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Nearly a century separates Lessing and Mendelssohn from Theodor Herzl (1860–1904), yet he is part of the same quest for full citizenship for Jews. An emancipated Jew in Vienna, Herzl’s experience of late nineteenth-century antisemitism convinced him that emancipation had failed and that Jews had to devise an alternative. 

Herzl envisioned a Jewish state that, in stark contrast to Europe, would be a beacon of toleration and equality. It would embrace Jewish pluralism, while also welcoming Gentiles: “We shall let every man find salvation ‘over there.’” While Herzl repudiated Europe’s failed emancipation, he retained a profound commitment to the ideal. He envisioned a complete emancipation that Jews would fashion for themselves. 

“We are to lay the foundation...of the home which 
is to shelter the Jewish nation
-Translation from Theodor Herzl, First Zionist Congress, 1897

Alfred Dreyfus 
Rennes Council of War: The Dreyfus Trial Before the Rennes Council (7 August–9 September 1899) 

Paris: P. -V. Stock, 1900
Center for Jewish History, Gift of Sid Lapidus 

As a journalist in France, Herzl became extremely upset during the Dreyfus affair, in which a Jewish army officer was falsely accused and convicted of espionage. The only solution to the problem of the Jews, he decided, was to create a Jewish state. Although Dreyfus was ultimately pardoned (in 1906), the episode revealed that emancipation would be an incomplete and ongoing process. 

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Theodor Herzl 
Der Judenstaat: Versuch einer modernen Lösung der Judenfrage (The Jews’ State: An Attempt at a Modern Solution to the Jewish Question) 

Vienna: M. Breitenstein, 1896
Center for Jewish History, Gift of Sid Lapidus   

Herzl published this work, Der Judenstaat, to galvanize his fellow Jews into action. He asserts that emancipation itself caused antisemitism, since it failed as a movement. He concludes that Jews cannot continue to live among other nations since their presence inevitably gives rise to hostility. Herzl’s answer was for Jews to organize a mass migration to a territory of their own. 

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Theodor Herzl 
Der Baseler Congress [The Basel Congress]

Vienna: Die Welt, 1897
Center for Jewish History, Gift of Sid Lapidus 

Herzl convened the first international Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, on August 29, 1897. 
In his opening address Herzl says, “We are to lay the foundation of the home which is to shelter the Jewish nation. ... We have nothing to do with conspiracy, secret intervention, or indirect methods. ... We wish to place the Jewish question on the agenda and under the control of public opinion.” 

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Herzl’s Study 
Vienna: Verlag “Zion” 

Courtesy of The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary   

Herzl wondered where the Jews’ State should be, but he gave no definitive answer. In fact, one of the most acrimonious and divisive debates in early Zionism came when Britain raised the possibility of a Jewish homeland in Uganda. The Sixth Zionist Congress (Basel, 1903) ultimately endorsed Palestine, but not before many Zionists had seceded to form a rival movement, Territorialism, committed to finding a territory anywhere in the world.