Jewish state

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 sensible duality is lost on the monomaniacal Citizen, who replies contemptuously by spitting a gob of phlegm onto the floor. When Bloom rises to the bait, courageously asserting that his "race" has been subjected to at least as much persecution as the Irish have, the Citizen hits him with the European backlash against Zionism: "Are you talking about the new Jerusalem?"

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The "new Jerusalem" has a long Christian history (beginning in Revelation 21-22) as a figure for the heavenly city, but the Citizen's barb contains a much sharper point: he alludes to the growing movement among European Jews in the last few decades of the 19th century to return to their ancestral homeland in Palestine and to found a nation there. The revival, in those decades, of old ethnic hatreds under the new banner of "anti-Semitism" convinced many Jews that their millennial efforts to assimilate into the Christian nations of Europe had failed and could never succeed. In 1896, one of the most passionate and influential of these Zionists, a Hungarian journalist named Theodor (Tivadar) Herzl, published a rousing call to found a new nation.

The Jewish State makes the same distinction that Bloom does, between ethnicity or religion on the one hand, and nationhood on the other. But Herzl comes to a different 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" (from the Introduction, translated by Sylvie D'Avigdor, Jewishvirtuallibrary.org, accessed 3/20/2013).

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.

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