The Jewish State eText - Primary Source

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Theodor Herzl, a famous figure in the creation of Zionism. Theodor Herzl, a famous figure in the creation of Zionism. Published by Gale Cengage

Excerpts from The Jewish State

Written by Theodor Herzl
Originally published as
Das Judenstaat in 1896
Reprinted in
The Jewish State: An Attempt at a Modern Solution
of the Jewish Question

Published in 1946

"The Jews who wish for a State shall have it, and they will deserve to have it."

One cannot hope to understand the historic and ongoing conflict in the Middle East without understanding the role that Israel plays in the region, and one cannot understand Israel without first understanding Zionism. Zionism was, and still is, a political movement aimed at creating a national homeland for the Jewish people. Today, that homeland exists in the nation of Israel. Yet many feel that Jews are still not secure from the persecution they had faced in other countries, even in Israel, for many Arabs in the Middle East, who feel some of their own land was taken from them, have devoted themselves to the destruction of Israel. Moreover, anti-Semitism, or acts of hostility directed against Jews, continues to exist in many countries in the twenty-first century. To this day, Zionists continue to argue that an independent Jewish nation is the key to the eventual end of Jewish persecution.

Zionism itself was the product of the anti-Semitic social conditions existing in Europe and Russia during the nineteenth century. Though anti-Semitism among Christians traces its roots back to the time of the Roman Empire, it flourished again in the nineteenth century due to racial theories that held that the Jews, or Semites, were a distinct and inferior race. A series of events across Europe and Russia—including pogroms (massacres of Jews) in Russia and Poland, anti-Jewish publications in France and Britain, and attacks and riots against Jews in Germany—forced many Jews to acknowledge that despite their best efforts to assimilate, or fit, into European society, they were not truly welcomed as citizens of any major country. One Hungarian-born Jew who came to this conclusion was Theodor Herzl (1860–1904).

Herzl began to look for a solution to the problems facing Jews in Europe when he experienced anti-Semitic riots in France in the mid-1890s. He soon learned of a small movement to relocate Russian Jews to a place the Jews called Zion, an ancient name for holy sites near the city of Jerusalem, in the territory known as Palestine, then part of the Ottoman Empire (a vast empire of southwest Asia, northeast Africa, and southeast Europe that reigned from the thirteenth century to the early twentieth century). Inspired by the promise of religious freedom that these small Jewish settlements seemed to offer, Herzl became an immediate convert to the cause. He expanded the ideas of Zionism by suggesting actual plans that Jewish people could take to create a true nation of their own and creating organizations to further this cause. These ideas were so integral in convincing the worldwide Jewish population that Zionism could be a reality that he is often heralded as the father of Zionism. In 1896 Herzl published a pamphlet, or small book, called The Jewish State, which outlined his ideas for how Jews and other supporters of Zionism could work to create a national homeland for Jews.

Things to remember while reading excerpts from The Jewish State:

  • Herzl's book was predated by a work called Auto-Emancipation (1881), in which Polish Jew Leo Pinsker (1821–1891) suggested that all Jews relocate to Palestine. This book was not read by a large Jewish audience and only a few copies of it were published. Herzl claimed not to have read the work prior to writing The Jewish State.
  • The Jewish State was both an immediate and lasting publishing success. First published in England, it was later published in eighty editions and in eighteen different languages. The version consulted for this publication was published in 1946, on the fiftieth anniversary of the original publication.

Excerpts from The Jewish State


The idea which I have developed in this pamphlet is a very old one: it is the restoration of the Jewish State.

The world resounds with outcries against the Jews, and these outcries have awakened the slumbering idea.

I wish it to be clearly understood from the outset that no portion of my argument is based on a new discovery. I have discovered neither the historic condition of the Jews nor the means to improve it. In fact, every man will see for himself that the materials of the structure I am designing are not only in existence, but actually already in hand. If, therefore, this attempt to solve the Jewish Question is to be designed by a single world, let it be said to be the result of an inescapable conclusion rather than that of a flighty imagination.

