'....When I was about twelve years old I chanced upon a German book – I do not recall its title – where I happened to read about the Messiah, the King of Israel, whom many Jews even in our own generation were still awaiting, riding on a donkey like the poorest of the poor...[But] I felt that something was missing in [these legends]. Still, even these fragments stirred my imagination. My heart was filled with sorrow and vague yearnings. At first, I did not know the cause of my sadness and longing. And then, on night, I suddenly recalled the story of Exodus.
The historic tale of the Exodus from Egypt and the legend of the redemption by the King-Messiah ran together in my mind .... I got the idea to write a poem about the King-Messiah. This idea kept me awake several nights. I was ashamed to tell anyone about my thoughts. I knew everyone would only laugh and shout after me: "Behold, the dreamer cometh". Then came examinations at school, and new books ... [these] diverted my mind from its pre-Messianic tribulations, but apparently the legend contined to build up deep within my heart, although not consciously.
And then one night I had a wonderful dream. The King-Messiah came, a glorious and majestic old man, took me in his arms, and swept me on the wings of the wind. On one of the shining clouds we encountered the figure of Moses ....The Messiah called to Moses: "It is for this child that I have prayed!" And to me he said: "Go and declare to the Jews that I shall come soon and perform great wonders and great deeds for my people and for the whole world!"
I woke up. It had only been a dream. I kept it to myself, for I dared not tell it to anyone. A few days later there came to my hand one of the popular science booklets of Aaron Bernstein which said that electric power brought men closer to one another, restoring the hearts of the sons to their fathers by building a bridge over the entire world. [According to Bernstein] electricity was the King-Messiah whose wonders would bring liberation to all nations and to all enslaved human beings. I was outraged. What! The electron as Messiah! What blasphemy! No, the Messiah of the legend was much nobler and much more beautiful.
Then, a few days later, a sort of revolution occurred in my troubled mind. I said to myself: who knows, perhaps the electric current is really the redeemer whom we are awaiting and who will liberate us from the bondage of the dody and the spirit. I then decided to become an engineer.'The combination of Moses and Messiah is a recurring theme throughout Herzl’s life and should be considered the élan vital of his historic mission. His Jewish State purports to be nothing but a reiterated version, with some technological improvements, of the Exodus.
Naturally, he was only too eager to record in his diaries [entry of August 18, 1895] the admission by one of his earliest opponents, Chief Rabbi Moritz Güdemann of Vienna: "You remind me of Moses". This statement filled him with new courage as he took his first steps on the road of Zionism.
"The difference between myself and Sabbatai Zvi [the way I imagine him], apart from the difference in the technical means inherent in the times, is that Sabbatai made himself great so as to be equal to the grat of the earth. I, however, find the great small, as small as myself."From the very outset Herzl had been striving to differentiate between what Professor Gershom Scholem, the scholar of mysticism, calls "two trends in the crystallization of the Messianic idea, as they are found, side by side, throughout many ages of history: the popular-mythological and the philosophic-enlightened".
Apparently, Herzl was never willing to admit to even one iota of mythological mysticism in his mental makeup. He saw himself as a Realpolitiker through and through – completely rational in his approach to Jewish affairs, a statesman and a politician and not a visionary waiting for miracles.
Even assuming that he would have been ready to make public references to the activities of Sabbatai Zvi and his movement, or to go so far as to declare himself a modern Messiah, Herzl must have been completely weaned of[sic] such desires by a most significant conversation he had with Joseph S. Bloch, editor of the Österreichische Wochenschrift and founder of the Union of Austrian Jews to Combat Anti-Semitism.
