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Zamenhof: Hilelism is the most important of all my work that I have done to this day

Zamenhof's second important text is a letter to Emil Javal, dated September 24, 1905. It contains an overview of the author's doctrine, called Hilelism. The letter to Javal is written in Esperanto, and ends with the following request: "Because this letter may be useful someday, please keep it."

This project which, sooner or later, I would like to present to the world under the name of "Hilelism" is the most important of all my works that I have done to this day. It presents in a complete way the idea to which I have dedicated my life; because Esperanto is only part of this idea of collectivity I call Hilelism. To explain to you the idea in a proper manner, instead of a letter I would have to write a thick book – otherwise, you will not understand me, and what I have thought over all my life will seem to you a simple utopia, though it is easy to implement, and if I had only a little more free time and better health, I would have carried out this project. Although I take the risk that with a letter containing short bits of information I will appear to you as a Utopian, I will, however, fulfil your wish and write these few words.

The purpose of Hilelism is to unite mankind into a single family (please do not get scared, I do not fantasize!). Since the idea of Hilelism is more complex than the idea of Esperantism, and many Esperantists will not accept it, that is why I am not going to impose it on Esperantists, neither am I intending to link it with the Esperanto issue, but I would simply like to suggest that those Esperantists who will share my opinions, create a separate Esperantists-Hilelists section, such as the existing Esperantists-pacifists or Esperantists-Catholics sections, etc. Here is a case where, in order to avoid any misunderstandings and attacks against Esperanto, in the first point of the Declaration on the Essence of Esperantism, I have clearly stated: "Any other ideas or hopes of any particular Esperantist, which he associates with Esperantism, are purely his private matter, for which Esperantism does not bear any responsibility."

Hilelism wants to create a new, nonpartisan human nation whose members would be separated by geographical and political boundaries, but not by linguistic and religious boundaries. This tiny nation, which would have its permanent cultural centre in one of the cities of neutral Switzerland, would represent a founding group that would gradually include more and more people from all nations and would be the beginning of linguistically and religiously united humanity. Please do not think that Hilelism is cosmopolitan; a Hilelist truly loves his homeland, but professes the dogma that every homeland belongs fully and equally to all its sons, no matter what language they speak and which religion they believe in; Hilelism does not aim at destroying existing languages and religions, but struggles against the barbarism that is postulated by almost every European country, that its sons are to speak such and such language and profess such and such a religion. Otherwise, such people are perceived as "strangers", although they were born in that country and spent their entire life there.


Białystok, Zamenhof Street, 1918-1927, NAC   

A Hilelist is a true and honest patriot, that is, he loves his country more than others, he cares for its good and for the fate of his fellow citizens, helping them with all his strength. But he struggles against deceitful patriotism, that is, such which identifies the interests of his country with the interests of a particular ethnic, religious and linguistically motivated group. This barbaric, mendacious patriotism (that is, the desire that over that or another stretch of land reigns imperatively such a language or such a religion) is perhaps the paramount reason for wars. Without it, there would be no wars.

I hope that thanks to Hilelism, the whole humanity, gradually, over the centuries, by natural progress, will become one nation speaking one language and professing one religion. But I myself do not have the slightest intention to undo present languages and religions. Just as the purpose of Esperanto is not to replace other languages, but merely to be the second language of every human being, so in the same way Hilelism (at least now) does not want to replace, but to be the second religion of every human being. In his home, every Hilelist can speak in his mother tongue and live according to his own habits, but in public places and in public matters, the Hilelist does not impose himself on others with his language or his creed, and just tries to ensure that the public domain is reined by the neutrally human language and religion.

You will wonder how one can profess a religion neutrally human without rejecting (at least now) his own religion into which he was born. It is quite possible. This can be easily achieved (not only among the logical thinkers) by introducing a slightly modified principle derived from rabbi Hillel (hence the name Hilelism), which (in my editing) is defined as the following dogma: "The only law that was given to us by the mysterious moral Authority ruling over the world is: «Do as you would like to be dealt with»; everything else in the religions are human-created human principles, which may or may not be respected."

When the number of Hilelists (that is, the proponents of the above principle) will increase, then, sooner or later, it will turn out that all the people in the world have one religion that is inscribed in the heart of every human being as Conscience, and people differ in their customs which, as purely human constructs, can be constantly perfected, can mutually infuse and unify each other.

Hilelism will consist of 8-10 dogmas, which in the form of the "Hilelic Declaration" will contain the whole political and religious profession of the Hilelists and will be edited in such a manner that every thinking and noble man can sign it and after signing it, enter the Hilelist people without sinning against his conscience, against his country or his own people.

               So as to make sure that Hilelism would not remain some abstract theory but that it will materialize to ever greater extend, shape itself and improve, the Hilelists will undertake the following actions: in the neutral Switzerland, they will choose a specific place that will become their spiritual centre. In such a city, the Hilelists’ permanent central committee will operate. In that place, there will be also the Hilelist temple, in which every man will be able to serve the subtle moral Power which rules the world (of course, such a service will have nothing to do with what is happening at other churches; in Hilelist temple, people will be singing hymns, debate about ethics, about the nature and her laws, the work of great thinkers will be read, and the like). Every year, in permanently set days which will be also holidays, there will be held World Hilelist Congress. Of course, at the Hilelist temple people will speak in neutrally human language and follow neutrally human customs.

