Muscular Judaism

Muscular Judaism (German: Muskeljudentum) is a term coined by Max Nordau in his speech at the Second Zionist Congress held in Basel on August 28, 1898. In his speech, he spoke about the need to design the "new Jew" and reject the "old Jew", with the mental and physical strength to achieve the goals of Zionism. Nordau saw Muscular Judaism as an answer to Judennot (the "Jewish distress" about facing rampant antisemitism).


The term refers to the cultivation of mental and physical properties, such as mental and physical strengths, agility and discipline, which all will be necessary for the national revival of the Jewish people. The characteristics of the muscular Jews are the exact opposite, an antithesis of the Diaspora Jew, especially in Eastern Europe, as shown in antisemitic literature and in the literature of the Haskalah. Nordau saw the promotion of muscular, athletic Jews as a counterpoint to such depictions of Jews as a weak people.

In addition, the "muscular" Jew is the opposite of the Halakhic and the Haskalah Jew—the man of letters, the intellectual—who was said to be busy all his life engaging with esoteric subjects. His body, and his will, grew weak.
Though Muscular Judaism was an idea practiced mostly by male Jews, Jewish women participated as well, especially in activities such as gymnastics.


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