Theodore Herzi

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Theodore Herzi

Theodore Herzi


Journalist, playwright, essayist, and the founder of modern Zionism, Herzl was born into an assimilated Austrian Jewish family, although his commitment to Jewish causes did not feature prominently in his early life. After earning his doctorate from the University of Vienna, Herzl became a journalist for the Viennese Neue Freie Presse, which enabled him to travel extensively. Initially, a proponent of assimilation, in the 1890s Herzl became frustrated by the increasing level of antisemitism. He later claimed that it was his coverage of the Dreyfus Affair that made him a Zionist, his epiphany was actually a gradual process. In the aftermath of Dreyfus's public degradation and the vulgar antisemitism associated with it, Herzl concluded that only through the creation of a Jewish homeland could the problem of antisemitism be resolved. In 1896, he published his most famous work, Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), which envisioned a multiethnic, poly-lingual nation similar to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Herzl dedicated the rest of his life to the furtherance of the Zionist agenda.

This paper discusses the life of Theodore Herzi and his life, achievements and the concepts of Zionism.Discussion

Theodor Herzl was during his lifetime a renowned feuilletonist, foreign correspondent, and editor, as well as a respected dramatist, his literary and journalistic achievements eclipsed in shared memory by his role as the founder of the modern Zionist movement (Lucas, 1980).

Historians now generally dismiss Herzl's claim to have undergone an almost instinctive conversion to Zionism upon witnessing the Dreyfus trials while a foreign correspondent in Paris; they alternatively agree that his metamorphosis from assimilated Austrian Jew with German nationalist leanings (demonstrated by his membership in the German nationalist dueling student-fraternity Albia) to Zionist was a gradual process. 

In The Jewish State, Herzl concluded that the Jews were one people and that the “Jewish Question” was a national question that could be solved only by political means. According to Herzl, Jewish emancipation and the assimilations strategy long favored by most Western and Central European Jews had failed, because the majority would not allow Jews to integrate fully. Jews could therefore, achieve absolute equality only by founding a sovereign nation with its own national territory. Although the sentiments expressed in Herzl's pamphlet were not new (they were advanced by a number of predecessors: Leon Pinsker, Moses Hess, Rabbi Zevi Hirsch Kalischer, and Nathan Birnbaum), Herzl is generally considered the founder of the modern Zionist movement. Unlike his predecessors, he succeeded (thanks certainly in part to his renown as a journalist and dramatist) in uniting disparate factions of Zionists worldwide in the first World Zionist Congress in 1897, where the World Zionist Organization was founded. Herzl chaired the Congress and served as president of the WZO until his death (Hertzberg, 2000).

Herzl embarked on his literary career at an early age. While still in Budapest he formed the school literary society Wir (1876); started an epistolary novel; and composed satires, essays, poems, and book and theater reviews, some of which were accepted by the respected newspaper Pester Lloyd. After studying law in Vienna and serving one year at the district courts of Vienna and Salzburg, Herzl, realizing that ...