The exact date of the interview is not recorded; the time is given approximately as November, 1895. The conversation dealt with the implications of The Jewish State:
'After long discussion back and forth, Bloch recommended that Herzl study the history of the Holy Land from the earliest times. He would find that it had enjoyed independence only under David and Solomon. Egyptians and Babylonians, Persians, Syrians, Romans, Arabs, Greeks, Christians and Mohammedans had succeeded one another as masters of Palestine and had fought their battles on its soil. He should also not forget the savage civil wars. Herzl did not yield, merely remarking jestingly that the Messiah would remove all obstacles. Bloch replied at once: "Among Jews, that word has an attractive and exalted but at the same time dangerous ring. If you should come forward in the role of Messiah, you will have all Jews against you". He told Herzl about the various Messiahs [in Jewish history], ending with Sabbatai Zvi, whose emergence had had fatal consequences for the Jews, and who had themselves come to a bad end, either turning their backs on Judaism or committing suicide. The Messiah, he said, must remain a veiled, hidden figure. The moment he takes on actual flesh and blood, he ceases to be the Redeemer. In a word, every Messiah was stricken with blindness and was damned and cursed by the people.'Bloch’s interpretation may coincide with Franz Kafka’s aphorism: "The Messiah will come only when he is no longer needed; he will come only on the day after his arrival". But Herzl could have countered that argument with the dictum of Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai: "When will the Messiah come? Today, if ye hearken to His voice." (Sanhedrin, 98a)
In his Diaries Herzl admirably recreates the aura of Messianism and prophecy with which Hechler succeeded in enveloping Herzl’s diplomatic moves throughout the years of his Zionist activity. "Judging from some of [Hechler’s] remarks," Erwin Rosenberger, Herzl’s collaborator on the staffof Die Welt, comments: "he may have had moments when he really did regard Herzl as the Messiah sent by God ... he regarded Herzl as the instrument chosen by Providence to carry out this messianic design ... [however] in personal contact with Herzl, Hechler expressed through neither word nor deed his conviction that, 'Thou art the Messiah, the anointed of the Lord.'"
The outbreaks of anti-Semitism in Austria brought the yearning for a Redeemer also to the Jewish student fraternity in Vienna, particularly the Zionist-oriented groups. The celebration of the Passover seder never failed to act as a recurring nostalgic reminder of past glory and future redemption. As we have seen, Herzl’s feelings would be profoundly stirred by any reference to Moses and the Exodus. This mood is apparent even in the following restrained entry in his Diaries (March 28, 1896):
'Seder at the Jewish student association Unitas. Friedmann, a lecturer at the University, explained the history of this festival which, after all, is our most beautiful and most meaningful one. I sat next to him. Later he spoke briefly with me in private, reminded me of Sabbatai Zvi, "Who enchanted all people," and winked in a way that seemed to say that I ought to become such a Sabbatai. Or did he mean that I already was one?'
The crowning touch to Herzl’s private thoughts on the Messianic character of his mission may have been given by the "enthusiastic letter from Dr Bierer, Sofia. The Chief Rabbi there considers me the Messiah." (Diaries, entry dated 10 March 1896).
The year 1897 was a crucial period for the budding seeds of Herzl. It was the year of the First Zionist Congress, on which so many hopes and expectations had been placed. A gigantic wave of enthusiasm swept through the Jewish people. The Gentile world, too, was greatly stirred. The date coincided with Hechler’s Messianic calculations. The Congress met in an atmosphere of exaltation. Occasionally, delegates like the Hebrew writer Mordecai Ben-Ami would give vent to their Messianic emotions. Years later, Ben Ami himself aptly described the mood which prevailed at the congress as well as his own uncontrollable burst of feeling:
"...and out of the silent darkness and despair we suddenly heard the voice of Herzl, as the shofar of the Messiah, summoning to the Congress all those who in their hearts were still aware of the ties that bound them to their people.
Herzl calmly mounts the rostrum... We see before us the magnificent figure of a prince, with a deep, powerful look in his eyes, handsome and sad at the same time. Now he is no longer the suave, elegant Herzl of Vienna, but a scion of the House of David, suddenly risen from the grave in all his legendary splendour.
The entire hall thrilled with the emotion of it, as if a historic miracle had taken place before our eyes. Indeed, was this not a miracle?...For minutes the hall shook with cheers, applause and the stamping of feet. It seemed as if the great dream cherished by our people for two thousand years had come true at last, and Messiah, the son of David, was standing before us."Throughout 1897 Herzl’s correspondence from both Jews and non-Jews abounded with allusions to his Messianism.
