Zionist Historiography and the Invention of Modern Jewish Nationhood: The Case of Ben Zion Dinur: Narration, Erziehung und die Erfindung des jüdischen Nationalismus : Ben-Zion Dinur und seine Zeit

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[Ben Zion Dinur]'s article on "The Historical Consciousness of the People and Problems of Its Study" is a masterly introduction to what we today call "collective memory." He designates "historical consciousness" (hakarat he-avar) as "an ascertained knowledge which imparts emotional confidence." Historical consciousness was for him almost synonymous with national consciousness, consisting of "the people's collective consciousness of its singularity, the singularity of its existence, as one collectivity, which possesses selfessence, distinct from others and unbroken."(14) He perceived that historical consciousness is not confined to literary practices only, but is encoded in folk culture, customs and ceremonies. In introducing before the Knesset in 1953 the Law of Holocaust Memory -- Yad Vashem, Dinur explained the significance of historical memory: "the ego of the nation exists only to the extent that it has a memory, to the extent that the nation knows how to combine its past experiences into a single entity."(15) In the same year Dinur introduced before the Knesset two other laws aimed at reinforcing the "national ego": one establishing the Academy for the Hebrew Language, a state institution made responsible for linguistic policy making, and the above-mentioned law that instituted the state educational system. Rejecting this extrinsic and mechanical view of Jewish history, Dinur turns next to examine the "intrinsic" and "spiritual" perspective. In this regard he confronts the works of historians Graetz, [Abraham Geiger] and [Simon Dubnow], all disciples of Hegel's historically grounded philosophical idealism, for whom history is a manifestation of the development of humanity through a succession of national cultures. Heinrich Graetz (1817-1891) is favored by Dinur for his passionate style which "arouses the reader's active sympathy and lively admiration," but mostly, of course, for "his grand conception of the whole Jewish nation, and not just individual Jews or even separate communities, as the formative factor in the history of the diaspora." Dinur cites favorably Graetz's reference to the Jews as a "national tribe" and sympathizes with his pictorial depiction of this tribe's infinite psychic ceremony: "All standing in one wide circle around the ruins of the temple, which had lost none of its sanctity even though reduced to ashes..."(30) Graetz, as is well known, articulated the notion of the Jewish nation as a cultural or spiritual entity. Accordingly, he depicted the history of the nation as a succession of cultural, especially ecclesiastical, stages which were marked by a succession of influential centers. The curriculum designed under Dinur's personal instruction nationalized the Bible, so to speak. It considered the Bible as "the foundation book of the culture of Israel" ("culture" rather than "faith," and "culture of Israel," rather than "Jewish culture"). It aimed at inculcating in pupils "the basic values of Judaism" ("values" rather than "beliefs"). The curriculum was concerned with "the spiritual image of the nation and its struggle for its material and spiritual existence" rather than with shaping the pupil's individual personality. Likewise it aimed at "implementing in the heart of the children the love for the homeland...and love for the people who lived and created its culture here" rather than with preparing them for keeping the commandments. In this spirit various sections of the Bible written in explicitly religious terms were imbued with nationalistic interpretations.(55)
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-124
Number of pages34
JournalHistory and Memory
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1995


  • Beliefs ; Bible ; Children ; Collective memory ; Collectivity ; Countries ; Culture ; Curriculum development ; Diaspora ; Dinur, Ben Zion ; Dinur, Ben Zion, 1884-1973 ; Education policy ; Eretz Israel -- History -- 1917-1948, British Mandate period ; Hebrew language ; Historiography ; History instruction ; International ; Israel -- Historiography ; Israel -- History -- Philosophy ; Jewish culture ; Jewish history ; Jewish identity ; Jewish nationalism ; Jewish peoples ; Jews ; Jews -- Historiography ; Judaism ; Language policy ; Memory ; Minority & ethnic groups ; National characteristics, Israeli ; Personality ; Philosophy ; Politics ; Reading ; Self concept ; Social conditions & trends ; State, The -- Philosophy ; Traditions ; Zionism ; Zionism -- Historiography


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