewish integration and a call to arms for robust Jewish national identity. The essay was published in conjunction with the founding of Kadimah. In Birnbaum’s description, the essay was provocative and radical and was received as such, as was the canvasing effort undertaken by Birnbaum and other Kadimah members simultaneously to recruit for the new nationalist organization. Published under the pseudonym Mathias Acher.

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  • Ausgewählte Schriften zur jüdischen Frage. 2 vols. Czernowitz [Chernivtsi, Ukraine]: Verlag Birnbaum-Kohut, 1910.

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    An anthology of selected essays on Zionism and Jewish nationalism, compiled and edited by Birnbaum and published by his own imprint. It is the most extensive collection of his essays, primarily extracted from the various periodicals he published between 1884 and 1910.

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  • Den Ostjuden ihr Recht! Vienna: Löwit, 1915.

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    Short booklet, manifesto discussing the national rights of east European Jews. During the war, Birnbaum served as the administrator of the office of wartime Jewish statistics, a Zionist-led initiative to track the demographic impact of the war on Galician Jewry. This, coupled with his close relationship with and admiration for east European Jewish culture, gave him a unique perspective on issues of Jewish persecution and displacement in the war, which he brings forward in this essay.

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  • Divrei ha-oylim. Vienna: Jüdischer Buch- und Kunstverlag, 1917.

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    Book of three essays, two by Birnbaum and one by Tuvia Horowitz, a central important influence on Birnbaum’s religious development. Describes the contours of a proposed movement of Orthodox youth, the Oylim (“ascenders”), a youth movement proposing matching productive economic life in agriculture with spiritual devotion. The movement existed until the war, with several offices in Europe. While no Oylim colonies seem to have been established, the model was influential in other agriculturally oriented Orthodox settlement projects in Israel.

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  • Eys la’eses: Geklibine kesavim. Łódź, Poland: Beys Yaakov, 1928.

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    Selected Yiddish essays on religion and Jewish identity and politics. A collection that marks Birnbaum’s re-engagement with the Oylim movement after stepping away from Agudah activism, the texts are directed toward Orthodox Jewish youth. Elaborating on themes of religious belief, stringent observance and spirituality with economic revitalization, agrarianism, and advocacy for an organized Orthodox youth movement.

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  • In golus bay yidn. Zurich: Buchdrukerei G. Fan, 1920.

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    Polemical, book-length essay (Yiddish) decrying antipathy toward Orthodoxy from secular Jewish nationalists. The pamphlet is notable also for its critique of Orthodox communities in uncritically accepting non-religious criticism of their own benightedness.

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  • Gottes Volk. Berlin: R. Löwit, 1918.

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    A popular autobiography in which Birnbaum describes his turn to Orthodoxy and his view of the centrality of Torah and religion to authentic Jewish identity. The text was written in conjunction with Birnbaum’s increasing involvement with the Agudat Yisrael and offered the inspirational story of Birnbaum’s “teshuva” that was a popular addition to Agudah activist and fundraising events. The book went through multiple print additions and retains its interest to this day among some in the Orthodox community.

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  • Die jüdische Moderne. Leipzig: Literarische Anstalt August Schultze, 1896.

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    Book-length philosophical essay on nature and theory of Jewish national identity. This essay is the most important and complete presentation of Birnbaum’s theories of national development, ideas of authentic identity, and opinions on the goals of Jewish nationalism produced during his work with the Zionist movement. Published under the pseudonym Matthias Acher.

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  • Die nationale Wiedergeburt des jüdischen Volkes in seinem Lande, als Mittel zur Lösung der Judenfrage. Ein Appell an die Guten und Edlen aller Nationen. Vienna: N. Birnbaum, 1893.

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    Booklet-length manifesto advocating Jewish national resettlement and rebirth in Palestine. Many early Zionists regarded the essay as a central influence in their turn toward Jewish nationalism and Zionism. It is one of the central statements of early Zionist ideology and theory. Published under the pseudonym Mathias Acher.

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  • Vom Freigeist zum Gläubigen. Zurich: Verlag Arzenu, 1919.