I must, in the first place, guard my scheme from being treated as Utopian by superficial critics who might commit this error of judgment if I did not warn them. I should obviously have done nothing to be ashamed of if I had described a Utopia on philanthropic lines; and I should also, in all probability, have obtained literary success more easily if I had set forth my plan in the irresponsible guise of a romantic tale. But this Utopia is far less attractive than any one of those portrayed by Sir Thomas More and his numerous forerunners and successors. ...

Everything depends on our propelling force. And what is that force? The misery of the Jews.

Who would venture to deny its existence? We shall discuss it fully in the chapter on the causes of Anti-Semitism.

Everybody is familiar with the phenomenon of steam-power, generated by boiling water, which lifts the kettle-lid. Such tea-kettle

phenomena are the attempts of Zionist and kindred associations to check Anti-Semitism.

I believe that this power, if rightly employed, is powerful enough to propel a large engine and to move passengers and goods: the engine having whatever form men may choose to give it. ...

I shall therefore clearly and emphatically state that I believe in the practical outcome of my scheme, though without professing to have discovered the shape it may ultimately take. The Jewish State is essential to the world; it will therefore be created.

The plan would, of course, seem absurd if a single individual attempted to do it; but if worked by a number of Jews in co-operation it would appear perfectly rational, and its accomplishment would present no difficulties worth mentioning. The idea depends only on the number of its supporters. Perhaps our ambitious young men, to whom every road of progress is now closed, seeing in this Jewish State a bright prospect of freedom, happiness and honors opening to them, will ensure the propagation of the idea. ...

It depends on the Jews themselves whether this political pamphlet remains for the present a political romance. If the present generation is too dull to understand it rightly, a future, finer and a better generation will arise to understand it. The Jews who wish for a State shall have it, and they will deserve to have it.

I.—Introduction ...

The Jewish Question still exists. It would be foolish to deny it. It is a remnant of the Middle Ages, which civilized nations do not even yet seem able to shake off, try as they will. They certainly showed a generous desire to do so when they emancipated us. The Jewish question exists wherever Jews live in perceptible numbers. Where it does not exist, it is carried by Jews in the course of their migrations. We naturally move to those places where we are not persecuted, and there our presence produces persecution. This is the case in every country, and will remain so, even in those highly civilized—for instance, France—until the Jewish question finds a solution on a political basis. The unfortunate Jews are now carrying the seeds of Anti-Semitism into England; they have already introduced it into America.

I believe that I understand Anti-Semitism, which is really a highly complex movement. I consider it from a Jewish standpoint, yet without fear or hatred. I believe that I can see what elements there are in it of vulgar sport, of common trade jealousy, of inherited prejudice, of religious intolerance, and also of pretended self-defence. I think the Jewish question is no more a social than a religious one, notwithstanding that it sometimes takes these and other forms. It is a national question, which can only be solved by making it a political world-question to be discussed and settled by the civilized nations of the world in council.

We are a people—one people.

We have honestly endeavored everywhere to merge ourselves in the social life of surrounding communities and to preserve the faith of our fathers. We are not permitted to do so. In vain are we loyal patriots, our loyalty in some places running to extremes; in vain do we make the same sacrifices of life and property as our fellow-citizens; in vain do we strive to increase the fame of our native land in science and art, or her wealth by trade and commerce. ...

Oppression and persecution cannot exterminate us. No nation on earth has survived such struggles and sufferings as we have gone through. Jew-baiting has merely stripped off our weaklings; the strong among us were invariably true to their race when persecution broke out against them.[...]

No human being is wealthy or powerful enough to transplant a nation from one habitation to another. An idea alone can achieve that and this idea of a State may have the requisite power to do so. The Jews have dreamt this kingly dream all through the long nights of their history. "Next year in Jerusalem" is our old phrase. It is now a question of showing that the dream can be converted into a living reality.

