Theodore Herzl and the Jewish Independence in the Book, The Jewish State

Categories: Israel

Theodore Herzl experienced the discrimination and persecution felt by all the Jews living in Europe. He then brought up the Jewish question, which refers to how Jews should be treated and where they should live. Theodore Herzl made the issue known to the public, especially Jews, through his book The Jewish State. The book helped the Jews to come to the conclusion that they should not have to live in a world of anti-semitism forever. One solution that appeared in The Jewish State was a homeland for Jews to live freely without assimilating into any other culture but their own.

Theodore Herzl began the movement towards establishing independence for the Jews, but to what extent did Herzl influence the creation of the State of Israel in 1948?

Theodore Herzl died many years before Israel was established and did not get to see the outcome of his passion for Zionism. Also, contrary to belief, Herzl was not the first Zionist, but he did organize the World Zionist Organization, which expanded Zionism to thousand of more Jews living all around the world.

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This essay will discuss Herzl’s interpretation of Zionism and the work he contributed to make Zionism possible. After Herzl’s death other Jewish leaders continued Zionist efforts and Jews began moving to the land of Palestine before it was declared the state of Israel. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, for example, turned the Hebrew language into a spoken tongue and persuaded more Jews to return to the Jewish homeland.

Great Britain was an ally to the Zionists and offered Uganda as land that could be used as a Jewish homeland.

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Despite turning down the land of Uganda, Britain understood the need for the Jewish independence. The Arabs opposed strongly opposed the Jewish state. Independence could not be achieved for the Jews until the United Nations agreed to the establishment of Israel. The War of Independence occurred in 1947 because the Arabs refused opposed the state of Israel. The Arabs were defeated and independence was declared May 14th, 1948 by Ben Gurion. Herzl was present the day of independence as his picture was hung behind Ben Gurion. The body of Herzl was relocated and buried in Israel at “Har Herzl” and Herzl is known as the founder of Israel.


The Jewish people have survived many obstacles in order to establish the Jewish state of Israel. Around 2000 B.C. the Jews fought against the Roman and Egyptians, but managed to keep the culture alive when the Jewish people were pushed off the land in which Jewish history took place. The fighting continued into the 20th century as the Arab Palestinians opposed a Jewish nation. Despite the hardships the Jews endured, Israel became an independent nation in 1948, but the Jewish persecution continued. The Germans, for example, did not believe the Jews were of equal stature as non-Jews, and therefore tried to destroy the Jewish businesses and push them out of their homes during the Holocaust.

The motive to destroy the Jewish race still does not have a definitive answer today, but other countries are believed to be jealous of Israel’s strong willed people and the wealth people have made in Israel. Another event known as Kristallnacht, which means night of broken glass, was a violent endeavor to destroy thousands of temples and acted as a turning point for the violence against the Jewish people. The violence was becoming dangerous and the Jews could not practice their religion freely, so a predominantly Jewish state became the ideal solution. Theodor Herzl, a passionate Zionist, proposed and fought for the new Jewish state in the land of Israel.

Zionist Movement

Theodore Herzl is known for his efforts in the Zionist movement and for organizing the World Zionist Organization. Herzl originally believed that the only way for Jews to be accepted would be through assimilation. He later realized that the people should be accepted for whatever religion or culture, which led to Herzl spreading Zionism in hopes of creating a Jewish land that would act as a safe haven. In order to understand Herzl’s vision it is necessary to know what Zionism means. Zionism is derived from the word Zion, which in the Hebrew language means to return to Israel. Zion can be found in the stories of the Torah to symbolize that all Jewish people will always be connected to Israel. Being Jewish does not automatically make a person a Zionist, but a person is typically Jewish before becoming a Zionist. A Zionist is a Jew who has a passion for the land in which our ancestors fought for Judaism and therefore have the desire to return.