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    Short autobiography detailing Birnbaum’s embrace of Orthodox belief, published by an Agudat Yisrael-aligned press. The text is one of two variants of Birnbaum’s autobiography, written primarily for the sake of Agudist activism. While affiliated with the Agudah, Birnbaum was frequently featured at public Agudah events, where his personal story of “teshuva” made him a sought-after speaker in Europe.

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  • Zwei Vorträge über Zionismus. Berlin: H. Schildberger, 1898.

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    Two essays on Zionism and Jewish culture, including the text (“Die kulturelle Bedeutung des Zionismus”) of the address Birnbaum delivered at the first Zionist congress. Though a speaker at the First Zionist Congress, Birnbaum was not afforded the leadership role he and several of his supporters believed his due. Herzl referred to Birnbaum’s demands at the congress in his diary as “the only discordant note” of the congress, confirming his negative judgement of Birnbaum. Published under the pseudonym Mathias Acher.

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Tributary Collections and Festschriften

In celebration of Birnbaum’s sixtieth birthday, several contributors from all of the different spheres of Birnbaum’s activism and publication came together to publish two celebratory volumes, Kaplan and Landau 1925 and Orlean and Hasofer 1925. Rosenhek 1933 is a festschrift in honor of the founding of Kadimah to which Birnbaum contributed a memoir. Noteworthy is the presence of leaders of the Beys Ya’akov women’s education movement, which widely admired Birnbaum and of which he and Solomon were active supporters.

  • Kaplan, M. A. E., and M. Landau, eds. Vom Sinn des Judentums: Ein Sammelbuch zu Ehren Nathan Birnbaums. Frankfurt: Hermon-Verlag, 1925.

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    Edited volume published in honor of Birnbaum’s sixtieth birthday in 1924. Draws on contributions from figures associated with Birnbaum’s political and cultural activities in the Zionist movement, Yiddish culture and autonomism, and the Agudat Yisrael. Of special importance in this volume is a complete bibliography of Birnbaum’s writings up to 1925, compiled by his son, Solomon.

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  • Orlean, Y. L., and N. Hasofer, eds. Yubileyum Bukh zum zektsiktn Giburtstog fun Dr. Nusn Birnboym. Warsaw: Yeshurun, 1925.

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    An edited Yiddish volume published in honor of Birnbaum’s sixtieth birthday. The book has a narrower spectrum of representatives from Birnbaum’s career, in particular those of his later life in the Yiddish-speaking and Orthodox worlds. Of particular note is the short autobiography, “An iberblik iber mayn lebn,” which supplements the longer text of Gottes Volk (cited under Published Writings and Anthologies).

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  • Rosenhek, Ludwig, ed. Festschrift zur Feier des 100 Semesters des akademischen Verbindung Kadimah. Vienna: Alten-Herren-Verbande der akademischen Verbindung Kadimah, 1933.

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    A collection of essays published in honor of the one hundredth semester (fiftieth year) of Kadimah, Jewish nationalist society founded by Birnbaum, Moritz Schnirer, Reuben Bierer, and others in 1883. This volume contains two important memoirs of the events around the founding of Kadimah, one by Birnbaum, the other by Moritz Schnirer, that offer vibrant descriptions of the early days of the Zionism in Vienna.

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Secondary Sources

In addition to Birnbaum’s published writings, a number of readers, anthologies, and sourcebooks include examples of his important, shorter work for the English-speaking reader. Additionally, in recent decades the literature of professional periodicals has also featured a number of writings, detailing various aspects of Birnbaum’s life and thought.

Readers and Sourcebooks

Although largely elided from much of the dominant narrative of the history of Jewish politics, samples of Birnbaum’s work are collected in some of the most widely used anthologies of historical texts detailing Jewish history in English. Dawidowicz 1996 contains a few items from each period of Birnbaum’s work, while Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz 2011 contain fewer, although also informative selections from his Zionist and Orthodox phases.

  • Dawidowicz, Lucy. The Golden Tradition. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1996.

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    An anthology of short pieces by several pre-Holocaust Jewish cultural figures, Dawidowicz’s work contains a few articles by Birnbaum from various points of his intellectual trajectory.

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  • Mendes-Flohr, Paul R., and Jehuda Reinharz, eds. The Jew in the Modern World. 3d ed. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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    The third edition of the popular reader of documentary sources detailing modern Jewish history, translated in English with useful contextualizing footnotes. The third edition contains a few selections from the work of Birnbaum, from all three major periods in his intellectual development.