For this, many old, outgrown, confused and limited notions must first be entirely erased from the minds of men. Dull brains might, for instance, imagine that this exodus would be from civilized regions into the desert. That is not the case. It will be carried out in the midst of civilization. We shall not revert to a lower stage, we shall rise to a higher one. We shall not dwell in mud huts; we shall build new more beautiful and more modern houses, and possess them in safety. We shall not lose our acquired possessions; we shall realize them. We shall surrender our well earned rights only for better ones. We shall not sacrifice our beloved customs; we shall find them again. We shall not leave our old home before the new one is prepared for us. Those only will depart who are sure thereby to improve their position; those who are now desperate will go first, after them the poor; next the prosperous, and, last of all, the wealthy. Those who go in advance will raise themselves to a higher grade, equal to those whose representatives will shortly follow. Thus the exodus will be at the same time an ascent of the class.

The departure of the Jews will involve no economic disturbances, no crises, no persecutions; in fact, the countries they abandon will revive to a new period of prosperity. There will be an inner migration of Christian citizens into the positions evacuated by Jews. The outgoing current will be gradual, without any disturbance, and its initial movement will put an end to Anti-Semitism. The Jews will leave as honored friends, and if some of them return, they will receive the same favorable welcome and treatment at the hands of civilized nations as is accorded to all foreign visitors. Their exodus will have no resemblance to a flight, for it will be a well-regulated movement under control of public opinion. The movement will not only be inaugurated with absolute conformity to law, but it cannot even be carried out without the friendly cooperation of interested governments, who would derive considerable benefits from it.

Security for the integrity of the idea and the vigor of its execution will be found in the creation of a body corporate, or corporation. This corporation will be called "The Society of Jews." In addition to it there will be a Jewish company, an economically productive body.

An individual who attempted even to undertake this huge task alone would be either an impostor or a madman. The personal character of the members of the corporation will guarantee its integrity, and the adequate capital of the Company will prove its stability.

These prefatory remarks are merely intended as a hasty reply to the mass of objections which the very words "Jewish State" are certain to arouse. Henceforth we shall proceed more slowly to meet further objections and to explain in detail what has been as yet only indicated; and we shall try in the interests of this pamphlet to avoid making it a dull exposition. Short aphoristic chapters will therefore best answer the purpose.

If I wish to substitute a new building for an old one, I must demolish before I construct. I shall therefore keep to this natural sequence. In the first and general part I shall explain my ideas, remove all prejudices, determine essential political and economic conditions, and develop the plan.

In the special part, which is divided into three principal sections, I shall describe its execution. These three sections are: The Jewish Company, Local Groups, and the Society of Jews. The Society is to be created first, the Company last; but in this exposition the reverse order is preferable, because it is the financial soundness of the enterprise which will chiefly be called into question, and doubts on this score must be removed first.

In the conclusion, I shall try to meet every further objection that could possibly be made. My Jewish readers will, I hope, follow me patiently to the end. Some will naturally make their objections in an order of succession other than that chosen for their refutation. But whoever finds his doubts dispelled should give allegiance to the cause.

Although I speak of reason, I am fully aware that reason alone will not suffice. Old prisoners do not willingly leave their cells. We shall see whether the youth whom we need are at our command—the youth, who irresistibly draw on the old, carry them forward on strong arms, and transform rational motives into enthusiasm.

II.—The Jewish Question ...

THE PLAN: The whole plan is in its essence perfectly simple, as it must necessarily be if it is to come within the comprehension of all.

Let the sovereignty be granted us over a portion of the globe large enough to satisfy the rightful requirements of a nation; the rest we shall manage for ourselves.

The creation of a new State is neither ridiculous nor impossible. We have in our day witnessed the process in connection with nations which were not largely members of the middle class, but poorer, less educated, and consequently weaker than ourselves. The Governments of all countries scourged by Anti-Semitism will be keenly interested in assisting us to obtain the sovereignty we want.

