chapter  1
23 Pages

THE ORIGINS OF MUSCULAR JUDAISM

In his opening speech at the Second Zionist Congress in Basel on August 28, 1898, Max Nordau invented one of Zionism’s most famous, most fraught, and most challenging ideals: the muscle Jew.1 Although Nordau did not start exploring the political implications of his initial call for a “muscular Judaism” until a couple of years later, he did, in this early speech, clearly allude to the necessity of creating a new type of Jew who is corporeally strong and morally fit as the very presupposition of realizing the national goals of Zionism. After providing an overview of the steadily deteriorating situation of Jews in Russia, Romania, and Galicia-what he terms “the classic countries of Jewish suffering” (SP, II:15)—Nordau turns to France and details how the widespread anti-Semitism that sparked the Dreyfus Affair was also a fatal affront to the Enlightenment ideal of universally recognized human rights. Nordau suggests that the Jews themselves must change their historical situation by both overcoming the apathy of assimilated Jews and thawing the “coldness” of the anti-Semitic “winter landscape” like “a spring sun” (SP, II:23-24). He argues that “Zionism awakens Judaism to new life” and continues: “It achieves this morally [sittlich] through the rejuvenation of the ideals of the Volk and corporeally [körperlich] through the physical rearing of one’s offspring, in order to create a lost muscular Judaism [Muskeljudenthum] once again” (SP, II:24).