While Theodor Herzl is generally credited as the father of modern Zionism, he was not the first to call for the modern, political rebirth of a Jewish nation. Only in 1895 did Herzl come to realize that Jews would never be accepted in western society. Years before Herzl, on January 1, 1882, Auto-Emancipation, by Leon Pinsker (1821-1891)* was published. Recognizing that anti-Semitism was never going to go away and that the Jewish people were never going to be accepted into the societies in which they lived, Pinsker wrote Auto-Emancipation as a call to Jewish leaders to discuss the issue and work toward the solution of statehood.
Auto-Emancipation was written when Pinsker was 60. Born in Poland, he was raised in Odessa
and was one of the first Jews to attend Odessa University. Although he set out to become a lawyer, he changed his career choice to physician after realizing the quotas on Jewish professionals would inhibit him from working as a lawyer. Based on his experiences, he believed that if Jews were to act more like their fellow countrymen, they would be better accepted.
Auto-Emancipation was Pinsker’s reaction to the horrific pogroms that occurred in 1871 and 1881. These violent outbursts affected all Jews, including assimilationists and traditionalists. He now believed that the nations of the world suffered from a psychological condition he named Judeophobia, the irrational hatred of Jews, and that the only cure was to create a Jewish homeland.
The publication of Auto-Emancipation led to the creation of the early Zionist organization Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion). Many of the members of Hovevei Zion were among the settlers who came as part of the First Aliyah (1882–1903) to Israel.
Leon Pinsker died in Russia in 1891. In 1934, his body was brought to Israel, and he was reburied in Nicanor’s Cave on Mount Scopus, which is part of Hebrew University.
*aka Leo, aka Yehudah Leib
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