Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Herzl’s address

114 years ago today, on 1 Elul 5657 (August 29, 1897), the First Zionist Congress opened in Basel, Switzerland.

The Congress was convened by Theodor Herzl, who delivered the opening address.

Here are a few translated* excerpts from his speech:

“…And in this period - which is, by and large, extremely inspiring – we see and feel ourselves surrounded everywhere by the ancient hatred. Anti-Semitism is its modern name…

“Modern, enlightened Judaism – which had left the ghetto, which had been weaned off petty trade – was stabbed in the heart. We can say this today in complete serenity, without arousing suspicions that we are attempting to play on our opponents’ tear ducts. Our conscience is clear.

“From time immemorial, the world has had faulty, distorted and slanted information about us. The sense of affiliation and collaboration – of which we have been so frequently and so acrimoniously accused – was in the process of disappearing, when we were beset by anti-Semitism...

“One can say that we have returned home. Zionism is a return to Judaism, even before a return to the Land of the Jews…

“Zionism has already managed to achieve something amazing, which was previously considered to be nearly impossible: the strong bond between Judaism’s most modern elements and most conservative. Inasmuch as this matter has occurred – without the need for either side to make unseemly concessions or emotional sacrifices – it is further proof, if further proof was necessary, of the fact that the Jews are a nation. This type of union is only possible against the background of a nation...

“Such a large popular movement will inevitably be attacked from many sides. Hence, the Congress will also concentrate on the spiritual means of reviving and fostering Jewish national consciousness…

“We have no intention of compromising on even the slightest bit of the culture which we have acquired for ourselves. Instead, we intend to continue to expand this culture…

“This movement must become greater, if it is to exist at all. A nation can only help itself. And if it cannot do so, no one should help it. But we Zionists wish to inspire the nation to self-help…

“Open dialogue and loyal conduct are needed in order to gain the confidence of the government with which we must negotiate about large-scale Jewish settlement…

There is only one matter which must be accepted as an inviolable law: the agreement must be based on our recognized legal rights and not merely on benevolent sufferance. We have had more than enough experience with toleration and a conditional Judaism-of-patronage…”

After the Congress ended, Herzl famously recorded in his diary: “In Basel, I founded the Jewish State.

!חודש טוב ומבורך


*The above translation is courtesy of the Official Our Shiputzim Hebrew-English translator. Please note that she’s available for translation work. For more information, contact me at OurShiputzim at gmail dot com, and I’ll gladly forward all serious inquiries to her.


  1. Did he give the speech in Hebrew? Or in German or French? Did he even know much Hebrew?

    I tried to look this up, but I found nothing online to tell me of his knowledge of languages, other than he wasn't as into Hebrew as some might have liked.

  2. Leora - Good question! The translator says that she worked off of a Hebrew translation of Herzl's speech, which he apparently delivered in German. (He wrote his books and articles in German, but since he worked as a newspaper correspondent in Paris, he presumably also spoke French.)

  3. Thanks for the date info....I just took advantage of it to post the 19th Zionist Congress video on my work's website...

  4. Safranit (Safra-knit) - I wonder which Zionist Congress was the first one to be filmed?

  5. 1. "Enlightened Judaism" is a code word for the Haskalah Movement. Members of this movement were and are no fans of Torah.

    2. You left the parts out about Uganda and the German language, two things which have absolutely nothing to do with authentic Judaism.

    3. Hertzl does merit (in some way) our mass re-entrance back into our Homeland. But, he simply was not the Holy Saint revisionist historians want us to believe he was.

    4. This is not a criticism of Mrs. S. or her post, but of Hertzl, and his maskili cohorts.

  6. Esser Agaroth - Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

    1. Obviously, I agree with you that Herzl wasn't exactly a religious-Zionist (to put it mildly). However, IMHO, Herzl deserves a lot more than "some" credit for Shivat Tzion.

    2. Yes, "modern, enlightened Judaism" refers to the Haskalah movement. But at least in this speech, Herzl wasn't condoning it. Rather, he was saying that - to the Maskilim's surprise - even they weren't immune from being victims of anti-Semitism. As he says in a quote (about the upswing of anti-Semitism in that period) which I omitted (due to space considerations):
    "The first impression which modern Judaism took from this was astonishment, which quickly turned to pain and fury. Perhaps our opponents do not completely realize how deeply they have hurt the sensibilities of precisely those of us whom they perhaps did not intend to hurt primarily."

    3. I didn't mention Uganda, because - for the record - Herzl didn't propose Uganda until the *Sixth* Zionist Congress (in 1903). The Uganda Proposal was finally rejected at the Seventh Zionist Congress (in 1905 - a year after Herzl's death).


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