Station: [355] Salman Schocken as Zionist Version

Salman Schocken was born during the time of the German Empire when Jews and Germans were equal according to the law. But the centuries-old hostility against Jews was still present in the population. During the second half of the 19th century it transformed into a new type of anti-Semitism with racist and ethnic resentment. The Jewish writer, Theodor Herzl looked for ways to face this new  hostility against Jews and founded modern Zionism. The aim of this was to establish a Jewish national state in Palestine.

Salman Schocken, who came from a traditional Jewish home, got involved in the Zionist movement. Key moments for him were the reading of Martin Bubers book, „Die Geschichten des Rabbi Nachman,“ or „The Tales of Rabbi Nachman,“ from 1906. Schocken later wrote to Buber:

„I was greatly influenced by your Rabbi Nachman book years ago. […] Since then I have become a practising Jew.“

Martin Buber opened Schocken’s eyes to the wealth of cultural inheritance in Judaism. Schocken wanted to culturally root the Zionist movement in Jewish literature in the same way as the German culture is rooted in the Song of the Nibelungs. During the age of assimilation when Jews began to give up their Jewish habits and customs and in front of the backdrop of increasing anti-Semitism Schocken wanted to give modern Judaism an identity.

As businessman Schocken also gave thought to a possible economic system in Palestine, guided by his liberal spirit, he wanted to keep the economy and politics separate. In doing this he received some severe protest from left-wing parties and the trade unions in the Zionist movement. When his plan fell through he concentrated exclusively on cultural Zionism.

The result of this was that Schocken founded the Institute for the Research of Hebrew Poetry in Berlin. He had his employees search for the equivalent of the „Song of the Nibelungs“ in Jewish literature. Even though the research remained fruitless, Schocken came to own many valuable manuscripts and prints, which made up his Judaica and Hebraica Collection. After his emmigration from Germany the institute and collections followed him to Jerusalem where they found a new home in the Schocken library designed by Erich Mendelsohn.

In Palestine Schocken worked hard to establish the Hebrew University. Together with the religious historian and philosopher Gershom Scholem he founded the institute for Research into Jewish Mysticism. In 1940 he went to America to raise money for the Hebrew university, but never returned. He probably didn’t miss Palestine because in contrast to the USA, the matters dear to his heart had found little resonance there.