"I still have many of the letters of love and veneration which Herzl received from his followers in every part of the world," Erwin Rodenberger writes. "One, for example, is from Salomon Farb of Focsani, Rumania. In a faulty German but with an impressive display of Biblical learning, the writer concludes from various words and numbers in the Old Testament that the Messianic era is approaching. ‘The Messiah,’ he adds, ‘may now be Theodor Herzl, the Anointed of the Lord.’
"In another letter [published in The Young Judæan, Oct. 1912], which reached Herzl after the First Zionist Congress, Rabbi N. Benjamin writes from the United States on behalf of a group of cantors: 'Everywhere the name of Dr Herzl is worshipped like that of a deity... You are the divine emissary to whom was given the mission of once again raising up Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, as the prophets promised... In New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, the idea is meeting with a great response among Jews of all religious shades.'"
The stupendous volume of correspondence which flooded the First Zionist Congress also had its comic aspects. One writer from Stockton-on-Tees in England claimed that he was the Messiah and as such demanded to be called to Basle without delay to take charge of Zionist affairs. As proof of his Messiahship, he quoted some words which, he said, had been formed by a drift of snow in his garden. Herzl asked one of his secretaries to advise the man that "one drift of snow cannot make a Messiah and a Congress leader", and in a jocular vein he wrote across the claimant’s letter: "The snows of yesteryear".
This may well have recalled to him the account of the ceremony in which Sabbatai Zvi was "married to the Torah" before a gathering of leading members of the Jewish community at Saloniki.
Herzl’s attitude toward religion was a vital factor in the formulation of his Zionist concept. As a liberal of the nineteenth-century European school, he opposed the establishment of a theocracy in the future Jewish State. At the same time, however, he felt that without a foundation of Jewish religion and tradition the Jewish State would lack the solid bedrock it would require in a modern age. Although his Jewish education had not been extensive, he instinctively sensed the power of the Jewish faith and its historic heriage as a cohesive force. In fact, it was revealed after his death that he had given his blessing to the creation of a religious Zionist party as a countervailing force he felt was needed within the Zionist movement.
Yet most rabbis at the time were stubbornly opposed to Herzl’s plans ans activities.... One of their main reasons for their vociferous opposition to Herzlian Zionism was their fear that Herzl might openly procliaim himself the Messiah or act like one....Obviously, they were afraid of another Sabbatai Zvi, with all the dire consequences associated with the advent of a false Messiah. In a private conversation, Dr Hirsch Hildesheimer, the famous Orthodox rabbi and opponent of Reform ... compared Herzl with Sabbatai Zvi.
Even Professor Herman Schapira (the initiator of the Jewish National Fund) hesitated to lend a helping hand to Herzl. "He was afraid of Herzl", [Shalom] Ben-Horin wrote, "He saw in him a kind of Sabbatai Zvi."
Herzl was careful at all times to divorce his Zionist activities from religion in order to impress the world with his political realism and to scotch any misconceived comparisons in this respect between himself and the visionary and fanatical Sabbatai Zvi.
Passing through Ramle on his way to Jerusalem, Herzl encountered yet another reminder of his Messianic "tribulations":
'From Ramle comes a group of Sephardic Jews. Two men near Herzl bless him and throw themselves on the ground to kiss the traces of his feet in the sand. Herzl steps back, moved. "This is due to the Messiah..." says one of the Sephardic Jews.'Herzl was bewildered because he apparently did not know the Midrashic adage: "Wait for the feet of the Messiah."
....It is interesting to note that Herzl unintentionally resorted to methods akin to Messianic-Kabbalistic mysticism, as when he used name codes and ciphers to camouflage his negotiations with the Sultan and his entourage. Conversely, an emissary from Palestine whom Herzl had helped thanked him by pointing out that the Hebrew letters of his name, Theodor Herzl, had the same numerical value as the letters in the Hebrew words mal’akh moshi’a l’Yisrael – "angel and helper of Israel".
....In a chapter of his Old-New Land describing cultural life in the future Jewish State, he speaks of a play, “Moses,” performed at Haifa’s National Theatre, and of an opera entitled "Sabbatai Zvi". It seems that after his return from Palestine Herzl could no longer free himself from the magical spell of Sabbatai Zvi....