Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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28 Nisan 5766 - April 26, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Herzl — the Visionary Who Did Not Envision

by Yisroel Spiegel

Theodore Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, was very removed from the Jewish people, very severed from it. This was true even after his vision of Zionism became the focus of his whole life. A son of an assimilated family, he was unable to grasp the complexity of Jewish survival, which is totally based on pure spirituality. Everything else, even a physical portion of land for the Jewish people to call its own to express its sovereignty and autonomic independence, is altogether subservient to its Divinely spiritual origin.

Herzl, who was dubbed by his Zionist followers as the `Visionary of the Jewish State,' was incapable of seeing even one meter ahead, within his own radius, between his homeland of Hungary and the capital of Austria, where the publication appeared that carried his newspaper reports on the Dreyfus case which took place in Paris. This is a very constricted and meager fulcrum — compared to the global expanse of the Jewish people.

This Am Olom can at times be drastically reduced in numbers but continues to maintain a position of, "This great and mighty nation" (Devorim 4:6). This, to be sure, is when it occupies a high spiritual level, when it fulfills the dictum of, "And you shall guard and you shall do, for it is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, who will hear all of these statutes and will say: But this great nation is wise and understanding" (Ibid.)

To that visionary, these words were foreign, strange and unfamiliar. All he saw was: Hungarians and Austrians or French dwelling on their ancestral land and prospering, whereas the Jews were scattered throughout so many foreign lands and suffering. This being the case, it was inevitable that he put one and one together and come up with the idea that Jews needed their own territorial homeland. This, he imagined, would solve their problem and prevent any further antisemitic miscarriage of justice as in the Dreyfus case, which had made a deep impression on him and prompted him to formulate his Zionist vision of such a Jewish homeland.

Herzl was undoubtedly an energetic, enterprising person, but a seer and prophet he certainly was not. A prophet requires the capacity to look into the future, and one who purports to be such must first know that without viewing the past and the present, one cannot predict the future. In the Jewish sense, Herzl was not able to do this.

Had he known, or even been slightly familiar, with Jewish history, he would have understood that our exile was not incidental, nor was it a historic `accident' — but rather a direct result of cause and circumstances. When our people did not maintain the spiritual level which was its mandate as a nation, then the result was invariably, "And because of our sins, we were exiled from our land . . . "

Whoever lacks this very elementary cognizance, must not only forfeit the title of seer, but is a total ignoramus vis a vis the history of our people and its past, and as such, is lacking a fundamental grip on reality.


Some argue — and these people can even be found among the ranks of religious Zionists — that he was successful, after all. Now more than a century since his death, one can definitely point to a Jewish state in Eretz Yisroel, which is a solid fact.

But this argument chooses to ignore, as he did, the spiritual dimension of the Exile, which is encapsulated by the phrase, Shechintoh Begoluso, the Shechinah in Exile. This is still true even — and perhaps pronouncedly so — within this very state, from the aspect of the physical circumstances of the Jewish people in our times. For do we not see that the theory that an independent Jewish state would eliminate antisemitism has not been realized? On the contrary, antisemitism is only on the rise, continually reaching new heights.


One-hundred-and-one years after the death of the `visionary,' and fifty-eight years after the establishment of the State — the survival problem of the Jewish people has certainly not been solved. And most ironic to the point of absurdity is that it exists within the borders of the Jewish state!

Many were the times that it was expressed, even by the top echelon of secular Zionists, that the most dangerous place for Jews today in the world is here in Israel. It is a shocking state of affairs that in the last five years, more than a thousand Jews were killed by hostile forces, read: terrorist victims.

If there is, indeed, a worrisome rise in the number of antisemitic events in various countries of the world, especially on the European continent, they are all a product of the Middle Eastern conflict. In other words, the State of Israel constitutes the prime reason which antisemites use to place the blame for their actions. It is the age-old argument that Jews are separatists, that "there is one nation whose rituals are different from all other nations."

According to the projection of the Zionist visionary, the Jewish state was supposed to redeem Jewry from the plague of antisemitism. Yet on the contrary, it is the very central cause for the increase of gentile hatred towards us.

The `visionary' and all the fools who flocked to him — and there were many — rejected the ancient axiom: "It is an acknowledged halochoh that Eisov despises Yaakov."

Reality slaps them in the face in a way that would have been difficult to describe in previous periods. Even those who were skeptical and who mocked the visionary's naivete that antisemitism would disappear with the establishment of a sovereign country, would not have envisioned that that very country would still be, fifty years hence, the object of virulent antisemitism through the world, to say nothing of the deep-seated hatred and the blood thirst of the Palestinians which sweeps hundreds of millions of Moslems throughout the world along with it.


Here too, is a major point in Dr. Herzl's colossal failure of vision. He did not even see, in his time, the already- then- present situation regarding the Arab presence in the area and all that this implied. Consequently, he was completely blind to the future ramifications, even those of the near future which undermined the whole effort. He invested all of his energy in getting the approval of the world kingdoms and republics for establishing a Jewish homeland in Eretz Yisroel, but totally ignored the very complex Arab problem.

He thought to uproot the opposition of Torah-true Jewry to his appearance, as a Jew devoid of any vestige of Jewish roots, by his cohorts, among them many rabbis from the Mizrachi movement including its founders and followers. Many of the latter even referred to him as Moshiach. As for the other problems, either he did not anticipate them, in spite of his being a `visionary,' or he regarded them with utter disdain, believing that everything would fall into place as soon as he gained world approval.

His successors also naively believed that the Balfour Declaration had removed the last obstacle from the course of Zionism. And they too, were foolishly blind, both from the aspect of the trust they placed in Britain's shilly-shally diplomacy and in the lack of any true assessment of the potential hatred/jealousy that would be aroused among the Arabs.

How illuminating in historic terms is the fact that the ones who did project the future developments and fearfully anticipated the eruption of virulent Arab antipathy were those central figures in the chareidi circles, the very elements which the Herzlian movement chose to shunt aside while they seized the center stage of Jewish leadership with their sheer bulldozer tactics.


Eighty-six years ago, there was an Arab massacre at the settlement of Tel Chai near Metula. It was the first of such dimensions and was a forerunner of future pogroms. Morenu Yaakov Rosenheim zt'l wrote then, as a reaction, that this was not an isolated initiative of some Bedouin brigand but a direct statement expressing Arab feelings.

Arab nationalists who had been shaken awake by the Balfour Declaration were prompted to attack the Jewish settlers whom they regarded as national enemies vying for their right to Eretz Yisroel. In their eyes, it was `a mitzvah' to destroy them for the sake of Arab survival. As a political corollary and commentary to this attack near Metula is the antisemitic movement in Syria and Israel which does not hide its motives and goals.

This was not a single reaction of R' Yaakov Rosenheim; it reflected the interpretation of the event by chareidi Jewish leadership which was very fearful about the Zionist venture and from its possible ramifications, especially resulting from the boastful, arrogant speeches that were geared to augment the Zionist venture and its central achievement of the Balfour Declaration.

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