Herzl: Prophet, Emancipator
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Herzl: Prophet, Emancipator

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From the most aristocratic and assimilationist quarter of Vienna Jewry, a Messianic figure strode forth: Theodor Herzl, cosmopolitan man of letters, came forward to champion the cause of the Jewish people. Not merely to speculate upon the Jewish problem, or to proclaim national solidarity to his fellow-Jews—this had been done before him, particularly by Moses Hess and the Choveve Zionists, who had anticipated even his political program of auto-emancipation;—but to declare publicly, before the peoples and sovereigns of the world, that the Jews are a national entity with a claim to a Homeland of their own.

It is this public avowal of the dream of Jewry which is perhaps the most valuable contribution of Theodor Herzl to the evolution of the Jewish spirit. Before his advent that spirit was humble, self-effacing, inhibited. He it was gave it expression, who directed to it the attention of the non-Jewish world, and thus brought the Jewish masses to a recognition of their own national dignity.


A revival of national and cultural autonomy had been proached by Jews to Jews for many years. But it was Herzl who, realizing that no yoke can be shaken off dialectically, brought this revival out of the field of abstract discussion into the realm of action.

The Jewish national movement would probably have persisted even if Herzl had never appeared upon the scene; it would, however, have remained introspective in character and stunted in stature for lack of room for expansion. Herzl knew, though, that the aspiration to a free creative life was deeply rooted in the hearts of the Jewish masses and that the seedling could not develop properly if no provision were made for outward growth, for shoots and branches.


Yet it was not enough to bring the Jewish national movement into the light of international politics. The scarcely viable plant needed the life-bringing rays of public recognition as well as the winds of opposition to strengthen its fibres.

At the same time great caution was necessary, so as not to expose it to excessively strong tempests that might snap its delicate stalk. Under the political conditions then prevailing in Europe any too militant attempt to rehabilitate the Jewish nation would have been disastrous. It was a period of subterranean political unrest, when hidden currents of national revolt and international rivalry flowed under the smooth surface of apparent peace.

Had Herzl’s program contained the faintest trace of open rebellion against the oppressors of the Jewish people his efforts to gain the support of the great western nations would inevitably have miscarried. Nor, for that matter, would the Jewish masses—with their instinctive abhorence of violence—have accepted him as their leader in such a course of action.


It was as a peaceful emancipator that Herzl appeared before his people. His was a policy of conciliation—sometimes successful, but always consistent. Force played no part in his plans. His was a determination towards the peaceful penetration of the Homeland, of arresting anti-Semitism by the reconstitution of Jewish national life.

Thus he stood midway between the cultural Zionists and the few but vociferous exponents of a policy of militancy. The former would have kept Zionism on the plane of a purely international movement, a movement which, though it would awaken the Jewish masses to a realization of their own worth, would never have led to any practical realization of the Zionist ideal—because no national endeavor can be successful without international recognition.

If, on the other hand, the advocates of the latter policy had had their way, Zionism would have been crushed even more effectively than the other nationalist movements of the time. For the European powers would never have countenanced or even permitted a movement that might have encouraged the irredentists of other national groups; moreover, such a course taken by the Jews—condemned, despised, declassed—would have aroused such boundless indignation and led to such merciless reprisals that the germs of Jewish national revival might have been killed forever.


Actually, therefore, Herzl’s was the only course which could lead to the final goal of Zionism. This was not always clear to his contemporaries; nor, for that matter, is it realized by all the Zionists of the present day. Our ranks are still not free of those who pursue illusory and dangerous tactics, who chafe under the curbs imposed upon their misapplied zeal by the spiritual heirs of Herzl.

Nor is there a dearth of others—though these do not call themselves Zionists—who refuse to acknowledge “political” Zionism; who, though now forced to recognize the necessity for the establishment of a Jewish Homeland in Palestine, and to grant its ultimate success, still insist upon regarding all Jewish activity in that direction from the Philanthropic and cultural points of view.

Neither camp realizes that the logical pursuit of its aims would never have brought the Jewish National Home into the domain of actuality—that the one course would have rendered the movement abortive, while the other would have prevented its ever attaining proportions of sufficient significance to enable it to persist for any considerable period.


It was Herzl who had the courage and the prophetic vision to bring the idea of Jewish rehabilitation into the arena of international discussion—it was Herzl whose sense of expediency led him to formulate the demands in an acceptable manner. He knew intuitively what could be expected. The charter for which he asked the Sultan seemed an impossible ideal during Herzl’s lifetime, but a little less than two decades after his death it was realized in the Mandate, and now only thirty years since Herzl made his last effort, we already see the fruits of his dreams and labors in the secure foundation which has been laid for the National Home.

Positive political action, peaceful penetration and colonization of the Homeland, recognition of cultural aims in the plans for its development—these were the principles which made Theodor Herzl the modern emancipator and seer of his people. His memory is revered not only because he brought the century-old dream of Jewish regeneration nearer to realization, but—and perhaps principally—because he taught the Jews to overcome the almost cringing humility so long characteristic of the Jewish spirit in their relations with the outer world, that he revived in his People faith in their own capacity and a sense of national dignity in their hearts.

If you’ve got something to sell, an excellent way of selling it is through the columns of the Jewish Daily Bulletin. Call Ashland 4-3093 for rates.

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