Today in Israeli History

Theodor Herzl’s The Jewish State Is Published

February 14, 2019

February 14, 1896

“Der Judenstaat” (The Jewish State) by Theodor Herzl is first published in Vienna.  Subtitled, “An Attempt at a Modern Solution to the Jewish Question,” 500 copies were originally printed and distributed in Vienna, and it was soon translated into French and English.  Three days after the publication, Herzl wrote in his diary, “No paper has uttered an opinion as yet.  But the pamphlet is becoming a subject of conversation.  Acquaintances ask me: ‘Is the pamphlet they are speaking about by you?  Is it a jest, or is it in earnest?` I answer: `Deadly earnest!”`

In the pamphlet, Herzl called for Jews to organize themselves so that they could gain a territory of their own, create institutions and forums to oversee Jewish immigration and settlement, and eventually create a state.

Herzl was born in 1860 and raised in Vienna in a secular Jewish environment, becoming a correspondent for the Neue Freie Presse in Vienna in 1891.  Through his work as a journalist, Herzl was exposed to the persecution of East European Jewry as well as the ongoing debates over Jewish civic rights taking place in parts of Western Europe. In 1894, he would cover the Dreyfus trial taking place in Paris.  The trial, in which a French Jewish military captain was wrongly convicted of providing French military secrets to Germany, exposed anti-Semitism that existed in countries where Jews were emancipated.  The trial would help to motivate Herzl to begin formulating a plan for Jewish self-determination.

In the Jewish State, he lays down his plan thusly, “The whole plan is in its essence perfectly simple, as it must necessarily be if it is to come within the comprehension of all.  Let the sovereignty be granted us over a portion of the globe large enough to satisfy the rightful requirements of a nation; the rest we shall manage for ourselves. The creation of a new State is neither ridiculous nor impossible. We have in our day witnessed the process in connection with nations which were not largely members of the middle class, but poorer, less educated, and consequently weaker than ourselves. The Governments of all countries scourged by Anti-Semitism will be keenly interested in assisting us to obtain the sovereignty we want.”

Herzl’s Jewish State only mentions Palestine as a possibility of a place where this experiment could take place (along with Argentina).  In August 1897, Herzl would convene the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland with 200 delegates from across the Jewish world.  At that conference, the aims to establish a Jewish State in the Land of Israel were explicitly adopted by the new Zionist movement.