The plan, simple in design, but complicated in execution, will be carried out by two agencies: The Society of Jews and the Jewish Company.

The Society of Jews will do the preparatory work in the domains of science and politics, which the Jewish Company will afterwards apply practically.

The Jewish Company will be the liquidating agent of the business interests of departing Jews, and will organize commerce and trade in the new country.

PALESTINE OR ARGENTINE?: Shall we choose Palestine or Argentine? We shall take what is given us, and what is selected by Jewish public opinion. The Society will determine both these points.

Argentine is one of the most fertile countries in the world, extends over a vast area, has a sparse population and a mild climate. The Argentine Republic would derive considerable profit from the cession of a portion of its territory to us. The present infiltration of Jews has certainly produced some discontent, and it would be necessary to enlighten the Republic on the intrinsic difference of our new movement.

Palestine is our ever-memorable historic home. The very name of Palestine would attract our people with a force of marvelous potency. If His Majesty the Sultan were to give us Palestine, we could in return undertake to regulate the whole finances of Turkey. We should there form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism. We should as a neutral State remain in contact with all Europe, which would have to guarantee our existence. The sanctuaries of Christendom would be safeguarded by assigning to them an extra-territorial status such as is well-known to the law of nations. We should form a guard of honor about these sanctuaries, answering for the fulfillment of this duty with our existence. This guard of honor would be the great symbol of the solution of the Jewish question after eighteen centuries of Jewish suffering. ...

VI. Conclusion

How much has been left unexplained, how many defects, how many harmful superficialities, and how many useless repetitions in this pamphlet, which I have thought over so long and so often revised!

But a fair-minded reader, who has sufficient understanding to grasp the spirit of my words, will not be repelled by these defects. He will rather be roused thereby to cooperate with his intelligence and energy in a work which is not one man's task alone, and to improve it.

Have I not explained obvious things and overlooked important objections?

I have tried to meet certain objections; but I know that many more will be made, based on high grounds and low.

To the first class of objections belongs the remark that the Jews are not the only people in the world who are in a condition of distress. Here I would reply that we may as well begin by removing a little of this misery, even if it should at first be no more than our own.

It might further be said that we ought not to create new distinctions between people; we ought not to raise fresh barriers, we should rather make the old disappear. But men who think in this way are amiable visionaries; and the idea of a native land will still flourish when the dust of their bones will have vanished tracelessly in the winds. Universal brotherhood is not even a beautiful dream. Antagonism is essential to man's greatest efforts.

But the Jews, once settled in their own State, would probably have no more enemies. As for those who remain behind, since prosperity enfeebles and causes them to diminish, they would soon disappear altogether. I think the Jews will always have sufficient enemies, such as every nation has. But once fixed in their own land, it will no longer be possible for them to scatter all over the world. The diaspora cannot be reborn, unless the civilization of the whole earth should collapse; and such a consummation could be feared by none but foolish men. Our present civilization possesses weapons powerful enough for its self-defence.

Innumerable objections will be based on low grounds, for there are more low men than noble in this world. I have tried to remove some of these narrow-minded notions; and whoever is willing to fall in behind our white flag with its seven stars, must assist in this campaign of enlightenment. Perhaps we shall have to fight first of all against many an evil-disposed, narrow-hearted, short-sighted member of our own race.

Again, people will say that I am furnishing the Anti-Semites with weapons. Why so? Because I admit the truth? Because I do not maintain that there are none but excellent men amongst us?

