Rabbi Alkalai raised the issue of Jewish political
independence and the Land of Israel for the first time in 1834 in the pamphlet Shema Yisrael, ('Hear O Israel').
There, he proposed a beginning of Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel as a precursor to the Messianic Redemption,
similar to almost simultaneous ideas of Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Kalischer.
This idea was considered heresy by Jews who believed that the Messianic Redemption would come only through a miraculous
event caused by God. Alkalai’s proposition for a natural process of redemption, included the Rabbinic
doctrine that the Messiah, son of Joseph, would first come to lead the people of Israel in the apocalyptic war of
Gog and Magog and would then re-conquer the Land of Israel, freeing it from foreign domination.
Steeped in the study of the Kabbala, which allows
calculation of supposed critical dates, Alkalai believed that the year 5600 (1840) would begin the Messianic redemption
of the Jewish people. In the introduction to Darkhei No'am, a book of Hebrew grammar published in 1839, he
called uponJews to prepare for the redemption by prayer and spiritual devotion to Zion and by rendering material
assistance to those already in the Land of Israel. He further developed his ideas in Shelom Yerushalayim (1840), in
which he warned his people that misfortune would befall them if they did not prepare for redemption and exhorted them to
give concrete expression to their devotion to Zion by dedicating one-tenth of their income ("tithe") to the support of
those who dwelled in Jerusalem.
Alkalai was greatly influenced by the 1840 Damascus
Blood Libel, in which Jews were falsely accused of killing a Christian child in order to use his blood for baking
matzoth. This blood libel convinced Rabbi Alkalai that Jews could only be free and secure as an independent
people in their own land, and that this required action on the part of the Jews. He was likewise inspired by the joint
action and organization of Jewish philanthropists and charitable groups.
was a forerunner of practical Zionism and agricultural settlement, Alkalai was perhaps the founder of
Alkalai devoted himself to spreading the idea of Jewish restoration through writing and speeches. He approached s Moses
Montefiore Adolph Cremieux and others. for their political and financial support.
Rabbi Alkalai thought it would be possible to buy part
or even most of the Holy Land from the Turkish government, as Abraham had bought the cave of the Machpelah
in Hebron from Ephron the Hittite. He dreamed of establishing a world-wide organization along the lines of the various
national organizations then prevalent among other nations of Europe. The purpose of these organizations would be to buy
and reclaim land, as well as providing loans for new settlers. These ideas were subsequently adopted by Herzl and the
World Zionist Organization. It may not be a coincidence that Herzl's grandfather was a friend of Alkalai.
Alkalai also traveled to various cities
attempting to set up a basic structure for the organization he envisioned. One such group was established in London, but
it did not last long enough to have any real impact.
Alkalai attempted to convince people that his plan for
at least part of the Jewish nation to re-establish itself in the land of Israel and form an independent state was
realistic. He joined the Colonization-Verein fure Paleastina, established by Chaim Lorje (Luria), and was very active on
its behalf. In 1871 he visited the land of Israel. He established a settlement society that did not last long. In 1874
Alkalai settled in Palestine and died there in 1878.
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