Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A kibbutz (Hebrew: קיבוץ; plural: kibbutzim. English meaning: together) is an Israeli collective community. Although other countries have had communal enterprises, in no other country have voluntary collective communities played as important a role as kibbutzim have played in Israel, indeed, kibbutzim played an essential role in the creation of Israel.
Combining Socialism and Zionism in a form of practical Labor Zionism, kibbutzim are a unique Israeli experiment, and part of the largest secular communal movement in history. Kibbutzim were founded in a time when independent farming was not practical. Forced by necessity into communal life, and inspired by their own socialist ideology, kibbutz members developed a pure communal mode of living that attracted interest from the entire world. While kibbutzim lasted for several generations as utopian communities, today kibbutzim are scarcely different from the capitalist enterprises and regular towns to which kibbutzim were originally supposed to be alternatives.
Kibbutzim have given Israel a wildly disproportionate share of its military leaders, intellectuals, and politicians. The kibbutz movement, though it never accounted for more than 7 percent of the Israeli population, did more to shape the image Israelis have of their country, and the image of foreigners have of Israel, than any other Israeli institution.
Conditions were hard for everyone in the Russian Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but they were especially difficult for Jews. It was the official policy of the Russian government to "cause one-third of the Jews to emigrate, one-third to accept baptism, and one-third to starve." Except for a wealthy few, Jews could not leave the Pale of Settlement; within the Pale of Settlement Jews could not live in large cities such as Kiev. The tsarist government disproportionately conscripted Jews into the Russian army. While in other countries soldiers of all kinds would be honored, in Russia, Jewish soldiers suffered severe discrimination. Jews had to leave the Pale of Settlement to serve with their units, but while their units were given furlough Jews had to return to the Pale of Settlement, even if their service was in the Russian Far East.
Most ominously, beginning in the aftermath of the assassination of Alexander II in 1881, the Russian autocracy allowed and encouraged its discontented peasants to take out their frustrations on their Jewish neighbors. In May 1882 Tsar Alexander III issued the so-called "May Laws." The May Laws forbade Jews to live in towns with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants and systematized the anti-Jewish quotas that kept thousands of Jews out of the professions and out of university. The consequence of the residency laws was that hundreds of thousands of Jews were expelled from towns and villages that their families had resided in for generations. It was always difficult to be Jewish in Russia, but at the turn of the century, it seemed to be unbearable.
Jews responded to the pressures on them in different ways. Some saw their future in a reformed Russia and joined Socialist political parties. Other Jews saw the future of Jews in Russia as being out of Russia, and thus emigrated to the West. Other Jews took little notice of the changing world and continued in orthodoxy. Still other Jews took the opposite course and became assimilationists. Last but not least among the ideological choices that presented themselves to Jews in late 19th century Russia was Zionism, the movement for the creation of a Jewish homeland in the cradle of Judaism, Palestine, or, as Jews called it, Eretz Yisrael.
Prior to this time of increased persecution, Jews had gone to Palestine either late in life to die or as young people to attend the various yeshivas clustered in Jerusalem and Hebron. These individuals were religious and had no political ambitions. In fact, instead of having livelihoods, they relied on charitable contributions from Jews from abroad.
Although Zionism's antecedents can be traced back into distant Jewish history, the ideology emerged as a significant force in Jewish life only in the 1880s. In that decade approximately 15,000 Jews, mostly from southern Russia, moved to Palestine with the two intentions of living there, as opposed to dying and being buried there, and of farming there, as opposed to studying. This movement of Jews to Palestine in the 1880s is called the "First Aliya," and its members are called "Biluim."
Zionism is usually understood to mean a kind of nationalism, but Zionism also had economic and cultural aspects. Zionism's chief economic program was for Jews to abandon inn-keeping, pawn-brokering, and petty selling in favor of a return to the land and its cultivation.
The Jews of the First Aliya generation believed that Diaspora Jews had sunk low due their typical disdain for physical labor. Their ideology was that the Jewish people could be "redeemed"—physically as well as spiritually—by toiling in the fields of Palestine. It was believed that the soil of Palestine had magical properties to metamorphosize feeble Jewish merchants into strong, noble farmers. In 1883, The London Jewish Chronicle wrote of the new Jewish agriculturalist in Palestine that he had been transformed from "the pallid, stooping Jewish pedlar and tradesman of a few months back ... into the bronzed, horny-handed, manly tiller of the soil." (Silver-Brody, 33,36)
In harmony with the "religion of labor," the Biluim manifesto proudly called for the "encouragement and strengthening of immigration and colonization in Eretz Yisrael through the establishment of an agricultural colony, built on cooperative social foundations." In harmony with the yet unnamed ideology of Zionism the Biluim called for the "polico-economic and national spiritual revival of the Jewish people in Palestine."
