Is Zionism just as extreme as National Socialism

Franz Rosenzweig and Zionism

Prize lecture by Prof. Dr. Micha Brumlik, House of the Region, Hanover


In 2018, two years from now, the State of Israel with its capital Jerusalem will be seventy years old. Today, more than a hundred years after its first appearance, the idea and state of the Jewish national movement are not only in crisis - at the moment nothing less than the self-destruction of the Zionist project is emerging. This self-destruction process is based on contradicting tendencies of modern Judaism, which the Zionist movement with its national idea set out to solve more than a hundred years ago. Western European assimilation Judaism, which wanted to consistently confessionalize Judaism, different varieties of socialism that aimed at eliminating all forms of hostility towards Jews with the solution of the social question, as well as variants of an ethnically understood cultural Jewry that took place here - in late Russia Tsarism understood as ethno-cultural socialism - the Yiddish-speaking trade union movement, the "Bund" - and appeared there as Hebrew-speaking, but not state-building cultural Zionism. In fact, these ideally different motifs were in almost any combination in reality, which there is no space to carry out here. Zionism differed from them both in its territorial and state ideas, although it was by no means always clear that the only territories for a Jewish state were regions of the historical land of Israel. Roughly speaking, modern state-building Zionism understood the Jews as a nation.

The idea of ​​the nation, however, in the current sense of the word did not arise before the French Revolution, when the term initially referred to the bourgeoisie united in the spirit of a constitution based on democracy and human rights. This form of the nation can be seen as a future alliance based on equal rights of all citizens, which is about the realization of the common freedom of all citizens. This understanding of the nation as a state people was presented by Jean Jacques Rousseau in his “Contrat social”, written in 1762. In return and in competition with this, a concept of the nation emerged, especially in Germany, as a reaction to the Napoleonic occupation, which did not refer to the common future of the citizens who recognized each other, but to the common origin of the people who were arrested in language and tradition. For this purpose, the “Speeches to the German Nation” written by Johann Gottlieb Fichte in 1808 can be named systematically.

The difference between an Enlightenment concept of the nation in the French and a romantic concept of the nation in the German sense should also shape the Zionist movement in its various shades. Of course: beyond the development of a concept of the nation as a people of origin united in the state in the spirit of Fichte or a legal community in the spirit of Rousseau that safeguards and realizes the rights and freedoms of individuals, the idea of ​​the modern Jewish nation was under pressure from the very beginning Anti-Semitism, that is, with the collective interest in protecting the life and limb of persecuted Jews from all cultural realization or all liberal guarantees, as well as restoring their injured self-respect. Ben Gurion called this variant - not least propagated by Theodor Herzl - as "philanthropy".

As a reaction to anti-Semitism, initially independently of one another, first in Russia, and then after the French Dreyfus affair by the Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl also in England, Germany and Austria, small Jewish national movements emerged, which in the medium term see anti-Semitism as being social, even biological Looked at the fact and therefore considered the exodus of the threatened Jews to a safe, self-governed territory on the edge of the zones of influence of the great powers of the time, i.e. to a national home in southern Latin America, in East Africa or in the Ottoman Empire, especially in Sinai or the land of Israel, in Palestine .

This essentially philanthropic basic idea was overshadowed by two other intellectual currents: by the above-mentioned Herdersch-Fichtean-style romantic nationalism, which saw a Jewish people united in language, history and collective institutions as a remedy against different forms of alienation from Jews in the modern world; and a life-reforming socialism of the Tolstoian and - paradoxically enough - Nietzschean kind, which saw the turn to a new life in the turn to body and earth, to community and strength. All three elements of modern Zionism: philanthropic territorial thought, romantically understood nation-state and life-reforming socialism emerged completely independently of the traditions of denominational or communally lived faith, and indeed explicitly against them.

The first groups of immigrants to Palestine before and after the First World War accordingly focused on the redemption of the Jewish body deformed by the diaspora existence in the medium of agricultural work that redeemed the karstified earth of Palestine. Admittedly, this life-reforming socialism was not only combined with romantic nationalism, but also with a bourgeois power-state thinking that would save the Jewish people threatened in Europe by building a Jewish army, the military conquest of the future territory on both sides of the Jordan and mass immigration into Cities and non-socialist settlements were guaranteed.

