‘The Heritage of Israel Is Beating in the Pulses of Millions’

George Eliot

Credit:Samuel Laurence, c. 1860

Can you guess where the above quote came from? From the Bible? From the ancient Jewish sages? Perhaps it’s from our age — from someone who stands for Israel?

If you guessed any of the above, you’d be incorrect. This quote — which is still as true today as it was during biblical times — comes from the final novel completed by Victorian British author George Eliot, whose 200th birthday is today, shown above.

Perhaps you remember from English class that George Eliot was not a man, but a female writer born Mary Ann Evans. Because of her career as an editor and critic — and due to the difficulty being taken seriously as a woman of letters in her era — Evans adopted a masculine nom de plume. But Eliot’s groundbreaking work as a female novelist who wrote serious books instead of just romantic fluff was not the only way she inspired those to come.

No, in her last published novel, Daniel Deronda from 1876, Eliot helped inspire the Zionist movement. In the book, which takes a look at contemporary Jewish life, a Jewish character named Mordecai calls for the creation of a Jewish state. “The soul of Judaism is not dead,” Mordecai says, continuing:

“…let the unity of Israel which has made the growth and form of its religion be an outward reality. Looking toward a land and a polity, our dispersed people in all the ends of the earth may share the dignity of a national life which has a voice among the peoples of the East and the West—which will plant the wisdom and skill of our race so that it may be, as of old, a medium of transmission and understanding.”

Passages like this inspired Jewish luminaries of Eliot’s time — such as poet Emma Lazarus, reviver of the Hebrew language Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, and Jewish leader Henrietta Szold — to become Zionists and fight for a modern Jewish state.

So, Happy 200th Birthday, Ms. Eliot/Evans. And thank you for, as you so eloquently wrote, not only arguing that Judaism is a faith of “dutiful love” and “tenderness which is merciful to the poor and weak,” but inspiring so many to believe that “Israel is the heart of mankind.”

Tags: Daniel Deronda George Eliot History Judaism literature Zionism

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