Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Jewish State, by Theodore Herzl (1860-1904)

I have the flu, so listening to books is one of the better ways to pass my time as I stay at home to recover.

This book is one of the founding documents of the Zionist movement.  The impetus for its writing was the persecution of Jews around the world, with Eastern Europe being a prime example at the time. He says nothing of conditions of Jews living in Muslim lands. A number of things stand out in this.  For example, he often uses the vocabulary of Proletariat and Bourgeoisie to described classes of Jews, yet his prescriptions are thoroughly Free Market.  The Jewish State is to be the mother of all business ventures.

A corporation is needed to facilitate the transfer of the peoples from all over the world to the new homeland. A specific duty of this corporation, however, is to make sure that drunkards and others who are unfit do not land in the Promised Land.  This is to be a nation of virtue, beginning with hard work and ending with intellectual enterprises.  Hard work, except that there is to be a 7 hour work day.  Very French.  Or is that American?  Certainly this is not Obama's vision of immigration where millions of people are brought in illegally for the  primary purpose of becoming wards of the state and clients to the millions of state funded social workers.

Regarding religion, Herzl wants to have a new Jewish temple high on a hill and visible from all around.  The Dome of the Rock occupies this position at the moment.  His view on religion seems to be a bit conflicted.  On the one hand, a religious focus is something that he sees as an important unifying element in the new people that is to result from this adventure.  Yet at the same time he wants to maintain strict freedom of religion.  Can those goals ever be reconciled?

The government Herzl prefers is an aristocratic one.  He doesn't view the peasant Jews of Eastern Europe as being up to the task of self government, while he often refers to the mediocre intellect of the western Jews.  Democracy isn't suited to them.  In this work Herzl claims that it is inconceivable that the new state would have Hebrew as its language, since it is impossible to buy a train ticket using Hebrew.  A footnote in the work claims that Herzl changed his mind on this point when someone proved to him otherwise.

It is certainly amazing to read this and ponder how this vision was realized, albeit with plenty of adjustments, a half century later.

Additional Note:  Something that sticks out in reflecting on this book is that there is no reference to God in this entire work. Herzl's world view seems to be strictly atheist:  Whatever is to be achieved is to be done by the Jews own volition and industry.


Delirious said...

In our religion we hope to some day live in a "Zion" society. Of course, we believe that Christ will return to the earth and reign personally. But modern day scripture teaches that to have a Zion society, we must be of one heart and one mind. That is the hardest part to obtain.

Looney said...

This is a common view with the ones that I have been taught: There will be a future kingdom, a Zion, with Christ ruling.

Something that stood out to me in Herzl's discussion was that there was no room for God in anything. It was all up to man.

Max Coutinho said...

Hello Looney,

As I told you, I haven't read this book yet (am going to look for it this weekend); but one thing is for sure: the Jewish State did become the mother of all business ventures.

The corporation did come into existence as well, under the form of the several Jewish agencies that facilitate the aliyot to Israel. But I am not sure they sift the drunkards and other unfit. Ha, people work over 7 hours in Israel today...so, the Frenchy ways didn't stick.
I make no comments on the Temple rebuilding. As for religion: the Jewish religion cannot be separated from the Jewish culture (as much as the confused Jews - i.e. atheist Jews - wish it to be true) although one can choose to be more fervently religious or less; perhaps, Herzl meant to say that the Rabbis were to stay away from politics lest the Jewish State would turn into a theocracy, which was/is not desirable.

Like Rabbi Isaac Kook said "Secular Zionists may think they do it for political, national or socialist reasons, but in fact - the actual reason for them coming to resettle in Israel is a religious Jewish spark - "Nitzotz" - in their soul, planted by God. Without their knowledge, they are contributing to the divine scheme and actually committing a great Mitzvah."
This being said, it doesn't matter whether Herzl used the word God or not...he helped committing a great Mitzvah nevertheless.

Great great post, Looney. Simply delightful.