The Biluim came to Eretz Yisrael with high hopes of success as a peasant class, but their enthusiasm was perhaps greater than their agricultural ability. Within a year of living in Palestine the Bilium had become dependent on charity, just as their scholarly brethren in Jerusalem were. The difference between the charity that sustained the Bilium and the charity that sustained the scholars was that the Bilium used donations for land and agricultural equipment purchases.
Thanks to donations of regular Jews who read the above quotation from the London Jewish Daily Chronicle and extremely wealthy Jews like the Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, the Biluim were able to eventually prosper. Their towns, Rishon LeZion and Zichron Yaakov developed into attractive, healthy communities. Unfortunately, something had happened to the Biluim between their arrival in the country and the turn of the 20th century. Instead of cultivating the soil on their own land, the Biluim found themselves hiring Arabs to cultivate the soil in their place. The Zionist economic revolution was yet to occur.
The Second Aliya and founding the first kibbutzim
Pogroms flared up once again in Russia in the first years of the 20th century. In 1903 at Kishinev peasant mobs were incited against Jews after a blood libel. Riots again took place in the wake of Russia's defeat in the Russo-Japanese War and the 1905 Revolution. The occurence of new pogroms inspired yet another wave of Russian Jews to emigrate. As in the 1880s, most emigrants went to the United States, but a minority went to Palestine. It was this generation that would include founders of the kibbutzim.
Like the members of the First Aliya who came before them, most members of the Second Aliya wanted to be farmers in Palestine. Those who would go on to found the kibbutzim first went to a village of the Biluim, Rishon LeZion, to find work there. The founders of the kibbutz were morally appalled by what they saw in the Jewish settlers there "with their Jewish overseers, Arab peasant laborers, and Bedouin guards." They saw the new villages and were reminded of the places they had left in Eastern Europe. Instead of the beginning of a pure Jewish commonwealth, they felt that what they saw recreated the Jewish socioeconomic structure of the Pale of Settlement, where Jews functioned in clean jobs, while other groups did the dirty work. (Gavron, 19)
Joseph Baratz, who would go on to found the first kibbutz, wrote of his time working at Zikhron Yaakov:
- We were happy enough working on the land, but we knew more and more certainly that the ways of the old settlements were not for us. This was not the way we hoped to settle the country - this old way with Jews on top and Arabs working for them; anyway, we thought that there shouldn't be employers and employed at all. There must be a better way. (Baratz, 52)
Though Joseph Baratz and other laborers wanted to farm the land themselves, becoming independent farmers was not a realistic option in 1909. As Arthur Ruppin, an proponent of Jewish agricultural colonization of Palestine would later say, "The question was not whether group settlement was preferable to individual settlement; it was rather one of either group settlement or no settlement at all." (Rayman, 12)
Ottoman Palestine was a harsh environment, quite unlike the Russian plains the Jewish immigrants were familiar with. The Galilee was swampy, the Judean Hills rocky, and the South of the country, the Negev, was a desert. To make things more challenging, most of the settlers had no prior farming experience. The sanitary conditions were also poor. Malaria was more than a risk, it was nearly a guarantee. In addition to malaria, there were typhus and cholera.
In addition to having a difficult climate and relatively infertile soils, Ottoman Palestine was in some ways a lawless place. Nomadic Bedouins would frequently raid farms and settled areas. Sabotage of irrigation canals and burning of crops were also common. Living collectively was simply the most logical way to be secure in an unwelcoming land.
On top of considerations of safety, there were also considerations of economic survival. Establishing a new farm in the area was a capital-intensive project; collectively the founders of the kibbutzim had the resources to establish something lasting, while independently they did not.
Finally, the land that was going to be settled by Joseph Baratz and his comrades had been purchased by the greater Jewish community. From around the world, Jews dropped coins into little "Blue Boxes" for land purchases in Palestine. Since these efforts were on behalf of all Jews in the area, it would not have made sense for their land purchases to be conveyed to individuals.
