1. He was born in Lissa in the Prussian province of Posen (now Lesano, Poland) and educated for the rabbinate, studying with two of the leading Halachik authorities of the time. As an adult, he settled in Thorn, a city on the Vistula River, where he would spend his life, serving for forty years as “acting rabbi” and choosing to receive no remuneration for his work. Yes, he was supported by his wife, who ran a small shop.
2. He wrote prolifically – commentaries on the Pentateuch, the Talmud, the Haggadah and the Shulhan Aruch; he contributed, as well, to several Hebrew periodicals, including one called HaLevaron. His Sefer Emuhah Yesharah is an inquiry in two volumes into Jewish philosophy and theology, written after he had studied medieval and then-current Jewish and Christian philosophy.
3. The first known expression of his Zionist ideas came in a letter to the head of the Berlin branch of the Rothschild family. The year was 1836. He believed that the redemption of Zion would have to begin with action on the part of the Jewish people, and that only then would come the messianic miracle. Salvation, in other words, would come to the Jews through self-help and through emigration to the Land of Israel – and through this would come salvation of the world.
4. The reform movement at the time was turning Jews’ attention to their “host countries.” Kalischer’s orthodoxy focused on Palestine. He proposed collecting money from Jews of all nations; buying and cultivating land in Eretz Israel; founding an agricultural school there or in France; and, ultimately, forming a Jewish quasi-military guard for security of the settlements.
5. He put these ideas forward in articles in HaLevaron and, in 1862, in a book called Drishat Tzion (Seeking Zion), the first Hebrew book to appear in eastern Europe on the subject of modern Jewish agricultural settlement, proposing settling the Land of Israel with homeless Jews of eastern Europe and also providing beggarly Jews in Palestine the ability to support themselves by agriculture.
6. The book was translated into German in 1865. Kalischer traveled to cities all over Germany for the purpose of setting up colonization societies and raising money for them. His efforts led to the establishment of the Mikveh Israel agricultural school in Israel (southeast of Tel Aviv) in 1870.
7. It was he who formulated the ideology of national orthodoxy – that the Jewish people were a nation and that their aspiration to re-establish their historical homeland was fully legitimate. This idea had a strong influence upon Heinrich Graetz (see my post of July 17), among others, becoming the foundation for later religious Zionist thought.
8. Throughout his adult life, he kept up a wide correspondence with rabbis, public figures and benefactors throughout Europe. Among these were Moses Montefiore, Anschel Rothschild and Albert Cohen. A collection of his letters was published in 1946.
9. He died in October 1874 and was buried in Thorn. Later, a plot was purchased for him near Rachel’s tomb with funds raised in a deposit box that he’d always kept on his desk for contributions to Jewish settlement.
Tirat Tzevi, a religious kibbutz in the Bet She’an valley, is named for him.
Kalischer Street is located in Tel Aviv off HaCarmel, a short walk southwest from the maket and Nahalat Binyamin.