Noah Efron, "'Never to Look Back': Zionism’s Enduring Passion for Science and Technology"

David Lipson Memorial Lecture

The notion that Israel's fate is tied up with science is far older than the state itself. Theodor Herzl wrote in an 1896 manifesto Der Judenstaadt (The Jewish State) that "the founding of a Jewish State presupposes the application of scientific methods. We cannot journey out of Egypt today in the primitive fashion of ancient times." Among the goals of the state, Herzl wrote, will be to "participate in all honorable activities, work towards progress in art and science, so that the glory of our deeds is imparted to the poorest members of our people. This is how I understand Judaism." In his utopian novel Altneuland (Old-New Land), Herzl gave substance to these abstractions, describing a society more mechanized and technologically advanced than any the Jews left behind in Europe. European visitors, returning to a Palestine that not long before was hopelessly primitive, are amazed at the improvements engineered by Jewish immigrants to the region: railroads "rushing at great speed...operated by electric power" and "the most up-to-date technical appliances" gained from the laboratories "of the whole civilized world."

The unique history of the Zionist settlement of Palestine produce unique attitudes towards science and technology. Science and technology meshed with the aims, ideals, and ideologies of Zionists of different convictions. They were used to establish Jewish title to the land, sometimes explicitly, as by archeologists, and sometimes through a more complicated chain of reasoning. Science and technology made plain the notion that Jewish settlement of Palestine was, in the end, a Western project imbued with Western ideals and committed to advancing those ideals in the East. Science also served to link the promise of Zionism with the achievements of generations of Jewish scientists abroad, effectively appropriating for the new Jewish homeland the Yiddisher Kupf, or vaunted Jewish genius. And it served as well to dissociate Zionists from other, more religious, Jews they had left behind. In this lecture, I will try to trace how early affection for science and technology left its imprint on the development of the Jewish settlement in Palestine, an imprint that was vivid after the State of Israel was established and remains so today.

Noah Efron is a senior faculty member in Science, Technology and Society at Bar-Ilan University.

This event is free and open to the public. No registration required. Limited seating.

Date & Time
Monday, March 27, 2017 - 4:00pm

Jackman Humanities Building, Room 100, 170 St. George Street