In 1909, Joseph Baratz, nine other men, and two women established themselves at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee near an Arab village called "Umm Juni." These teenagers had hitherto worked as day laborers draining swamps, as masons, or as hands at the older Jewish settlements. Their dream was now to work for themselves, building up the land. They called their community "Degania," after the cereals which they grew there. Their community would grow into the first kibbutz.
The founders of Degania worked backbreaking labor attempting to rebuild what they saw as their ancestral land and to spread the social revolution. One pioneer later said "the body is crushed, the legs fail, the head hurts, the sun burns and weakens." At times half of the kibbutz members could not report for work. Many young men and women left the kibbutz for easier lives in Jewish Palestinian cities or in the Diaspora.
Despite the difficulties, kibbutzim grew and proliferated. By 1914, Degania had fifty members. Other kibbutzim were founded around the Sea of Galilee and the nearby Jezreel Valley. The founders of Degania themselves soon left Degania to become apostles of agriculture and socialism for newer kibbutzim.
Ideology of the kibbutz
The members of the First Aliya had been religious, but the members of the Second Aliya, of whom the founders of Degania were a tiny subsection, were not. Although they were settling in the land of the Bible, these young people were not the type to attend synagogue. To their minds, Orthodox Judaism was a hindrance for the Jewish people. The spiritualism of the pioneers of the kibbutz movement consisted of mystical feelings about Jewish work, articulated by labor Zionists like Berl Katznelson, who said, "everywhere the Jewish laborer goes, the divine presence goes with him." (Segev, 255)
In addition to redeeming the Jewish nation through work, there was also an element of redeeming Eretz Yisrael, Palestine, in the kibbutz ideology. In Anti-Zionist literature that was circulating around Eastern Europe, Palestine was mocked as "dos gepeigerte land"—"the country that had died." Kibbutz members took pleasure in bring the land back to life by planting trees, draining swamps, and countless other activities to make the land more fertile. In soliciting donations, kibbutzim and other Zionist settlement activities presented themselves as "making the desert bloom."
Most kibbutzim were indeed founded on vacant land, but many were founded on land that had long been cultivated before. The land on which Degania was established had previously been occupied by Arab tenant farmers, who were evicted when the land was purchased from absentee landlords by a Zionist settlement agency. Not all kibbutzim were founded in deserts, either: most were in the Galilee, a region with many streams and springs that receives up to forty inches of rain a year.
Members of a kibbutz, or kibbutzniks, like other participants in the Zionist movement, did not predict that there would be conflict between Jews and Arabs over Palestine. Mainstream Zionists predicted that Arabs would be grateful for the economic benefits that the Jews would bring. The left wing of the kibbutz movement believed that the enemies of the Arab peasants were Arab landowners (called effendis), not Jewish fellow farmers. By the late 1930s reality had dashed these notions of class solidarity and kibbutziks began to assume a military role in the growing yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine).
The first kibbutzniks hoped to be more than plain farmers in Palestine. They even hoped for more than a Jewish homeland there: they wanted to create a new type of society where there would be no exploitation of anyone and where all would be equal. The early kibbutzniks wanted to be both free from working for others and from the guilt of exploiting hired work. Thus was born the idea that Jews would band together, holding their property in common, "to each his ability, to each to his needs."
Kibbutz members were not orthodox Marxists. Marxists did not believe in nations, and kibbutzniks, as Zionists, clearly did. Traditional Marxists were hostile to Zionism, even its communist manifestations.
Although kibbutzniks practiced communism themselves, they did not believe that communism would work for everyone. Kibbutz political parties never called for the abolition of private property. Kibbutzniks saw kibbutzim as collective enterprises within a capitalist system. Also, kibbutzim were democratic. Kibbutzniks also never called for a "dictatorship of the proletariat." Kibbutzim themselves were governed democratically and kibbutziks believed in the political process.
Kibbutzim during the British Mandate
The end of the Ottoman Empire following the end of World War I, and the coming of the British Mandate to Palestine was good for the yishuv and kibbutzim. The Ottoman authorities had made immigrating to Palestine difficult for Jews, and they had also made land purchases problematic. This had affected Muslim, Christian, and Jew alike. The Ottomans were poor administrators as well.
Aside from the change in government in Palestine, kibbutzim and the whole yishuv grew as a result of the increase in Anti-Semitism in Europe. In contrast to the prediction anti-Zionist Jews had made prior to World War I, the spread of liberal ideas was not irreversible and the position of Jews in many Central and Eastern European societies actually deteriorated.
