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Theodor Herzl and the birth of political Zionism

A biography of Theodor Herzl, the 19th-century Jewish journalist who launched political Zionism: the movement to create a Jewish state in Palestine. We go through his life, his motivations for pushing for a Jewish state in the Middle East, and the legacy of his efforts. Created by Sal Khan.

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  • leaf green style avatar for user Aberwyvern
    At he quotes Herzl, writing about the Jews; "We are a people - one people."
    I have read that the Jewish people speak Hebrew and another language called Yiddish, does he mean that the native speakers of those two languages are the same people? or does he only mean one of them? and why is there this language difference between the Jews?
    (12 votes)
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    • male robot hal style avatar for user Aharon Levi
      One of the interesting things about the Jews is that for so many years (about 2,000) they did not live in their own country rather they lived among other nations. Even more interesting is the fact that they maintained their unique identity despite living among other peoples.

      The traditional and ancient language of the Jews is Hebrew, but in ancient times many Jews lived in the Babylonian territories and adopted Aramaic as their language, but as often happens with any language the Aramaic they spoke was blended with their native Hebrew. The Talmud, an important Jewish text, was written in Aramaic.

      Yiddish is a similar case. Jews living in Eastern Europe among the Germans, Russians, Poles, Czechs, and others began to adopt many words of the country in which they lived. Those Jews living in Eastern Europe in many cases lived there for hundreds if not a thousand years. Over time a whole language developed that was a mixture of German, Russian, and Hebrew - that is Yiddish.

      As you would expect, Yiddish took on different characteristics depending on where it was spoken. Speakers used different pronunciations and phrases depending on where their community was located, whether in Germany, Poland, Russia, Hungary.

      Other Jews living in other areas including Spain, Israel, Egypt and North Africa did not speak Yiddish at all. It was a language that developed that was particular to Eastern Europe.

      Hope that helps :)
      (54 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user SteveSargentJr
    Did Herzl envision a secular Jewish state?

    I wasn't sure if at Herzl's description of a tolerant state necessarily implied a secular state...
    (13 votes)
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    • leaf orange style avatar for user TB
      As far as I know he never specified what sort of government the Jewish state should have. But these words are highly suggestive of a tolerant and secular environment.
      However, this is partly contradictory. You have this imaginary country defined by the freedom and security it grants the Jewish people, but then he doesn't want it to be religious.
      Israel has so far been unable to solve this identity crisis. It's quite a unique problem.
      (12 votes)
  • leaf orange style avatar for user Rebecca Gray
    I heard a couple words I don't understand. Pogrom () and Diaspora (). Can someone define these for me, please. Also, are their definitions specific to one context (ie: Holocaust w/ capital H) or are they also found in some form elsewhere (ie: holocaust w/ lowercase h)?
    (5 votes)
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  • male robot donald style avatar for user Sudhanva Shetty
    Are Zionism and Political Zionism the same thing? Or are Zionism and Semitism the same?
    (4 votes)
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    • male robot hal style avatar for user Aharon Levi
      Zionism sometimes just refers to the ancient desire of the Jewish people to return to their homeland - often it includes a religious sense as well, in terms of the coming of the Messiah.

      Political Zionism often refers specifically to efforts made in the last 100 years or so to gain political independence for the Jewish people, it generally is distinct from the religious aspects. There was, for example, a brief idea to possibly gain territory in Africa. This idea was universally rejected, and the land of Israel, the Jews' ancient and ancestral homeland was identified as the only acceptable land. Nevertheless the modern desire of Jews to have a territory (regardless of location/religious desires) that they themselves had full autonomy over is generally called Political Zionism.

      Semitism - is a word that comes from Semite, or Semitic. It comes from the Bible referring to the descendants of Shem - which are the Jews/Hebrews - but also includes other peoples that originated in the region including Arabic, Aramaic, Canaanite/Phoenician/Carthaginian, Chaldean, Edomite, Moabite, and Ugaritic, and other peoples.

