Herzl, Theodor

June 15, 2006

Theodor Herzl was the founder of modern Zionism. He arrived at this destiny, one might say, quite by accident. Born in Budapest in 1860, he grew up in a home that was almost totally assimilated from its Jewish roots, and he was educated in the basically secular paths of the German Jewish Enlightenment of his time. In 1878, his family moved to Vienna, and it was not long before Herzl became the Paris correspondent for the Neue Freie Presse, one of the most important Viennese newspapers.

In 1894, in Paris, the seat of the French Revolution, Herzl observed the trial and conviction of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army, who had been unjustly accused of treason because of anti-Semitic prejudice. He also heard the shouts of “Death to the Jews” from the throats of the mob. These experiences convinced him that the only solution for the problems of the Jewish People was to find a land that they could call “home,” far from the false promises of European “Enlightenment” and equal rights for the Jews.

Despite ridicule from Jewish leaders, he published “Der Judenstaat” (The Jewish State) in 1896. In this work, he argued that the Jews are one People and their plight could be transformed into a positive force by the establishment of a Jewish State, with the consent of the great powers. In his Zionist novel, “Altneuland” (Old New Land, 1902), Herzl envisioned a socialist Jewish utopian society, that would arise in the Land of Israel by means of science and technology, and be “a light unto the nations,” borrowing a phrase from the ancient prophets of Israel.

The last eight years of his life were filled with intense activity in behalf of Zionism. Exhausted by his exertions, Herzl died on July 3, 1904. In 1949, a year after the birth of the nation that he had raised from the dust almost by himself, his remains were transferred by airplane to the newly reborn State of Israel.

First Entry in His Diary (1895)

“I have been occupied for some time past with a work which is of immeasurable greatness. I cannot tell today whether I shall bring it to a close. It has the appearance of a gigantic dream. But for days and weeks it has filled me, saturated even my subconsciousness; it accompanies me wherever I go,…”

From “Address to the Rothschild’s” [predecessor to “The Jewish State”]

“I have the solution to the Jewish question. I know it sounds mad; and at the beginning I shall be called mad more than once – until the truth of what I am saying is recognized in all its shattering force…”

From “The Jewish State” (1896)

…No human being is wealthy or powerful enough to transplant a people from one place of residence to another. Only an idea can achieve that. The State idea surely has that power. The Jews have dreamed this princely dream throughout the long night of their history. “Next year in Jerusalem” is our age-old motto. It is now a matter of showing that the vague dream can be transformed into a clear and glowing idea…”

“…Although I speak here in terms of reason, I am well aware that reason alone will not suffice. Long-term prisoners do not willingly quit their cells. We shall see whether the youth, whom we must have, is ripe; the youth – which irresistibly draws along the aged, bears them up on powerful arms, and transforms rationality into enthusiasm…”

“…Let me repeat once more my opening words: The Jews who will it shall achieve their State.
We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and in our own homes peacefully die.
The world will be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness.
And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind.”