Jews suffered severely in the Polish-Soviet War and the Russian Civil War. Though the deaths were small compared to the recent bloodletting of World War I, the pogroms of 1918-1920 would actually make the pogroms of the 1880s and 1900s look like scuffles.
"The first major pogroms took place in Zhitomir and Berdichev, old Jewish centers," Walter LaQueur wrote in his A History of Zionism,
- whence they spread to Proskurov (where fifteen hundred Jews were killed) and neighboring places. Altogether about fifteen thousands Jews were killed in these attacks and many more wounded. Much Jewish property was destroyed. The number of deaths was far higher than in the prewar pogroms. Human life had become very cheap after 1914, and whereas the death of a few dozen victims in Kishinev had aroused a storm of protest in the civilized world, the murder of thousands 1919-1920 caused hardly a ripple. (LaQueur, 441)
As the pogroms after Alexander II's death and the pogroms of Kishinev caused mass aliyas, so did the pogroms of the Russian civil war. Tens of thousands of Russian Jews immigrated to Palestine in the early 1920s, in a wave called the "Third Aliya."
After the Bolshevik consolidation of power, Jews of Russia and the Ukraine were assured of their physical safety, though none could emigrate. In the rest of the 1920s Jewish immigrants to Palestine would come from the rest of Eastern and Central Europe, the "Fourth Aliya." These Third and Fourth Aliya immigrants would actually do more for the growth of the kibbutz movement than the immigrants of previous immigration groups.
The three million Jews of Poland suffered as a result of large-scale boycotts of their businesses. The number of Jews practicing medicine and law was deliberately reduced. By 1930, before the Great Depression had even set in, one-third of the Jewish community of Poland would be unable to pay nominal Jewish community taxes. The Polish government usually maintained law and order, but there were several minor pogroms.
Jewish Romanians also were victims of intense anti-Semitism. Jews were displaced from many occupations and groups formed, such as the National Christian Defense League and the Iron Guard, whose goal was the eviction of all Jews.
In other countries institutional anti-Semitism was not as disabling as it was in Poland or Romania, though there was virulent anti-Semitism in the public at large.
Partly based on German youth movements and the Boy Scouts, Zionist Jewish youth movements flourished in the 1920s in virtually every European nation. Youth movements came in every shade of the political spectrum. There were rightist movements like Betar and religious movements like Bachad, but most of these Zionist youth movements were socialist such as Dror, Brit Haolim, Kadima, Habonim, and Wekleute. Of the leftist youth movements the most significant in kibbutz history was to be the Marxist Hashomer Hatzair. In the 1920s the left-oriented youth movements would become feeders for the kibbutzim.
In contrast to those who came as part of the Second Aliya, these youth group members had some agricultural training before embarking. Members of the Second Aliya and Third Aliyas were also less likely to be Russian, since emigration from Russia was closed off after the Russian Revolution of 1917. European Jews who settled on kibbutzim between the World Wars were from other countries in Eastern Europe, including Germany. Finally, the members of the Third Aliya were to the left of the founders of Degania, and believed that voluntary socialism could work for everyone. They considered themselves to be a vanguard movement that would inspire the rest of the world.
Degania in the 1910s seems to have confined its discussions to practical matters, but the conversations of the next generation in the 1920s and 1930s were free-flowing discussions of the cosmos. Instead of having a meeting in a dining room, meetings were held around campfires. Instead of beginning a meeting with a reading of minutes, a meeting would begin with a group dance. Remembering her youth on a kibbutz by the Sea of Galilee, a woman remembered "Oh, how beautiful it was when we all took part in the discussions, [they were] nights of searching for one another—that is what I call those hallowed nights. During the moments of silence, it seemed to me that from each heart a spark would burst forth, and the sparks would unite in one great flame penetrating the heavens. . . . At the center of our camp a fire burns, and under the weight of the hora the earth groans a rhythmic groan, accompanied by wild songs." (Gavron, 45)
Kibbutzim founded in the 1920s tended to be larger than the kibbutzim like Degania which were founded prior to World War I. Degania had had twelve members at its founding. Ein Harod, founded only a decade later, began with 215 members.
Altogether kibbutzim grew and flourished in the 1920s. In 1922 there were scarcely 700 individuals living on kibbutzim in Palestine. By 1927 the kibbutz population was approaching 4,000. By the eve of World War II the kibbutz population was 25,000, 5 percent of the total population of the yishuv.
