||Return to Zion - the theme work of R. Zevi Hirsch Kalischer (1795–1874), rabbi and harbinger of the Zionist idea. Born in Lissa (Leszno), Posen district, Kalischer studied under the great scholars of his day, Jacob of Lissa (Lorberbaum) and Akiva Eger. In 1824 he settled in Thorn, where he lived until his death, rejecting invitations from many communities to serve as their rabbi. Even in Thorn he served only as unpaid acting rabbi and lived off the meager income supplied by his wife's small business. He published books on halakhah (Even Bohan; Moznayim la-Mishpat, 1843–55) and on religious philosophy (Emunah Yesharah, 1843), and contributed to the Hebrew press for many years. (Before the existence of a regular Hebrew press, his articles were published in German translation in the German-Jewish press.) His major activity, however, throughout his life, was advocating the idea of settlement in Erez Israel. In his discussions with members of the Reform movement on the observance of religious precepts, the belief in the coming of the Messiah, the mitzvot connected with Erez Israel, etc., Kalischer revealed not only his strong attachment to religious tradition but also his preoccupation with the problems of the day.
As early as his meeting with Anschel Rothschild in 1836, Kalischer revealed his opinion that the redemption of Israel would not come, as had been believed for generations, through a miracle, that "suddenly G-d would come down from the heavens or suddenly send H-s messiah," but rather that salvation would be brought about by human endeavor. He stressed the idea that the natural redemption would serve as the first and main stage before the miraculous redemption at the end of days. His system initially included the observance of the mitzvot connected with Erez Israel, especially those of sacrifice, as basic steps toward the future redemption, but at a later stage he disregarded this element in his ideology. Following Judah Alkalai, he based his doctrine on the talmudic saying "It [the coming of the Messiah] depends solely on the return [to God]" (Sanh. 97b), interpreting the word "return" as return to Erez Israel. He based this interpretation on Tikkunei Zohar. Thus he introduced an active human element into the concept of the redemption of the Jewish people, in opposition to most of the Orthodox rabbis of the time, who objected to this interpretation and its practical implications. His urge to gather supporters for the return to Erez Israel was reinforced by the various national movements in Europe, which were specifically cited by Kalischer. Pointing to the struggles of European nations to achieve independence, Kalischer chastised his fellow Jews for being the only people without such an aspiration. Practical activities for the settlement in Erez Israel did not come into being until 1860, when Hayyim Lorje established the first society for this purpose in Frankfort on the Oder and Kalischer supported it. The society did not last long, basically because of the eccentric personality of its leader, but it did manage to publish Kalischer's book Derishat Ziyyon (1862), which for many years served as the basic book to explain the idea of the return to Erez Israel to Orthodox groups (the book came out in a number of editions, was translated into German, and portions of it were translated into English and other languages). In the book, Kalischer expounded at length his theory that redemption would come in two stages: the natural one, return to Erez Israel and labor, particularly agricultural, in the country, and the supernatural one to follow. The first stage would invigorate the yishuv and put it on a healthy economic foundation instead of its dependence upon donations from abroad (halukkah). In his program he did not ignore the unstable security situation (this argument was used against him mainly by the rabbis in Erez Israel), and he devoted one paragraph especially to the necessity of appointing guards trained for war and police duty. He also envisioned the establishment of an agricultural school for the younger generation. The book had a great influence on, inter alia, Moses Hess, who included portions of it in German translation in his book Rome and Jerusalem. From the time Kalischer published Derishat Ziyyon, his life was devoted to traveling through Europe in order to enlist the support of Jewish groups for his idea. He tried to win leading Jewish personalities over to his plan. He also published sermonizing articles in many Hebrew newspapers and journals. At the same time he continued his writing in the field of halakhah as well as his struggle against those who, in his opinion, undermined the foundations of religious tradition. He also found himself disputing with the rabbis who objected to his ideas on religious grounds, and especially with the rabbis in Erez Israel, who also brought up the argument that conditions, especially of security, in Erez Israel, were not yet ripe for beginning agricultural settlement. Kalischer stood his ground even before the great rabbis of his time. He distinguished between philanthropy on behalf of Erez Israel, in which German Orthodox rabbis were active, and settlement activity of redeeming value in the future. Thus he adopted a critical attitude toward the building of houses in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 1860s (the "Battei Mahaseh" in the Old City), as he saw this project as a private endeavor and not promoting the "main objective." He believed that only agriculture on a large scale could serve as a stable solution for both the yishuv and the victims of persecution in Europe. Kalischer saw a small beginning of his ideal realized toward the end of his life when the agricultural school was opened at Mikveh Israel (1870) and even thought of settling there at the invitation of the school's director, Charles Netter, to supervise the observance of the mitzvot connected with Erez Israel, but his desire was not realized.