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Articles and Periodical Literature

While there is a somewhat sparse body of secondary literature in the professional literature, Birnbaum’s exhaustive activity and expansive contacts in the Jewish cultural world before the Second World War often yields interesting and exciting intersections of contact and influence. Kühntopf-Gentz 1990, Olson 2003, and Olson 2007 are specifically biographical, adding nuance to specific engagements and relationships in Birnbaum’s life. Block 2015, Battegay 2016, Galli 2001, Horch 1995, and Sinkoff 2017 offer tantalizing examples of specific points of encounter between Birnbaum and other significant cultural figures, and Gershon illuminates a little-known impact of Birnbaum’s religious thought as followers of some of his ideas experienced the Holocaust.

  • Battegay, Caspar. “In Gottes Krieg?: Staat, Volk und Nation bei Nathan und Uriel Birnbaum.” Jüdische Publizistik und Literatur (2016): 107–130.

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    A study of the intersection between Birnbaum’s nationalist and religious thought and the artwork of his son, Uriel, a noted mid-century graphic artist who drew much inspiration for his artwork from his father’s career.

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  • Block, Nick. “On Nathan Birnbaum’s Messianism and Translating the Jewish Other.” Leo Baeck Institute Year Book 60.1 (2015): 61–78.

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    A literary study of Birnbaum’s later religious ideology contextualized in the larger world of German-Jewish literature and thought.

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  • Galli, Barbara E. “Nathan Birnbaum’s Reaction to Buber’s Retelling of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav’s Tales.” Journal of Jewish Thought & Philosophy 10. 2 (2001): 313.

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    Article contextualizing Birnbaum’s relationship to Martin Buber and the Jewish Renaissance group through Birnbaum’s published analysis of Buber’s Tales of Rebbe Nachman.

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  • Greenberg, Gershon. “Yehudah Leb Gerst’s Religious ‘Ascent’ through the Holocaust.” Holocaust and Genocide Studies 13.1 (1999): 62–89.

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    Study of a young Orthodox student and follower of Birnbaum’s Oylim movement tracing its significance as a source of solace and inspiration in the Holocaust.

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  • Horch, H. O. “Alfred Döblin und der Neo-Territorialismus; mit bisher unveröffentlichen Auszügen aus Briefen Döblins an Nathan Birnbaum.” International Alfred Döblin Kolloquium (1995): 25–36.

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    Alfred Döblin, best known for his Weimar novel Berlin Alexanderplatz, carried on a significant correspondence with Birnbaum and published in Der Ruf. This is a study of the correspondence contained in the Solomon and Nathan Birnbaum Family Archives (cited under Archives).

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  • Kühntopf-Gentz, Michael. “’Israel Geht Vor Zion’?: Nathan Birnbaum Und Die Palästinafrage.” Zeitschrift Für Religions- Und Geistesgeschichte 44.2 (1992): 118–139.

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    Detailed study by Birnbaum biographer of Birnbaum’s early attitudes toward Zionist settlement in Palestine versus Diaspora construction of nationalist identity.

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  • Olson, Jess. “Nathan Birnbaum and Tuvia Horowitz?: Friendship and the Origins of an Orthodox Idealogue.” Jewish History 17.1 (2003): 1–29.

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    Detailed study of correspondence between Birnbaum and Tuvia Horowitz contained in the Solomon and Nathan Birnbaum Family Archives. This correspondence reveals significant detail about the process of Birnbaum’s embrace of Orthodoxy during the First World War, as well as the close friendship between the two men.

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  • Olson, Jess. “The Late Zionism of Nathan Birnbaum?: The Herzl Controversy Reconsidered.” AJS Review 31 (2007).

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    Study of correspondence between Birnbaum and Theodor Herzl from Herzl’s early involvement with Viennese Zionism through Birnbaum’s alienation from the World Zionist Organization.

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  • Olson, Jess. “The Agudah and ‘Der Baal Tshuva’?: The Agudath Israel World Organization, Politicized Orthodoxy and the Interwar American Jewish Community.” American Jewish History 97.4 (2013): 335–366.