      Today the word anti-antisemitism refers specifically to hatred of the Jewish people.
      (13 votes)
  • sneak peak blue style avatar for user Patrick Jarrold
    Are there any examples of societies that once removed from their homeland accepted a new home without the goal of eventually returning? That is, how reasonable is it to expect the Jews to accept a new country as the end of their journey rather than to work for Israel? Another example: the Welsh, I believe, still resent the English.
    (3 votes)
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    • purple pi purple style avatar for user warren.wegrzyn
      Diasporas often result in adapted societies. Cajuns were removed from Acadia in eastern Canada but have adapted their lifestyle to Louisiana, becoming a key culture there. Several Norse groups eventually morph into new people groups (involved in founding Kiev, Normans). The reason for the migration is very important. Of course when one group forces another off of land resentment can continue for generations.
      (13 votes)
  • leafers sapling style avatar for user Hafiz Yazid
    Is Jewish a religion or a race?
    (4 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Sarah Daguio
      The Jews are an "ethnoreligious group". Race can sometimes be a less relevant word outside of the United States, where ethnicity can have more relevance. It means that
      1. folks who are descended from Jews are Jews.
      2. folks who belong to the religion and convert are Jews, since they adopt both religious and less strictly religious customs
      There are particular rules which describe whether people count. While many would say that you count if your mother's side is Jewish, that is only a particular, and more religious definition, rather than the ethnic side.
      (6 votes)
  • hopper jumping style avatar for user Seas
    Why are Jews generally associated with "money" and "greedy" (I don't mean it in an offensive way) Is it just coincidence they have more money or because something about their religion causes them to?
    (4 votes)
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    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Andris
      As in the early Christian kingdoms Jewish People were not allowed to own land, they turned to other professions, like trade and industry. Banking evolved from trading, and many of these occupations turned out to be real profitable, so I guess they just continued on working in the field.
      (9 votes)
  • mr pink red style avatar for user Sky Fox
    At Sal states that Hadrian is able to suppress a rebellion by the Jews in Judea. What were the Jews rebelling against exactly?
    (3 votes)
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    • female robot ada style avatar for user Faigie1836
      Until the Babylonians (followed by the Persians, Greeks, and Romans as they each conquered each other) showed up and conquered Eretz Yisrael (this is the biblical term for the area referred to as Judea, Syria Palaestina, and Israel), the Jews were self-ruling. Though the Babylonians destroyed their temple, they rebuilt it with the permission of the Persians. Until the Romans showed up, the Jews had some autonomy and were ruled by their own people (the Men of the Great Assembly, the Sanhedrin (court), the Hasmoneans (including Yehuda the Maccabi and Queen Shlomit). When the Romans came, they destroyed the temple and completely took over the land, even renaming it. Bar Kochba (the leader of the revolt) wanted to reclaim Eretz Yisrael to be ruled by the Jews (as opposed to the Romans). Hadrian suppressed the revolt, and the Jews didn't rule themselves until Israel gained independence from Great Britain.
      (4 votes)
  • aqualine tree style avatar for user Vira Xeva
    what is common era?
    (2 votes)
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    • male robot hal style avatar for user Julian Mydlil
      The common era is a way to measure time. You might say 1492 AD is when Christopher Columbus set out on the open sea. You could also say Common Era 1492. They pretty much mean the same thing except that CE/BCE is less religious than AD/BC. Usually, historians use the convention Before Common Era/Common Era.
      (4 votes)
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user KagomexInuyasha
    ok i know this is probably a weird question,but how old would Mr. Herzl be if he were still alive today?
    (3 votes)
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Video transcript

