Herzl, King of the Jews

In August, 1897, Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress in Basel. In the entry for September 3, 1897 of his diary, Herzl sums up what he considers to be the defining moment of the Congress:

“If I were to sum up the Basel Congress in one word–which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly–it would be this: at Basel I have 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 would recognize this.”

If the slogan  “Herzl founder of the Jewish State” appeared laughable on September 3, 1897 (Herzl’s “today” in his diary entry above), what of Theodor fitting out Hans, his lowly tormented son, in the grubby regalia of a medieval ghetto Jew and crowning him, Duke, Doge, Doxe, Prince – King(?)  of the Most Serene Jewish Republic?[1] Enough to bring a flood of tears to Herzl’s proud eyes?:

“The procession which starts at the doge’s palace will be opened by Herzl-Cuirassiers. Then come the artillery and infantry… while all are marching in gold-studded gala uniforms, the high priests under canopies, the doge himself will wear the garb of shame of a medieval ghetto Jew: the pointed hat, the yellow badge… When I thought that someday I might crown Hans as doge… I had tears in my eyes” Herzl’s diary, 1895). Hans was four years old.

In his “The Jewish State”, Herzl said: “The Ghetto continues though its walls are broken down (P.96); and “We shall give up using those miserable stunted jargons, those Ghetto languages which we still employ, for these were the stealthy tongues of  prisoners. Our national teachers will give due attention to this matter; and the language which proves itself to be of greatest utility for general intercourse will be adopted without compulsion as our national tongue. Our community of race is peculiar and unique, for we are bound together only by the faith of our fathers”  (p.113).

In the Jewish State, the supreme ruler is dressed up in the mock up of a Ghetto Jew; to remind him from whence he sprung, perhaps. The coronation ceremony, though, will not be celebrated in Yiddish, that “miserable stunted jargon” of the Ghetto.”

And the religion of the Jewish State? The religion of “our fathers”? Yes, “we are bound together only by the faith of our fathers”, said Herzl? That is the “only” thing that binds us.  Which faith is this? Not the faith in ADONAI[2] of the Torah:

“I believe, says Herzl, in the ascent of man to higher and yet higher grades of civilization; but I consider this ascent to be desperately slow. Were we to wait till average humanity had become as charitably inclined as was Lessing when he wrote “Nathan the Wise,” we should wait beyond our day, beyond the days of our children, of our grandchildren, and of our great-grandchildren. But the world’s spirit comes to our aid in another way…This century has given the world a wonderful renaissance by means of its technical achievements; but at the same time its miraculous improvements have not been employed in the service of humanity” (pp. 53-54).

Herzl’s “faith of our fathers” is faith in man, faith in the gentle gentile “world’s spirit”. The religion of the future Jewish State will bear  the marks of a true religion: rebirth (“renaissance”) and miracles (machines). Machines will be the new servants of Humanity. Darwin (1809 – 1882), Hegel (1770 – 1831) and Marx (1818 – 1883),  the three feet of the prophetic tripod (dreifus) will hold up an edifice that not even Samson – and his God – has the power to topple.

Of the three feet of the tripod – Darwin, Hegel and Marx, Hegel was the one with the golden fus (foot) . (Marx, himself, was a devotee of Hegel). Herzl, like so many Jews of the Enlightenment, was a convert to Hegel. It was Hegel’s “World Spirit”, Herzl believed, that  infused purpose and meaning into history, animating the human spirit, planting in the human heart the awareness of his right to freedom, peace and joy – and of inevitable – if very slow – progress. For Hegel, religion is consciousness revealing itself to itself as spirit. What is enlightened religion? It is a consciousness of the unity of Being and Thought, of Spirit and Mind. Where’s the sin in having such a religion? The sin lies in the absence sin, in the absence of the consciousness of sin –  an aberration of the true “faith of our fathers” where sin against a Holy God is written large on every page of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). Flinging”sin” in the bin cannot expunge the abcess in the soul. Of all peoples, Jews  are the most mental and sentimental; the most rational and the most schmaltzy. The issue of the Jew is that truth can only be grounded on a holy, pure God. Pure reason won’t cut it, nor will sentimental puree. God chose the Jews for something better.

