A Jewish State? An Antisemitic Joke and Science-fiction Scenario

Long before the idea of a Jewish state actually began to take shape, those promoting it were typically eccentrics and Jew-haters. Some of the ramifications can be felt to this day

Ofri Ilany
Ofri Ilany
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Ofri Ilany
Ofri Ilany

At the end of the 18th century, Moses Mendelssohn was the best known and respected Jew of his age. The father of the Jewish Enlightenment was a philosopher, community leader and wealthy businessman with close ties to the courts of the German aristocracy. In 1770, a letter from an anonymous correspondent landed on his desk with a surprising proposition: It was suggested that Mendelssohn use his influence to promote the establishment of a Jewish state in the Holy Land. The letter’s author was apparently a diplomat, the son of a Prussian noble family who had read Mendelssohn’s writings and thought highly of them. One could have expected the recipient to jump at the suggestion and embrace it wholeheartedly, but that’s not what transpired. Instead, the philosopher wrote back, explaining that the Jewish People was neither fit nor suitable for such an ambitious undertaking. He also warned that such an initiative could end in disaster, as with the Crusaders in the Middle Ages, who were defeated by the Muslims and forced to flee back to Europe.

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