Zionism= The return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel to found there a Jewish State.
While the term “Zionism” was coined by Nathan Birnbaum in 1890, Rabbi Yehuda Bibas (1776-1852) should be credited with the idea of modern Zionism. Rabbi Bibas was born in Gibraltar (an English colony). From his mother side, he was the grandson of the famous Moroccan rabbi Rabbenu Hayim ben Attar, the Or-haHayim-haQadosh (1696-1743). His father belonged to the prestigious Bibas family, a family of Rabbanim, Dayanim and Shohatim in Tetuan, Spanish Morocco. Rabbi Bibas was for many years the rabbi of the prominent and affluent Jewish community of Corfu, a beautiful island that today belongs to Greece.
Rabbi Bibas saw the opportunity for the Jewish people to have their own state in the fact that many countries in those years (1820-1835) revolted against the ruling empires and thus gained their independence. Living in Corfu allowed Rabbi Bibas the privileged perspective of being a direct witness to the revolution of the Greeks against the Ottoman Empire and the victory that led to the creation of the independent Greek State. Israel, then called “Palestine”, was also under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Rabbi Bibas estimated in 1835 that the Jews were able to gain their own independence, as the Ottoman Empire was increasingly weak politically and militarily. Rabbi Yehuda Bibas opined that: “The Jews must conquer the land of Israel militarily from the Turks, just as the Greeks conquered their own land from the Turks.”
Rabbi Bibas traveled through Europe and North Africa visiting Turkey, the Balkans, Vienna, London, Germany, Hungary and Prague and many more Jewish communities. The main message he preached to all the Jews of the world was “TESHUBA,” a call to return as a Nation to the land of Israel and founding a Jewish State.
Rabbi Bibas gave a broader meaning to the term Teshuba. Literally “Teshuba” means “return.” But beyond the conventional meaning of the return of the Jewish individual to God, in the Tora we find the idea of ”Teshuba / return” primarily as the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.
In the book of Debarim, chapter 30, 1-11 the concept of Teshuba is mentioned eight times. First as “collective repentance,” followed by a national “reconciliation” with HaShem. Then Teshuba defines the form that HaShem will “return” the Jewish people to their land. Just as the exile in the previous chapter (Debarim 29) was the result of the Jews abandoning HaShem, the return to the land of Israel is presented as the result of the reconciliation between Am Israel and HaShem, our God.
Rabbi Bibas explained that by dwelling in the Diaspora: “We are turning our backs on HaShem (the opposite of “teshuba”, i.e., “facing” HaShem. YB), as our rabbis explained: A Jew living outside Israel is like a Jew without God. And why are we living in exile? In order to seek our sustenance? Did not the Tora say that the land of Israel is a land that HaShem constantly monitors, a land in which bread will not be eaten with poverty, is it not a land that will not lack anything? Day, after when eating a meal with bread, we thank HaShem for the land of abundance, Israel, that He has granted us … ”
Rabbi Yehuda Alqalay (1798-1878) brought the ideas of Rabbi Yehuda Bibas to writing. Unlike Rabbi Bibas, who did not get to publish his ideas (or his books did not reach us or were not spread …) Rabbi Alqalay was a prolific writer. Like Rabbi Bibas, Rab Alkalay did not conceive the return of the people of Israel to Israel as a solution to the eternal problem of anti-Semitism, but essentially as a way of fulfilling the Jewish aspiration for political normalization: that is, the people Jewish, living in its land, Israel, ruled by its law, the Tora. Both rabbis, Rabbi Bibas and Rabbi Alqalay understood that the people of Israel did not need to wait passively for the arrival of the Mashiah to realize this aspiration. Rather, we should actively seek the re-establishment of an independent Jewish State in the land of our ancestors as a way of advancing and facilitating the arrival of the Mashiah.
Rabbi Alqalay, inspired by Rabbi Bibas, formulated his plan and ideas for the restoration of the Jews in Israel in his book “Goral laHaShem”, published in Vienna in 1857. In this book Rabbi Alkalay designed a comprehensive plan with the religious foundations and the practical steps to bring to fruition a national “TESHUBA”: The return of the Jewish nation to Israel. The book was published in three different editions and translated into many languages, including English.
I present HERE to the readers the book of Rabbi Yehuda Alqalay where you can see again and again that the word that defines “Zionism” is TESHUBA.
It is very interesting to read the haskamot (letters of recommendation) that he had in this book from many prominent rabbis. In my opinion, the most interesting letter is that of Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885) originally written in Hebrew by this famous philanthropist and leader of the Jewish people.
יום העצמאות שמח