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    Article that details an Agudah delegation, of which Birnbaum was a distinguished participant, to the northeastern United States in 1921. Birnbaum was an important recruiter and advocate for Agudist organization in North America during this voyage.

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  • Sinkoff, Nancy B. “‘A Melancholy Offering Tendered with Esteem’: Gershom Scholem and Lucy S. Dawidowicz on Nathan Birnbaum, an Unexpected Conversation.” Jewish Quarterly Review 107. 3 (2017): 409–426.

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    Article investigating the postwar correspondence between Scholem and Dawidowicz that centered on Scholem’s thoughts about late modern Jewish mysticism that centered on Birnbaum’s later thought.

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Background Sources

In addition to the above-outlined primary and secondary texts focused on Birnbaum, his importance to the history of Jewish politics and culture has guaranteed a presence in the wider literature of eastern and central European Jews. Below are several of the most useful texts detailing the history of Jewish politics, Jewish culture at the fin de siècle, Yiddish language and literature, Orthodoxy and religious thought with direct relevance on Birnbaum’s work.

Early Zionism and Jewish Nationalism and Culture

As arguably the only successful model of Jewish national ideology to survive the destruction of European Jewry, the secondary material on Zionism is correspondingly immense, and the items here provide the most illumination to the environment that shaped Birnbaum’s early thought. The works of Avineri 1981, Lederhendler 1989, Frankel 1981, and Vital 1975 contain among them some of the most important narratives of the history of Zionism and Jewish nationalism. Almog, et al. 1998, a study of Zionism and religious thought, is an edited collection of essays pointedly relevant to Birnbaum’s own ideological development. Berkowitz 1993 and Stanislawski 2001 both offer perspectives on the central area of Birnbaum’s influence: the shaping of Jewish nationalist culture, and help place his work in a larger context. The more pointed studies of Bein 1959 and Schoeps 1982 give specific detail on where Birnbaum himself fit into the larger narrative of early Zionism. Finally, Koltun-Fromm 2001, Pawel 1992, and Zipperstein 1993 are contemporary critical biographies that shed important light on the larger context of Birnbaum’s nationalism.

  • Almog, Shmuel, Jehuda Reinharz, and Anita Shapira, eds. Zionism and Religion. Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England, 1998.

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    Collection of essays detailing various aspects of the interrelationship between religious ideas and early Zionism.

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  • Avineri, Shlomo. The Making of Modern Zionism: The Intellectual Origins of the Jewish State. New York: Basic Books, 1981.

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    Collection of essays, with critical introduction, of the intellectual history of early Zionism and its evolution in the 20th century.

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  • Bein, Alex. “The Origin of the Term and Concept of Zionism.” Herzl Year Book 2 (1959): 1–27.

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    Bein, an important early historian of Zionism and biographer of Theodor Herzl, presents the history of the word “Zionism,” and was the first to identify Birnbaum as the originator of the term.

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  • Berkowitz, Michael. Zionist Culture and West European Jewry before the First World War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

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    Study of cultural expressions of the early Zionist movement, providing a vibrant background into the role of cultural production in advancing Zionist identity.

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  • Frankel, Jonathan. Prophecy and Politics: Socialism, Nationalism and the Russian Jews, 1862–1917. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

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    Hugely influential study of the intellectual backdrop to the emergence of Jewish nationalism and its growth and development in Europe and Palestine to World War I.

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  • Koltun-Fromm, Kenneth. Moses Hess and Modern Jewish Identity. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

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    Biography of Moses Hess, tracing the roots of proto-Jewish nationalist thought in central European nationalism and Jewish-German culture.

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  • Lederhendler, Eli. The Road to Modern Jewish Politics: Political Tradition and Political Reconstruction in the Jewish Community of Tsarist Russia. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

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    Conceptual study of the emergence of Jewish politics and political consciousness in the 19th century that situates it in the larger history of Jewish power and powerlessness in the Russian Empire.

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  • Pawel, Ernst. The Labyrinth of Exile: A Life of Theodor Herzl. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1992.

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    Accessible yet sophisticated study of Herzl’s life and thought by noted biographer of European Jewish literary figures.

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  • Schoeps, Julius. “The Vienna Kadimah.” Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 27 (1982): 151–170.

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    First critical study of the creation and evolution of Kadimah from its origins until the Second World War.