It was not until the 1903 decision, which split the Zionist movement, whether Uganda, which was then part of the British Empire, should be accepted as a saving territory instead of Palestine in the Ottoman Empire, touched the traditional ties of modern Judaism as well. Eastern Jewish Zionists in particular meant unmistakably and dramatically that the choice of the British colony of Uganda as the territory of a future Jewish community would have a deterrent effect on the Jewish masses of Eastern Europe who were willing to migrate and would only intensify the already stronger influx to North America and the anti-Zionist, national Jewish labor movement “Bund” would. It was only the Uganda crisis that revealed that Zionism, which had completely robbed itself of its religious roots, could not find any echo. This debate steered the flow of the secular redemption religions of romantic nationalism and life-reforming socialism into the bed of Jewish traditional consciousness and thus gave it its direction to the land of Israel, the Ottoman province of Palestine.

When the first chief rabbi of the Asken Jews in the British-administered League of Nations Mandate Palestine, Rav Kuk, declared the agricultural work of even atheist socialists to be a “work of salvation” on the basis of mystical speculation, he succeeded in achieving the national religious synthesis that declared the Jewish state to be wanted by God on the basis of its territory It was taken for granted that the Jewish population living there would sooner or later have to adhere to a constitution in the spirit of the Torah, albeit a modified one.

After all, it was the June war of 1967 and the conquest of the Sinai Desert, the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and the Western Wall as well as the West Bank that led to the threatened self-destruction of the Zionist project. The Jewish state, which was set up to promote expulsion and not extermination anti-Semitism, a state that would not have been able to prevent the Shoah even if it had been founded before 1933 (2), faced another threat of extermination, but won his brilliant victory back those territories that religious Judaism had always been about. From a political point of view, Jerusalem has not been the solution, but the problem in its most intense form.
Franz Rosenzweig is generally regarded as an opponent of Zionism - of course: things are not that simple, as will be shown below.


On April 19 In 1927 Franz Rosenzweig wrote one of his last letters to his cousin Hans Ehrenberg, who had converted to Protestantism in 1909, and was severely ill with incurable muscle wasting. Before he emigrated to Great Britain in 1939 after being imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Ehrenberg belonged to the professing church and had been a committed socialist member of the SPD since 1918 at the latest. Rosenzweig, who, despite attempts to convert his friends, had decided in 1913 to remain a Jew and for a long time adhered to a national Jewish, but certainly not Zionist self-image, Ehrenberg tried to explain the meaning of Zionism in the spirit of religious socialism:

“You can make Zionism clear to yourself by looking at the importance of socialism for the church. Just like social democracy, even if not “religious-socialist”, even if “atheistic” is more important for the realization of the kingdom of God through the church than the ecclesiastical, even the few really ecclesiastical, and all the more important than the immense mass of semi or completely indifferent people , so Zionism for the synagogue. "(3)

Rosenzweig's confession to Ehrenberg in 1927 did not fall from the sky, but was the result of experiences and considerations that Rosenzweig, who was initially so critical of Zionism, had to make in the years after the First World War. Rosenzweig, Zionism and, above all, the intellectual conflict between a young, charismatic rabbi like Anton Nehemia Nobel, who worked in Frankfurt am Main, and the revered role model Hermann Cohen, who was against Zionism out of Kantian convictions, shaped his entire life Incentive. (4) In a letter to Eugen Rosenstock, he attempts a systematic formulation of the problem:

“I consider our old contrast here 1789 and 1914 as the beginning of the third period to be purely tactical - and I always find that going back to 1789 proves itself for the calm and persuasive power of the depiction, simply because 130 years are then available for illustration and you don't always have to rely on the newspaper news from yesterday morning (or even from this morning?). E.g. the Jewish state alone (1919) would have little weight, but that would mark the end of the 130-year process of Emancipation of the Jews is, this recourse to 1789 makes its symptomatic significance clear. "(6)

In the same year, Rosenzweig ironically reveals himself to his friends as an "evil Zionist" who can certainly have a positive relationship with the world, because:

“The teaching of Judaism, which Zionism intends to develop, is not the teaching of a people, it is the teaching of the world. As they say: and everyone should recover from the teaching. "In 1920 he then had to confess that the" question of "Zionism" ... now, as it goes, jumps at him from every corner "," from every book in which I look into every person I speak to. "(7)

for which he cites works by Maimonides and Spinoza. On June 24, 1920, Margrit Rosenstock confessed to a lecture held in the Jewish teaching house:

"Today 1789 - 1920 (Goethe, emancipation of Jews, World War I, Zionism) My attitude towards Zionism is more and more a la Balaam: I went out to curse him and bless him at every opportunity." (8)

This is followed four weeks later by the desperate confession of failure among his audience, who do not want to be convinced:

“Unless you give the pack what it demands: Order for the“ Star of Redemption ”I.II. III. Class etc. The Zionists are the only ones on the right track. I'm a punch in the water. "(9)

As a staunch German patriot, Rosenzweig was extremely anti-British even after the First World War and criticized political Zionism not least because it entered into an alliance with Great Britain.

