Theodor Herzl: God’s Secular Man of Destiny

I have already shared with all of you how I feel obliged at this time in my life and in the flow of current events to do some intensive study on the situation in the Middle East, especially related to the bad press Israel has been getting for quite some time. Currently I am reading Benjamin Netanyahu’s A Durable Peace: Israel and Its Place Among the Nations and finding it a very good read. In the next few blog posts you’ll be reading some of his best ideas.

In preparation, let’s get some things straight. I don’t believe Israel is perfect, and neither do any Israelis I know!  But let’s keep our perspective here. Which of us would prefer to be a Jew in Syria, Saudi Arabia, or Jordan over being an Arab in Israel? Very few I would guess, if any at all! Yet Israel is routinely positioned as the oppressive force in the area. This positioning is no accident. It is the consequence of a long and cunning propaganda campaign.  I’ll show why that’s so in one or more of these posts.

In addition, I don’t believe that anything entitles the Jewish State to deal oppressively and inhumanely with any people in their midst, certainly including the Palestinians.  But it is a demonstrable fact that the judiciary in Israel holds their citizens and soldiery accountable for misbehavior toward Arabs to a degree impossible to find in analogous circumstances in the Arab world. Name an Arab state in the region whose army or citizenry will face judicial wrath for the abuse of Jewish citizens.  You won’t find any.

I think it is well past time to arrest the reflexive cultural habit of pointing the finger of accusation at Israel. I confess to being especially chagrined with those Christians or Christian institutions that make a habit of ferreting out Jewish sins, considering how the Church did almost nothing to intervene on behalf of the Jews when the Nazis stripped Jews of their civil rights, and then murdered six million Jews, including a million and a half children in the most atrocious of ways.  Thankfully, the Church was chastened by its shameful inaction, but this shame needs to be remembered. The Church today needs to be careful not to posture moral superiority over the Jewish people, which is a 2000 year old habit that dies slowly.  Does this means Christians and their institutions may never hold the Jewish State accountable?  Of course not!  But Christians must watch their attitude toward “the natural branches” while doing so. Paul himself specifically warns Christian gentiles against a conceited attitude in comparing themselves to Jews (Ro 11:20, NASB).  Attitude matters, and this always bears remembering. It was not for nothing that Paul warned of the dangers of Christian conceit toward the Jews, or as other translations have it, “high-mindedness.”

I trace Israel’s transformation from the status of underdog to that of oppressor to successful propaganda techniques by Palestinian partisans seeking to discredit and eventually destroy the Jewish State.  Too many in the West and in the Church have drunk this particular Kool Aid.  Netanyahu agrees, and as we sketch the argument of his book and others to be considered here, you will discover why.

Today, we begin with his Chapter One, “The Rise of Zionism.” It is here that we are introduced to Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), an assimilated Hungarian Jewish journalist, born in Budapest, raised in Vienna, who worked in Paris, and was without doubt God’s instrument of destiny. Six aspects of Herzl’s character stood out for me as Netanyahu portrayed him.

First, Herzl was prophetic. He saw the handwriting on the wall before most were alert enough to do so.  His prophetic vision at the turn of the century had three components.

  • The Jews in Europe were in danger due to the rise of anti-Semitism. Although some doubt its impact on him, commonly his awareness of this danger is attributed to his observing how the French responded to the trial of Alfred Dreyfus who was was arrested for treason on 15 October 1894. On 5 January 1895, Dreyfus was summarily convicted in a secret court martial, publicly stripped of his army rank, and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island in French Guiana. But he had been frame. Still Herzl saw the import of the the avid anti-Semitic rhetoric stirred up by the Dreyfus affair. Europe, even sophisticated France, was not a safe place for Jews.
  • He also had prophetic insight that this kind of turmoil would drive many Jews and Jewish intellectuals to Communism, and that this development would eventually be catastrophic for Europe and for the Jews.
  • Hence, he saw the urgency of forming a Jewish State where Jews could gather safely, develop their communal identity, and defend themselves from harm.


Second, not only was Herzl prophetic, he was practical. He not only saw the handwriting on the wall; he also saw what needed to be done. And beyond that, he saw the steps that needed to be taken to accomplish the ends he advocated. This is a remarkable confluence of skills in one man, but Herzl, the secularized Jew, was God’s man of destiny.  Those who want to discredit Zionism as purely a political movement with nothing of God about it evidence a defective knowledge of Scripture.  God routinely accomplishes his ends through events easily dismissed as “secular.” Perhaps this is one reason the Book of Esther includes no mention of God, even though His fingerprints are found throughout.  Also,  who can deny the Edicts of Restoration promulgated by Cyrus the Great whereby the Jews returned from the Babylonian Captivity were an act of God, despite their entirely secular pedigree?  Clearly the Bible recognizes no division between sacred and secular when matters of Divine Providence are in view.  Truly, “the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Daniel 4:25) and by whatever means He chooses.

Third, Herzl’s success was in part due to how the Enlightenment had prepared the philosophical climate of the times to value the natural rights and liberties of individuals and nations. This made it far easier to advocate for the propriety of the Jews having their own Land.

Fourth, Herzl gathered influential partners. He knew that in order to have impact, he needed highly influential, high profile associates. The first whom he sought out was Max Nordau, an influential Jewish author-journalist, like Herzl, Hungarian, assimilated, and living in Paris as a journalist with the Vienna Neue Freie Press. Although others, thinking Herzl’s burgeoning views to be extreme, imagined Nordau would dismiss them, they were wrong. He fully concurred with Herzl’s vision, and joined forces with him, eventually becoming co-founder of the World Zionist Organization together with Herzl, and president or vice president of several Zionist congresses.

