Eretz Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland...The Jews who will it shall achieve their State...And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind. (Theodor Herzl, DerJudenstaat, 1896)

We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.
(From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America, Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.... For the global jihad, Israel may be the first objective. But it will not be the last. (Friends of Israel Initiative)

Sunday 12 December 2010

Herzl and Messianism

The following is excerpted from an article of the above name by Israeli political scientist Professor Joseph Nedava.  The entire article was published in the Herzl Year Book, vol. 7, New York, 1971,  pp. 9-26.  I hope it proves of interest.

.... It seems that a Messianic drive had been part of Herzl’s mental makeup from his early childhood. This may account for the visionary quality that is evident in all the creative endeavours of his later years. But he only revealed his thoughts on the matter a few months before his death. The report he gave Reuben Brainin on December 25, 1903, is significant.

'....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.

In June, 1895, a new name from the pages of history made its first appearance in Herzl’s writings – that of Sabbatai Zvi. He records in his Diaries that his friend, Dr Schiff, referred to the idea of the "Jewish State" as “Something that a man tried to do in the last century. Sabbatai!” His statement is not entirely correct, for Sabbatai Zvi lived in the seventeenth, not in the eighteenth century. But Herzl had never heard of the pseudo-Messiah of Smyrna before. His curiosity aroused, he picked up a novel about Sabbatai and came to feel a great affinity with him, if not with his personality, then at least with respect to his historic mission. "There is a novel by Ludwig Storch, Der Jakobsstern [The Star of Jacob], which deals with Sabbatai Zvi," he notes on July 9, 1895. It is a pity that Herzl does not record his impressions after having read the novel, for it must have been a profound spiritual experience which haunted him for the rest of his life. We can safely assume that by March, 1896 Herzl had begun to identify with Sabbatai Zvi. His analysis of that strange, yet awe-inspiring leader is epitomized in terse, restrained passages.
"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)

To some extent, the belief in his own Messianism was forced on Herzl by outsiders. One of the principal propagators of the notion was the Rev. William Henry Hechler [pictured, in Bedouin attire], a British Protestant clergyman who served as chaplain to the British Embassy in Vienna. From his first meeting with Herzl in March, 1896, Hechler had become an enthusiastic friend and follower of the Zionist leader. The Englishman was a Zionist of the Romantic school in the tradition of George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda. He considered it the sacred duty of true Christians to restore the people of Israel to the land of its fathers. To him, it was an inevitable process in keeping with biblical prophecy. Having a strong psychic and mystical streak in his personality, Hechler viewed Zionism as a movement attesting to a "prophetic crisis"; he was constantly engaged in Messianic calculations, drawing blueprints of the Holy Temple and expressing the fervent hope that the lost original Ark of the Covenant would eventually be found. He would talk of these things to Jewish and Gentile leaders alike.

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?'
One of the first to feel that Herzl was destined for a historic mission was his own mother, Jeanette Diamant Herzl. It was she who urged him to persevere in the face of the difficulties he encountered. It seems that during the hectic days of June, 1895, while Herzl was composing his Jewish State his mother, without knowing of the venture, had sent him a poem by the poetess Betty Pauli which she had happened to read that day and which described the destiny of a leader. Herzl considered it as a God-sent message, and noted on the margin of the poem: "From my good mother, who copied it for me at a time when I was working on my plan, as if my mother’s heart had divined it."

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".

By this time Herzl might well have drawn certain parallels between himself and Sabbatai Zvi, Herzl could claim to have had in Max Nordau a disciple of the type Sabbatai Zvi had in Nathan of Gaza. The violent protest of some rabbis against Herzl’s idea might have seemed analogous to the animosity shown by the rabbis of an earlier age toward the man of Smyrna who had claimed to be the Messiah. Then there was the incidentat the synagogue of Sofia which Herzl reported in his Diaries: ‘I stood at the altar platform. When I was not quite sure how to face the congregation without turning my back on the Holy of Holies, someone cried: “It’s alright for you to turn your back to the Ark: you are holier than the Torah."'

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.

....Beginning with the First Zionist Congress, and particularly during the latter part of 1898, Herzl was working under constant physical and mental pressure. He seemed to be nearing a crucial juncture in his lefe similar to that in the career of Sabbatai Zvi, planning as he did to approach the Turkish Sultan to negotiate the purchase of Palestine for the Jews. As he was preparing to visit Palestine, Herzl was suddenly seized with the fear that, like Shabbatai Zvi, he, too, might be arrested by the Sultan. This anxiety, which haunted him all through October, 1898, is clearly reflected in the fragmentary and haphazard entries in his diaries for that period....

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....

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