(audiobook in Hebrew)

You can certainly find curious books when roving around Librivox, looking for audiobooks to listen to. "The State of the Jews" (or Der Judenstaat, as it's known in the original German) is one such curiosity - truly a book I never imagined I would read, even though I vaguely recall learning about it in 10th grade history classes.

Actually, this is quite an important piece of work in modern Jewish history. Although Jew pioneers began arriving in Palestine in the second half of the 19th century, before this book was published there was no real organized plan for settling Palestine with the goal of establishing a sovereign state. Herzl's publishing of "The State of the Jews" in 1896 served both as an ideological basis and as a practical program for the settlement.

It is interesting to note that Palestine was just one of the options Herzl has considered. The book contains a lovely note about how Argentina's government would "gladly provide" the Jews with some land, and later he also contemplated the settlement of Uganda, Cyprus and even the Sinai peninsula. However, Herzl obviously miscalculated the Jews' historical and religious attachment to Palestine, and at a later stage it was decided by the Zionist congress that Palestine is the only real option.

The book begins by describing the dire state of the Jews in Europe at the time of the writing. Antisemitism, Herzl notes, springs up wherever Jews come, and there's no escaping it. He claims that assimilation is not the answer to the Jews' problems, and the only real solution is creating a sovereigh Jewish state.

He proceeds by proposing a very elaborate plan for the purchase and settlement of land, in calculated "waves". The first wave would be the lowest class who come to the land to build infrastructure and establish agriculture. Only then can the middle class of artisans and merchants arrive, to establish a modern economy. The elaborateness of the plan can't leave the reader without a slight sense of naiveness, as Herzl's reasoning is quite Utopic. He was certainly a visionary, but that's probably because his plan largely suceeded. I'm quite sure a lof of people with such elaborate plans for major human endeavors were dismissed as lunatics at various times thoughout history.

The approach Herzl has to state and economy is socialistic, though it can be probably understood given that the book was written in the late 19th century. One of his major ideas is a 7-hour work day that would be enforced all over the new country, and he spents at least a few pages in various places throughout the book defending it, even going as far as proposing 7 gold stars on a white background to be the flag of the new nation, the 7 stars symbolizing the 7-hour work day. I couldn't help chuckling at this idea :-)

All in all, while there's no doubt about the historical importance of this book, I think it's no more than a curiosity these days, chiefly because it isn't written very well, IMHO. Herzl managed to employ a very archaic style of writing (or was it only the translation?), and his elaborate descriptions are a bit boring.