Reviews

Star of David

As Israel becomes increasingly important in world affairs, Jews and non-Jews alike increasingly want to understand the origins of the Israeli state and of the Zionist movement. This is volume one of the first scholarly biography of Chaim Weizmann. It provides a thoroughly researched account of how a Russian Jew from the Pale of Settlement came to be, by age 40 (when World War I began and this volume of the biography ends), a leading Zionist and the possessor of the patent for a crucial process in manufacturing explosives.

Weizmann did not exactly trade his patent for the Balfour Declaration, which in 1918 promised British help toward making Palestine "a national home for the Jewish people." Immediately after World War I erupted, Weizmann gave his patent to the British government gratis. By that time he had lived in England for 10 years and been a British subject for four years. In 1916, when Lloyd George became prime minister, Weizmann was appointed director of naval laboratories. But Weizmann did wring every advantage he could for Zionism from his crucial role as a munitions chemist. Not only the Balfour Declaration but the eventual creation of Israel probably owes more to Weizmann than has been acknowledged.

Jehuda Reinharz does not paint an especially flattering portrait of the young Weizmann, though, showing repeatedly how Weizmann allowed his relations with Theodore Herzl, Menahem Ussishkin, and other leading...

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