Golus nationalism (Yiddish: גלות נאַציאָנאַליזם Golus natsionalizm after golus, Hebrew: לאומיות גולוס, romanizedGālūṯ leumiyút), or Diaspora Nationalism, is a national movement of the Jewish people that argues for furthering Jewish national and cultural life in the large Jewish centers throughout the world, while at the same time seeking recognition for a Jewish national identity from world powers.[1] The term golus has been understood both to mean diaspora, as well as exile.[2]


Golus Nationalism was conceived by Nathan Birnbaum (1864–1937), the Austrian philosopher who had given Zionism its name.[3] Although Birnbaum was an early theorist of Zionism and participated in the First Zionist Congress (1897), he broke with the movement shortly after. Birnbaum began to develop a theory of pan-Judaism (Alljudentum), which embraced Jewish life in the Diaspora.[4]

Birnbaum studied Yiddish and was fascinated by the Eastern European Jewish culture, which was distinct from his Western European upbringing in its preservation of culture. Birnbaum was a co-founder of the Jewish-Nationalist fraternity, Kadimah, founded and wrote for the first Zionist emancipation journal titled Selbst-Emancipation. Some of his thinking is represented in two articles titled “The Jewish Renaissance Movement” and “Jewish Autonomy."[5]

Birnbaum was opposed to the idea that Jewish assimilation was inevitable, inspired by the Jews of Eastern Europe, who had retained Yiddish as a language, had a robust folk culture, and banded together in recognizably distinct communities.[1]

Seeking recognition for Jewish nationality

Birnbaum made several attempts to have a Jewish national identity recognized by state powers. In 1907, he unsuccessfully advocated for Yiddish to be included as a Jewish national language in the Austro-Hungarian census. The following year, he ran a campaign for a seat in Parliament; despite his successful campaign, he failed to take his seat owing to local government corruption.[6] In 1910, he again attempted to have Yiddish recognized. Birnbaum felt that if he could get state recognition for elements of Jewish nationhood, he could petition for Jews to have shared control of a province in Galicia. He was encouraged by the fact that the Austro-Hungarian Empire was offering the possibility of autonomous regions to ethnic groups and nationalities.[7]

Birnbaum also propagandized on behalf of Yiddish as a language, coining the words "Yiddishism" and "Yiddishist." He organized Yiddish events in Vienna, translate Yiddish authors into German, and in 1905 established a student organization for the furtherance of the language called Yidishe Kultur.[1] In 1908, he organized an international conference on the Yiddish language in Czernowitz, in which different Jewish factions squared off as to whether Yiddish should be declared the official language of Jewish nationalism or instead one of several Jewish languages.[7]

Related theories

Around the 1880s, Birnbaum reportedly developed a resentment for Theodor Herzl's lack of interest in sustaining and reviving Jewish diasporic culture, and his favoring of political strategy towards sovereignty and territory.[8] This caused Birnbaum to diverge from the territorial zionist ideologies of Herzl and others, and he joined the ranks of the Non-territorial autonomist theorists, who argued that physical boundaries are not necessary to define a people and maintain sovereignty. Birnbaum supported a renaissance of Jewish Ashkenazi culture and language. His theories aligned with Simon Dubnow's concepts of Diaspora Nationalism, emphasizing a Jewish sense of unity, identity, and sovereignty across international countries and communities.

There was a division between Cultural Zionists who were represented by Ahad Ha-am, and Political Zionists, who were represented by Theodor Herzl, but Nathan Birnbaum's Golus nationalists were in opposition to both ideologies. Unlike those two theories, Birnbaum's Golus Nationalism did not require a territory to maintain a national identity. Birnbaum's ideas also countered Ahad Ha-am because he did not place as much significance on the Holy Land of Israel and Palestine as carrying the spirit of Judaism.[9]

