||Prospectus on Religous Zionism by Dr. Nathan Birnbaum (1864–1937), writer (early pen name: Mathias Acher), philosopher, one of the originators of Zionist ideology and later a leader of religious Judaism. He was born in Vienna. He became estranged from observant Judaism. He conceived the idea that the Jews were an ethnic entity, a people, and propagated his ideas among his schoolmates. In his first year at the Vienna university he founded, together with Bierer and Schnirer, Kadimah, the first Jewish nationalist students' organization (1882). In 1884 his first publication appeared, a pamphlet called Die Assimilationssucht. In 1885 he founded and edited the first Jewish nationalist journal in German, Selbstemanzipation, where he coined the term "Zionism."
Dr. Birnbaum was, during the decade 1885–1895, "the most distinguished intellectual personality in Jewish national circles in Austria and Germany" (Bein). In 1893 he published Die nationale Wiedergeburt des juedischen Volkes als Mittel zur Loesung der Judenfrage, Ein Appell an die Guten und Edlen aller Nationen, a summing up of his first Zionist phase. He gradually passed to a cultural conception of Zionism. After a short period of service as chief secretary of the central Zionist office run by Herzl, ideological disagreements broke out between the two, and Birnbaum became a spokesman for "diaspora nationalism," publishing articles in which he severely criticized Herzl's "diplomatism," the "inorganic" nature of the Zionist movement, and the Zionist "negation of the Diaspora." He gradually withdrew from Zionism, affirming that "Israel comes before Zion," i.e., that the striving for Erez Israel must not entail neglect of the Jewish People itself. His concept was now that of an interterritorial nation, comprising and integrating all existing Jewish groups. The most important group in his eyes was the Yiddish-speaking one in Eastern Europe. The political aspect of these ideas found expression in a demand for the cultural autonomy of the Jews. One of its cornerstones was the Yiddish language. Birnbaum set about working for its recognition as a language in its own right and an important cultural value, mainly through articles in his weekly Neue Zeitung (1906–1907). He learned Yiddish himself and used it as a literary medium. In 1908, he proposed that a world conference on behalf of Yiddish should be called. This took place in Czernowitz in 1908 with the participation of the leading Yiddish writers. A resolution was passed there declaring Yiddish to be a (not the) national language of the Jewish people.
The atheism of his materialist philosophy as well as his secular nationalism were gradually replaced by the conviction that the vocation and destiny of the Jewish People was a religious one. Finally, "G-d entered into his consciousness." He later wrote that he had not "sought" G-d but that G-d had "sought" him. He gradually accepted the Jewish tradition and way of life, and finally became a practicing Jew. He maintained that religious Jewry was not making a serious attempt at fulfilling its world mission as an exemplary people living on the basis of God's Word. He outlined a program toward effecting a change. The highest authority of the Jewish nation was to be vested in a body of Guardians of the Faith. The first step would be the founding of a small community of "Those Who (want to) Ascend" (Hever Olim), who would act as a nucleus, and for whom he laid down a scheme for disciplined living. These ideas were embodied in Et La'asot ("The Time Has Come for Action") and Divrei ha-Olim ("The Words of Those Who (want to) Ascend," both in 1917, Heb. and Yid.).
Upon the refounding of the Agudat Israel World Organization (1919) he became its first general secretary. At that time, after the war, revolution, and pogroms in Eastern Europe, he devoted much effort to the problem of emigration and endeavored to enlist general Jewish cooperation toward regulating on a big scale what amounted to an organized, panic mass flight.
At the advent of Hitler (1933) he left Berlin, and settled in the Hague-Scheveningen, where he published a journal Der Ruf (1934–1937). A series of articles were republished in a booklet, Rufe (1936), his "testament to the Jewish People." "The great ideal is to create the new Jew, based in the Torah, near to nature and to G-d, creative, harmonious, happy."