Herzl, Jeremiah and Nietzsche: the Old and the New Paths

Theodor Herzl and the Prophet Jeremiah had, as I wrote elsewhere, this in common: Theodor had  a fire shut up in his bones that consumed him, perhaps similar to the intensity of the fire that consumed the prophet Jeremiah:

Then I said, I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name. But His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay” Jeremiah 20:9).

The zeal of Jeremiah and Herzl may have been similar in intensity, but was the fire the same? If the fire the Levitical priests offered to the Lord was a holy fire,  then the fire that Herzl offered was a “strange” fire – an estranged fire, a profane fire, an alien fire that alienated him from the Holy One of Israel. Why would this be so? because Herzl had forsaken the Holy One of Israel for the  Zeitgeist (World Spirit). Herzl had forsaken the “ancient paths.”

Jeremiah 6:

[16] Thus says the LORD: Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

[17] I set watchmen over you, saying, Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not pay attention.’

[18] Therefore hear, O nations, and know, O congregation, what will happen to them.

[19] Hear, O earth; behold, I am bringing disaster upon this people, the fruit of their devices, because they have not paid attention to my words; and as for my law, they have rejected it.

Achad Ha’am said of Herzl that he knew much about the Newland Neuland but nothing about the Oldland Altland. Achad Ha’am is alluding to Herzl’s novel Altneuland “Oldnewland,” which describes the future Zionist development of the Jewish State Judenstaat.

Abraham Coralnik compares Herzl with Friedrich Nietzsche.

Herzl looked at Judaism and at the historic evolvement of the Jewish people the way Nietzsche had looked at present day mankind, as a step, as a condition one must overcome. Herzl gave no thought to things as they were, only to the way they ought to be.”

So, according to Coralnik, both Nietzsche and Herzl regarded the present as an obstacle that ought to be overcome. The human condition is heavily burdened with this conflict between “is” and “ought.” The more one strives for what one thinks life ought to be, the sharper and heavier “what is” becomes. So, it would not be correct to say that (Theodore) Herzl – or Nietszche – gave no thought to the way things were. On the contrary, I suggest that they thought much about the way things were,  but didn’t like things the way they were. Theodor Herzl took a deep interest in what went on around him; after all, he was a newspaper reporter – a very busy, and very good, one. Perhaps what Coralnik means by “gave no thought to things as they were” is that Herzl and Nietzsche “gave little value to things as they were” because they didn’t satisfy. Now where have I heard that before? Oh yes, in Ecclesiastes, whose Hebrew title is Koheleth “the collecter (of sentences),” “the preacher.” Herzl and Nietzsche hated preachers. I do think, though, that both Herzl and Nietzsche would’ve made of Koheleth an honorary exception.

Koheleth 1

[2] Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. [3] What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?

[4] A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.

[5] The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.

[6] The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.

[7] All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.

[8] All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

[9] What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.

(Ecclesiastes 1:2-9 ESV)


Theodor Herzl and the Prophet Jeremiah had, as I wrote elsewhere, this in common: Theodor had  a fire shut up in his bones that consumed him, perhaps similar to the intensity of the fire that consumed the prophet Jeremiah:

Then I said, I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name. But His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay” Jeremiah 20:9).

The zeal of Jeremiah and Herzl may have been similar in intensity, but was the fire the same? If the fire the Levitical priests offered to the Lord was a holy fire,  then the fire that Herzl offered was a “strange” fire – an estranged fire, a profane fire, an alien fire that alienated him from the Holy One of Israel. Why would this be so? because Herzl had forsaken the Holy One of Israel for the  Zeitgeist (World Spirit). Herzl had forsaken the “ancient paths.”

Jeremiah 6:

[16] Thus says the LORD:

Stand by the roads, and look,

and ask for the ancient paths,

where the good way is; and walk in it,

and find rest for your souls.

But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

[17] I set watchmen over you, saying,

Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!’

But they said, ‘We will not pay attention.’

[18] Therefore hear, O nations,

and know, O congregation, what will happen to them.

[19] Hear, O earth; behold, I am bringing disaster upon this people,

the fruit of their devices,

because they have not paid attention to my words;

and as for my law, they have rejected it.

Abraham Coralnik compares Herzl with Friedrich Nietzsche.

Herzl, Coralnik continues, looked at Judaism and at the historic evolvement of the Jewish people the way Nietzsche had looked at present day mankind, as a step, as a condition one must overcome. Herzl gave no thought to things as they were, only to the way they ought to be.”

So, according to Coralnik, both Nietzsche and Herzl regarded the present as an obstacle that ought to be overcome. The human condition is heavily burdened with this conflict between “is” and “ought.” The more one strives for what one thinks life ought to be, the clearer, and heavier, “what is” becomes. So, it would not be correct to say that (Theodore) Herzl – or Nietszche – gave no thought to the way things were. On the contrary, I suggest that they thought much about the way things were. The point is they didn’t like things the way they were. Theodor Herzl took a deep interest in what went on around him; after all, he was a newspaper reporter – a very busy, and very good, one. Perhaps what Coralnik means by “gave no thought to things as they were” is that Herzl and Nietzsche “gave little value to things as they were” because they didn’t satisfy. Now where have I heard that before? Oh yes, in Ecclesiastes, whose Hebrew title is Koheleth “the collecter (of sentences),” “the preacher.”

Herzl and Nietzsche hated preachers. I do think, though, that both Herzl and Nietzsche would’ve made of Koheleth an honorary exception.

[2] Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,

vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

[3] What does man gain by all the toil

at which he toils under the sun?

[4] A generation goes, and a generation comes,

but the earth remains forever.

[5] The sun rises, and the sun goes down,

and hastens to the place where it rises.

[6] The wind blows to the south

and goes around to the north;

around and around goes the wind,

and on its circuits the wind returns.

[7] All streams run to the sea,

but the sea is not full;

to the place where the streams flow,

there they flow again.

[8] All things are full of weariness;

a man cannot utter it;

the eye is not satisfied with seeing,

nor the ear filled with hearing.

[9] What has been is what will be,

and what has been done is what will be done,

and there is nothing new under the sun.

(Ecclesiastes 1:2-9 ESV)