Other Jewish people who are not Zionist do not desire a Jewish homeland because they believe Judaism is a religion that can be practiced anywhere in the world. Zionism is often viewed as an unfair concept because other countries are melting pots of various religions, so the Jews should not have the privilege to a designated land. In addition, the Zionists feel more connected to their religion than the country in which they reside. The Jewish people needed a homeland to prevent the religion from disappearing. As Theodore Herzl originally believed that the only way to become accepted was through assimilation, many Jewish people began to intermarry. Children were then raised as Atheists, Christians, or even Muslims and Jewish heritage was being lost. If the Jewish religion is not passed on from generation to generation eventually it will be lost. Intermarrying was a way for the Jews to feel safe.

For example, as a Christian family the family would be accepted without the need to assimilate, but as a completely Jewish family assimilation would be necessary. A country that would keep the Jewish people safe would help prevent the extinguishing of Judaism. In 1860, Theodore Herzl was born to two religious Jewish parents. As a child, Herzl attended a Jewish day school in Budapest and studied at a scientific secondary school. Herzl’s father was a successful banker, which allowed the family to live a comfortable lifestyle. The pampered lifestyle that Herzl lived caused him to have a character of arrogance, which is visible in his years of adolescence and as a Jewish visionary (Greenfeld 17). As a child Herzl was very intelligent and was able to absorb information very quickly. For example, before Herzl started grade school he was able to communicate in both German and French. After the completion of Jewish day school Herzl attended a technical school, which he quickly decided was not for him. Although, the technical school greatly impacted his future because he realized his desire to become a writer and he became aware of the anti-Semitism against Jews (Greenfeld 20).

Herzl’s parents were German speaking Jews, who had assimilated to the culture of Budapest in order to fit in.. In later years Herzl wrote about his experience at the technical school by saying “I soon lost my former love for logarithms and trigonometry, because a distinctly anti-Semitic trend prevailed at the technical school” (fing quote greenfeld) As a student Herzl also founded a literary group named WIR, so he could share his writing with other people. Herzl was elected president of the group, which made him a strong believer in formal organization. His use of formal organization at a young age had a large impact on his ability to spread Zionism during his adult years. Unfortunately in 1878, Herzl’s sister and best friend passed away abruptly due to typhus (Greenfeld 22). The family was now to saddened to continue life in Budapest, so they decided to moe their lives to Vienna, France.

In France, Herzl was a young law student although his law career after law school was quite brief. After the law career Herzl worked as writer and became a correspondent for Neue Freie Press. It was then that Herzl followed the Dreyfus Affair for the Neue Freie Press in which a Jewish captain of the army was falsely accused of spying on Germany. The false conviction led to outrage in Paris including rallies and protests and hatred for the Jews was growing fast. Herzl found the hatred towards the Jews horrific as people in the streets would shout “death to the Jews” and then Herzl realized that assimilation would not solve the problem of anti-semitism towards the Jewish people. In addition, Herzl as an adult noticed in his own family that due to assimilation the family lived according to the norms of both Budapest and France with less focus on Judaism.

Herzl believed that through generations the assimilation would become a stronger force and Judaism would become nothing more than a title. Now that assimilation was believed to be an incorrect strategy, Herzl believed that the Jews should no longer live in the European countries and Jewish land in Palestine would be the solution. Although Theodore Herzl organized the World Zionist Movement, he was not the first Zionist. Rabbi Yehudah Alkali was a follower of the Torah and as he came across the word Zion he believed that Jerusalem is the land promised to the Jewish people. Based on the belief of the promised land, Alkali created Zionism. He did have the idea that Jews should have a homeland, but never went about it. Theodore Herzl made the beliefs of Rabbi Yehudah Alkali known to all the Jewish people and he pursued other countries giving land to the Jews in order to create a homeland.