“The worst thing,” so Rosenzweig's judgment of the British, “is that this people now not only rules over the world, but also over the Jews, even as our“ benefactors ”. Our fate depends on our being ungrateful; I have signs that we will be. "(10)

Rosenzweig's approach to Martin Buber, who has always been a self-confessed cultural Zionist, turns into admiration on this question when Rosenzweig writes to the adored woman in the autumn of 1920 that a Zionist like Buber could be a very different "heretic" than

"Our one" - like himself or Hans Ehrenberg, of whom he thinks that he "just went under the Social Democrats". (11)
Such “heretics” fascinate him so much that he proudly confesses that he has “won a - very bad - Zionist for the Lehrhaus.” (12) In his debates with Nobel, he was finally forced to make concrete prognoses about the future shape of Judaism to express:

“I told him the other day ...: I expected that in Palestine, where the cohesive pressure from outside would disappear, the two wings of Judaism would fall apart into a“ Protestant ”and a“ Catholic ”church. He said very calmly, no, the Kabbalah will hold us together. "(13)

An argument with the bourgeois liberal Jabotinsky supporter Richard Lichtheim even provokes the confession after a lecture:

“But I slip into Zionism without stopping. Speaking is a great thing. "(14)

Rosenzweig's correspondence with “Gritli” proves, among other things, that he was in the process of revising the theory of the Jewish people developed in the “Stern”, more precisely began to revise it even before its publication, even more that he saw very clearly that Zionism was in an inevitable form of a historical world he described as Christian: the letter to Ehrenberg in 1927 was preceded by almost identical-sounding sentences to Eugen Rosenstock six years earlier:

“Zionism is what socialism is to you. In 100 years the world will have a shape again and we will have a law again. I myself will write one of the basic scripts from which it will then be codified. Because it will really be again a written and yet really kept law (- a miracle the world cannot live without) that the Zionists can only live this new law by sacrificing themselves, their own European intertwined soul, they know that myself. So far I had told myself that I could be a tool for the new work and yet save and keep my soul on earth. Now I see that I am just like them. I go to the dogs just like the whole living generation of Zionists (I always only speak of the real ones) But the new law will arise from it. "(15)

In 1921, Rosenzweig admittedly did not yet know what this new law would look like:

“Whether the new Jewish law will be the last, the world law - the Zionists believe it, I don't know. That's not my business either. Marx and Lassalle? they are my co-workers, as good as Nobel and as good as Strauss and Koch .. "(16)

Among many other things, the “Star of Redemption” contains a theory of the Jewish people as the bearers of the Jewish faith, influenced by the late Schelling. In his speculative sociology, Rosenzweig was convinced that the Jews, who - unlike all other peoples - have neither a country nor a common everyday language nor even the ability to wage war, all this once - in the youth of the people - owned, but would have lost it with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem at the latest. Without land, language and wars, the people have lived since then only in the closed space of the liturgical year and gained their continued existence during that time only through the "Be fruitful and multiply", i.e. through the - as Rosenzweig put it - power of the "blood" . Life in the liturgical year and in family continuity thus bans the Jews into a space beyond any national history and also beyond world history, which he believes was shaped by Christianity and its messianic missionary mandate.

So while the Christian world is historical through and through and is striving towards that end point, when all peoples will recognize the God of the Bible, the Jews as a people are already where all others are striving: in a standing, transhistorical now, in which there is that Has already won eternity that the rest of humanity may long for.


