Theodor Herzl's The Jewish State (1896) : Historical Context and Influence on the Zionist Movement (1833-1948)

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Gang, Minho
Term Paper, AP European History Class, March 2008

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Historical Context of the Zionist Movement (1833 - 1897)
II.1 The Old Yishuv
III. Theodore Herzl and The Jewish State (1896)
IV. Theodore Herzlí»s Influence on the Founding of Israel (1897 - 1948)
V. Conclusion
VI. Notes
VII. Bbliography

I. Introduction
            The Jewish people, since the time of their large-scale repression in Palestine after the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 A.D.), did not reside in a Jewish majority state for nearly two millennia. However, the old lands of Judea and Israel continued to serve as a unifying reminder for all Jewish people around the world that such Jewish states once existed; the wish for a homeland in Palestine was expressed through literature and traditions. For example, it was a custom for the traditional Passover meal to end with the words, "Next year in Jerusalem." (1)
            The modern Zionist Movement was a movement with the goal of creating a Jewish state in Palestine . In the early 20th century, it played a crucial role in finally establishing the state of Israel in 1948. The movement's political initiation is attributed to the author of The Jewish State, Theodore Herzl. Herzl was able to take a reasonable step forward towards achieving a Jewish state by actively organizing political support and financial aid. This paper will first analyze the historical context in which the Zionist Movement was started, and then describe Theodore Herzl's life and his works. Lastly, this paper will summarize the influence of Herzl on the movement, to promote the establishment of Israel.

II. Historical Context of the Zionist Movement (1833 - 1897)

II.1 The Old Yishuv
            From 1517 to 1833, Palestine remained under the control of the Ottoman Empire, and the small Jewish community (or Yishuv) was placed under many restrictions. In May 1833, the viceroy of Egypt Mehmet Ali challenged the Turkish sultan and took control of the coastal regions of the Eastern Mediterranean. Although the situation was later reverted to the original status, Mehmet Ali's reforms opened up Palestine for foreign settlement. For the first time in several centuries, non-Muslims could reside in Jerusalem permanently. Many Jews persecuted in Europe (notably in Russia under Nicholas I) migrated to the region. This was the beginning of the First Yishuv, which had a significant majority of deeply religious Jews. The movement of focus from religion to secular matters needed a period of further migration. During the Crimean War (1853-1856), Palestine saw the growth of secular Jewish charities, such as that of Moses Montefiore and of the Rothschilds. Secular education also gradually gained favor, with Joshua Yellin as a pioneer in using Arabic textbooks.

II.2 The Birth of the Zionist Movement and the New Yishuv
            Czar Alexander II was a relatively liberal ruler of Russia; taking the throne in 1855, he undid many restrictions that were placed on the Russian Jewish people. Jews could now attend universities and work in legal professions. The Jewish people experienced an intellectual revolution by achieving higher education and residing in cities which were previously denied to them. Before, the Jewish people could only live in a large separate area called the Pale of Settlement.
            However, the Czar's successor Alexander III showed the opposite attitude toward the Jewish people in Russia from the very beginning. In 1882, the 'May' Laws' were enacted, which resulted in severe persecution of the Jews. According to the new policy of the Russian Orthodox Church, one-third of the Jews were to be starved, one-third were to be expelled, and one-third were to be converted. To add to their misery, the first pogroms of the Jews started to take place but the Russian army seldom intervened. Many Jews fled Russian lands either by eviction or by willful emigration. This movement of Jews to other lands resulted in two phenomena; the Jewish population in other European countries swelled, increasing anti-Semitic tension. Also, a number of people who had immigrated to Palestine formed the basis for the New Yishuv, a secular Jewish community different from the old religion-based Yishuv.
            During this time of persisting discrimination in a number of European countries, articles promoting a national state of Israel began to be published. The first of such books was Rome and Jerusalem (1862) by Moses Hess. Other books, such as Leo Pinsker's Auto-Emancipation (1882), Nathan Birnbaum's Self-Emancipation (1884) and Moses Lilienblum's various publications (1870-) soon followed. A most influential pamphlet was published in 1895 shortly after the Dreyfus case in Paris; the short book was named The Jewish State, written by Theodore Herzl. He also wrote a second book, titled Altneuland (Old New Land) in 1896. Both books dealt with the issue of Zionism and plans for reestablishing the state of Israel.
            Compared to the previous articles that were published, Herzl's book gained widespread support for a national Jewish state. Herzl sought to amass this support and form a political momentum to advance his goals, both diplomatically and financially. Herzl embarked on trips to persuade a number of governments and established the Jewish National Fund. In 1897, the first World Zionist Congress was held in Basel, Switzerland, marking the beginning of the modern political Zionist movement. Supporters of the movement started a process of mass-migration into Palestine (called the first Aliya) which involved about 30,000 Jews moving over the next 20 years following 1882. This migration, which consisted of many Russian Jews, contributed to the creation of a new, secular Yishuv of Jewish people in Palestine. (2)