The growth of kibbutzim allowed the movement to diversify into different factions, although the differences between kibbutzim were always smaller than their similarities. In 1927, some new kibbutzim that had been founded by HaShomer Hatzair banded together to form a countrywide association, Kibbutz Artzi . For decades, Kibbutz Artzi would be the kibbutz left wing. In 1936, the Kibbutz Artzi Federation founded its own political party called the Socialist League of Palestine but generally known as Hashomer Hatzair. It merged with another left-wing party to become Mapam once the state of Israel was established.
Artzi kibbutzim were also more devoted to equality of the sexes than other kibbutzim. A 1920s, 1930s era kibbutz woman would call her husband ishi - "My man" - rather than the usual Hebrew word, ba'ali, which literally means "My master."
In 1928 Kibbutz Degania and other small kibbutzim formed together a group called "Chever Hakvutzot," the "Association of Kvutzot." Kvutzot kibbutzim deliberately stayed under 200 in population. They believed that for collective life to work, groups had to be small and intimate, or else the trust between members would be lost. Kvutzot kibbutzim also lacked youth-group affiliations in Europe.
The mainstream of the kibbutz movement became known simply as "United Kibbutz," or "'Kibbutz Hameuhad." Kibbutz Hameuhad accused Artzi and the kvutzot of elitism. Hameuhad criticized Artzi for thinking of itself as a socialist elite, and they criticized the kvutzot for staying small. Hameuhad kibbutzim took in as many members as they could. Givat Brenner eventually came to have more than 1,500 members.
There were also differences in religion. Kibbutz Artzi kibbutzim were secular, even staunchly atheistic, proudly trying to be "monasteries without G-d." Most mainstream kibbutzim also disdained the Orthodox Judaism of their parents, but they wanted their new communities to have Jewish characteristics nonetheless. Friday nights were still "Shabbat" with a white tablecloth and fine food, and work was not done on Saturday if it could be avoided. Later, some kibbutzim adopted Yom Kippur as the day to discuss fears for the future of the kibbutz. Kibbutzim also had collective bar mitzvahs for their children.
If kibbutzniks did not pray several times a day, kibbutzniks marked holidays like Shavuot, Sukkot, and Passover with dances, meals, and celebrations. One Jewish holiday, Tu B'shvat, the "birthday of the trees" was substantially revived by kibbutzim. All in all, holidays with some kind of natural component, like Passover and Sukkoh, were the most significant for kibbutzim.
The kibbutz movement developed an overtly religious faction late in its history, a group now called Kibbutz Dati . The first religious kibbutz was Ein Tzurim, founded in 1946. Ein Tzurim was first located by Safad, then by Hebron in what is now the West Bank, then finally in the Negev. Religious kibbutzim are obviously religious, but they were and are no less collectivist than secular kibbutzim. Some religious kibbutzim now identify with the "hippie Hasidism" of rabbis like Shlomo Carlebach.
Kibbutzim in Israeli statebuilding
In Ottoman times kibbutzim worried about criminal violence, not political violence. The lack of Arab hostility was due to the small number of Jews in the country at the time. Arab opposition increased as the Balfour Declaration and the wave of Jewish aliyas to Palestine began to tilt the demographic balance of the area. There were bloody anti-Jewish riots in Jerusalem in 1921 and in Hebron in 1929. In the late 1930s Arab-Jewish violence became virtually constant, a time called the "Great Uprising" in Palestinian historiography.
During the Great Uprising kibbutzim began to assume a more prominent military role than they had previously. Rifles were purchased or manufactured and kibbutz members drilled and practiced shooting. Yigal Allon, an Israeli soldier and statesman, explained the role of kibbutzim in the military activities of the yishuv.
- The planning and development of pioneering Zionist settlements were from the start at least partly determined by politico-strategic needs. The choice of the location of the settlements, for instance, was influenced not only by considerations of economic viability but also and even chiefly by the needs of local defense, overall settlement strategy, and by the role such blocks of settlements might play in some future, perhaps decisive all out struggle. Accordingly, land was purchased, or more often reclaimed, in remove parts of the country. (quoted in Rayman, 27-8)
Kibbutzim also played a role in defining the borders of the Jewish state-to-be. By the late 1930s when it appeared that Palestine would be partitioned between Arabs and Jews, kibbutzim were planted in remote parts of the Mandate to make it more likely that the land would be incorporated into Israel, not a Palestinian state. Many of these kibbutzim were founded, literally, in the middle of the night. In 1946, on the day after Yom Kippur, a dozen new "Tower and Stockade" kibbutzim were hurriedly established in the northern part of the Negev to give Israel a better claim to this arid, but strategically important, region.