Rosenzweig, who died in 1929, did not experience National Socialism, mass extermination and - following them - the founding of the State of Israel, but - as indicated at the beginning - in his final years he did give Zionism a theological and moral significance. Had he experienced all of this, however, he would have had little choice but to change his view, because:

Mass annihilation has made the Eternal People visible in all their finitude, while the founding of the State of Israel has restored at least part of it historicity, common everyday language and the ability to wage war. At the same time, Rosenzweig would have to face the problem of what it means, firstly, that the people are again in possession of one, their land, and, secondly, to answer the question of what it can mean for the "Eternal People", with experience, almost to To have been killed entirely, to live. Due to the backlash into history caused by the Shoah and the founding of the State of Israel, the Jewish people have fallen from their previous mode of existence, trust in eternity, which has been created over and over again through conception and belief, into two other modes of existence. Even in the third generation after the Shoah, Jews live - individually and collectively - in horror, shock and mourning - provided they refer to the past. Their present, however, insofar as it is related to the State of Israel, is no longer - as it was perhaps until 1973 - shaped by pride and trust in the self-created state, but by everyday worry.

The Jewish people today live as a people - that is not the same as the sum of all Jewish individuals - also in sadness and worry. In contrast to melancholy, however, as Sigmund Freud taught, grief is a form of hard psychic work, bringing to mind and saying goodbye to the lost object, which lasts until the reality-testing consciousness has realized that something is irretrievably lost and therefore there is now room for new experiences and bonds. In contrast to grief, however, worry cannot calm down as long as possible threats persist. "Care", as Martin Heidegger analyzed it in "Being and Time", is that form of existence that is appropriate to its self-conscious beings, beings who are conscious of their temporality and transience and who are always concerned with all their actions and omissions herself, about the whole of her life. Reflecting on the future, on security and integrity, the question of how life should be led, yes, the longing for an end to fear, all of this is worry.

Jewish existence in large parts of the world today consists of a self-image as an ethnic group that was only recently cruelly destroyed in parts, which today lives in uninterrupted concern for the continued existence of its state center and subordinates everything else to this concern. Rosenzweig saw this form of existence almost prophetically in complete ignorance of the future, but with a keen eye on the past as early as 1921:

“There is no group, no direction, indeed hardly any individual in Judaism who does not look at his way of revealing the incidental in order to hold onto the rest, for the only true one and thus for the“ true rest of Israel ”. And it is him. The human being in Judaism is always somehow remnant. He is always somehow a leftover, an inner one, the outer part of which has been seized and driven away by the current of the world, while what is left of him remains on the bank. "(17)

In this passage, a diagnosis of Judaism not only of modernity is paired with a reminder of the wide-ranging catastrophes that did not determine all sections of its history. From the very beginning - Rosenzweig refuses to give a precise historical definition - what was traditionally considered to be Jewish life and what seemed to the individual to be able to live in a given society, which is why the distinction between "incidental" and " Significant “became decisive not only in times of crisis.

Beginning, for example, with Esra's prohibition of mixed marriages via Hillel's golden rule on the deep piety of the Hasidim and the Bundist re-evaluation of the Yiddish language: Judaism, as Rosenzweig wants to say, can only be lived through the unification of individual features of an overabundance of historically created possibilities. Depending on the historical and social situation, many of these possibilities appeared to be out of date and were left behind and forgotten in favor of certain traits - for example the old orthodoxy, which had to give way to neo-orthodoxy after the Enlightenment and Reform Judaism. This fact, which can be observed again and again, has a negative effect at first glance, but at second glance it turns out to be the secret of the historical survival of the Jewish people - despite all the catastrophes.

Contrary to Rosenzweig's assertion that Judaism has remained in a state without history since Roman times, this diagnosis shows that the alleged lack of history can only be considered as such if it is related to a certain type of history, namely political history equates ethnic groups and nations. If only and exclusively state formation and ethnic self-assertion describe the subject of history, then for centuries Judaism actually had no history, but if you free yourself from this perspective and turn your attention to the further and further development of a spiritual existence, then the panorama of one unfolds History that is characterized by new foundations, repression, forgetting as well as adaptation and creativity.

In this sense, Rosenzweig was able to establish in 1927 that Zionism represented, as it were, a changed, outwardly institutional form of the eternal Jewish being, which for him consists of nothing other than lived neighborly love:

"For the Jewish people there is no dichotomy between what is their own and what is most high, for them love for themselves becomes directly love for their neighbor." (18)

This formula, which Rosenzweig by no means only intended to be normative, has obviously been refuted by the re-historicalization of Judaism in Zionism. Regardless of whether one considers the militant policy of the Israeli state towards Palestinians and Arab neighbors to be morally justified or not - it is certainly not allowed to be called an expression of immediate charity - if terms are to retain their meaning at all.

