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Socialist Zionists, Secular and Religious: Moses Hess and Moshe Una

Social Zionism as a nationalist return to the Jewish state with a realistic political program
Noam Zion is a Senior Fellow Emeritus of the Kogod Research Center at the Shalom Hartman Institute since 1978. He studied philosophy and holds degrees from Columbia University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He studied bible and rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and the Hartman Beit Midrash. In the past, he led the Tichon program for North American Jewish educators and he teaches in Hartman Institute rabbinic programs: the Be’eri program


Moses Hess was a German Jewish socialist who became one of the first communists (working closely with Karl Marx and introducing Friedrich Engels to communism), however he never denied his people and in 1862 he declared his support for socialist Zionism as one of the very first to take a return to the Jewish nation state as a nationalist possibility and a realistic political program.
In his book Rome and Jerusalem (1862), Moses Hess explains his return to his people and explains why it is not a betrayal of his universalist message but a perfect synthesis between the Jewish messianic vocation and socialism’s unity of humanity: 
A thought which I believed to be forever buried in my heart, has been revived in me anew. It is the thought of my nationality, which is inseparably connected with the ancestral heritage and the memories of the Holy Land, the Eternal City, the birthplace of the belief in the divine unity of life, as well as the hope in the future brotherhood of men. 
‘In you, says the divine genius of the Jewish family, shall all the families of the earth be blessed (Gen. 12: 3). Every Jew has within him the potentiality of a Messiah and every Jewess that of a Mater dolorosa.
Nothing is more foreign to the spirit of Judaism than the idea of the salvation of the individual which, according to the modern conception, is the corner-stone of religion. Judaism has never drawn any line of separation between and the family, the family and the nation, the nation and humanity as a whole, humanity and the cosmos, nor between creation and creator. Judaism has no other dogma but the teaching of the unity. But this dogma is with Judaism, not a mere fossilized and therefore barren belief, but a living, continually recreating principle of knowledge.
Judaism is rooted in the love of the family; patriotism and nationalism are the flowers of its spirit, and the coming regenerated state of human society will be its ripe fruit. Judaism is not a passive religion, but an active life factor which has coalesced with the national consciousness into one organic whole. It is primarily the expression of a nationality whose history for thousands of years coincides with the history of the development of humanity and the Jews are a nation which, having once acted as the leaven of the social world, is destined to be resurrected with the rest of civilized nations. When I labor for the regeneration of my own nation, I do not thereby renounce my humanistic aspiration. The national movement of the present day is only another step on the road of progress which began with the French Revolution.
 A hundred years later in Eretz Yirsael the Orthodox religious kibbutz movement saw in the calling to reform the world also a mission to repair the split between secular and religious, between communal and private,. Reforming Orthodox Judiasm means acknowledging that religious piety had shrunken its scope and now concentrated on inner faith and symbolic practice alone. They complained that just as modern Western Protestant religiosity had retreated to the inner sanctum of the self with God and the voluntary religious community, so too had traditional and ultra-Orthodox and even bourgeois religious Zionists. Life had been compartmentalized and religion left out of the public realm – both political and economic. Jewish socialism must revive and model “complete life” and therefore these religious ideologues invented the term tzibur metukan, a “repaired or perfected public.” The original dream of Judaism from Sinai is embodied in the invitation to a national covenant with God – “you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and holy nation” (Exodus 19: 6).
Moshe Unna was the prime ideologue of the religious kibbutzim: 
According to this concept there is an unmediated relation between the society in general and religion. Both the orders of society and the moral basis on which it is built become expressions of religion. Religion and mitzvah are constitutive of society. 
The kibbutz was an experiment that could be a model for the whole society to close that gap within Judaism and within Western society and construct a full life that solves the divisions in society – both the social problem of poor and rich, of working proletariat and spiritual elite, and the internal division of life into separate realms of religion and politics, spirituality and economics.
Moshe Unna wrote in an appropriately titled essay, “The State as the Supreme Test of our Jewish Essence." He argued that “Jewish religiosity cannot move from potential to actuality without creating a [new] order of life shaping all human behavior under the acceptance of the yoke of Heaven.” In the Diaspora there cannot be fulfillment of the reshaping of total life, so Zionism and democracy were essential aspects of this hevrah metukenet, “a repaired or perfected society” he attempted to build. But tikkun olam required education of the individual, not just rearranging the social order. Inspired by the German ideal of Bildung, the development of character, these religious socialist thinkers, immigrants of western and central Europe, highlighted the individual and education. But that education was not just aimed towards personal fulfillment but towards societal responsibility. “Education is a matter of the society, not just the private individual.” Tikkun olam requires tikkun of the individual through education with a social orientation. That is what these religious kibbutznikim believed was the original mission of the prophets and that required internal transformation, not just compassion for the needy or redistribution of wealth, and it involved restructuring a hevrah metukenet, “a repaired or perfected society.”

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