Zionist Utopias

Early Zionist thinkers envisioned, in great detail, the perfect human--and Jewish--society.

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In 1902, just two years before his death, Theodor Herzl, the leader of political Zionism, published Altneuland (Old-New Land), presenting his vision of a socialist utopia. Ten years earlier, Elhanan Leib Lewinski had published Journey to the Land of Israel in the Year 5800, his vision of a utopian society in the year 2040 (5800 in the Jewish calendar). The following article briefly describes the characteristics of these utopian societies. Reprinted with permission of The Gale Group from Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought, edited by Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr, Twayne Publishers.

The new state of [Theodor] Herzl's Altneuland is located in Palestine, lying east and west of the Jordan with indeterminate boundaries to the south and north that do, however, stretch into Syria. It is based on a form of anarcho‑syndicalist ideals [i.e. ideals based on revolutionary, socialist unionism] and lacks means of coercion.

Land is publicly owned. A form of public ownership governs the operations of banks, industries, newspapers, and retail stores. Agriculture flourishes, fertilized by vast irrigation works, which also bring life to the desert areas. The swamps have been drained. Transport is electrified, the energy being drawn from water power, particularly from a canal created by the excavation of a vast tunnel joining the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea.

The latter's chemical resources in bromium and potassium have made the country a world production center. The towns are spacious and well-planned, enjoying the benefits of a noiseless mass transit system. Men work a seven‑hour day; women have the vote. Cooperation is the keynote of political, agricultural, and social life, eliminating the exploitation of man by man. Criminals are not punished but reeducated. Education up to university level is free. The old city of Jerusalem is surrounded by modern suburbs, parks, institutes of learning, markets, and architectural triumphs.

In cultural respects, Altneuland is marked by tolerance for all faiths, religion being relegated to the status of a private concern, although the Sabbath remains the general Jewish festival. The reestablished Temple takes the form of a modern synagogue. But society does not concern itself with whether men worship the Eternal "in synagogue, church, mosque, in the art gallery or the philharmonic concert." There is no official language, although German predominates.

Among the favored pursuits of the population of Altneuland are attendance at German opera and French drama and participation in English outdoor sports. There are institutes for the study of culture and philosophy and a Jewish academy of forty members modeled on the Academie Française [the French Academy of Sciences, founded in 1666]. Moreover, the establishment of Altneuland has eliminated anti‑Semitism through reducing the impact of Jewish competition elsewhere.

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Lionel Kochan

Lionel Kochan (1922-2005) was Littman Lecturer in Jewish Politics at Oxford University and Sherman Lecturer in Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester. His books include Jews, Idols, and Messiahs and Beyond the Graven Image.