Jewish Studies

Matthias Lehmann

Baron Hirsch, the Jewish Colonization Association and the Future of the Jews

Section: Articles
Jewish Studies Quarterly (JSQ)

Volume 27 () / Issue 1, pp. 73-102 (30)
Published 02.03.2020

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When Baron Maurice de Hirsch established the Jewish Colonization Association in 1891 to facilitate the settlement of Russian Jews in agricultural colonies, it was the largest charitable organization in the world. This article demonstrates that, far from representing a proto-nationalist project anticipating »territorialism« (much less Zionism), Hirsch was uninterested in collective notions of Jewish »peoplehood.« In a little-known 1889 interview, he decisively embraced assimilation, and in the crucial early months of the JCA colonization scheme, his correspondence and public pronouncements show that, although he shifted his focus from education to migration and colonization, his underlying approach to the future of the Jews remained the same. Unlike the religious reformers or early Zionists of the fin-de-siècle, Hirsch maintained his belief in the »amalgamation« of Jews with Christian society. He was not interested in preserving Jewish difference, religious or national, but in overcoming Jewish difference altogether.

Matthias Lehmann ist Direktor des Instituts für Internationales Privatrecht und Rechtsvergleichung der Rheinischen Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn.