In the 1950s the Jewish historian Ben Zion Dinur published an 80 page article analyzing the causes that led to the creation of Israel, to Israeli independence. He identified as one of the causes an ideology that he called mered hagalut. By this he meant not the negation of the Diaspora, but rather a revolt of Diaspora Jewry against the limiting conditions of Diaspora existence. Dinur's idea of mered hagalut was based on his larger historical conception of Jewish nationality as predicated on six foundational aspects of the life of the Jewish people: ethnicity, religion, society, language, territory and polity. He believed that while a unique configuration of these six foundations had sustained Jewish continuity in the Diaspora over the centuries, the time had come when this configuration could no longer hold. Internal changes and developments in the non-Jewish world over the past centuries demanded a new framework for Jewish existence: a sovereign Jewish state in the land of Israel. This Zionist conception of Israel was not exclusively that of a political asylum from anti-semitism; a sovereign Jewish state in Israel was, for Dinur, an environment that enabled Jews to maximize all six foundations of Jewish nationality. He saw that as the essence of Jewish independence– it provides the capacity to live a fuller Jewish life in each of those six domains.
The essential points of this paper were also given as a speech in 1949 at the festive celebrations of the Hebrew University for יום העצמעות, independence day. The introduction shows Dinur being a great pedagogue, trying to convey an important message to his people in the midst of this ceremonial event. The article’s title hints at his direction: Ha'ness' shel Tekumat Yisrael veyesodotav hahistoriyim – "The 'Miracle' of Israeli Independence and its Historical Foundations." Dinur, the once great rabbinical scholar, now a secularist, stood in front of the first Independence Day celebrants and claimed: this euphoria you are feeling regarding the so-called miracle of Israeli independence, if you don't realize that it was the outcome of many human choices and activities and of a deep and pervasive change in the self-definition of Jews, then independence will not be preserved. This was Dinur, the history educator, trying to teach the new Israelis that independence is not a one-time effort. As was Dinur’s way in other times of euphoria in Israeli history, he tried to keep people from losing their sense of purpose and intensity of engagement while basking in self-satisfaction.
But Dinur did not stop at that. The speech was published by Dinur a year later in an anthology that he edited and that he saw as evolving into a year book to be published every Yom HaAtzmaut. One of the sections in the first volume which included Dinur's article was dedicated to the history of Zionism. True to his scholarly conscientiousness, Dinur included a paper by Yakov Katz, the great Jewish historian, critiquing Dinur’s conception of early Zionism. The volume also included various reports on the Jewish condition in Israel, on Hebrew literature, and the arts and culture. Dinur saw this as a way of preserving his notion of independence: every year another volume of this kind would be published with similar contents, so that readers would link the notion of Israeli independence with ongoing historical, sociological and cultural self-understanding. He published a companion anthology around the same time called Klal Yisrael, which included articles on the current condition of Jewish life in communities all over the world. Dinur was very active in the world of publishing and worked for Mossad Bialik Publishers in Jerusalem. He saw himself as one of Bialik's disciples and was active in trying to bring to fruition Bialik's idea of positing a new kinnus or canon of Jewish texts at the core of Israeli education and culture. The new canon was to include the best and most relevant of Jewish literature from over the centuries in accessible anthologies for the Hebrew reader (Bialik's own Sefer HaAggadah was an example). In the context of his work in publishing, Dinur planned to produce an annual volume of Klal Yisrael alongside the anthology dedicated to Israeli independence so that readers would be provided with both perspectives each year and thereby preserve a linkage in their minds between Israeli independence and the larger Jewish condition.
In 1949, at the same time that he was gave the speech at Hebrew University and was working toward the publication of the anthologies, all in light of his conception of independence, Dinur also appeared in the Knesset and taught Jewish history to the people there. He explained, in response to their desire to make a holiday called independence day, that there are four aspects to every Jewish holiday, drawing on his own historical research on the role of holidays in Jewish identity over the generations. Dinur and others argued that such a holiday cannot continue being in the form of a military parade or in public events on the street, but that, like all other Jewish holidays it also has to be celebrated at home, in the family setting. Then, on this basis, he made a suggestion of his own. He pointed out that the Jewish people already have a holiday about moving from a situation of exile to redemption--Passover. It has a meal and a ceremony, with the reading of a text; it consciously tries to contribute to the development of Jewish historical memory; and it has a moral message. Dinur proposed celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut in a similar way, with a meal, a text that includes the Israeli Declaration of Independence, a series of modern Hebrew poems and songs related to the theme of Israeli independence, and an historical narrative about the latest redemption or move out of exile. Dinur tried to convince the Knesset that a committee of scholars and intellectuals should be set up who would collaborate to produce this independence day haggadah, disseminate it, and make the suggestion of reading it at the dinner table part of the Knesset's legislation for the holiday.
This configuration of activities exemplifies a possible relationship between Jewish scholarship and Jewish education. This is not a conception of how scholars and educators ought to collaborate, though it could be argued that such collaboration might be one of its implications. It is a dialogue between Jewish scholarship and Jewish education within one person's system, his way of defining and undertaking Jewish scholarship, educating through publishing, and working as a policy maker, pedagogue, and teacher educator. All of these were aspects of a larger way of bringing these worlds together that was defined by broad educational goals at the level of the whole Jewish nation and the whole of Jewish history. Dinur used his historical scholarship to help him think about the larger purposes for Jewish education in our time so that Jewish life will not be driven by a vision that is obsolete. He used his tremendous erudition to produce ideas, methods and contents for his program of Jewish education. He brought his scholarly understanding to the pedagogies that he invented and trained educators to implement.
Two years later, Dinur was chosen to serve as Minister of Education in Israel. Even while acting as Minister, he continued these activities– including on the matter of Israeli independence. For example, he published a compelling article about teaching Jewish citizenship. He argued that one layer of learning this topic relates to studying the laws of the state of Israel. A second layer relates to issues of being a citizen of the Jewish people at large, whether inside or outside of Israel. Then, surprisingly, Dinur suggests a third and final layer of studying Jewish citizenship: learning the morality and ethics of Jewish law. Here too we see an attempt on Dinur's part to deepen the meaning of Israeli independence so that it becomes part of an ongoing democratic, Jewish and Judaic citizenship. He also developed the idea that 18 year olds in Israel go through a ceremony committing them to conscious and responsible citizenship. Meanwhile, Dinur continued to develop the idea of Yom HaAtzmaut celebrated as a Passover seder, trying three times to make this happen through the mechanisms of the Ministry of Education. I want to emphasize that almost all of Dinur's efforts in the area of Israeli independence failed. The one thing that succeeded and became part of every year Israeli life is the Israel prize, which grants prizes for leading cultural and scholarly figures on Independence Day – again, so that people might celebrate Israeli independence in deeper terms. Dinur's original idea for the Israel prize was to put Jewish and Israeli self-understanding and creativity at the core of what Israeli independence is all about. I dare say that the Israel prize is celebrated that way now, but it was Dinur's original educational idea.
I think that Dinur's story points to the scholarly possibilities that we have available to us in looking at some of the great leaders and pioneers of early Zionist education. This was a movement. Dinur was only one person who belonged to it and he was constantly engaged in a deep dialogue with other people who did things at that level – some more systematically, others less. I think that the impact of these "scholar-educator" hybrids on the history of Israel unfortunately has not been sufficiently emphasized by Jewish historians, or by Israeli historians. We know the political and military history of Israel, we know a lot about settlement and agriculture. How much do we know about the role of Jewish scholars who took an interest in Jewish education in the development of the state of Israel? Jewish life in Israel couldn't have been possible without such people or without their influence on leaders of Zionist education. In addition to Dinur, this group includes a line of people from Ahad Ha'am, Ben Yehuda, and Bialik to Kaufmann, Katz, Scholem, Goitein and Ben Sasson, and to Schweid, Shalev and many Jewish scholars today. Their role has been distorted by some post-Zionist historians and sociologists. For example, they see Dinur as the arch-villain of Zionism, a kind of Bolshevik commissar who invented a tradition of Jewish nationalism that never existed before Zionism, and who used the mechanisms of the ministry of education to brainwash helpless youngsters. In hindsight it might indeed seem easy to "invent a national tradition." But if you actually sit down as an educator and want to invent a tradition and get people to believe in it and live by it, well then I think it doesn't look so easy. It probably even has less of a chance of working when it is invented. I prefer to think that by doing sensitive and responsible study of the way these early Zionist educators worked, we can learn a lot about how Jewish scholarship and Jewish education can work together and how this collaboration can contribute to Jewish continuity both in Israel and abroad.