A nature lesson at a Tarbut school, Pinsk, 1936. (YIVO)

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A network of secular Zionist educational institutions that functioned in Poland in the interwar period; the language of instruction was Hebrew. The network operated kindergartens, elementary schools, high schools, teachers’ seminaries, and agricultural schools. Additionally it provided pedagogical courses, evening classes for adults, and lending libraries; and published pedagogical journals, educational textbooks, and children’s journals.

‘Olami ha-katan (My Small World), 5.44 [Warsaw, 1938]. Pictured are Józef Piłsudski, first president of independent Poland, and his daughters. (Aviezer Yellin Archives of Jewish Education, Tel Aviv University)

Secular education in Hebrew originated in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century when members of the Ḥibat Tsiyon (Lovers of Zion) movement began to operate ḥeder metukan (reformed heders) that maintained some of the educational principles of the traditional heder, but incorporated pedagogical changes in the spirit of educational reforms in Europe. Moreover, in the ḥeder metukan a broader range of education was provided and it maintained a nationalistic orientation.

Following the revolution of February 1917, many more attempts were made to develop education in Hebrew. In the spring of 1917, members of Ḥoveve Sefat ‘Ever (Lovers of the Hebrew Language), meeting in Moscow, changed the name of their organization to Tarbut (Culture) and elaborated a program calling for the establishment of Hebrew schools and public cultural activities. However, the period of Tarbut activity in Russia was very short, as conditions in that country changed with the Bolshevik revolution. In 1919, under the influence of the Evsektsiia (Jewish sections of the Communist Party), it was decided that the language of the Jews was Yiddish and not Hebrew. Hebrew was forbidden as a language of instruction; hence, Hebrew educational institutions were closed.

By contrast, Tarbut in Poland was active from the first years of Poland’s independence until the outbreak of World War II. The majority of the Tarbut schools were concentrated in the eastern border areas of Poland, in territories that had previously belonged to Russia. The first Polish national conference of Tarbut convened in December 1921 in Warsaw, attended by 178 delegates from all parts of the country. They determined pedagogical principles and teaching directives for Tarbut institutions. Four other conferences took place, in 1924, 1927, 1931, and 1934.

In the years of Tarbut’s existence in Poland, the number of its students grew from roughly 2,500 to almost 45,000, and the number of its institutions on the eve of World War II reached approximately 270. In total, approximately 25 percent of the 180,000 students who studied in Jewish educational institutions, and roughly 9 percent of the half-million Jewish school-age children in Poland, attended Tarbut schools.

“Support Tarbut and Its Institutions.” Polish/Hebrew poster. “The Hebrew school is the forge of the soul of the nation! Tarbut builds the national Hebrew school!” (Central Zionist Archives)

The secular Tarbut schools taught Jewish and general studies—humanistic and scientific. The curriculum reflected Zionist orientation. Among the objectives were acquainting students with Hebrew literature of the past, and training them in the physical labor necessary for immigration to the Land of Israel. Polish studies were added in accordance with government regulations that required “minority schools” to teach the Polish language, literature, geography, and history.

The Tarbut educators were aware of innovative educational approaches, and attempted to incorporate them. The new methods tended to consider the developmental stages of childhood, and held to the principle that study should not be based on teaching though books alone, but rather must draw the child nearer to life. Accordingly, manual skills, sports, nature, and agriculture were emphasized. This was to be accomplished by means of workshops, laboratories, physical activities, and excursions. The pedagogical journals of Tarbut published articles emphasizing consideration of children’s psychological and physical needs. Among those who published in these journals was a particularly prominent advocate of “education through practical work,” Mosheh Aharon Bagel (1886–1969).

The educational principles and methods employed were consistent with the Zionist orientation of these schools. Students acquired the Hebrew language in what was termed the “natural method” or ‘Ivrit be-‘Ivrit (“Hebrew in Hebrew”; in other words, without translation). The theme of the Land of Israel played a very important role in the academic curriculum and in extracurricular activities of the Tarbut schools, which maintained a strong connection to the Keren Kayemet (Jewish National Fund) center in Jerusalem. In Tarbut institutions, holidays were celebrated as they were in Palestine, though there was greater emphasis on their historical and agricultural aspects. Students learned about events in Palestine through Tarbut’s journals, especially ‘Olami (My World), ‘Olami ha-katan (My Small World), both of which appeared from 1936 to 1939, and ‘Olami ha-katantan (My Tiny World; 1939), all of which were edited by Shemu’el Rozenhak and Elḥanan Indelman.

Graduates of Tarbut institutions who settled in Palestine spoke fluent Hebrew. Many of them became professional educators.

Suggested Reading

Adina Bar-El, “Keshe-egdal e‘eleh le-Erets Yisra’el,” Dor le-dor 21 (2003); Miriam Eisenstein, Jewish Schools in Poland, 1919–1939 (New York, 1950); Elḥanan Indelman, “‘Tarbut’ be-Polin, mekorah ve-gidulah, ḥazonah ve-khilyonah,” in Ha-Ḥinukh veha-tarbut ha-‘ivrit be-Eropah: Ben shete milḥamot ha-‘olam, pp. 107–133 (New York, 1957); Hayyim Solomon (Khayim Shloyme) Kazdan, Di geshikhte fun yidishn shulvezn in umophengikn Poyln (Mexico City, 1947), pp. 411–433; Noaḥ Peni’el, Perakim be-toldot ha-ḥinukh ha-‘ivri (Tel Aviv, 1981); Shemu’el Rozenhak, “Kavim le-toldot ha-tarbut ha-‘ivrit be-Polin ben milḥamah le-milḥamah,” in Sefer ha-shanah shel ha-federatsyah ha-‘olamit shel yehude Polin, vol. 2, ed. Aryeh Tartakover, pp. 71–111 (Tel Aviv, 1967).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 23, Tarbut Hebrew Teachers Seminary (Vilna), Records, 1922-1939 (finding aid).



Translated from Hebrew by Carrie Friedman-Cohen