Theodor Herzl’s “The Menorah” and the Connection between Jewish Nationalism and Jewish Faith

November 29, 2018 | Daniel Polisar
About the author: Daniel Polisar is the executive vice-president and a member of the faculty at Shalem College in Jerusalem.

In a short story published in December 1897—a few months after the First Zionist Congress—Theodor Herzl described a European Jew who, after going through adulthood indifferent to his people and to the religion of his ancestors, decides to “to return to Judaism.” He therefore, for the first time in many years, lights Hanukkah candles with his family and reflects on the holiday’s meaning. Analyzing this very short piece of fiction, titled “The Menorah,” Daniel Polisar explains that for Herzl Zionism was not only about providing an escape from anti-Semitism, but about making possible a renewal of Jewishness itself. Nor was Herzl the strict secularist he is sometimes imagined to be, but someone deeply invested in the Jewish religion, albeit in an idiosyncratic way. (Interview by Alan Rubenstein. Audio, 48 minutes. Options for download and streaming are available at the link below.)

To enroll in Polisar’s seven-part online course on Herzl, click here.

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