In contrast, the land of Israel appears more and more clearly than what it has always been in the history of Judaism: as a pledge of God's loyalty.

According to the belief of the fascist - national religious rights of Gush Emunim, this pledge is to be gratefully accepted as a binding gift from God and to be defended with blood and death. For a leftist who argued intellectually and not in a substantialist way, this country was in any case never more than appearance, hope, project, cipher - a symbolic promise that is now retreating back to where it once came from: into language. Franz Rosenzweig gave this view its most succinct expression when he wrote about the relationship of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel:

“In the deepest sense, the land is his only as the land of his longing, as - holy land. And that is why even when it is at home, unlike all the peoples of the earth, this full property of his home is denied to him: he himself is only a stranger and sitter in his country: “The country is mine”, God tells him; the sanctity of the land removes the land from its uninhibited grasp as long as it could grasp; it increases his longing for what has been lost to infinity and does not allow it to become completely at home in any other country. "(19)

Beyond such historical analyzes, the question of the possibility of a Jewish state arises as a systematic question. Then, however, the first thing to note is that, due to its centuries of political impotence, Judaism did not, at first glance, actually develop a political theology that deserves its name, but instead pursued its founding of the state on the basis of secular nationalism as Zionism - a project that struggles with internal contradictions. Of course, everything depends on the sense in which “political theology” is spoken of here. It goes without saying that the Old Testament writings contain political theologies, and in the books of kings also those that precisely record the tension between priestly-theocratic rule here and kingship there. Of course, this tradition broke off at the latest with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple or the failed uprising of Bar Kochba, in order to be carried on sporadically in Talmudic debates. (20)

Franz Rosenzweig was not a Zionist and only began to take positive things from the Zionist idea in the last days of his life. In all this, he remained penetrated by the thought that the land of Israel in its holiness was ultimately reserved for God and that in its holiness it had to evade the uninhibited grasp of the Jews as well:

“The sanctity of the land robs the land from its uninhibited grip as long as it could grip; it increases his longing for the lost to infinity and, in addition, does not allow it to become completely at home in any other country. "(21)

At the beginning of the twenties Franz Rosenzweig wrote poems by the Spanish-born medieval poet Jehuda Halevi (1079–1141), who not only suffered from exile, but also wrote important religious and philosophical commentaries towards the end of his life, but decided to return home to the land of Israel. The poems of Zion that he wrote are an expression of mystical piety and an unbridled longing for salvation. Rosenzweig Germanized the first stanza of the poem "Heimkehr" as follows:

"Every madman, you carry it for me. Width
the arm to turn home!
But I follow your lead
must have no advice of his own.
Spread your light around my eyes!
With all the heart of yours wrong!
Come home for us, Lord, prepare
To you, that we return home. "(22)



(1) W. Laqueur, The Road to the State of Israel. History of Zionism, Vienna 1972
(2) T. Segev, The Seventh Million, Reinbek 1999
(3) F. Rosenzweig, Die Schrift, Königstein 1976, p.227
(4) F. Rosenzweig, The "Gritli" letters. Letters to Margrit Rosenstock - Huessy edited by Inken Rühle and Reinhold Mayer with a foreword by Rafael Rosenzweig, Tübingen 2002, p. 278
(5) loc. Cit. P. 354
(6) loc. Cit. P. 434
(7) loc. Cit. P. 611
(8) loc. Cit. P. 614
(9) loc. Cit., 628
(10) loc. Cit. P. 629
(11) loc. Cit. P. 638
(12) loc. Cit. P. 658
(13) loc. Cit. P. 664
(14) loc. Cit. P. 686
(15) loc. Cit. P. 723
(16) p. 732
(17) F. Rosenzweig, Der Stern der Erlösung, Ffm. 1921, p. 507
(18) loc. Cit. P. 413
(19) Rosenzweig loc. Cit. P. 378
(20) J. Neusner, Rabbinic Political Theory - Religion and Politics in the Mishna, Chicago 1971
(21) F. Rosenzweig, Der Stern der Erlösung, Ffm. 1993, p. 338
(22) F. Rosenzweig, Dieschrift, Essays, Transmissions and Letters, Königstein 1976, p. 108