Theodore Herzl’s first Zionist effort was meeting with Baron Maurice de Hirsch, who established the Jewish Colonization Association. Herzl believed that Hirsch would have access to many Jewish people and could help spread the idea of creating a homeland. In their meeting Herzl attempted to explain that the Jews needed a national flag to unite under, although Hirsch refused to listen. Hirsch believed the idea was nonsense and did not want to contribute to the cause. Hirsch’s refusal only fueled Herzl’s desire and led to the writing of the pamphlet called The Jewish State. The pamphlet discussed the “Jewish Question,” which refers to the debate in European countries as to how Jewish people should be treated and involved in society. Herzl was passionate about the “Jewish Question” because not only did it affect people all over Europe, but it affected him personally.

Herzl said “It disturbs me and intoxicates me” when referring to the harassment of Jews. No matter where the Jews lived in Europe they were subject to severe persecution. It was becoming clear that the Jews could no longer live in the countries of Europe. Many Jews still believed that with hope eventually the situation would change and the European countries would begin to have sympathy for the Jews. After the writing of the pamphlet Herzl turns into a dynamic leader and proposes to restore the Jewish State, but still admits that he does not believe it can happen by the end of his lifetime. Without passion this huge feat could not be accomplished, but Herzl knew if enough Jews came together to create an international problem then the land of Palestine could be restored to the Jews.

Palestine is the homeland to the Jews and the Jewish history is based off of stories from the land of Palestine. The Jewish State would mean a place to pray freely and live free of persecution. By the end of the 19th century approximately nine million Jews were living in Europe and desired a life with less religious hardship. Despite the hatred and persecution towards the Jews from the European countries, Herzl promised that the wealth and advances of the Jewish State would benefit all of mankind. Although, when “The Jewish State” was published approximately 500,000 Arabs lived in Palestine and felt threatened that the Jews would try to push them off the land that they rightfully believed was theirs.

The Jews also believed they had the right to the land because in the biblical times of the first century the majority of Palestinians were Jews, but they were defeated by the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire devastated the Jewish population and thousands were sold as slaves. The majority of the Jews in Europe during the 19th century are descendants of the exiled Jews in Palestine. The land was neglected after being taken over by the Roman Empire and the 500,000 Arabs only sustained a small amount of land through traditional farming methods. Herzl proposed that with new technology the land could sustain the Jewish population without inconveniencing the current Arab population. The Jews would purchase vacant land in Palestine and make it farmable. In addition, Herzl stated that the Jews and Arabs would be equal citizens with equal opportunities.

Oppositely, the Arabs still would view the Jews as an inferior race of citizens. Herzl did not give up on finding support for Zionism after his meeting with Baron de Hirsch. Instead Herzl turned to the working people, “who wanted Herzl to be their leader” (Greenfeld 37). The gathering Herzl held at the Jewish Workingmen’s Club acted as a turning point in Herzl’s campaign for Zionism as masses showed up to hear Herzl’s words. It had become clear that there was no reason to rely on the wealthy for support any longer. After the success of the gathering at the Jewish Workingman’s Club Herzl decided to hold the first Zionist meeting known as the First Zionist Congress. Herzl was able to achieve this meeting with his own labor and the use of his personal money, which demonstrated his passion for the cause. During the opening address Herzl said the purpose for the meeting was “to lay the foundation stone of the house which is to shelter the Jewish nation.”

Although more meetings would be needed in the future, this meeting established Zionism as an organized movement known as the World Zionist Organization. From then on the Zionist Congress was held annually and would discuss how to locate and acquire the land in Palestine and Herzl demanded to be at the “center of all these activities” (Greenfeld 45). In 1898, Herzl took his first trip to the land of Palestine. It’s filth and intolerance made Herzl distraught and also made him realize how much would need to change before the Jews could call Palestine home. During Herzl’s travels he met with Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the Turkish Palestinian ruler, in hopes of receiving a charter the new Jewish State. Like other wealthy leaders, the sultan and Herzl could not reach an agreement that would be suitable for the Jews. Despite many failed attempts to gain support of wealthy and popular leaders, Herzl did not let this deter his Zionist efforts. Herzl had realized that the Jews would not be able to acquire the land on their own, therefore Herzl turned to Great Britain for help. After being denied the land from the Ottoman Empire, Britain also said they could not help the Jews acquire Palestine.

