Der Judenstaat (German, literally The Jews’ State, commonly rendered as The Jewish State) is a pamphlet written by Theodor Herzl and published in February 1896 in Leipzig and Vienna by M. Breitenstein’s Verlags-Buchhandlung. It is subtitled with “Versuch einer modernen Lösung der Judenfrage” (“Proposal of a modern solution for the Jewish question”) and was originally called “Address to the Rothschilds”, referring to the Rothschild family banking dynasty, as Herzl planned to deliver it as a speech to the Rothschild family. Baron Edmond de Rothschild rejected Herzl’s plan, feeling that it threatened Jews in the Diaspora. He also thought it would put his own settlements at risk.
It is considered one of the most important texts of early Zionism. As expressed in this book, Herzl envisioned the founding of a future independent Jewish state during the 20th century. He argued that the best way to avoid antisemitism in Europe was to create this independent Jewish state. The book encouraged Jews to purchase land in Palestine, although the possibility of a Jewish state in Argentina is also considered.
Herzl popularized the term “Zionism”, which was coined by Nathan Birnbaum. The nationalist movement culminated in the birth of the State of Israel in 1948, but Zionism continues to be connected with political support of the State of Israel.
After centuries of various restrictions, hostilities and frequent pogroms, the Jews of Europe have been reduced to living in ghettos. The higher class is forced to deal with angry mobs and so experiences a great deal of discomfort; the lower class lives in despair. Middle-class professionals are distrusted, and the statement “don’t buy from Jews” causes much anxiety among Jewish people. It is reasonable to assume that the Jews will not be left in peace. Neither a change in the feelings of non-Jews nor a movement to merge into the surrounds of Europe offers much hope to the Jewish people:
“The Jewish question persists wherever Jews live in appreciable numbers. Wherever it does not exist, it is brought in together with Jewish immigrants. We are naturally drawn into those places where we are not persecuted, and our appearance there gives rise to persecution. This is the case, and will inevitably be so, everywhere, even in highly civilised countries—see, for instance, France—so long as the Jewish question is not solved on the political level.”
The book concludes:
Therefore I believe that a wondrous generation of Jews will spring into existence. The Maccabeans will rise again.
Let me repeat once more my opening words: The Jews who wish for a State will have it.
We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes.
The world will be freed by our liberty, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness.
And whatever we attempt there to accomplish for our own welfare, will react powerfully and beneficially for the good of humanity.
Herzl opposed the efforts already made by Zionist groups to settle Jews in Ottoman-controlled Palestine by arguing that “important experiments in colonization have been made, though on the mistaken principle of a gradual infiltration of Jews. An infiltration is bound to end badly. It continues till the inevitable moment when the native population feels itself threatened, and forces the government to stop a further influx of Jews. Immigration is consequently futile unless we have the sovereign right to continue such immigration.”(Quoted from The Jewish State, translated by Sylvie d’Avigdor, Nutt, London, 1896, and reprinted by Dover, 1988, p. 95.)
For that reason, Herzl, both in Der Judenstaat and in his political activity on behalf of Zionism, concentrated his efforts on securing official legal sanction from the Ottoman authorities.