September 15th, 2017: Letters

Herzl’s dream included the rebuilding of the Temple, a Sabbath with little traffic and Jews streaming to the many synagogues to pray.

Letters (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
You theorize about how Theodor Herzl would react to the modern State of Israel (“Building an imagined community,” Cover, September 1).
The consensus seems to be to take him to Tel Aviv or maybe Haifa, but certainly not to the religious capital, Jerusalem, where he would feel uncomfortable. However, even a cursory reading of Herzl’s magnum opus Altneuland reveals that he most likely would enjoy seeing the religious revival there and even be disappointed that it was still incomplete.
Altneuland is a portrayal of how Herzl envisioned the unfolding of his utopian modern Israel. At the beginning of Book 5, he wrote: “Friedrich’s first visit to the Temple was on a Friday evening. David had engaged rooms for the party at one of the best hotels near the Jaffa Gate, and at sundown invited his guests to go with him to the Temple. Friedrich walked ahead with Miriam, David and Sarah following. The streets, which at noon had been alive with traffic, were now suddenly stilled. Very few motor cars were to be seen; all the shops were closed. Slowly and peacefully, the Sabbath fell upon the bustling city. Throngs of worshipers wended their way to the Temple and to the many synagogues in the Old City and the new, there to pray to the God whose banner Israel had borne throughout the world for thousands of years.”
Herzl’s dream included the rebuilding of the Temple, a Sabbath with little traffic and Jews streaming to the many synagogues to pray. While this is not usually how he is thought of, this is Herzl in his own words.
In concluding his vision, he wrote: “At last, Friedrich put a question, and every man answered it after his fashion. ‘We see a new and happy form of human society here,’ he said. ‘What created it?’” But the venerable Rabbi Samuel arose and proclaimed: “God!”
That’s right – Herzl placed the final statement of his book in the mouth of a rabbi. And the final word written by the supposed atheist Herzl was “God.”
Beit Shemesh
You give prominence to the extracted comments of philosophy professor and Zionist Union MK Yossi Yonah by placing them immediately next to a photo of Theodor Herzl astride a white donkey: “Herzl would probably not be too happy with the exclusive dominance of one specific conception of the Jewish religion in the state. He wanted a Western, liberal and pluralistic state at the heart of the Middle East.”
Setting aside the elitist-colonialist overtones of this idea, I would hope that the diviner of the state might notice the panoply of the populace: The nascent state absorbed populations from regions as dispersed as Afghanistan and Morocco; Cochin and Chile; Yemen and Belarus; Ethiopia and the Lower East Side of New York; Georgia (the US state and the nation in the Caucasus) and more. If this doesn’t speak to pluralism, I don’t know what does.
The significant factor uniting these various tribes is a dedication to the injunctions handed down at Sinai and the customs that embodied them, in a chain stretching back to that time. They evolved, yes, but in a manner disciplined enough that tribes long separated could recognize the commonality and brotherhood implicit in them. If he were at all to notice the monthly provocation at the Western Wall plaza, he, as a secular person, might wonder at the religiosity of those tefillin- adorned and prayer shawlwrapped women, a phenomenon totally unheard of in his time.
If he were to appear today, Herzl would probably be painfully aware that his project had yet to mature: For all its accomplishments, Israel is still the Jew of late-19th-century France. I would like to think of his being preoccupied with a search for a modern- day Emile Zola whose rhetoric might arouse a sense of shame in the United States and finally bring Jonathan Pollard home from his private Devil’s Island.
Write to: Only a selection of letters can be published. Priority goes to those that are brief and topical.
Letters may be edited, and must bear the name and address of the writer.