Between the years 1880 and 1920, around 10 novels were published describing
versions of an imagined Jewish state reestablished in the land of Israel. They
could be considered to be a literary genre –Utopian Zionism.
popular of these novels was Theodor Herzl’s Altneuland (Old and New Land, 1902)
whose title was translated to Hebrew with the biblical term “Tel Aviv” and thus
gave the name to the city that was founded at that time on shores of the
’s plot is about two Europeans – the Jewish
Viennese intellectual Friedrich Löwenberg and the Prussian aristocrat Kingscourt
– who escape from their decadent society to the remote Cook
Islands. Unexpectedly they disembark in Palestine twice: on their way to
the Pacific Ocean in 1902, and upon their return 20 years later.
first impression of the Land of Israel is of misery and desolation, as Herzl
himself had felt during his visit four years earlier.
On their return to
Europe in 1922, Löwenberg and Kingscourt lay eyes on prosperous, thriving land.
They are witness to a lively society, just and free, industrialized and
cosmopolitan. This was Herzl’s prediction: Jewish immigration would facilitate
the rebirth of the land of the Jews, and Arabs too, represented in the novel by
a character called Reschid Bey, would be grateful to the Jewish state that would
grant them employment and progress.
This vision of a blissful society
didn’t gain the unanimous approval of the Zionist ideologues of those times.
Unanimity has never been a Jewish trait. Ahad Ha’am bitterly questioned Herzl’s
dream of a Jewish society entirely lacking Jewish culture. A different
Zionist utopia was more to Ahad Ha’am’s taste: Trip to Eretz Israel in the Year
, written by Elchanan Leib Lewinsky in 1892, a decade before Herzl’s
The whole genre had started 10 years before Lewinsky, with the
publication of Ein Zukunftsbild (A Vision of the Future) by Edmund Menahem
Eisler, the precursor of Zionist Utopias, who imagined a Hebrew-speaking Jewish
monarchy. A copy of Eisler’s book was found in Herzl’s personal library, but
Herzl, unconvinced of the possibility of reviving Hebrew, suggested instead a
linguistic federation such as that of Switzerland. In one additional aspect
Eisler was more on the target than Herzl: he foresaw that war was
The young Hebrew teacher Elchanan Lewinsky had just returned
from Palestine to Russia an enthusiastic Zionist. In May 1892 he published his
vision of Israel in 2040, in Ha’Pardes, a Hebrew magazine in Odessa.
book stirred one of the great debates of early Zionism, namely whether the
priority of a Jewish state should be cultural or political.
controversy began with Ahad Ha’am’s critique of Herzl’s novel, where he upholds
Lewinsky’s cultural vision as more desirable. As usual, Max Nordau came out in
the defense of Herzl, and the debate remains open until this day.
could concede you can uphold both opinions, balancing the Jewish and Western-
democratic aspects of the state.
Lewinsky’s novel is a first-person
account of the honeymoon in Israel in the year 2040 of a couple of Hebrew
teachers from Russia. In the land of their ancestors they discover cutting-edge
agriculture, artificial rain in the Dead Sea, the town of Jaffa bustling with a
population of over a million inhabitants, electric lights, marble buildings and
three-lane avenues. Its port, named Ashdod, competes with Marseille and Hamburg
in traffic and trade. The technological features of Lewinsky’s novel make him a
forerunner of science fiction in Hebrew.
The land hustles and bustles in
Hebrew, and every individual and institution has a Hebrew name. The honeymooners
arrive in Israel on a boat called Yehuda Hamaccabi
, steered by captain Yonah
Ben-Amitai. Even non-Jews have Hebrew names, thus the Minister of the
French Legion is Avner Ben-Ner and the chief of the Italian army is Avishai
In Lewinsky’s vision, the Jewish colonization of Palestine
began due to Judeophobic persecutions in Europe during which Jews acquired all
the territory spanning both banks of the Jordan River. By 2040, Judeophobia is
defunct, and the motivation to make aliya is cultural. The Mount of Olives
boasts a university and an observatory of world renown.
The Jews in their
land are a nation of readers. In Jaffa alone, six newspapers are published,
including sections of fashion and gossip. Among the featured advertisements, the
“Hebrew Encyclopedia” is offered for the convenient price of one
While the government is spread throughout the country, the
National Council is located in Jerusalem, and so is the president, who is
elected for a period of one year.
The Western Wall is still in ruins, but
Jerusalem is the heart of the country and the center of its public
No taxes are levied in Israel of 2040; the government is financed
by its own assets. Small businesses are entirely replaced by big
Interestingly enough, Lewinsky endorses the importance of
private enterprise. The state does not aim for equality among the population; it
focuses instead on satisfying the basic needs of all citizens. Biblical social
legislation is enforced, such as the Sabbatical year and the Jubilee, and the
laws of kashrut are highly esteemed by all. Crime has almost disappeared,
and the family unit is the center of social life.
According to Lewinsky’s
vision, in 2040, Israel stands in stark contrast to Europe in its lack of
national conflicts –all the non- Jewish minorities enjoy equality before the
law. The Jewish army numbers 40,000 soldiers, serving for one year, and the
country is protected by a powerful king and superpower. Peace Parks and Peace
Promenades adorn every town.
The year 2040 is 5800 in the Hebrew
calendar. Every conclusion of Jewish centuries has stirred the feeling of
imminent redemption among Jews. Starting with the Hebrew year 5000 (1240 of the
Gregorian calendar) at every turning of the century an apocalyptic atmosphere
was felt, with hundreds of Jews coming on aliya. All these dates are mentioned
in the kabbalistic literature: beginning with 1240, 1340, and so on until 1840.
As each one of them approached, a messianic fervor arose that promoted
In 1892, Lewinsky predicted how Israel will blossom in the year
2040. The wonder is that his fanciful predictions have already come to fruition.