T H E J E W I S H QU E S T I O N 2 2 1
The collapse of the old order in Germany in November 1918 brought Einstein for the first
time face-to-face with the burning political issues of his day, none of which was to grip him
with more force than the Jewish Question. Indifferent to religion since his early teens, he
began to grapple with the problem of Jewish identity in the period immediately following
the First World War. This engagement marked the beginning of a lifelong concern with
political issues, to which he increasingly lent his newly won international scientific pres-
tige. Eight documents in this volume trace the transition from his concern with the effects
of anti-Semitism to a wholehearted commitment to the creation of a Hebrew university in
In late 1919, Einstein vigorously rejected the claims of right-wing nationalists, who
placed the blame for Germany’s woes on a new wave of Jewish immigration from the East
(Einstein 1919h [Doc. 29]). Some months later, in April 1920, he wrote two versions of an
article (Docs. 34 and 35) in which he set out his responses to anti-Semitism, to Zionism,
and to assimilation. As far as is known, neither was published. A turning point of sorts had
been reached, however, for immediately after composing these two documents he wrote a
letter of “confession” in which he rebuffed the assimilationists and declared his solidarity
with the Zionists (Einstein 1920h [Doc. 37]). Intended for a private audience, this letter was
circulated and finally published in autumn 1920. These first four documents, written in the
space of four months, form a set that defines Einstein’s personal relationship to the Jewish
The second set of four documents depicts an Einstein who has, a year later, decisively
thrown in his lot with the Zionists. In this set the Jewish Question is posed, not as a matter
of identity, but as an intellectual challenge: Is Zionism to be viewed primarily as a political
or as a cultural phenomenon? While on a fund-raising tour in the United States in spring
1921, Einstein gave an interview on how he had been won to the Zionist cause. This was
published in summer 1921 under Einstein’s name in a German-Jewish newspaper (Einstein
1921h [Doc. 57]), though the editors admitted a week later that he had only approved a text
that was written by the interviewer. It has been included here both because it is so closely
identified in the popular imagination with his authorship and because of its faithfulness to
his views at the time. Soon after his return to Germany, he was asked to address a mass
meeting of those interested in plans for settlement in Palestine. Einstein wrote two versions
of a speech, the second of which was delivered and published. The first, unpublished ver-
sion (Doc. 59) discussed the nature of cultural versus political Zionism; the second (Ein-
stein 1921i [Doc. 60]) presented a more personal view of the importance of rediscovering
a sense of Jewish community and also gave a short report on his American tour. The final
document in this series (Einstein 1921j [Doc. 62]) is an account of progress toward the cre-
ation of the Hebrew University, for which he laid a cornerstone in 1923 and which opened
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