Not all kibbutzniks worked to expand the amount of territory that would be given to the Jewish state. The leftwing, Marxist faction of the kibbutz movement, Kibbutz Artzi, was the last major element in the yishuv to favor a binational state, rather than partition. Kibbutz Artzi, however, still wanted free Jewish immigration, which the Arabs opposed.
Kibbutziks were considered to have fought very bravely in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, emerging from the conflict with enhanced prestige in the nascent State of Israel. Members of Kibbutz Degania were instrumental in stopping the Syrian tank advance into the Galilee with homemade gasoline bombs. Another kibbutz, Maagan Michael, manufactured the bullets for the Sten guns that won the war. Maagan Michael's clandestine ammunition factory was later separated from the kibbutz and grew into TAAS (Israel Military Industries).
Kibbutzim in independent Israel
The establishment of Israel and flood of Jewish refugees from Europe and the Muslim world presented challenges and opportunities for kibbutzim. The immigrant tide offered kibbutzim a chance to expand through new members and inexpensive labor, but it also meant that Ashkenazi kibbutzim would have to adapt to Jews whose background was far different from their own.
The first challenge that kibbutzim faced was the question of how to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern Jews, or mizrahi. Until the 1950s, nearly all kibbutzniks were from Eastern Europe, culturally different from their cousins from places like Morocco, Tunisia, and Iraq. Many kibbutzim found themselves hiring Mizrahim to work their fields and expand infrastructure, but not actually admitting very many as members. Since few mizrahi would ever join kibbutzim, the percentage of Israelis living on kibbutzim peaked around the time of statehood.
Another dispute occurred solely over ideology. Israel had been initially recognized by both the USA and the Soviet Union. For the first three years of its existence, Israel was in the non-aligned movement, but David Ben-Gurion gradually began to take sides with the West. The question of which side of the Cold War Israel should choose created fissures in the kibbutz movement. Dining halls segregated according to politics and a few kibbutz even saw Marxist members leave. This controversy cooled once Stalin's cruelty became better known and once it became clear that the Soviet Union was systematically anti-Semitic. The disillusionment particularly set in after the Prague Trials in which a envoy of Hashomer Hatzair in Prague was tried in an anti-Semitic show trial.
Yet another controversy in the kibbutz movement was the question over Holocaust reparations from West Germany. Should kibbutz members turn over income that was the product of a very personal loss? If Holocaust survivors were allowed to keep their reparation money, what would that mean for the principle of equality? Eventually, many kibbutzim made this one concession to inequality by letting Holocaust survivors keep all or a percentage of their reparations. Reparations that were turned over to the collective were used for building expansion and even recreational activities.
Kibbutziks enjoyed a steady and gradual improvement in their standard of living in the first few decades after independence. In the 1960s, kibbutzim actually saw their standard of living improve faster than Israel's general population. Most kibbutz swimming pools date from the good decade of the 1960s.
Kibbutzim also continued to play an outsize role Israel's defense apparatus. In the 1950s and 1960s many kibbutzim were in fact founded by an Israel Defense Forces group called Nahal. Many of these 1950s and 1960s Nahal kibbutzim were founded on the precarious and porous borders of the state. In the Six-Day War, when Israel lost 800 soldiers, fully 200 of them were from kibbutzim. The prestige that kibbutzniks enjoyed in Israel in the 1960s was reflected in the Knesset. When only 4 percent of Israelis were kibbutzniks, kibbutzniks made up 15 percent of Israel's parliament. (Bettelheim, 15)
As late as the 1970s, kibbutzim seemed to be thriving in every way. Kibbutzniks performed working class, or even peasant class, occupations, yet enjoyed a middle class lifestyle.
The principle of equality was taken extremely seriously up until the 1970s. Kibbutzniks did not individually own animals, tools, or even clothing. Gifts and income received from outside were turned over to the common treasury. If one kibbutz member received a gift in services—like a visit to a relative who was a dentist or a trip abroad paid for by a parent—there were arguments at evening meetings about the propriety of accepting such a gift.
