Ahad Ha’am’s Translation of the Balfour Declaration
This is the original translation of the Balfour Declaration written by the Zionist thinker and writer Ahad Ha’am. Ahad Ha’am translated the Balfour Declaration into Hebrew so that the wider population of Palestine could understand the words.
Ahad Ha’am, or Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg, was known as the central figure of cultural Zionism. Born in Russia, he began participating in the early Zionist movement, Hibat Zion, in Odessa in 1884. He travelled frequently to Palestine and wrote much about life in the Yishuv, the aims of Zionism, and the importance of Hebrew and Jewish culture. In 1922 he made Aliyah and settled in Tel Aviv, where he served until 1926 as a member of the Executive Committee of the city council.
The debate between Herzl and Ahad Ha’am was the highlight of the early Zionist Congresses. Herzl was the original prototype of a political Zionist, who believed that the solution to the Jewish problem, namely, anti-Semitism, was to create a nation state of Jews regardless of its geographical location, and he was even in favour of the Uganda Proposal. Ahad Ha’am, on the other hand, was vehemently opposed to the Ugandan Proposal, seeing it as a rejection of Jewish nationality. While he did not believe in the need for Jewish political sovereignty, Ahad Ha’am was vocal in his support for a centre of Jewish culture which could, he believed, only be situated in the Land of Israel.
Living in London from 1907, Ahad Ha’am was actively involved in the Zionist movement and played an important part in the lead up to the Balfour Declaration as a close confidant of Chaim Weizmann.
He moved to Palestine in 1922 and settled in Tel Aviv where he served as a member of the executive committee of the city council until 1926.
The Balfour Declaration, History.com
Ahad Ha’am (Biography), YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Europe
Ahad Ha’am (Text of This is Not the Way), Zionism on the Web
“What Ahad Ha’am saw and Herzl Missed and Vice Versa,” Mosaic Magazine, October 15, 2016
Jewish History teachers could use this source to discuss the Balfour Declaration and Ahad Ha’am’s role in the Zionist movement. This document can also trigger a discussion about the Mandate period and the effects of the Declaration on the Jews living in Palestine.
This source could be used by Hebrew teachers to discuss the history of language, the revival of Hebrew, and the cultural centrality of language for the Jewish people.
Who wrote this document?
What text is in the document?
What language was the original document written in?
What language is this document written?
Reading Between the Lines
Why do you think that Ahad Ha’am decided to translate the Balfour Declaration into Hebrew?
Based on what you know about Ahad Ha’am’s views, do you think he was supportive of the Balfour Declaration?
Ahad Ha’am translated the Balfour Declaration into Hebrew because he believed in its significance for the Jewish people.
What lasting value does the Balfour Declaration have for us today?
When translating a document such as the Balfour Declaration does some of the meaning inevitably get lost?
Ahad Ha’am was a strong supporter of the Balfour Declaration.
Imagine that Ahad Ha’am were to visit Israel today.
Write an imaginary extract from his diary on the day that he visits Jerusalem about the connection between the Balfour Declaration and the modern-day city.