Theodor Herzl

The Foremost leader of Political Zionism

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The first Zionist Congress was held in Basle in 1897 at which the World Zionist Organization was founded and Herzl elected its president. In 1902 Herzl published his utopian vision of the Jewish State, the Altneuland ("Old New Land"). Herzl died, at the early age of 44, in Vienna, where he was buried. In 1949 Herzl's remains were taken to Jerusalem where they were buried on a hill, now called Mount Herzl. More than any other thinker and politician, Herzl was indirectly responsible for the emergence of the State of Israel and is acknowledged to be the State's true founder.

It is undeniable that Herzl's ideas, while contributing immensely to the survival of the Jewish people, created problems for the Jewish religion. For Herzl and for political Zionism as a movement, the Jews were a nation like other nations, and this raised questions about the nature of Judaism.

The majority of the Rabbis in Herzl's day, whether Orthodox or Reform, were opposed to his views on precisely these grounds. The Reformers believed that the new emphasis on nationhood frustrated the universalistic thrust of Judaism as a world religion independent of nationality. The Orthodox, at the opposite end of the spectrum, believed that the particularistic elements in Judaism were contained in the Torah and the practice of its laws, not in any form of secular nationalism; though the Mizrachi movement sought to combine the ideas of nationalism and religion for Jews in a modern State. Once the State of Israel had been established, the whole debate became purely academic, which is not to deny that many of the problems still await their solution.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.