Judah ben Solomon Chai Alkalai was a Sephardic rabbi in Zemun in the Austrian Empire’s District of Velika Kikinda (in present day Serbia) and one of pioneers of modern Zionism.
Alkalai studied in Jerusalem under different rabbis and came under the influence of the Kabbalah. In 1825 he became Rabbi of Semlin.
He became noted through his advocacy in favor of the restoration of the Jews to Palestine. By reason of some of his projects, he may justly be regarded as one of the precursors of the modern Zionists such as Theodor Herzl.
Herzl’s paternal grandfather Simon Loeb Herzl, reportedly attended the Alkalai’s synagogue Semlin and the two frequently visited. Grandfather Simon Loeb Herzl “had his hands on” one of the first copies of Alkalai’s 1857 work prescribing the “return of the Jews to the Holy Land and renewed glory of Jerusalem.” Contemporary scholars conclude that Herzl’s own implementation of modem Zionism was undoubtedly influenced by that relationship.
His work, Goral la-Adonai (A Lot for the Lord), published at Vienna, in 1857, is a treatise on the restoration of the Jews, and suggests methods for the betterment of conditions in Palestine.
After a somewhat able homiletical discussion of the Messianic problem, in which he shows considerable knowledge of the traditional writers, Alkalai suggests the formation of a joint-stock company, such as a steamship or railroad trust, whose endeavor it should be to induce the sultan to cede Palestine to the Jews as a tributary country, on a plan similar to that on which the Danube principalities were governed.
To this suggestion are appended the commendations of numerous Jewish scholars of various schools of thought. The problem of the restoration of Palestine was also discussed by Alkalai in Shema’ Yisrael (Hear, O Israel), 1861 or 1862, and in Harbinger of Good Tidings (compare Jewish Chronicle, 1857, p. 1198, where his name is spelled Alkali).
In his Shalom Yerushalayim (The Peace of Jerusalem), 1840, he replies to those who attacked his book, Darhei No’am (The Pleasant Paths), which treated of the duty of tithes. Another work, Minchat Yehudah (The Offering of Judah), Vienna, 1843, is a panegyric on Montefiore and Crémieux, who had rescued the Jews of Damascus from a blood libel accusation.