Why Herzl Succeeded Where Those Before Him Failed

Three reasons that explain why Theodor Herzl succeeded in igniting an international movement while others, like Leon Pinsker, netted only a small, struggling organization.

Theodor Herzl on board the Imperator Nikolaus II in 1898 with (from left to right) Max Bodenheimer, Moritz Schnirer und David Wolffsohn. Imagno/Getty Images.

Theodor Herzl on board the Imperator Nikolaus II in 1898 with (from left to right) Max Bodenheimer, Moritz Schnirer und David Wolffsohn. Imagno/Getty Images.

Response
Jan. 18 2021
About the author

Daniel Polisar is the executive vice-president and a member of the faculty at Shalem College in Jerusalem.

In Rick Richman’s insightful essay “The Mystery of Theodor Herzl,” he describes Leon Pinsker’s Auto-Emancipation: An Appeal to His People by a Russian Jew (1882), which argued powerfully for the establishment of a Jewish state. After noting that David Ben-Gurion called it “the classic and most remarkable work of Zionist literature,” Richman explains that it nonetheless failed to arouse support as its author “traveled to Austria and Germany in search of Jewish leaders to support his ideas—and found none at all. . . . Faced with no significant Western reaction to his book, Pinsker concluded dispiritedly in 1884 that it would take the messiah—or ‘a whole legion of prophets’—to arouse the Jews.”

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