Hess Moses (1812-1875)

father of Zionist Socialism

His Life

Born in Bonn, Hess remained there to be educated by his orthodox grandfather, when his father moved to Cologne for business reasons. At age 14 he joined him in Cologne business. Hess studied philosophy at the University of Bonn, 1837-1939, but did not graduate.

Hess helped found the first socialist daily newspaper in Cologne, and became its Paris correspondent at the end of 1842, moving to Belgium in 1845 where he was active in communist activities, and returning to Paris in 1848-1849. In 1849, he took refuge in Switzerland. Two years later he moved back to Belgium, and in 1853, finally returned to Paris where he lived, off and on, until his death.

After his father's death in 1851, Hess' inheritance provided the basis for an independent lifestyle, including marriage to his Christian companion, Sybille Pesch. He lived in Germany from 1861-1863, where he published his most famous work, "Rome and Jerusalem," a classic of Zionist theory. At the end of 1863, he returned to Paris where he contributed to a number of Jewish and other publications. He was also the Paris correspondent for several socialist newspapers in the U.S. and Germany.

A Prussian subject, Hess was expelled from France at the beginning of the Franco-Prussian war. He moved to Belgium, but returned to Paris after the war, began another philosophical work, and died there. According to his wishes, he was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Deutz, near Cologne. In 1961, his remains were moved to Kibbutz Kinneret.

His Accomplishments

With the publication of his first book - a historical- philosophical work influenced by both Spinoza and the Bible - and especially his second book - which advocated the union of the three great powers (England, France and Germany) into a single, European state - Hess established himself as a serious writer and later as the first important German socialist. His most famous work was "Rome and Jerusalem", published in Germany in 1862.

Hess believed that free labor should replace the system based on exploitation. Although he was attacked by Marx and Engels in their Communist Manifesto, Hess was the first to recognize Marx's greatness, and found himself strongly influenced by Marx, 1846-1851, without becoming a Marxist.

Hess' attitudes toward Jews changed several times.


  • In his twenties, he felt himself thoroughly German, and believed that Jews should assimilate.


  • Later, reacting to current events, he occasionally expressed compassion for his fellow Jews.


  • "Rome and Jerusalem" is a classic Zionist book, in which he writes of his return to "his" people. After personally suffering from anti-Semitism, he turned to the Jewish national concept based on his idea of race, espousing the view that Jews should preserve their national identity in exile while striving for their political restoration in Palestine. The Jewish religion was the best means of preserving Jewish nationality, he felt, and should be left unchanged until the establishment of a Jewish entity in Palestine, where a Sanhedrin (supreme Jewish court) could be elected to modify Jewish law in accordance with the needs of the new society.

The future Jewish state, he wrote, should be based on national land acquisition, creation of legal conditions to encourage work, and founding Jewish societies for agriculture, industry and trade.

Although his work was forgotten for some time, its importance was revived with the birth of the Zionist movement. Articles on Hess and early translations of his works began appearing in the 1880s. Selections of his works have been published in German, Polish and Hebrew (edited by Martin Buber).





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02 May 2005 / 23 Nisan 5765 0