The emancipation of European Jews in the early decades of the 19th cent. brought with it the problem of maintaining claims of distinctiveness, of being "chosen," and at the same time wishing to participate in the general society. First dealt with by the Reform leaders of Germany (most notably Abraham Geiger), this problem was met directly in Eastern Europe, giving rise to the Haskalah movement, whose members (e.g., Nachman Krochmal) sought to revitalize Jewish life by recreating it along the lines of the best in European culture.
In the late 19th cent., Zionism promised a return to the Holy Land. This again created problems for the traditionalists whose religious ideas were rooted in the Diaspora, and many of whom opposed any movement to build a secular Jewish state in the Holy Land. Eventually, an Orthodox wing of Zionism did emerge. For many Jews still unanswered is the question of whether a full Jewish life is possible in exile, or whether residing in Zion is essential. Theologically, Zionism posed the problem of whether Jews can work for the messianic return or whether this would be counter to another traditional belief that saw humanity awaiting the divine intervention.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.