Jewish History

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 5–17 | Cite as

Messianism and nationalism: Liberal optimism vs. orthodox anxiety

  • Israel Bartal


Confronting modernity, nineteenth century Jewish historians offered four different interpretations of the Jewish century that began in 1840: the liberal, the Orthodox, the nationalist, and the messianic. Exponents of the Wissenschaft school associated the year 5600 with the gospel of emancipation and the winds of cultural openness in western Europe; Orthodox historians viewed these change with suspicion and believed that the new century would usher in a period of twilight. Nationalist and the messianic interpreters saw the year 5600 as marking the start of the age of the redemption of Israel in its land: whether because the first buds of a Jewish national movement had appeared or because contemporary events were identified as heralds of the messianic redemption in the traditional sense. Unique was Rabbi Judah Alkalai, who sought to link traditional messianism with the liberal, optimistic interpretation of current events. He viewed progress, the Haskalah, and emancipation as positive signs of the messianic age and indicted traditionalists. Their rejectionist attitude toward modernity, he said, was delaying redemption. Today, narrowing differences between the traditionalist reaction to modernity and the religious nationalism have buried the memory of Alkalai's bold attempt.


Nineteenth Century Positive Sign Current Event Traditional Sense Cultural Openness 
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Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Jewish HistoryThe Hebrew UniversityJerusalemIsrael

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