The British, an ally of the Zionist Movement, gave the Jews the land of Uganda as a gift so the Jews could escape persecution. The Jews in Russia were in danger and experienced the worst anti-Semitism of all other countries, so Uganda was set up as a refuge for Russian Jews. The plan to move Jews to Uganda was first discussed at the Sixth Zionist Congress. Many strong willed Zionists turned on Herzl after his proposal because they believed he was doing away with the establishment of Israel in Palestine. Despite, being in immediate danger the Russians despised the plan more than all the other Zionist Jews. The Russian Zionists said, “We are Zionists; we want to return to our biblical home.” It was clear that Herzl was surprised with the negative response because Uganda would still be a place that the Jews could freely practice Judaism and not be subject to persecution.

After an exhausting debate in which Herzl convinced many delegates that Uganda was only a temporary solution the Zionist Congress approved Herzl’s proposal. Although the World Zionist Organization had stayed intact, Herzl’s motivation and health was rapidly deteriorating. The constant debate, traveling, and three years of congress had taken a great toll on Herzl’s body. In 1904, Herzl died of pneumonia and a strained heart. His pride for Zionism caused immense amounts of stress and pressure, which is believed to have shortened his life. Herzl was correct, in which he never witnessed the day that the land of Palestine was restored to the Jewish people. The Zionists did not know where to turn anymore without the great leadership and friendship of Theodore Herzl. Originally, Herzl was buried at a Jewish cemetery in Vienna, but 50 years later was moved and buried in Israel at “Har Herzl”, which means Mountain of Herzl. Thousands cried as Herzl was buried in Vienna because they realized how important of a man was lost.

Thousands of European Jews never thought there would be an end to persecution, but Herzl changed their minds. Zionist Jews were devoted to returning to the holy land and would continue his efforts until freedom was accomplished. At the time of Herzl’s death Israel had not been established, but the Jews were headed in the right direction. In the six Zionist Congresses that Herzl had attended the Zionist Bank was established, the Jewish National Fund was created, and Zionists from all over the world were untied under one organization ( Herzl Museum 1). Herzl wrote in his diary: “Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word – which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly – it would be this: At Basel I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, and certainly in fifty, everyone will recognize this (Herzl). The Zionist Congress was held in Basel, where Herzl began a movement that would be carried on until Israel was an independent nation.

After Herzl’s Death

After Herzl’s death, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda acted as a leader to continue the Jewish strive for independence. According to Herzl, the whole purpose of the Jewish State was to eliminate discrimination of culture and race. Ben-Yehuda believed that the land would need a language to prevent discrimination against the Jews. The Hebrew Language was the answer, but at the time it was only written in the holy book of the Torah. Ben-Yehuda started with teaching his son the language as an experiment and he created new words that would not be found in a holy text. Hebrew at the time did exist as a written language but it was very uncommon for Hebrew to be spoken. His children were the first to have Hebrew as their primary language since the 16th century (Fellman 1). “Ben-Yehuda had three plans of action, which included Hebrew in the home, Hebrew in the school, and Words, Words, Words” (Fellman 1).

To spread the language he would only speak Hebrew with every Jewish person he would meet, essentially forcing people to learn the language. Ben-Yehuda’s son was proof to all of the Jewish people that Hebrew can be an everyday spoken language. The national flag would also have to be considered before Israel was given to the Jews. Herzl originally wanted a white flag with seven gold stars. The stars represented the hours of the working day, which represented the dedication and hard work of the Jews. The white is symbolic of purity because the Jewish people’s lives were pure without discrimination. The official flag that was created had a white background, which Herzl desired, but instead of the gold stars there is one blue Star of David and two blue stripes. The blue stripes are like the stripes found on a male’s talit as he prays. The Star of David and the blue stripes made it clear that this was a Jewish homeland made especially for the Jewish people. The flag still had no use until Herzl’s mission to create a Jewish state was accomplished.