Will not people say that I am showing our enemies the way to injure us? This I absolutely dispute. My proposal could only be carried out with the free consent of a majority of Jews. Action may be taken against individuals or even against groups of the most powerful Jews, but Governments will never take action against all Jews. The equal rights of the Jew before the law cannot be withdrawn where they have once been conceded; for the first attempt at withdrawal would immediately drive all Jews, rich and poor alike, into the ranks of revolutionary parties. The beginning of any official acts of injustice against the Jews invariably brings about economic crises. Therefore, no weapons can be effectually used against us, because these injure the hands that wield them. Meantime hatred grows apace. The rich do not feel it much, but our poor do. Let us ask our poor, who have been more severely proletarized since the last removal of Anti-Semitism than ever before.

Some of our prosperous men may say that the pressure is not yet severe enough to justify emigration, and that every forcible expulsion shows how unwilling our people are to depart. True, because they do not know where to go; because they only pass from one trouble into another. But we are showing them the way to the Promised Land; and the splendid force of enthusiasm must fight against the terrible force of habit.

Persecutions are no longer so malignant as they were in the Middle Ages? True, but our sensitiveness has increased, so that we feel no diminution in our sufferings; prolonged persecution has overstrained our nerves.

Will people say, again, that our enterprise is hopeless, because even if we obtained the land with supremacy over it, the poor only would go with us? It is precisely the poorest whom we need at first. Only the desperate make good conquerors.

Will some one say: Were it feasible it would have been done long ago?

It has never yet been possible; now it is possible. A hundred—or even fifty—years ago it would have been nothing more than a dream. Today it may become a reality. Our rich, who have a pleasurable acquaintance with all our technical achievements, know full well how much money can do. And thus it will be: just the poor and simple, who do not know what power man already exercises over the forces of Nature, just these will have the firmest faith in the new message. For these have never lost their hope of the Promised Land.

Here it is, fellow Jews! Neither fable nor deception! Every man may test its reality for himself, for every man will carry over with him a portion of the Promised Land—one in his head, another in his arms, another in his acquired possessions.

Now, all this may appear to be an interminably long affair. Even in the most favorable circumstances, many years might elapse before the commencement of the foundation of the State. In the meantime, Jews in a thousand different places would suffer insults, mortifications, abuse, blows, depredation, and death. No; if we only begin to carry out the plans, Anti-Semitism would stop at once and for ever. For it is the conclusion of peace.

The news of the formation of our Jewish Company will be carried in a single day to the remotest ends of the earth by the lightning speed of our telegraph wires.

And immediate relief will ensue. The intellects which we produce so superabundantly in our middle classes will find an outlet in our first organizations, as our first technicians, officers, professors, officials, lawyers, and doctors; and thus the movement will continue in swift but smooth progression.

Prayers will be offered up for the success of our work in temples and in churches also; for it will bring relief from an old burden, which all have suffered.

But we must first bring enlightenment to men's minds. The idea must make its way into the most distant, miserable holes where our people dwell. They will awaken from gloomy brooding, for into their lives will come a new significance. Every man need think only of himself, and the movement will assume vast proportions.

And what glory awaits those who fight unselfishly for the cause!

Therefore I believe that a wondrous generation of Jews will spring into existence. The Maccabeans will rise again.

Let me repeat once more my opening words: The Jews who wish for a State will have it.

We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes.

The world will be freed by our liberty, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness.

And whatever we attempt there to accomplish for our own welfare, will react powerfully and beneficially for the good of humanity.

What happened next ...

Rarely has the publication of a single book had such a large impact on the history of a people and a nation. The Jewish State ignited interest in the question of Jewish immigration from countries experiencing anti-Semitism. Almost immediately Herzl became the figurehead of a growing movement to promote the ideas of Zionism. He published a newspaper, Die Welt (The World), which helped to spread his ideas. He also organized the First Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland, in 1897, which attracted two hundred delegates from around the world. From that very first Congress, delegates stated their preference for Palestine as the destination for Jewish immigration. From that point on, Zionism's major efforts were directed toward creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine. In the years that followed the Zionist Organization formed in Basle grew in wealth and influence and Jewish immigration to Palestine increased.

