Delegates to the conference at which the Ḥibat Tsiyon movement was founded, Katowice, Poland, 1884. (Front row, center) Lev (Leon) Pinsker, author of the proto-Zionist manifesto Autoemancipation. (YIVO)

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Ḥibat Tsiyon

Established in Russia and Romania in the early 1880s when concepts promoting modern Jewish nationalism began to spread from intellectual circles to the masses, the Ḥibat Tsiyon (Hibbat Zion; Love of Zion) movement was a pre-Zionist Jewish nationalist movement; its followers were called Ḥoveve Tsiyon (Lovers of Zion). The founders of the movement were Perets Smolenskin, Mosheh Leib Lilienblum, and Eli‘ezer Perlmann (later Ben-Yehudah), who in the late 1860s and throughout the 1870s applied modern theories of nationalism to Jewish circumstances.

Arguing that Jews are a nation, the founders of Ḥibat Tsiyon broke with the view that Jews are solely members of a religion unfettered by national or ethnic ties. Ben-Yehudah, in particular, asserted that the only place for modern Jewish nationalism to truly take hold was in the Land of Israel, where Jews would need to reclaim Hebrew as their daily, spoken language as well as the language of culture. His views, and those of Smolenskin and Lilienblum, became more popular after the pogroms in Ukraine in 1881–1882, and especially after the physician Lev (Leo) Pinsker published Autoemancipation (1882), in which he argued that antisemitism is not a fleeting remnant of medieval religious prejudice but a consistent modern phenomenon, a disease passed from generation to generation. Pinsker maintained that the disease could be cured only if Jews relocated to an environment in which they could determine their own autonomous polity. Pinsker soon agreed that Palestine was the sole feasible place for Jewish national self-liberation. He not only joined the Ḥibat Tsiyon movement but also became its head.

From Aharon Shemu’el Tamares in Milejczyce to Ḥayim Tchernowitz in Odessa, n.d., about a pamphlet he has prepared that includes essays on subjects related to Judaism, including Zionism. The pamphlet has been with the publisher Yehoshu‘a Ḥana Ravnitski for more than half a year but is still unpublished. Tamares suspects that this is because Ravnitski is a Herzlian Zionist, whereas the essays in the pamphlet promote the Ḥibat Tsiyon movement. He asks Tchernowitz to recommend a printer/publisher in Odessa. Hebrew. RG 107, Letters Collection. (YIVO)

The founding conference of Ḥibat Tsiyon was held in the city of Katowice in 1884. Always a loose-knit movement, it soon spread throughout the Pale of Settlement, Romania, and elsewhere. Though Ḥibat Tsiyon attracted the support of some major rabbis in Eastern Europe, the religious community approached Jewish nationalism with different, and indeed contrary, perspectives, imbuing settlement in Palestine with traditional religious rationales. The tension between these two groups of Ḥoveve Tsiyon was manifested in their conflicting requirements for agricultural settlements set up in Palestine with the economic support of Baron Edmund de Rothschild, who was not himself a Jewish nationalist. Tensions came to a head in 1887 in a debate over rules for the first sabbatical year after the establishment of the colonies. According to traditional law, Jews were obliged leave their fields fallow for one season after six years of planting. To the secular Zionists, this prohibition seemed a preposterous denial of the very basis of their raison-d’être, Jewish self-sufficiency. Although some rabbinic supporters of the movement argued for suspension of the rules, the vast majority of East European rabbinic authorities insisted that new settlements adhere to traditional Jewish law.

The ideological divide led to a substantial weakening of the movement in the late 1880s and early 1890s, a decline that intensified when the Russian government prohibited Ḥibat Tsiyon from forming a legal, publicly recognized entity. More significantly, circumstances for Russian Jews improved both as a result of domestic developments and because of the widespread emigration of Jews to the West. Moreover, the Ḥibat Tsiyon movement itself was further split ideologically when one of its most prominent intellectual leaders, Ahad Ha-Am (Asher Ginzberg) criticized its emphasis on colonization in Palestine rather than on cultural nationalism and Hebrew education in the Diaspora. As a result, by the late 1890s the movement had all but disappeared in Eastern Europe, though its few surviving colonies in Palestine continued to struggle and at times to flourish. When Theodor Herzl founded the Zionist movement in 1897, he had no knowledge of the Ḥibat Tsiyon movement, but many of its members and sympathizers joined the new Zionist movement. They soon formed the nucleus of the opposition to Herzl within the Zionist movement itself, particularly over the Uganda Project of 1903. Soon, however, the remaining Ḥibat Tsiyon organizations merged into the cultural and spiritual Zionist parties influenced by Ahad Ha-Am and later by Martin Buber.

Suggested Reading

Alter Druyanow, Ketavim le-toldot Ḥibat Tsiyon ve-yishuv Erets Yisra’el, 3 vols. (vol. 1, Odessa; vols. 2–3, Tel Aviv, 1919–1932); Ehud Luz, Parallels Meet: Religion and Nationalism in the Early Zionist Movement, 1882–1904, trans. Lenn J. Schramm (Philadelphia, 1988); David Vital, The Origins of Zionism (Oxford, 1975).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 17, Isaac Leib Goldberg, Papers, 1901-1919.