Herzl also won the support of popular British Jewish author, Israel Zangwill, whose added clout gave needed credibility to Herzl’s program for change.

Fifth, Herzl had precursors, and all of us would do well to become acquainted with these simlarly prophetic, but largely unheralded figures.  Simply check Wikipedia as a place to start and learn of Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai of Serbia, who advocated for a Return to Zion in the 1840’s, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer of Prussia, who flourished in the 1860’s, Moses Hess, who was also the teacher of Karl Marx, Moshe Leib Lilienblum opf Kovno, who was aroused by the anti-Jewish riots of 1880 and 1881 to become conscious of the unsafe position of the Jews “in exile.” He wrote of his apprehensions in an article in 1881, pointing to the reestablishment of the Jews in Palestine as the only solution of the Jewish question. In 1883 a committee was organized at Odessa for the colonization of Palestine, Lilienblum serving as ṣecretary and Dr. Leon Pinsker. With the Hibbat Zion conference in Katowice, in which Lilienblum took an earnest and energetic part as secretary, representatives of European Jewry met and discussed the first plans for colonization in Palestine, laying a foundation stone was laid for the Zionist movement. And by the way, Katowice was later to become the birthplace of Pope John Paul II.

We already mentioned Leon Pinsker, born in Tomaszów Lubelski, Kingdom of Poland, Russian Empire – 1891, died 1891 in Odessa. Pinsker was a physician, visionary and and the founder and leader of the Hovevei Zion, also known as Hibbat Zion (Hebrew: חיבת ציון‎, Lovers of Zion) movement.  In his early years, Pinsker favored the assimilation path and was one of the founders of a Russian language Jewish weekly, but the Odessa pogrom of 1871, and a more extensive wave of anti-Jewish hostilities, some allegedly state-sponsored, from 1891 to 1894 radicalized him so that he no longer believed that mere humanism and enlightenment would defeat antisemitism. In 1884, he organized an international conference of Hibbat Zion in Katowice (Upper Silesia, then part of the Kingdom of Prussia). He wrote a pamphlet, Auto-Emancipation urging the Jewish people to strive for independence and national consciousness. He spoke of Judeophobia, convinced that this pathological, irrational phobia was behind the tragic Jewish diaspora experience.  As an antidote, he called for the establishment of a Jewish National Homeland, either in Palestine or elsewhere, and came to agree with Lilienblum that Jew-hatred was rooted in the status of Jews as foreigners everywhere except their original homeland, the Land of Israel. He became one of the founders and a chairman of the Hovevei Zion movement, with the backing of Baron Edmond James de Rothschild. His Auto-Emancipation anticipated some of the parallel thoughts Herzl.

All these and more were great men ahead of their time who deserve to be remembered. I urge you all to take a few minutes to research each, and thereby to become not only informed, but also ennobled.

Sixth, Herzl was political. He knew that his project, an exception to the flow of history. required a high profile and much power if it were to succeed. As a measure of this awareness, consider this excerpt from the Wikipedia article on Herzl:

March 10, 1896, Herzl is visited by Reverend William Hechler, the Anglican minister for the British Embassy. Hechler had read Herzl’s Der Judenstaat [The Jewish State]. The meeting would be central to the eventual legitimization of Herzl and Zionism. Herzl later wrote in his diary “Next we came to the heart of the business. I said to him: (Theodor Herzl to Rev. William Hechler) I must put myself into direct and publicly known relations with a responsible or non responsible ruler – that is, with a minister of state or a prince. Then the Jews will believe in me and follow me. The most suitable personage would be the German Kaiser.” Hechler arranged an extended audience with Frederick I, Grand Duke of Baden, April, 1896. The Grand Duke was the uncle of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Through the efforts of Hechler and the Grand Duke, Herzl publicly met the Kaiser in 1898. The meeting significantly advanced Herzl’s and Zionism legitimacy in Jewish and world opinion.

What ambition!  What vision!  What political savvy!  Netanyahu says that Herzl met with the Kaiser no less than three times by October, 1898,  a year after the First Zionist Congress. Quite an accomplishment for a Jewish journalist with a passion to rearrange the world! And Herzl accomplished all of his great work in eight short years, from the age of 36 to 44, when he died a premature death. Honor such men!

Read up on the people named here.  And don’t forget to study Alfred Dreyfus whose remarkable life after his trial and imprisonment on Devil’s Island is no less remarkable than what came before. This man was a hero, a hero to the French, a hero to the Jews, who deserves to be a hero to all who value integrity, courage, and valor. Marvel at his life by reading this summary found on Wikipedia here

About Stuart Dauermann

The blog of Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann, teacher, mentor, radio talk show host, denizen of Los Angeles, and a visionary with a long career in Messianic Jewish activism. You can hear Rabbi Dauermann as he hosts Shalom Talk, a weekly radio show, and even listen online at Rabbi Dauermann spends time traveling nationally and internationally, and throughout the year is in Israel as a Scholar in Residence at the MJTI Jerusalem Center. He has plenty to say about Jewish-Christian relations, the need for shalom in the world, and the agenda of Messiah, the Son of David.
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2 Responses to Theodor Herzl: God’s Secular Man of Destiny

  1. Gwilym R Joseph says:

    Thank you for an interesting article. I came across your blog via Calvin Smith’s blog(UK). Your site looks rather good and I shall follow it with interest. G R Joseph

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