The Zionist goal of creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine did not progress as easily as Herzl had predicted, however. From the beginning, Arabs living in the area resented the Zionists' claim that Palestine was a land awaiting proper management. Arab peasants were evicted from their homes and farms when wealthy Zionists bought up the land. From the early 1900s, Arabs resisted the Jewish presence in Palestine. To this day, many Arabs in the region feel that Palestine was stolen from its rightful inhabitants by ruthless Zionists willing to use their wealth and power to build a state.

Summing up the events of the First Zionist Congress in 1897, Herzl declared: "In Basle I created the Jewish State. Were I to say this aloud I would be greeted by universal laughter. But perhaps five years hence, in any case, certainly fifty years hence, everyone will perceive it. The state exists as essence in the will-to-the-state of a people ...," as quoted by Naomi Pasachoff in Links in the Chain: Shapers of the Jewish Tradition. In fact, he was correct, almost to the year. In 1948 the nation of Israel declared its independence as a Jewish state. Herzl's vision had been realized, but not without consequences. Jews fought with Arabs in the region from the beginning of the Jewish immigration to Palestine, and since its establishment in 1948 Israel has engaged in several costly wars with its Arab neighbors. Even today, Israel is under constant threat from attacks conducted by Palestinians, Arabs who claim ties to the region once known as Palestine. Certainly, Herzl did not anticipate that the realization of the Zionist dream would cause such lasting conflict.

Did you know ...

  • Among Jews, a period of substantial immigration to Israel is known by the Hebrew word "aliyah." The first aliyah occurred in the early 1880s, when some thirty-five thousand Russian Jews immigrated to Palestine. The second aliyah—encouraged by Herzl's Zionist organizing—drew about forty thousand Jews to Palestine between 1904 and 1914.
  • One of the most common objections to early Jewish immigration to Palestine was that the arid region would not be able to support the increased population. Jewish settlers disproved this argument by developing successful dry-farming methods and building irrigation networks using a complicated system of canals.
  • The nation of Israel offers Jews around the world the right to immigrate to Israel. This right is referred to as the "right of return."
  • Theodor Herzl died in 1904, well before Zionists had secured their goal of creating a homeland for Jews.

Consider the following ...

  • Herzl imagined that Jewish migration to a national homeland would benefit the countries that these Jews were leaving, because it would bring an end to the social unrest caused by anti-Semitism. Was this part of his dream realized?
  • Herzl speaks of steam power with enough force to propel an engine. What is this a metaphor for? Does this metaphor work to explain the conditions Herzl describes?
  • There are a number of statements in Herzl's book that appear very prophetic. Identify these statements and the ways in which they have come to be fulfilled.
  • Herzl proposes that Argentina might have been a reasonable place to create a Jewish state. How would history have been different if the Jewish national homeland had been created in Argentina? Some factors to consider are the stability of that part of the world, the availability of natural resources, and the role played by race and religion.
  • Compare and contrast The Jewish State to one or more of the other documents in this section of the book. How do these visions for the Middle East differ? Are they compatible or contrary to each other? To what extent do these visions still shape politics in the region?

For More Information


Elon, Amos. Herzl. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1975.

Finkelstein, Norman H. Theodor Herzl: Architect of a Nation. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications, 1991.

Herzl, Theodor. Das Judenstaat. 1896; translated as The Jewish State: An Attempt at a Modern Solution of the Jewish Question. New York: American Zionist Emergency Council, 1946.

Pasachoff, Naomi. Links in the Chain: Shapers of the Jewish Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Vital, David. The Origins of Zionism. Oxford U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1975.

Web Sites

"Immigration." Jewish Virtual Library. (accessed on June 24, 2005).

Israel, Steve. "The Story of Zionism." Jewish Agency for Israel. (accessed on June 24, 2005).

"Theodor (Binyamin Ze'ev) Herzl." Jewish Virtual Library. (accessed on June 24, 2005).