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  • Stanislawski, Michael. Zionism and the Fin-de-Siècle: Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism from Nordau to Jabotinsky. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

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    Study of the literary and visual culture of Zionism in central Europe, situating it within the context of larger fin de siècle cultural trends.

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  • Vital, David. The Origins of Zionism. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975.

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    First volume of influential two-volume history of the origins, foundation, and institutional history of Zionism though the interwar period.

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  • Zipperstein, Steven J. Elusive Prophet: Ahad Ha’am and the Origins of Zionism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

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    Biography of Ahad Ha’am (Asher Ginsberg), central influence on the establishment and growth of cultural Zionism and major figure in early ideology of the movement.

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Yiddish, Yiddishism, and Autonomist Nationalism

Birnbaum’s transition away from formal affiliation with the Zionist movement occurred over several years of gradual evolution. The beginning of this transitionary period was marked by Birnbaum’s engagement with the Jewish Renaissance group, where he was viewed as a visionary and an important contributor and inspiration. Aschheim 1999, Biemann 2009, Brenner 1998, and Brenner 1996 are each important contributions that synthesize the formation and trajectory of this informal movement. Birnbaum’s meditation on Jewish identity and culture at this time led to a deepening of his interest in east European Jewish culture and the Yiddish language. By 1907, Birnbaum had relocated to the eastern Habsburg Empire, where he stood as a candidate for the Austrian parliament as a representative of a Galician district, the larger backdrop of which is described by Shanes 2012. Shortly thereafter, with the collaboration of Chaim Zhitlovsky Birnbaum undertook the organization of a conference that sought to legitimize Yiddish as a national language of the Jewish people, as documented in Weinreich and Rayzen 1931. While the overall impact of the conference is a matter of some debate, it certainly represented an important facet of the larger movement of Yiddish-oriented political autonomism as well as the validation of modern Yiddish culture. Fishman 2010, Goldsmith 1997, and Weiser 2011 each provide substantial background in the dynamics of this movement, and Kuznitz 2014, a study of YIVO, rounds out a deepening understanding of its accomplishments and legacy.

  • Aschheim, Steven. Brothers and Strangers: The East European Jew in German and German-Jewish Consciousness, 1800–1923. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999.

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    Study of the evolution of German-Jewish cultural identity in relationship with perception of east European Jewry, an important source for contextualizing Birnbaum’s engagement with Yiddish and autonomist nationalism.

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  • Biemann, Asher. Inventing New Beginnings: On the Idea of Renaissance in Modern Judaism. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009.

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    Includes history of the background and elaboration of the Jewish Renaissance movement in the early 20th century.

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  • Brenner, Michael. The Renaissance of Jewish Culture in Weimar Germany. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.

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    History of the idea of Jewish renaissance from pre-World War I beginnings, focusing on the Freie jüdisches Lehrhaus project of Franz Rosenzweig. Birnbaum was both an inspiration for parts of Rosenzweig’s thought as well as a participant in the Lehrhaus in the early 1920s.

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  • Brenner, David. Marketing Identities: The Invention of Jewish Ethnicity in Ost und West. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1998.

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    Detailed study and survey of illustrated monthly Ost und West as a tool of modern Jewish identity formation in central Europe.

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  • Fishman, David. The Rise of Modern Yiddish Culture. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010.

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    Study of the evolution and elevation of Yiddish from a language of low cultural status to the central pillar of a complex intellectual, political, and artistic movement.

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  • Goldsmith, Emmanuel. Modern Yiddish Culture: The Story of the Yiddish Language Movement. New York: Fordham University Press, 1997.

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    Study of the Yiddish language (or “Yiddishist”) movement that contains a chapter on Birnbaum’s work as an advocate for Yiddish language as a lynchpin of Jewish nationalism.

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  • Kuznitz, Cecile. YIVO and the Making of Modern Jewish Culture: Scholarship for the Yiddish Nation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

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    Definitive critical history of the Jewish research organization (YIVO), the most important archive and research center for the study of east European Jewry.

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  • Shanes, Joshua. Diaspora Nationalism and Jewish Identity in Habsburg Galicia. New York and Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

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    In-depth study of the development of Jewish political identity and nationalist organization in eastern Austria-Hungary in the early 20th century. It focuses in detail on the rise of nationalism and other forms of Jewish politics in Galicia, where Birnbaum was active as an organizer and candidate for government for much of the first two decades of the 20th century.

