Salmon, Yosef. “Akiva Yosef Schlesinger—A Forerunner of Zionism or a Forerunner of Ultra-Orthodoxy.” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 15.2 (2016): 171-87.
Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger (Pressburg 1838—Jerusalem 1922) is considered by some scholars to be a forerunner of ultra-Orthodoxy, but by others as a forerunner of Zionism. This article unravels this enigmatic personality, demonstrating that he was indeed a forerunner of ultra-Orthodoxy who was motivated by a complete rejection of modernity and promoted religious positions that were more radical than those of the Hatam Sofer. Those who associate Schlesinger with Zionism are misled by the fact that he encountered fierce opposition from his Hungarian colleagues and from the “Yishuv hayashan” in Jerusalem, advocated the use of the Hebrew language and promoted a “settlement” programme in Palestine. The article suggests that Schlesinger’s programme was in reality designed to create a sacred utopian society, and was motivated by his desire to isolate the traditional Jewish community from modernity, rather than by a nationalist ideology. Furthermore, the opposition of the Jerusalem rabbis to Schlesinger’s ideas was based largely on his unusual religious positions and his suggestion that the youth should be engaged in work. In analysing Schlesinger’s legacy, the article also clarifies the distinctions between ultra-Orthodoxy and Zionism, as well as some common elements that they share.