The arrival of children at a new kibbutz posed certain problems. If kibbutzniks owned everything in common, then who was in charge of the children? This question was answered by regarding the children as belonging to all, even to the point of kibbutz mothers breastfeeding babies which were not their own. For most kibbutzim, the arrival of children was a sobering experience. "When we saw our first children in the playpen, hitting one another, or grabbing toys just for themselves, we were overcome with anxiety. What did it mean that even an education in communal life couldn't uproot these egotistical tendencies? The utopia of our initial social conception was slowly, slowly destroyed." (Segev, 254) Overall though, kibbutzim always had a very low birthrate.
In the 1920s kibbutzim began a practice of raising children communally away from their parents in special communities called "Children's Societies" (Mossad Hinuchi). The theory was that trained nurses and teachers would be better care-providers than amateur parents. Children and parents would have better relationships due to the Children's Societies, since parents would not have to be disciplinarians, and there would be no Oedipus Complex. Also, it was hoped that raising children away from parents would liberate mothers from their "biological tragedy." Instead of spending hours a day raising children, women could thus be free to work or enjoy leisure.
There is much to be said about the role of women on kibbutzim. In the early days there were always more men than women on kibbutzim, so naturally kibbutzim tended to be male-dominated places. Memoirs of early kibbutz life tend to show female kibbutzniks as desperate to perform the same kinds of roles as kibbutz men, from digging up rocks to planting trees. At Degania at least, it seems that the men wanted the women to continue to perform traditional female roles, such as cooking, sewing, and cleaning.
Eventually the men of the kibbutz gave in and allowed, even expected, women to perform the same roles as men, including guard duty. The desire to liberate women from traditional maternal duties was another ideological underpinning of the Children's Society system. Interestingly, women born on kibbutzim were much less reluctant to perform traditional female roles. It was the generation of women born on kibbutzim who eventually ended the Societies of Children. Also, although there was a "masculinization of women," there was no corresponding feminization of men. Women may have worked the fields, but men did not work childcare.
Social lives were held in common as well, not only property. As an example, most kibbutz dining halls exclusively had benches. It was not an issue of cost or convenience, but benches were considered to be another way of expressing communal values. At some kibbutzim husbands and wives were discouraged from sitting together, as marriage was a kind of exclusivity. In The Kibbutz Community and Nation Building, Paula Rayman reports that Kibbutz Har refused to buy teakettles for its members in the 1950s. It was not that the teakettles were expensive, it was that couples having their own teakettles would have meant that people would spend more time in apartments, rather than in the communal dining hall.
The communal life was naturally hard for some people. Every kibbutz saw new members quit after a few years. Since kibbutzniks had no individual bank accounts, any purchase that could not be made at the kibbutz canteen had to be approved by a committee, a potentially humiliating experience. Kibbutzim also had their share of members who were not hard workers, or who abused common property; there would always be resentment against these "parasites." Finally, kibbutzim, as small, isolated communities, tended to be places of gossip.
Although major decisions about the future of the kibbutz were made by consensus or by voting, day-to-day decisions about where people would work were made by elected leaders. Typically, kibbutzniks would learn their assignments by reading an assignment sheet.
Kibbutz memoirs from the Pioneer era report that kibbutz meetings were heated arguments or free-flowing philosophical discussions. Memoirs and accounts from kibbutz observers from the 1950s and 1960s report that kibbutz meetings were businesslike and poorly attended.
Kibbutzim attempted to rotate people into different jobs. One week a person might work in planting, the next week with livestock, the week after in the kibbutz factory, the next week in laundry. Even managers would have to work in menial jobs. Rotation was good in that all shared in every kind of work, but it was harmful in that it interfered with allowing people to specialize.
Children's Societies were one of the features of kibbutz life that most interested outsiders. In the heyday of Children's Societies, parents would only spend two hours a day, typically in the afternoon, with their children. In Kibbutz Artzi parents were explicitly forbidden to put their children to bed at night. As children got older, parents would sometimes go for days on end without seeing their offspring, except from chance encounters on the grounds of the kibbutz.