The history of the Jewish people goes back roughly 4,000 years. In order to understand the desire by Jewish people in the late 1800s and early 1900s for a Jewish homeland, we have to go back roughly 17 or 1800 years to the year 135 in the Common Era. It was then that Judea was a province of the Roman Empire. Judea is the biblical home of the Jewish people. It's the location of Jerusalem. In 135 of the Common Era the Roman emperor, Hadrian, is able to suppress a rebellion by the Jews in Judea and after suppressing that rebellion, he expels the Jews from Judea. Hadrian expels the Jews from Judea. Not only did he expel them from Judea, but he actually renamed the province. This province up here in red was Roman Syria. He merges these two provinces and calls them Syria Palaestina. Let me write that down. He renames it Syria Palaestina, which is essentially why for the next 1700 years or so and even parts of it today are referred to as Palestine. Now, we will fast forward over the next more than 1700 years. Over this period most of the Jewish people are not now living in what was then Judea. They have settled in groups in Europe, in the Middle East, in Africa. There were even groups of Jews who had settled in India. For the most part they thrived in their various communities, but unfortunately their history had a fairly large amount of persecution, of discrimination, of kind of using them as a scapegoat. This was particularly the case in Europe where you have the Christian church often kind of blamed the Jews on religious grounds. They were an easy scapegoat any time things went hard. You had ethnic cleansing. You had pogroms. This was the Russian empire, especially as we get into the 1800s, was especially infamous in its treatment of the Jews. You have this long history of Jewish persecution. In fact, much of Jewish tradition today is around remembrances of these various tragedies, these various persecutions. With that as the context, we then get into the late 1800s. Let's go to 1860. 1860. You have the birth of Theodor Herzl. 1860. You have the birth of this gentleman right over here. Theodor Herzl born. He's born to a German-speaking Jewish family in the Austro-Hungarian empire. The family he's born into isn't particularly religious. As a young man, he remains fairly secular. He's not a particularly religious person. As he grows and he becomes a journalist, he is able to observe the anti-Semitism, especially that's occurring especially in the late 1800s in Russia, but throughout much of Europe. In 1894, so at this point he's 34 years old, still a fairly young man, in 1894 in Paris he directly observes the Dreyfus affair. The Dreyfus affair, in which a French Jewish officer in the military is accused of treason, accused of spying for the Germans. This leads to all sorts of kind of public anti-Semitism. It later is shown that it was false claims on Dreyfus. Some people would debate whether this directly led to Theodor Herzl's articulation of a need for a Jewish homeland, but it was something that he directly observed, so it must have influenced him in some way. It was this and all the other anti-Semitism that he observed either directly or indirectly his entire life, or even that he was able to read in the history books. Taking all of that in, and this is coming from a fairly secular individual, in 1896 at the age of 36, he writes Der Judenstaat, which literally translates as the Jewish State. Der Judenstaat. This was a very articulate description or desire, or articulation I guess I should say, of the need for a Jewish homeland and a Jewish State. It's really the birth of political Zionism. Political Zionism. Now, where does the word Zionism come from? The root is Zion from Mount Zion. Mount Zion is essentially a hill in modern-day Jerusalem, but the word Zion is often equated with Jerusalem, with the Holy Land, with kind of the home of the Jews. That would be roughly right over here, Jerusalem is roughly right over here. I stress the modifier "political," political Zionism, because there was already a movement to bring the Jewish people back to their ancient homeland in Judea, which could be referred to as Zionism. It was really Herzl who articulated a need to set up a political state and start to organize around trying to create a political state. Over here I quote some of what he wrote in Der Judenstaat. "We are a people, one people. We have sincerely tried everywhere to merge with the national communities in which we live, seeking only to preserve the faith of our fathers. It is not permitted us. In vain we are loyal patriots, sometimes super loyal. In vain do we make the same sacrifices of life and property as our fellow citizens. In vain do we strive to enhance the fame of our native lands in the arts and sciences, or her wealth by trade and commerce. In our native lands, where we have lived for centuries, we are still decried as aliens often by men whose ancestors had not yet come at a time when Jewish sighs had long been heard in the country. Oppression and persecution cannot exterminate us. No nation on earth has endured such struggles and sufferings as we have. Palestine is our unforgettable homeland." This ends up getting huge traction, resonates with the Jewish diaspora, gives him the power to essentially, the next year, organize in 1897 the first Zionist Congress, first Zionist Congress where he's able to bring together likeminded, or at least people who are looking to organize a way to eventually establish a Jewish State, preferably in Palestine. I say preferably in Palestine, and it's clear that this was the first choice, to go back to the historical homeland of Judea, but even Herzl himself had considered Argentina, which at the time was very open-minded, very open towards immigration. There was some talk of East Africa, British East Africa. In fact, the British offered Uganda in 1903 to the what would later be called the Zionist Organization. It was considered and I believe it was the sixth Zionist Congress. These were things that were actually considered. But Palestine was always, because of historical reasons, the hopeful home of the Zionist Movement. I fully realize this is an incredibly touchy issue regardless of where people stand on their views of Zionism or of Theodor Herzl. Some would view him as a visionary, view him as a hero, some would view him as starting the seed that led to the eventual occupation of Palastine and the settlements that are going on there. I will try my best to stay out of picking sides there. Regardless of where you are in that argument, it's pretty amazing how much foresight he actually had and his ability to get this thing going. Even from the get-go, he had some conversations with the Ottomans and other folks about being able to get land in Palestine and all the rest. He wasn't successful in his own lifetime. But even after that first Zionist Congress, which was held in Basel, he understood what he was doing and he was looking beyond his own lifetime. This is a quote here from his journal and it's pretty telling. "Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word, which I shall guard against pronouncing publically, it would be this: At Basel I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today I would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in 50 years, everyone will perceive it." This is an amazing impresison because the state of Israel would come into a reality in roughly 50 years. With that said, and once again I know this is an incredibly touchy issue, the one thing that is probably surprising to many people is that he was not an extreme individual. It comes out from some of his other writing that even though he wanted this Jewish State, he was a fairly tolerant individual and he did not view this only for the Jews and he didn't feel that it should be taken by force or in any other way. It comes out in his writing right over here. This is from his diary. "It goes without saying that we shall respectfully tolerate persons of other faiths and protect their property, their honor and their freedom with the harshest means of coercion." So protect their property, honor and ... using the harshest means of coercion to protect their property, their honor and their freedom. This is a tolerant thing to do. "This is another area in which we shall set the entire world a wonderful example. Should there be many such immovable owners in individual areas who will not sell their property to us." So, hey, if we want to go there and properly buy land but people don't want to sell it to us, "we shall simply leave them there and develop our commerce in the direction of other areas which belong to us." He wasn't in the mood to really get into a confrontation or to antagonize anyone. And he recognized that there were other people there that might not want to sell their land to those that might settle this new State. Later on his life, actually shortly before his death, he actually writes a novel about this potential State that might be created. He writes, and this is written in Altneuland, it literally translates to The Old New Land, "It is founded on the ideas which are a common product of all civilized nations. It would be immoral if we would exclude anyone whatever his origin, his decent, or his religion, from participating in our achievements, for we stand on the shoulders of other civilized peoples. What we own we owe to the preparatory work of other peoples. Therefore, we have to repay our debt. There's only one way to do it. The highest tolerance. Our motto must therefore be, now and ever: Man, you are my brother."