Alkalai, Rabbi Yehudah

February 16, 2014

Yehuda Solomon Alkalai was born in Sarajevo (Bosnia) in 1798. He spent his boyhood in Jerusalem studying with various rabbis and it was there that he came under the influence of the Kabbalah – Jewish mysticism. In 1825 he became Rabbi of Semlin (the capital of Serbia). At that time, the Serbs, as well as other nationalities which resided within the Balkan States, were greatly influenced by the Greek War for Independence and the prevailing atmosphere of rebellion against foreign Turkish rule. With this resurgence of national pride and desire for independence, the entire Balkan area became divided among differing nations and peoples. There is no doubt that these events influenced Alkalai and brought him to the realization that the time had come for Jewish nationalism to reassert itself among the Jewish people.

Rabbi Alkalai raised the issue of Jewish political independence and the Land of Israel for the first time in 1834 in a small booklet entitled Shema Yisrael, (‘Hear O Israel’). In his essay, he proposed a beginning of Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel as a precursor to the Messianic Redemption. Such an idea was not only original but was considered heretical among many Jews who believed that the Messianic Redemption would come only through a miraculous event caused by God. Within Alkalai’s proposition of a natural process of redemption, there was the inclusion of the Rabbinic doctrine, expressed in the Midrash and homiletic literature, that the Messiah, son of Joseph, would first come to lead the people of Israel in the apocalyptic war of Gog and Magog and would then re-conquer the Land of Israel, freeing it from foreign domination.

A drastic change took place in the life and outlook or Rabbi Alkalai in 1840 with the occurrence of the Damascus Blood Libel, shaking the very foundations of the Jewish, and elements of the non-Jewish world. This blood libel convinced Rabbi Alkalai (and many other members of the younger generation such as Moses Hess) that freedom and security for the nation could and would only be achieved in the land of the forefathers, and that the redemption would only come about through positive action on the part of the Jewish community.

From this moment Rabbi Alkalai devoted himself to spreading these ideas through writing and speeches within various Western European Jewish communities. He approached such Jewish leaders as Moses Montefiore and Adolph Cremieux for their political and financial support.

Rabbi Alkalai was convinced that it would be possible to buy part or even most of the Holy Land from the Turkish government, i.e., the Sultan and his empire, as Abraham had done at the cave of Machpelah when he bought land from Ephron the Hittite. He dreamed of establishing a world-wide organization along the lines of the various national organizations then prevalent among other nations of Europe. The purpose of these organizations would be to buy and reclaim land, as well as providing loans for new settlers. These ideas were subsequently adopted by Herzl and the World Zionist Organization.

Alkalai did not simply write and preach his ideas but he traveled to various cities attempting to set up a basic structure for the organization he envisioned. One such group was established in London but it did not last long enough to have any type of substantial impact upon the masses.

Alkalai attempted to convince people that his plan for at least part of the Jewish nation to re-establish itself in the Land of the Forefathers was one of realistic proportions and that the realization of an independent state in all its modern nationalistic connotations could be achieved. Towards the end of his life he moved to Israel and died there without seeing any of his dreams fulfilled.

From His Writings

The Third Redemption

Now we pray every day: Let our eyes behold Thy return to Zion in mercy and if we believe our own words, then upon whom will the Divine Presence become manifest? Upon the trees and the rocks? Therefore, as the first step to the beginning of redemption of our souls we must return to the Land twenty-two thousand (Jews), the Holy One Blessed Be He to cause the Divine Presence to descend upon them. This most certainly will be followed by His showing us and all of Israel beneficial signs. Such an idea is hinted at in the Torah: And Jacob came in peace to the city of Shechem… and he bought the parcel of ground where he spread his tent. Why did Jacob buy the land if his only intention was to rest there for a time and then continue on to see his father, Isaac? It is apparent that this act was realized to teach his descendants that the redemption would come about by purchasing the land from its inhabitants. Because he bought the parcel of land it was as if he lived (permanently) on it. More so, the redemption from Egypt brought the people of Israel to a good and spacious land, one whose wells were already dug, and whose vineyards and olive groves were already planted. Yet, because of our sins, the Land is now empty and desolate and we must, for this redemption, build the houses and dig the wells and plant the vineyards and the olive groves.

TESHUVA (RETURN AND REPENTANCE)

One should be aware that the word teshuva means first and foremost the return to the place from whence an individual departs as it is written: And his return was to Rama for this was his house.

Courtesy of World Mizrachi Movement