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  • Weinreich, Max, and Zalman Rayzen, eds. Di ershte yidishe sprakh-konferents: Barikhten, dokumentn un opklangen fun der tshernovitser konference, 1908. Vilna: YIVO Bibliotekh, 1931.

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    Definitive history and collection of primary sources detailing the 1908 Conference for the Yiddish Language, written by two central figures in the modern Yiddish movement.

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  • Weiser, Kalman. Jewish People, Yiddish Nation: Noah Prylucki and the Folkists in Poland. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011.

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    Detailed study of Noah Prylucki, central figure in the elaboration of non-Zionist Jewish nationalism in Poland.

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Orthodox Politics and the Agudat Yisrael

One of the least studied areas of modern Jewish politics, the history of Orthodox political activism has only recently received a respectable degree of scholarly attention. Bacon 1996 and Mittleman 1996 studies the Agudah itself—Bacon’s is a deep investigation of the practical political action of the Agudah in Poland in the interwar period, Mittleman’s is an intellectual history of the Agudah’s philosophical foundations, particularly as they arose in the neo-Orthodox community of Frankfurt am Main, the definitive history of which is provided in Breuer 1992. Friedman 1977 and Manekin 2006 have both provided important insight into the dynamics of early Orthodox political engagement, both in Israel and, especially important for background to Birnbaum’s work, in Austrian Galicia. Finally, Luz 1988 and Ravitzky 1996 are valuable meditations on the larger implications and negotiations of political identity from a variety of Orthodox perspectives.

  • Bacon, Gershon. The Politics of Tradition: Agudat Yisrael in Poland, 1916–1939. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1996.

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    Definitive history of the history and ideology of the Agudat Yisrael in its formative years, 1912–1939, focusing on the growth of the movement in Poland, particularly after its significant expansion in 1916.

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  • Breuer, Mordechai. Modernity within Tradition: The Social History of Orthodox Jewry in Imperial Germany. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

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    History of the neo-Orthodox community of Frankfurt am Main from the late 19th century until the Second World War. This community was central in the leadership of the Agudat Yisrael, and its leadership played an important role in the support and elevation of Birnbaum in the Agudah in the immediate post–World War I period.

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  • Friedman, Menachem. Hevra v’da’at: Ha-ortodoksia ha-lo-tsiyonit b’erets yisrael, 1918–1936. Jerusalem: Yad Itzhak ben Zvi, 1977.

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    Study of various strains of Orthodox ideology in mandate Palestine and their negotiation with secular and political Zionism. This issue was a central concern to Birnbaum in his later publications, especially in the journals Der Aufstieg and Der Ruf.

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  • Luz, Ehud. Parallels Meet: Religion and Nationalism in the Early Zionist Movement (1882–1904). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1988.

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    Classic study of the ideological negotiation between religious thought and early Zionism.

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  • Manekin, Rachel. “Politikah ve-ortodoksiyah: Ha-mikrah shel galitsiyah.” Ortodoksiyah yehudit (2006): 447–469.

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    Manekin’s work is deeply engaged with the various registers of politics, ideology, institutional organization, and culture of Jewish Galicia in the Dual Monarchy. This article is one of a number which address the interweaving of Orthodoxy and political organization in an area of great importance to Birnbaum’s own political and intellectual experience.

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  • Mittleman, Alan L. The Politics of Torah: The Jewish Political Tradition and the Founding of the Agudath Israel. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

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    Study of the conceptual and philosophical framework of Orthodox engagement with modern political structures, with the early (pre-1916), German-based Agudah as its focus.

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  • Ravitzky, Aviezer. Messianism, Zionism, and Jewish Religious Radicalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

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    Foundational study in the dynamics and late history of various religious attitudes toward Zionism and Jewish political action in general.

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  • Salmon, Yosef. Religion and Zionism: First Encounters. Jerusalem: Judah Magnes Press, 2002.

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    Study by prominent historian of Zionism and Orthodoxy in Ottoman and Mandate Palestine and Israel, focused in the negotiations and tensions between the two worldviews.

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