(Guardian of Israel), political and ideological society founded in Lemberg (Lwów) at the end of 1868 following the granting of freedom of organization in the Austrian Constitution of 1867. Among its founders were Filip Mansch, Ruben Bierer, Emil Bik, and Joseph Kohn; Salomon Buber was also a member.
Immediately after its establishment, Shomer Yisra’el began to publish Der Israelit, a bimonthly journal in German written in Hebrew script. Beginning in 1873, Hebrew was abandoned in favor of Latin script. Among the editors were Mansch, M. Gross, and Jacob Klein. The society also established a club with a library and reading room and sponsored evening lectures. In its first year, there were 586 registered members from Lemberg and 85 from other cities. The majority belonged to the liberal bourgeois intelligentsia—many of them doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, journalists, and merchants. The goal of Shomer Yisra’el was to educate Galician Jews to be good citizens, to acquire secular education, and to become economically successful. Politically, the society belonged to the liberal Austro-German camp that supported a centrist Austrian policy and belonged to the left wing in the Austrian parliament.
In 1873, the society received permission to act also as a political organization, and indeed that year it took an active role in the first direct parliamentary elections. To neutralize the politically conservative Polish bloc, Shomer Yisra’el signed a political agreement of mutual support with representatives of the Rusyn (Ruthenian) population in Galicia. The society conducted its political campaign through newspaper articles, posters, meetings, and by lobbying rabbis for support. At the end of the campaign, three representatives of Shomer Yisra’el had been elected to parliament—a poorer showing than had been expected. Moreover, the neutralization of the Poles created an atmosphere of distrust between the pro-German Jewish intelligentsia and the Poles; this situation prevailed for many years.
In subsequent years, Shomer Yisra’el devoted most of its efforts to activities within the Jewish community in Galicia, especially in the area of communal leadership. Members contended for and succeeded in gaining seats on the Jewish community council of Lemberg and on the city council, which increased the society’s influence in the community. After the death in 1875 of Yosef Sha’ul Natanson, the rabbi of the Lemberg community, the society became involved in the campaign to choose a new rabbi but was unsuccessful in preventing the election of Tsevi Hirsh Orenstein. In 1876, a new communal statute was ratified, formulated by members of Shomer Yisra’el for the Lemberg Jewish community, giving substantial political power to the new wealthy and secularly educated elite.
In 1878, the society organized a large conference of Jewish communal leaders in Lemberg to deal with issues such as the institution of a uniform statute for all communities in Galicia, the foundation of an umbrella organization for Galician Jewry, and the establishment of a rabbinical seminary. These initiatives led to confrontations between the members of Shomer Yisra’el and Galician Orthodoxy, especially Hasidim, who established the Orthodox organization Makhzikey ha-Das. Confrontations between the organizations intensified, especially at times of elections in the Jewish communities. Battles were waged in the press, on posters, and through mutual complaints to the authorities; the rhetoric was especially vitriolic. As a result of its struggles with Makhzikey ha-Das, Shomer Yisra’el sharpened its positions, which became more and more anticlerical and anti-Hasidic.
Shomer Yisra’el was also active in the area of education, and many articles appeared in the society’s newspaper about the need to arrange for religious instruction for Jewish students in public schools. Shomer Yisra’el did not support the Jewish nationalist movements and continued to believe in integration into the non-Jewish environment while at the same time guarding the special interests of the Jewish community. The strengthening of Polish self-rule in Galicia after 1867 and the political reversal of 1879, which led to the rise in the Austro-Hungarian Empire of a coalition of conservatives and clerics, led Shomer Yisra’el to become a less attractive option for the new generation. The attempt of the society to add a Polish supplement to its German newspaper and to transfer political support to the Polish camp did not change this reality. The young Jewish intelligentsia, whose members were graduates of an educational system marked by Polish cultural influences, considered Shomer Yisra’el to be a relic of the past, and, furthermore, partisans of the Jewish nationalist ideology regarded members of Shomer Yisra’el as hopeless assimilationists. At the turn of the twentieth century, Shomer Yisra’el ceased to exist.
Rachel Manekin, “Politics, Religion, and National Identity: The Galician Jewish Vote in the 1873 Parliamentary Elections,” Polin 12 (1999): 100–119; Yosef Margoshes, “Der israelit,” in Zamlbukh lekoved dem tsvey hundert un fuftsikstn yoyvl fun der yidisher prese, 1686–1936, ed. Jacob Shatzky, pp. 107–114 (New York, 1937); Ezra Mendelsohn, “From Assimilation to Zionism in Lvov: The Case of Alfred Nossig,” Slavonic and East European Review 49.117 (1971): 521–534.
Translated from Hebrew by Barry D. Walfish