This ideology is tied to the theory of Alljudentum, or Pan-Judaism, which was initially theorized by Birnbaum's colleague, Fritz Mordecai Kaufmann. Kaufmann was from Western Europe, specifically Eschweiler, and he studied medicine and history in Geneva.[10] Like Birnbaum, Kaufmann was very motivated to learn from and about the cultural preservation and traditional practices maintained by Eastern European Jews. He sought to apply that unity through his nationalistic visions for the Jewish diaspora. However, Kaufmann's views diverged from Birnbaum's in that he focused more on the socialistic aspects of these communities, rather than the modern Orthodox practices that drew Birnbaum's attention.[11]

Birnbaum attracted significant supporters, such as Franz Kafka, after seeing him speak at a cultural evening in Prague.[9]

Additionally, there is significant overlap between Golus Nationalism and Yiddishism, which share anti-Zionist, anti-assimilationist values.

Another involved theorist is Chaim Zhitlovsky, who had similar concepts as the Bundists, and he pushed for agricultural lifestyles for the usually city-dwelling Jews of Europe and America.


Golus nationalism prefigured a variety of attempts to reconcile Jewish identity with the experience of diaspora. Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan would wrestle with similar themes, developing a theory that Judaism should be seen as a civilization, rather than a religion, and founding Reconstructionist Judaism on this theory.[12] Yiddishist Abraham Golomb wrote frequently about maintaining a Jewish identity in the Diaspora, and the centrality of Yiddish and Hebrew in this pursuit.


  1. ^ a b c Goldsmith, Emanuel S. (1997). Modern Yiddish Culture: The Story of the Yiddish Language Movement. Fordham Univ Press. p. 107. ISBN 0823216950.
  2. ^ Underhill, Karen (2018). "Bruno Schulz's Galician Diasporism: On the 1937 Essay "E. M. Lilien" and Rokhl Korn's Review of Cinnamon Shops". Jewish Social Studies. 24 (1): 1–33. doi:10.2979/jewisocistud.24.1.01. ISSN 0021-6704. JSTOR 10.2979/jewisocistud.24.1.01. S2CID 165386804.
  3. ^ Rabinovitch, Simon, ed. (2012). Jews and Diaspora Nationalism: Writings on Jewish Peoplehood in Europe and the United States. Brandeis University. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-58465-762-0.
  4. ^ Wistrich, Robert S. (2007). Laboratory for World Destruction: Germans and Jews in Central Europe. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 139. ISBN 978-0803211346.
  5. ^ Birnbaum, Nathan. “‘The Jewish Renaissance Movement’ and ‘Jewish Autonomy.’” Jews and Diaspora Nationalism: Writings on Jewish Peoplehood in Europe and the United States, edited by Simon Rabinovitch, Brandeis University Press, 2012, pp. 45–55. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/j.ctv102bf26.8. Accessed 24 May 2023.
  6. ^ Shanes, Joshua. "Birnbaum, Nathan". YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  7. ^ a b Weinstein, Miriam (2002). Yiddish: A Nation of Words. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0345447301.
  8. ^ Shanes, Joshua (1998). "Yiddish and Jewish Diaspora Nationalism". Monatshefte. 90 (2): 178–188. ISSN 0026-9271.
  9. ^ a b Olson, Jess (2007). "The Late Zionism of Nathan Birnbaum: The Herzl Controversy Reconsidered". AJS Review. 31 (2): 241–276. doi:10.1017/S0364009407000517
  10. ^ F.M. Kaufmann, Gesammelte Schriften, ed. by L. Strauss (1923), 7–20 (incl. bibl.). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Flohr, Fritz Mordechai Kaufmann und 'Die Freistatt (2006).
  11. ^ "Fritz Mordecai Kaufmann". Jewish Virtual Library. The Gale Group. 2008. Retrieved 25 May 2023.
  12. ^ Pianko, Noam (2006). "Reconstructing Judaism, Reconstructing America: The Sources and Functions of Mordecai Kaplan's "Civilization"". Jewish Social Studies. 12 (2): 39–55. ISSN 0021-6704. JSTOR 4467732.