Why Ahad Ha'am Still Matters

Despite the failure of his cultural Zionism, the two main pillars of his thought remain central to Jewish life—and to arguments about Jewish life—today.

Ahad Ha’am sits next to Rabbi Yabloner, right, head of the Naḥalat Yaakov ḥasidic colony in pre-state Israel, while visitors and other colony members gather around them. Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images.

Ahad Ha’am sits next to Rabbi Yabloner, right, head of the Naḥalat Yaakov ḥasidic colony in pre-state Israel, while visitors and other colony members gather around them. Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images.

Last Word
Nov. 3 2016
About the author

Hillel Halkin’s books include Yehuda HaleviAcross the Sabbath RiverMelisande: What are Dreams? (a novel), Jabotinsky: A Life (2014), and, most recently, After One-Hundred-and-Twenty (Princeton). 


In his response to my essay, Allan Arkush is probably right in saying that Ahad Ha’am, were he to visit present-day Israel, would grumble about what he saw and heard. The country’s rough-edged popular culture; its inelegant demotic Hebrew; its strident politics; its powerful but petrified Orthodox rabbinical establishment; its unending rule over a Palestinian populace that does not wish to be ruled by it—all this and more would have irritated him. Of course, he might also have found, as Asael Abelman observes, much to rejoice in, beginning with the historical miracle of there being a Jewish state at all, but he was by nature a fault-finder. He had high standards and never thought that either human or Jewish nature required him to lower them.

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More about: Ahad Ha'am, History & Ideas, Israel & Zionism