Ahad Ha'am

Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg (1856 - 1927), primarily known by his Hebrew name and pen name, Ahad Ha'am, ( _he. אחד העם, lit. "one of the people", Genesis 26:10), was a Hebrew essayist, and one of the greatest pre-state Zionist thinkers. With his secular vision of a Jewish "spiritual center" in Palestine he confronted Theodor Herzl. Unlike the founder of political Zionism he strived for "a Jewish state and not merely a state of Jews". [Ahad Ha'am, The Jewish State and Jewish Problem, trans. from the Hebrew by Leon Simon c 1912, Jewish Publication Society of America, Essential Texts of Zionism [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Zionism/haam2.html] ]

Early years

Ginsberg was born in Skvyra, near Kiev in what was then Russia, to pious well-to-do Hasidic parents. As early as eight years old, he began to secretly teach himself to read Russian. His father, Isaiah, sent him to heder until the age of 12. When Isaiah became the administrator of a large estate in a village in the Kiev district, he moved the family there and took private tutors for his son, who excelled at his studies. Ginsberg was critical of the dogmatic nature of Orthodox Judaism but remained loyal to his cultural heritage, and especially the ethical ideals of Judaism. "Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel", vol. 1, Ahad Ha'am, New York, 1971, pp. 13-14]

Hovevei Zion

After unsuccessfully attempting to study in Vienna and Germany, he returned in his early thirties to Odessa where he was influenced by Leon Pinsker, a leader of the Hovevei Zion ("Lovers of Zion") movement. "Hovevei Zion" began as independent study circles in the late 19th century, and formed a philanthropic confederation called "Hibbat Zion" (love for Zion). Their practical aim was settlement of Jews in Palestine, and they produced the settlements of the first Aliyah (immigration wave). The Zionist settlement program was beset by practical difficulties, and many settlements failed or were failing.

Unlike Pinsker, Ginsberg did not believe in political Zionism, which he fought, 'with a vehemence and austerity which embittered that whole period'. [Shalom Spiegel, "Hebrew Reborn,"(1939) Meridian Books, Cleveland, New York 1962 p.271] Instead, from his very first article, he hailed the spiritual value of the Hebrew renaissance within the Zionist movement. To counter the debilitating fragmention for the Jewish folk-soul of life throughout the diaspora, the idea of assuring unity through an ingathering of Jews into Palestine was not an answer. That is, "kibbutz galuyoth" was a messianic ideal rather than a feasible contemporary project. The real answer lay in achieving a spiritual centre, or 'central domicile', within Palestine, that of Eretz Israel, which would form an exemplary model for the dispersed world of Jewry in exile to imitate, a spiritual focus for the circumferential world of the Jewish diaspora. [Shalom Spiegel, "Hebrew Reborn," ibid. pp.286-289] He split from the Zionist movement after the First Zionist Congress, because he felt that Theodor Herzl's program was impractical.

Visits to Palestine

Ahad Ha'am traveled frequently to Palestine and published reports about the progress of Jewish settlement there. They were generally glum. They reported on hunger, on Arab dissatisfaction and unrest, on unemployment, and on people leaving Palestine. In an essay ['Truth from Eretz Yisrael',] soon after his 1891 journey to the area he warned against the 'great error', noticeable among Jewish settlers, of treating the "fellahin" with contempt, of regarding 'all Arabs a(s) savages of the desert, a people similar to a donkey.’ [Anita Shapira, "Land and power: The Zionist resort to force, 1881-1948," Oxford University Press, 1992 p.42] [>variant translation in Tom Segev, "One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate",Metropolitan Books, 2000 p.104] . He believed that rather than aspiring to establish a 'Jewish National Home' or state immediately, Zionism must bring Jews to Palestine gradually, while turning it into a cultural center. At the same time, it was incumbent upon Zionism to inspire a revival of Jewish national life in the Diaspora. Then and only then, he said, would the Jewish people be strong enough to assume the mantle of building a nation state. Ahad Ha'am did not believe that the impoverished settlers of his day, laboring in Palestine far from the minds of most Jews, would ever build a Jewish homeland. He saw that the Hovevei Tzion movement of which he was a member was a failure, since the new villages created in Israel were dependent on the largess of outside benefactors.

Importance of Hebrew and Jewish culture

Ahad Ha'am's ideas were popular at a very difficult time for Zionism, beginning after the failures of the first Aliya. His unique contribution was to emphasize the importance of reviving Hebrew and Jewish culture both in Palestine and throughout the Diaspora, something that was recognized only belatedly, when it became part of the Zionist program after 1898. Herzl did not have much use for Hebrew, and many wanted German to be the language of the Jewish state. Ahad Ha'am played an important role in the revival of the Hebrew language and Jewish culture, and in cementing a link between the proposed Jewish state and Hebrew culture.

Cultural Zionism

Ahad Ha'am's 'cultural Zionism' and his writings have been widely distorted however, or misunderstood and quoted out of context to imply that he thought Jews should not settle in the Land of Israel / Palestine, or that he thought it was impossible to ever establish a Jewish state. In 1889 his first article criticizing practical Zionism, called "Lo ze haddereckh" ("This is not the way") appeared in "HaMelitz." The ideas in this article became the platform for "Bnai Moshe" (sons of Moses), a group he founded that year. Bnai Moshe, active until 1897, worked to improve Hebrew education, build up a wider audience for Hebrew literature, and assist the Jewish settlements.

In 1896, Ginsberg became editor of "Hashiloah," a Hebrew monthly, a position he held for six years. After stepping down as editor in 1903, he went back to the business world.

In 1897, following the Basel Zionist Congress, which called for a Jewish national home "recognized in international law" ("Volkerrechtlich"), Ahad Ha'am wrote an article called "Jewish State Jewish Problem" ridiculing the idea of a "Volkerrechtlich" state given the pitiful plight of the Jewish settlements in Palestine at the time. He emphasized that without a Jewish nationalist revival abroad, it would be impossible to mobilize genuine support for a Jewish national home. Even if the national home were created and recognized in international law, it would be weak and unsustainable. In 1898, the Zionist Congress adopted the idea of disseminating Jewish culture in the Diaspora as a tool for furthering the goals of the Zionist movement and bringing about a revival of the Jewish people. Bnai Moshe founded Rehovot, hoping it would become a model of self-sufficiency, and opened Achiasaf, a Hebrew publishing company.

Later years

In 1908, following a trip to Palestine, Ginsberg moved to London to manage the office of the Wissotzky tea company. He settled in Tel Aviv in early 1922, plagued by ill health, and died there in 1927.

Political role

Ahad Ha'am's influence in the political realm can be ascribed to his charismatic personality and spiritual authority rather than to his official functions he fulfilled. For the "Democratic Faction", the party that propagated cultural Zionism (founded in 1901 by Chaim Weizmann), he served in the words of his biographer, Steve Zipperstein, "as a symbol for the movement's culturalists, the faction's most coherent totem. He was, however, not – certainly not to the extent to which members of this group, especially Chaim Weizmann, would later contend – its chief ideological influence." [Steven J. Zipperstein, Elusive Prophet: Ahad Ha'am and the Origins of Zionism, London: Peter Halban 1993, p. 144] It is not widely known, that the rather shy Ahad Ha'am was a talented negotiator: In this role he was engaged during the "language controversy" that accompanied the founding of the Haifa Technikum (today: the Technion) and in the negotiations culminating in the Balfour Declaration. [Zipperstein, Elusive Prophet, 269, 296–301]


Many cities in Israel have streets named after Ahad Ha'am.




The Library of Congress lists sixteen (16) titles under his name of which seven (7) are in the English language.

*"Selected Essays":trans. Leon Simon:(Philadelphia: The Jewish Publishing Society of America, 1912)

External links

* [http://www.knesset.gov.il/lexicon/eng/echad_haam_eng.htm Ahad Ha'am's biography] Knesset website en icon
* Jewish Virtual Library: "Ahad Ha’am (Pen name of Asher Ginsberg)" [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/ahad_haam.html]
* [http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/biography/ahad_haam.html Biography]
* [http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/6640/zion/anticipations.html "Anticipations and Survivals"] (1891)
* [http://www.hagshama.org.il/en/resources/view.asp?id=1257&subject=70 Ahad Ha'am (Asher Ginsburg)]

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  • AḤAD HA-AM — (Asher Hirsch Ginsberg; 1856–1927), Hebrew essayist, thinker, and leader of Ḥibbat Zion movement. Aḥad Ha Am was born in Skvira, Kiev Province in Russia. He received a traditional Jewish education in the home of his father, a Ḥasid who was a… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Ahad Ha'Am — ou Asher Hirsch Ginsberg (1856 1927) est un penseur nationaliste et leader des Amants de Sion. Il est l un des pères de la littérature hébraïque moderne. Il naît en 1856 en Russie. Il signe son premier article «Lo zé hadérèh» ( Ce n est pas la… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Ahad — Ahad, im türkischen Kalender der Wochentag, welcher auf jeden unserer Sonntage fällt …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Ahad Ha-Am — (Asher Hirsch Ginsberg) (1856–1927)    Hebrew writer and exponent of cultural Zionism. Among the important figures in the early Zionist movement, Ahad Ha Am has a place unlike that of any other. He was not a leader, an organizer or an orator, but …   Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament

  • Aḥad Haʿam — ▪ Zionist leader (Hebrew: “One of the People”),original name  Asher Ginzberg   born Aug. 18, 1856, Skvira, near Kiev, Russian Empire [now in Ukraine] died Jan. 2, 1927, Tel Aviv, Palestine [now in Israel]  Zionist leader whose concepts of Hebrew… …   Universalium

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