2 3 0 T H E J E W I S H QU E S T IO N
Why should there be a contradiction between pride in the
accomplishments of fellow members of a community while showing respect for those of
other communities? A certain degree of internationalism was guaranteed to Jews in any
case by the fact that they were dispersed as minority populations throughout the world, the
benign converse of the familiar charge of lacking loyalty to any one country.
The first phase of his engagement with the Jewish Question, as documented in the first
set of texts in this volume, reveals an Einstein who is far more ambivalent about his position
than is suggested by Blumenfeld’s account of a “transformation” in February 1919. More
than a year after Blumenfeld’s lecture, Einstein was still wavering in the debate between the
assimilationists and the Zionists. But the power of the anecdote lies in its summary of
emotional transition rather than in its precise historical reconstruction of Einstein’s com-
mitment to the Zionist cause.
The commitment found its fulfillment in Einstein’s interaction with another prominent
Zionist. In fall 1919, Hugo Bergmann, Einstein’s acquaintance from Prague, who was
serving as secretary of the newly created Education Department of the international Zionist
organization in Berlin, wrote Einstein about preparations that were being made for a
Hebrew university, “which should both serve the practical interests of settlement in Pales-
tine, as well as prove itself worthy, by its theoretical accomplishments, of the name of a
university of the Jewish
A conference of scholars to discuss such preparations
was planned, and Einstein was invited. Hoping to score a major coup, Bergmann asked him
to consider a university
Without acknowledging the offer, Einstein
expressed his interest in attending. The conference, scheduled for 16 to 18 January 1920,
was postponed, but Einstein’s sense of obligation to his “kinsmen” was
[41]“Man kann international gesinnt sein, ohne interesselos zu sein gegenüber den Stammes-
Genossen.” Einstein to Paul Epstein, 5 October 1919, CPIT, Paul Epstein collection.
[42]“die sowohl praktisch den Interessen der Besiedlung Palästinas dienen, wie auch in ihren
theoretischen Leistungen des Namens einer Universität des jüdischen Volkes würdig sein muß”;
Hugo Bergmann to Einstein, 22 October 1919.
[43]See Einstein to Hugo Bergmann, 5 November 1919.
[44]As he wrote his best friend, “I believe that this undertaking [the conference] deserves zealous
collaboration. The reason I am going to attend is not that I think I am especially well-qualified, rather
because my name, in high favor since the English solar eclipse expeditions, can be of benefit to the
cause by encouraging lukewarm kinsmen” (“Ich glaube, dass dieses Unternehmen eifriger Mitarbeit
würdig ist. Ich gehe nicht deshalb hin, weil ich mich für besonders sachverständig halte, sondern des-
halb, weil mein seit den englischen Sonnenfinsternis-Expeditionen hoch im Kurs stehender Name der
Sache nützen kann, indem er auf lauwarme Stammesgenossen ermunternd wirkt”). Some hesitation
was evident though. In a note appended to the letter, Einstein wrote that “I have promised [to go], but
doubt that I will keep the promise. There is too much palaver and useless fatigue connected with such
an occasion” (“Ich habe es versprochen, zweifle aber daran, dass ich das Versprechen halte. Mit so
einer Gelegenheit ist zu viel Gequatsch und nutzlose Ermüdung verbunden.” Einstein to Michele
Besso, 12 December 1919).
The postponement of the conference was announced in the Statement of the Present Position of
the University Question, 21 January 1920, presumably issued by the organizers.
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