“[Herzl] had once understood Jewish identity and Judaism as part of a past, an anachronism that had brought only misery, oppression and illusionary hope to the chosen people. Being chosen had not brought anything better to the Jews. Their refusal to accept the dominant culture in which they lived, adopt their values, worship their Gods, had only brought millennia of repeated misery and oppression.”

Jerry Klinger, the author of the above passage says that Herzl “once understood Jewish identity and Judaism as part of a past, an anachronism…” implyimg that Herzl had changed his mind in that Herzl later returned to the “faith of out fathers”(Herzl’s words). Klinger bases his view on Herzl’s words in one of the last entries in his diaries:

“I truly believe that even after we possess our land, Zionism will not cease to be an ideal. For Zionism includes not only the yearning for a plot of promised land legally acquired for our weary people, but also the yearning for ethical and spiritual fulfilment.”

There is nothing distinctively Judaic (biblical) about this “yearning for ethical and spiritual fulfilment.” It is the yearning of every kind of Jew in the world: an Enlightened Jew, a Buddhist Jew, a Marxian Jew, a Hegelian Jew, an Atheist Jew, a Pantheist Jew, a Zionist Jew, an anti-Zionist Jew, a Christian Jew, an ex-Jew, and the myriads of other kinds of Jew. A yawning abyss separates the ethical and spiritual yearning of the modern “enlightened” Jew – Herzl is a prime example – and the yearning of a Moses, a Davis, an Isaiah, a Paul.

What was Hans, Herzl’s son, the homeless Prince, thinking when he wrote the following lines? Was he thinking that the “Jewish State” was no more than an edifice, a front? Was he thinking how absurd it would be to imprison the universal world spirit in another Ghetto – but on a grander scale: the Jewish State?

This is what Hans wrote:

“My father was a great man, whom I loved… But I’ve come to see that he made a great historical error in his attempt to rebuild the Jewish State…. My father did not realize the true mission of the Jewish people, which has proven that the living and fertilizing spirit does not need territorial boundaries, and that a people can live and exist even when fortifications and borders have disappeared. I would ask them not to attempt to add to the decadent civilizations but to remember their true identity and work for the cultural reconstruction of their homeland – and this homeland is the entire world.” (Hans Herzl to Marcel Steinberger in Princes Without A Home (1929).

Spoken like a true-blood Reform Jew of the Haskalah (Jewish enlightenment): “We are the light of the world. All who come to us will have life, and have it more abundantly.” The modern Jew.

There’s the doxe in doge, and there’s the dox in “paradox.” Doxe is Venetian for “duke”, while dox in “paradox” is the Greek for “belief.”[3] “Paradox” is derived from para “against” and dox “belief”. One kind of paradox is when something appears so against truth that it is absurd. Is it true that Herzl nursed such absurd fantasies? Herzl must have known – and probably hoped – that his diaries would see the light of day. His fantasies make a mockery not only of “The Jewish State” but, also, and perhaps worse, a mockery of Hans, his only begotten son.  There is paradox here, of the tragic kind: Hans, in the grubby garb – with pointed hat and yellow star –  of a ghetto Jew, crowned King of the Jews. Or was Hans only to be a Prince, and Theodor – God’s gift – King? It beggars belief – but no more so than another King of the Jews – crowned with thorns, hanging naked on a bloody cross – at whose foot the journey begins; the journey of the Wandering Jew.

[1] The doges, or doxes (a variation of “doge”) were the heads of the state of Venice. Doge/doxe originates from  Latin  “duke”. The Venetian doges of the  “The Most Serene Republic of Venice” reigned for 1000 years. Would it be presuming too much to surmise that Herzl was also thinking along millennial lines for his Jewish State?


[2] From the Hebrew adon “lord, master”. The Hebrew Bible distinguishes between adoni “my lord, master”, which refers to human beings, and Adonai which refers to the  LORD, to God only.

[3] “Orthodox” comes from the two Greek words ortho “right” and dox “belief”. Orthodox Jews believe that they have the right belief, and thus call themselves “Right Belief” Jews.

, “I truly believe that even after we possess our land, Zionism will not cease to be an ideal. For Zionism includes not only the yearning for a plot of promised land legally acquired for our weary people, but also the yearning for ethical and spiritual fulfillment.”

One thought on “Herzl, King of the Jews

  1. Pingback: Oustanding and Standing out Jewish believers in Yeshua: the Wounded Anima of Hans Herzl « OneDaringJew

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