In their houses, every Hilelist (at least at present) will be fulfilling (according to his yearnings) all traditional duties towards his Church, remembering at the same time that they are not God's commandments, but only human customs, practised by people; apart from traditional holidays and customs, he will also have to celebrate holidays and respect Hilelist customs. Gradually, these holidays will become purely Hilelist, will crystallize and, thanks to annual Hilelist congresses at the main temple, the Hilelist holidays and customs, as well as their tongue, will enter their hearts in such a way that after a few decades we will have a fully formed neutrally human community, the members of which will have different homelands but one spiritual centre in one of the cities of the neutrally-human country, Switzerland. I’ve been trying to explain to you, as much as it was possible, the essence of Hilelism. As you can see, Hilelism does not destroy anything, but is solely a peaceful bridge between different religions, in the same way as Esperanto serves as a bridge between different languages which it leaves unharmed. When a definitive form of Hilelism will arise in my soul, it will turn out that it won't be something complicated, and that it will be possible to present it in one small article. But, unfortunately, I haven’t yet managed to achieve it because I am still hesitating, as to the manner in which I am to introduce it to the world. These hesitations of mine have been going on for the last six years, causing me great internal dithers, so that I am still unable to come up with final answers. For a good while I had a firm conviction that the group of first Hilelists should not be composed of people of many nations, but should present the ethnologically homogeneous community which will give to its established traditions a Hilelist character, and in this way, in the form of a sect, it will create a mature and well formed group, which by inheritance from generation to generation will convey the pure Hilelistic learning, and in the process will create a new nation which in time will encompass the entire mankind. Only Jews can make such social group. In spite of all the efforts at assimilating with people surrounding them, Jews in others’ eyes are still belonging to a separate nation; and yet, currently they have neither a homeland nor their own tongue, and they are representing exclusively a purely conceptual nation. I am calling a Jew not this person which inhabits a given country, not a person which is speaking a given language, or even a person which has such faith (after all, many Jews don't respect their own religion). I am calling a Jew only this person who from the ancient Hebrews inherited the protest against all imaginary deity, and who cannot accept one of the existing religions without committing a crime against his own consciousness. Jews are keeping this lifestyle not out of love for their nation (as many think), because everything that is national, that is their language and their country, they rejected a long time ago – and they are acting this way only as a result of an unaware respect for the historical legacy. The whole essence of the Jewish people is contained in the idea of "one not-invented God for all mankind". For this idea, Moses created the Jewish nation, for this idea Jews have been suffering for two thousand years, for it they live eternally, though all other ancient nations have long since vanished. Improving this idea is a natural mission of the Jews and their "raison d'etre". Historical circumstances have framed themselves in such a way that on the one hand, the Jews can stand on a lasting foundation only when they cease to impose themselves on various nations or dream of Palestine, but when that neutrally-human idea becomes the whole purpose of their existence; on the other hand, the neutral-human idea will win only if this nation, without its own language and its own land, will make it an idea conveyed in the cultural heritage.


Ludwik Zamenhof statue in Białystok, 1979, NAC   

I developed this idea in a quite extensive pamphlet which in 1901 I published in Russian under the title "Hilelism as a solution to the Jewish question", disguised under the pseudonym "Homo sum." I am sending this brochure to you today, knowing that, unfortunately, you will not be able to read it in Russian. From the brochure you can learn that during my whole life I was not only a warrior for the unification of humanity, but also a great lover of the Jewish people, and 25-30 years ago even a zealous Zionist.

My brochure about Hilelism as a solution to the Jewish question came into the hands of an unreliable publisher who, after publishing it, closed his magazines and thus my brochure did not reach the readers. It was not until 1903 when after many efforts I received all the copies of my brochure and put them in the closet, because by then my views had changed and I began to fear that if I try to implement my ideas starting from the neutrally-human Jewish sect, then they will face too many enemies in the world.

For six years now, I’ve been troubled by the question as to whether Hilelism should be spread first among the Jews or immediately proposed to people of all nations. I still haven’t resolved this uncertainty, and that is the reason why I do not want to definitively propose the essence of Hilelism and present it publicly, not until I become certain in my soul that this is the final, unchanging version. When I become fully determined to reject the Jewish Hilelism, then, at one of the Esperanto congresses, I will propose to convene an international section of Esperantists-Hilelists.

Please forgive me for writing to you so much. I did this deliberately, because I wanted to ensure that in case of my death or inability of continuing work, my idea would not get totally lost, but would find their place in the hands of the Esperantists. Long letters tire me and take me too long. Please do not be surprised and do not get angry if my consecutive letters become short and infrequent.


Polish translation of the text:

Żelazny W., Ludwik Zamenhof. Życie i dzieło. Recepcja i reminiscencje. Wybór tekstów, Kraków 2011, pp. 63–66.

Original in Esperanto:

Mi estas homo. Originalaj verkoj de d-ro L. L. Zamenhof, red. A. Korĵenkov, Kaliningrad 2006, pp. 113–121.