Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 November 2006
Zionism’s call for a Jewish return to ‘the East’ was rooted in part in a broader European fascination with ‘the Orient’. This interest in ‘the East’ coincided in time and in much of its imagery with a conceptual division of Europe itself into its ‘western’ and ‘eastern’ parts. The Jews were deeply implicated in these twin conceptualizations of ‘the Orient’ and of Europe’s own orient at home (referred to at times as halbasien, or half-Asia). The notion that Jews – particularly those of eastern Europe – constituted a semi-Asiatic, foreign element in European society became a pervasive trope by the latter part of the century, and one to which Zionist thought and praxis sought to respond in a variety of ways. When Zionists in Palestine, mostly eastern European Jews transplanted further east yet to the ‘Orient’, set out to create a new Hebrew national culture there, competing images of occident and Orient – resonating with a wide range of racial, social, political, and cultural overtones – would play defining roles in their praxis and in the cultural institutions, the rituals, and the national liturgy they would fashion.
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