III. Theodor Herzl and The Jewish State
            Binyamin Ze'ev (Theodore) Herzl was born in 1860, to a Jewish family in Austria-Hungary. Although of Jewish ethnicity, he was educated in secular German culture, following the spirit of the German-Jewish enlightenment during that time. In 1884 Herzl was granted a doctorate of law from the University of Vienna; however, rather than to practice law he became a journalist and a playwright. During the late 19th century, anti-Semitism was prevalent even in France. The anti-Semitic articles of Eduard Dremon drew attention among the French public and contributed in generating a hateful atmosphere. Dremon, in his writing, blamed the Jews for France's military setbacks at the time. Also, the infamous Panama Scandals (1892) worsened the situation even further, because the financial hoax involved wealthy Jewish investors. Although many factors caused the crisis, they received the most blame.
            As a reporter in Paris for the Neue Freie Presse (Vienna's liberal newspaper), Theodore Herzl came to see the prejudice against the Jewish people when the Dreyfus trials occurred in 1894. At the time Alfred Dreyfus was 36, Herzl was 35; this crisis served as a turning point in Herzl's philosophy towards Zionism. Although he had been willing to tolerate the sacrifice of Jewish traditions (in other words, a ssimilation) in the hope for equal treatment, the Dreyfus Affair illustrated that the Jewish people could not be equally represented without a nation of their own. In response to the growing mood of anti-Semitism, and for the motive of persuading the wealthy European Jews to support the establishment of a Jewish state, Theodore Herzl wrote Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State) in 1895. The book was originally called 'Address to the Rothschilds', which signifies Herzl's intent to persuade the wealthy Jewish to further the cause of a homeland.
            The Jewish State gave a very convincing message in vivid descriptions. Herzl emphasized the following facts: first, that the so-called 'plight of the Jews' will not disappear until they have completely assimilated themselves or established a state; second, that the Jewish people now have the power to assemble and establish such a nation; third, that the nation should resemble a secular, enlightened European state. Theodore Herzl also gave detailed instructions on how Palestine was to be reclaimed by the Jewish people. After having done so, he proposed that systems of government and national projects should be established to benefit the people. There were provisions for all people of different professions; Herzl differentiated skilled and unskilled laborers, the latter of which may come in the future in large numbers. Many rules which considered the benefit of workers were mentioned, including the seven hour workday and the Worker's Assistance program.
            Theodore Herzl clearly underscored the essential obstinacy of anti-Semitism. In The Jewish State he wrote :

            "The remote cause of anti-Semitism is the loss of our assimilability, which began in the Middle Ages; the immediate cause is our overproduction of a middle-range intelligentsia, which cannot flow on into appropriate jobs and cannot rise socially. " (3)

            Using powerful rhetoric, Herzl then argued that this anti-Semitism provided the stimulus for the Jewish people to unite and stand for a single cause. Having started from the current situation, he drew a basic outline of how the state of Israel should be. Not only did he draw plans for government, he also mentioned other requisites of a state such as a flag, a standing army, and a constitution.

