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The Mystery of Theodor Herzl

Rick Richman

Mosaic, Jan. 4, 2021

The Jews of Europe needed, Herzl believed, to change their minds—to recover their honor, to recognize that assimilation could not succeed, and to embrace a different solution: a new Exodus.”

Not since Moses led the 40-year Exodus from Egypt did anyone transform Jewish history as fundamentally as Theodor Herzl did in the seven years from the publication in 1896 of his pamphlet The Jewish State to his historic pledge in 1903 on the subject of Jerusalem at the Sixth Zionist Congress. Then he died suddenly in 1904, at the age of forty-four.

In 2017, on the centennial of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, Britain’s historic promise to facilitate a Jewish national home in Palestine, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Declaration resulted “largely thanks to Herzl’s brilliant appearances in England.”

Herzl created something out of nothing. He turned Zionism into a mass movement. He created the organizational and economic tools for the World Zionist Organization. Perhaps above all, he gained access to kings and counts . . . and this was no small thing [because a Jewish statesman] did not exist at the time, . . . certainly not one who was a journalist and playwright, and who was only thirty-six years old. It was unthinkable.

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