Aside from Zionist efforts from several Jewish leaders, including Herzl, the founding of Israel would not have been possible without the resolution by the United Nations. Great Britain had ruled Palestine after the falling of the Ottoman Empire, but after the events of World War II, such as the bombing of London, Great Britain could not handle the disputes between the Jews and the Arabs any longer (Kramer 305). Great Britain turned to the United Nations in 1947 for help managing Palestine. The United Nations, heavily swayed by the United States, declared that 55 percent of Palestine would be given to the Jews and the rest of the land remained with the Arabs (Wagner 8). The British Mandate over the land of Palestine had ended after the United Nations had voted on the resolution. (Kramer 306) The Arabs strongly opposed this resolution because the Jews, only 30 percent of the population, received more than half of the land. Ben-Gurion, who emigrated to Palestine, was elected Prime Minister of the new Jewish state of Israel.

Ben-Gurion recognized the influence Herzl had on the Israel’s Indepedence by having Herzl’s remains transferred from Vienna to Jerusalem and a memorial was created to forever respect Herzl’s dedication. Theodor Herzl was correct in saying that eventually people would realize that he was correct when he said a Jewish state would be established. The last factor in the creation of Israel was the resolution of the United Nations, but this would not of been a consideration without the efforts of Herzl before his death. The Zionist Congresses led by Theodor Herzl discussed all aspects of government, community and international relations, which were later applied when Israel became independent. The United Nations designated land to the Jewish people due to their united organization and the belief that they had the ability to run a country. Little work was to be done once the Jews were given the land in Palestine because the form of government, language and how to deal with the Arabs had already been discussed. Herzl proved that with enough followers and support the Jewish people could be free from persecution without assimilating into another culture. Today, the Jewish people from all over the world have a place to always call home and practice religion freely.

Works Cited

  1. Bassli, Lucy. “The Future of Combining Synagogue and State in Israel: What Have We Learned in the First 50 Years.” Houston Journal of International Law 22.3 (2000): n. pag. Web.
  2. Bein, Alex. “Theodore Herzl. A Biography by Alex Bein.” The Jewish Quarterly Review 32.2 (1941): 211-13. JSTOR. Web. 20 Jan. 2014
  3. Cohn, Henry J. “Theodor Herzl’s Conversion to Zionism.” Jewish Social Studies 32.2 (1970): 101-10. JSTOR. Web. 06 Mar. 2014.
  4. Davidson, Lawrence. “Zionism, Socialism and United States Support for the Jewish Colonization of Palestine in the 1920s.” Arab Studies Quarterly 18.3 (1996): n. pag. Web.
  5. Eppstein, Victor. “The Zionist Movement by Israel Cohen; Star over Jordan: The Life and Calling of Theodore Herzl by Josef Patai.” Jewish Social Studies 10.1 (1948): 89-90. JSTOR. Web. 20 Jan. 2014.
  6. Friedman, Isaiah. “Theodor Herzl: Political Activity and Achievements.” Israel Studies 9.3 (2004): 46-79. JSTOR. Web. 06 Mar. 2014.
  7. Janowsky, Oscar I. “Theodore Herzl, a Biography by Alex Bein; Maurice Samuel; Old-New Land (Altneuland) by Theodor Herzl; Lotta Levensohn.” Jewish Social Studies 3.4 (1941): 409-12. JSTOR. Web. 20 Jan. 2014.
  8. Kornberg, Jacques. “Theodore Herzl: A Reevaluation.” The Journal of Modern History 52.2 (1980): 226. Print.
  9. Morrison, W. D. “Jewish Ideals, and Other Essays. by Joseph Jacobs; A Jewish State. by Theodore Herzl.” International Journal of Ethics 9.1 (1898): 113-15. JSTOR. Web. 20 Jan. 2014

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Theodore Herzl and the Jewish Independence in the Book, The Jewish State. (2021, Sep 24). Retrieved from

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