IV. Theodor Herzl's Influence on the Founding of Israel
            After the book was published, Herzl traveled as a diplomat to seek support from other countries. His ventures proved to be unsuccessful in acquiring full-fledged support of a government, even if it did have friendly concern. On a more practical level Herzl began to organize the World Zionist Congresses which was held annually. Herzl was nominated the first president of the Congress, and led the institution for seven years until his death. The very first congress was held in Basel, Switzerland in 1897; these Congresses signaled the unified action of Jewish people around the world to establish a state of Israel.
            Herzl had formed the mainstream of what would be called 'political Zionism'. He firmly believed that a guarantee of political rights in Palestine was needed first in order to establish a sovereign Jewish state. The Zionist Organization (4) (renamed the World Zionist Organization in 1960) was established, with the Congress having the supremacy on deciding policy. A Jewish National Fund (JNF) was also installed to raise money for the purchase of Palestine land. Acting as president of Congress, Herzl presented annual reports about his talks with foreign governments, such as King Umberto of Italy, Kaiser William II. of Germany, and V.K. Plehve, minister of Russia. Also, he established goals for the Zionist Congress while he was president. For example, the goal of the second Zionist Congress in 1898 was to gather and unify the view of different Jewish communities spread over the world.
            Herzl contemplated the possibility of a Jewish state other than the traditional region of Palestine, such as Uganda (East-Africa) and Argentina. However, the idea of a different continent for a home repulsed many members of the Zionist Congress later on, and threatened to break apart the World Zionist Organization and the movement itself. In the midst of the battle of disagreeing factions, Herzl passed away at the age of 44 on July 3, 1904. However, a series of catastrophic pogroms had occurred in Russia one year before, the worst in the town of Kishinev (modern Chisinau, Moldova). This in turn provided a stimulus for Jews to reconcile their differences and look to Zionism as their remaining hope. Due to the worsening of pogroms, a series of migrations ensued from Russia in what became known as the second Aliya. Throughout the 20th century, the Jewish population in Palestine continuously increased, with large credit to the efforts of the World Zionist Organization.
            Theodore Herzl's accomplishments continued to exert influence on the establishment of Israel. Throughout World War I and the British mandate (1920-1948), the World Zionist Organization served to collectively represent the interests of the Jewish people and act according to their wishes. By legitimately representing the Jewish people, the organization (through agencies such as the Jewish Agency in Palestine) was able to initiate projects such as the Haavara Agreement with Germany in 1935. The Zionist organization eventually settled into a provisional government overseeing the life of Jewish people in Palestine, which brought independence much closer than it had been before. When the British Mandate had expired and Israel was finally ready to declare independence, David Ben-Gurion and other members of the provisional government stood under a portrait of Theodore Herzl and signed Israelí»s declaration of independence.

V Conclusion
            Because Theodore Herzl had published two influential books which changed the Jewish peoples' outlook on a Jewish state (The Old New Land, and The Jewish State), he was able to coordinate a massive political movement which was beginning to be coalesced by the Jewish people. While Herzl is often credited as the founder of Zionism, it is important to note that the concept of a Jewish State in Palestine had existed before ; Herzl had merely re-stated the old theory and given it hope of being fulfilled. His achievements were crucial in establishing a realistic, feasible plan for the state of Israel.
            As the president of the World Zionist Congress, Theodore Herzl also actively sought to fulfill the initial plans drawn in The Jewish State, by striving for international sanction and gathering financial resources. Herzl's legacy in the present illustrates the important role he played during his lifetime. An annual Herzl award is given to distinguished Israeli nationals, and there is a mountain and also a city (Herzliya) named after him. Following the adage "The pen is mightier than the sword.", The Jewish State serves well as a reminder of the influence of written opinion ; Theodore Herzl also serves as an example of an influential leader.


(1)      Zionism and Israel Information Center
(2)      The explanation above on the formation of the New Yishuv is a simplified interpretation of a series of migrations. Other sources (i.e. The History of Israel, by Arnold Blumberg) differentiate earlier religious migrations from later, largely secular ones.
(3)      Herzl, Theodore. The Jews' State. 1997
(4)      While the term 'World Zionist Organization' was not used until 1960, this paper will use the term to describe the organization from the beginning for convenience.


Note : websites quoted below were visited in March 2008.
1.      Article : Bar Kokhba Revolt, from Wikipedia
2.      Blumberg, Arnold. The History of Israel. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1998
3.      Herzl and Zionism, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
4.      Herzl, Theodore. The Jews' State. (1896) Trans. Henk Overberg. Northvale: Jason Aronson, 1997
5.      Herzl Creates the Zionist Movement, Jewish Agency for Israel
6.      Herzl's The Jewish State, MidEastWeb,
7.      The Palestinian Information Center; click for Herzl Zionism (1895-1905
8.      Historical Dictionaries : From Empire to Nation State : Zionism, World History at KMLA
9.      Article : History of Zionism, from : Wikipedia
10.      Johnson, Paul. A History of the Jews. New York : Harper Perennial, 1987
11.      Theodore Herzl, from Jewish Virtual Library
12.      Article : Theodore Herzl, from : Wikipedia,
13.      Theodore Herzl, from : Zionism and Israel Information Center
14.      Theodor Herzl : On the Jewish State, 1896, from : Modern History Sourcebook
15.      Article : World Zionist Organization, from : Wikipedia
16.      Article : Yishuv, from : Wikipedia,
17.      Article : Zionism, from Jewish Encyclopedia 1901-1906 edition
18.      Zionism in Practice ? The Aliyot, Jewish Agency for Israel
19.      Passover and Zionism, Zionism and Israel Information Center 13 Mar 2008

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