||R. Judah b. Solomon Hai Alkali (1798–1878), Sephardi rabbi and precursor of modern Zionism. Alkalai was born in Sarajevo (then Bosnia) and brought up in Jerusalem, where he was strongly influenced by Sarajevo-born R. Eliezer Papo. From 1825 until he again moved to Jerusalem in 1874, AIkalai was rabbi of Semlin, in what is now Yugoslavia. He taught Hebrew to the young men of the congregation, whose mother tongue was Ladino. As a young man, Alkalai was introduced to the concept of the Jewish nation by the rabbi of Corfu, Judah b. Samuel Bibas, one of the originators of the idea of Hibbat Zion and settlement in Erez Israel. The struggle of three nations - Turkey, Austria, and Serbia - for the domination of the town of Semlin, also directed his thoughts to a modern political conception of the destiny and aspirations of the Jewish people.
His first two books were written in Ladino, the rest in Hebrew. In his first book, Darkhei No'am (1839), a Ladino-Hebrew textbook, the outstanding feature is his revolutionary attitude toward redemption as opposed to the traditional religious interpretations. Teshuvah ("repentance"), which, according to the Talmud (Sanh. 97b), is the precondition for redemption, is interpreted by Alkalai in its literal sense, i.e., shivah, return (to Erez Israel). This approach, which was first expressed by R. Bibas and was later developed in Alkalai's writings, is the foundation of his preaching for a Return to Zion within the framework of traditional religious thought. He interpreted the traditional meaning of teshuvah as peratit ("personal"), i.e., "that each man shall return from the path of evil according to the definitions of repentance given by the early sages," whereas the new meaning refers to teshuvah kelalit ("general return"), i.e., "that all of Israel should return to the land of our fathers."
Alkalai's second book was a rebuttal to the scornful criticism that was heaped upon these interpretations. Shelom Yerushalayim (this lot), contains the first reaction to the Damascus Affair, and hints of a Return to Zion. The united stand of world Jewry during the Damascus Affair, as well as the struggle of the Serbs for their independence, led him to publish his first Hebrew work Minhat Yehudah (1843), In this work he interprets the year of the Damascus Affair, 1840, as a fateful and symbolic year for the Jewish nation on its road to redemption. The libeling and suffering of Damascus Jewry occurred in order to arouse the Jewish people to their plight in exile and "to the remoteness of Jerusalem." "Complacent dwellers in foreign lands" should learn the lesson of the Damascus Affair.