New Jerusalem

New Jerusalem

In Brief

Amid all the talk about "nations," the Citizen implies that Bloom, as the son of a Hungarian Jew, is not really Irish: "What is your nation if I may ask." Bloom's reply is immediate and unambiguous: "Ireland...I was born here. Ireland." Racial ancestry, even cultural and religious affiliation are one thing; citizenship and national loyalty are something else entirely. This distinction is lost on the rabid barhound. When Bloom rises to his bait, asserting that Jews have encountered as much persecution as the Irish have, the Citizen strikes back with an assertion that Jews have divided loyalties: "Are you talking about the new Jerusalem?" The reference is to a recent development in European political discourse: Zionism.

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The "new Jerusalem" has a long biblical history, beginning in Jeremiah 31:38-40 with Yahweh's promise to rebuilt the ancient capital destroyed by the Babylonians. Revelation 21-22 uses the promise metaphorically as a figure for the heavenly city, and Christians have long understood the phrase in this way. But for Jews the idea of returning to the holy city has always been quite literal, and in the last few decades of the 19th century some central and eastern European Jews began emigrating to Palestine, then a province of Turkey's Ottoman empire. These early efforts were entirely practical. Calypso has already glanced at one private venture representative of a pattern of small agricultural settlements that, beginning in 1909, produced the first kibbutzim. But just before the turn of the century this movement also received a strong intellectual foundation from a Hungarian journalist named Theodor Herzl.

Herzl wrote at a time when the revival of old ethnic hatreds under the new banner of "antisemitism" was convincing many Jews that their millennial efforts to assimilate into the Christian nations of Europe had failed and could never succeed. In 1896, in a pamphlet titled The Jewish State, he issued a rousing called for Jews to found a new nation. Herzl was later cited in Israel's Declaration of Independence and he is known today as "the spiritual father of the Jewish State." 

Making the same distinction as Bloom between ethnicity or religion on the one hand and nationhood on the other, Herzl comes to an opposite conclusion: "I think the Jewish question is no more a social than a religious one, notwithstanding that it sometimes takes these and other forms. It is a national question, which can only be solved by making it a political world-question to be discussed and settled by the civilized nations of the world in council. We are a people—one people. We have honestly endeavored everywhere to merge ourselves in the social life of surrounding communities and to preserve the faith of our fathers. We are not permitted to do so. In vain are we loyal patriots, our loyalty in some places running to extremes; in vain do we make the same sacrifices of life and property as our fellow-citizens; in vain do we strive to increase the fame of our native land in science and art, or her wealth by trade and commerce. In countries where we have lived for centuries we are still cried down as strangers, and often by those whose ancestors were not yet domiciled in the land where Jews had already had experience of suffering" (Introduction, translated by Sylvie D'Avigdor,

Herzl's energetic efforts to convince the great powers of Europe (the Ottoman Empire among them) to sponsor an autonomous Jewish state in Palestine did not succeed in his lifetime. He died in 1904, only 18 days after the day represented in Ulysses. The aggressive response that his proposal elicits from the Citizen confirms his contention that, in the eyes of European non-Jews, Jews can do no right: their desire for independence elicits just as much scorn as does their desire for assimilation. Bloom is no Zionist, but even his earnest efforts to be recognized as a true Irishman mark him as a subversive agitator for a foreign nation.

John Hunt 2013
Retouched photograph of Theodor Herzl. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The Jewish State (Leipzig and Vienna, 1896). Source: Wikimedia Commons.