Das Leben, Werk und Wirken von Shimshon Rosenbaum. Politische Biografie einer großen Führungsgestalt der zionistischen Bewegung (The Life, Times, and Work of Shimshon Rosenbaum. A Political Biography of a Preeminent Leader in the Zionist Movement)

Bendikaitė, Eglė

Background of the project

Shimshon Rosenbaum, born in 1859 in Pinsk (today in Belarus), grew up in a Litvak , i.e. Lithuanian-Jewish, environment, characterized by the liberal Judaism which, at that time, was predominant in Lithuania. Throughout his entire professional life, both as a lawyer and as a politician, he spoke up for the rights of the Jews—inter alia as a liberal member of the Russian Duma, to which he was elected in 1906. His commitment can, in equal measure, be traced to Minsk, to St. Petersburg, to Vilnius, to Kaunas—the temporary capital of the newly independent Republic of Lithuania, where he emerged as deputy foreign minister and minister for Jewish affairs—, and to Tel Aviv . The reputation and the confidence he enjoyed in the Zionist movement, notably in Germany, cannot be overestimated—testimony of which can be found in the letters and diaries of Theodor Herzl, who considered Rosenbaum to be the main representative of the Zionist movement in Minsk (even after Rosenbaum had strongly opposed himself against the so-called “Uganda Plan”). But it was particularly on ministerial decisionmaking levels in Berlin—in the Foreign Office as well as in other government ministries—, where his assessments on Jewish matters in Eastern Europe were in demand. As a moderate Zionist, he maintained contacts with Jews around the world, acted as their transnational mediator and facilitator, and constantly endeavored to modernize the East European Jewry. In this period, he broadened and strengthened the international perception of him as a leading representative of “Jewish diplomacy,” whose prototype he, in fact, was in exactly the phase of its strongest political impact. In political terms, however, he became increasingly disillusioned by both the emerging success of those forces in Lithuania, which would finally succeed in putting an abrupt end to Jewish autonomy—this historically remarkable phenomenon which constituted a central constitutive element in the Paris Peace Treaties after World War I as far as Lithuania is concerned—, and by the growing anti-Semitism in Europe. As a consequence, he immigrated to Palestine in 1924 and served there as Lithuanian Consul General. In the decade after his retirement from ministerial office, the lawyer Shimshon Rosenbaum authored books and articles on approaches, in international and constitutional law, to unanswered questions of the Zionist movement—addressing, for instance, the minorities issue, sovereignty, and autonomy arrangements. Furthermore, he was vitally involved in the establishment of the “Hebrew courts” (Mishpatim ha-shalom ha-‘ivriyim) in Mandate Palestine, conceived to establish a jurisdiction, for the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, founded on the express and specific reference to non-religious sources of law and, thus, departing from rabbinic sources. These courts constituted the nucleus of the secular courts, which the British mandatory power yielded to the independent State of Israel.
In 1934, Rosenbaum died in Tel Aviv, where he was buried. He represents a leading figure whose lifeworld was oriented more toward the alterability of political developments and of political boundaries than toward their continued existence. Over and over again, he adapted himself to altered circumstances, without, however, faltering in his service to the Jewish nation.

Objectives of the project

This project aims to reconstitute, to contextualize, and to conceptualize the life, times, and work of Shimshon Rosenbaum in the framework of Jewish politics in the interwar period:
(1)  The first objective is a monographic presentation of the life and work of Shimshon Rosenbaum, one of the most important and sustainable personalities in the history of the Zionist movement. The aim is to reconstruct the multilayered vita of Rosenbaum and to fill its gaps, hereby analyzing archival material, defining the parameters of the process of identity formation, substantiating the lines and fractures of its development, and identifying key contexts of his life and work.
(2)  The second objective is a contextualization of the results of the biographical research. Emphasis will be placed on the classification, in the light of relevant contexts and relationships, of Rosenbaum’s achievements as leading representative of the Zionist movement, as Minister for Jewish Affairs of the newly independent Republic of Lithuania, as foreign affairs politician, as Jewish diplomat as well as expert in constitutional and international law. Explaining these interrelationships will support interpretive approaches to be employed whenever the lines of development in the life of Rosenbaum are not evidently understandable and, thus, open for conjectures. Using the example of constitutional, state-sponsored Jewish representation in Lithuania, insights in the practice of the general problems of minorities in the interwar period will be provided, not least due to the fact that the conclusions Rosenbaum drew from this experience subsequently made him prefer non-state action and move toward an alternative political solution in Mandate Palestine.
(3)  Finally, the third objective is the conduct of an investigation focusing on the achievements of Rosenbaum in international law. Hitherto largely unnoticed as an international legal author—a circumstance which would make the recovery of his publications as contributions to an international law perceived as “gentle civilizer of nations” (Martti Koskenniemi) an appealing task—, the crucial aspect of this part of the project is not to endeavor recapitulating his scientific work in the field of international law, but to contribute to the answers to the following questions:
•  What made Rosenbaum, from the perspective of Tel Aviv and in the last active phase of his life, focus his contributions to the public discourse on international law?
•  What is the significance of his Jewish identity and his Zionist convictions for the issues he dealt with in his international law publications, and to what extent do the topics he saw as highly important still have relevance for the contemporary sciences of history and of international law?