Some children who went through Children's Societies said they loved the experience, others are ambivalent, but a vocal group says that growing up without one's parents was very difficult. Years later, a kibbutz member described her childhood in a Children's Society:
- Allowed to suckle every four hours, left to cry and develop our lungs, we grew up without the basic security needed for survival. Sitting on the potty at regular intervals next to other children doing the same, we were educated to be the same; but we were, for all that, different. . . . At night the grownups leave and turn off all the lights. You know you will wet the bed because it is too frightening to go to the lavatory. (Gavron, 168)
Aversion to sex was not part of the kibbutz ideology, in fact, teenaged boys and girls were not segregated at night in Children's Societies, yet many visitors to kibbutzim were amazed at how conservative the communities tended to be. In Children of the Dream, Bruno Bettelheim quoted a kibbutz friend, "at a time when the American girls preen themselves, and try to show off as much as possible sexually, our girls cover themselves up and refuse to wear clothing that might show their breasts or in any other fashion be revealing." Kibbutz divorce rates were and are extremely low. (Bettelheim, 243)
Kibbutzim have always been very cultured places. Many kibbutzniks were and are writers, actors, or artists. Kibbutzim have theater companies, choirs, orchestras, athletic leagues, and classes. In 1953 Givat Brenner staged the play My Glorious Brothers, about the Maccabee revolt, building a real village on a hilltop as a set, planting real trees, and performing for 40,000 people. Like all kibbutz work products at the time, all the actors were members of the kibbutz, and all were ordered to perform as part of their work assignments.
In the era of independent Israel kibbutzim attracted interest from sociologists and psychologists who attempted to answer the question: What are the effects of life without private property? What are the effects of life being brought up apart from one's parents?
Two researchers who wrote about psychological life on kibbutzim were Melford E. Spiro (1958) and Bruno Bettelheim (1969). Both concluded that a kibbutz upbringing led to individuals' having greater difficulty in making strong emotional commitments thereafter, such as falling in love or forming a lasting friendship. On the other hand, they appear to find it easier to have a large number of less-involved friendships, and a more active social life .
Bettelheim suggested that the lack of private property was the cause of the lack of emotions in kibbutzniks. He wrote, "nowhere more than in the kibbutz did I realize the degree to which private property, in the deep layers of the mind, relates to private emotions. If one is absent, the other tends to be absent as well". (See primitivism and primitive communism for a general discussion of these concepts).
Other researchers came to a conclusion that children growing up in these tightly-knit communities tended to see the other children around them as ersatz siblings and preferred to seek mates outside the community when they reached maturity. Some theorize that living amongst one another on a daily basis virtually from birth on produced an extreme version of the Westermarck effect, which subconsciously diminished teenage kibbutzniks' sexual attraction to one another. Partly as a result of not finding a mate from within the kibbutz, youth often abandon kibbutz life as adults.
It is a subject of debate within the kibbutz movement as to how successful kibbutz education was in developing the talents of gifted children. Many kibbutz-raised children look back and say that the communal system stifled ambition; others say that bright children were nonetheless encouraged. Bruno Bettelheim had predicted that kibbutz education would yield mediocrity: "[kibbutz children] will not be leaders or philosophers, will not achieve anything in science or art."
Bettelheim's prediction was certainly wrong about the specific children he met at "Kibbutz Atid." In the 1990s a journalist tracked down the children Bettelheim had interviewed back in the 1960s at what was actually Kibbutz Ramat Yohanan. The journalist found that the children were highly accomplished in academia, business, music, and the military. "Bettelheim got it totally wrong." (Gavron, 166)
Kibbutzim in the early days tried to be self-sufficient in all agricultural goods, from eggs to dairy to fruits to meats. Through experimentation, kibbutzniks discovered that self-sufficiency was impossible.
Kibbutziks were also not self-sufficient when it came to capital investment. At the founding of a kibbutz, when it would be opened on land owned by the Jewish National Fund; for expansion, most kibbutzim were dependent on subsidies from charity or the State of Israel. Most of the subsidies took the form of low-interest loans or discounted water. In Israel, when interest rates were routinely over 30 percent until the 1990s and where water is expensive, these gifts came to a very great amount indeed.
Even prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, kibbutzim had begun to branch out from agriculture into manufacturing. Kibbutz Degania, for instance, set up a factory to fabricate diamond cutting tools, it now grosses several million dollars a year. Kibbutz Hatzerim has a factory for drip irrigation equipment (a technique that was invented on the kibbutz). Hatzerim's business, called Netafim, is a multinational corporation that grosses over $250 million a year. Maagan Michael branched out from making bullets to making plastics and medical tools. Maagan Michael's enterprises earn over $100 million a year. A great wave of kibbutz industrialization came in the 1960s, and today only 15 percent of kibbutz members work in agriculture.
Kibbutzim industrialized at a time when agricultural jobs were not enough to absorb everyone on the kibbutz. Kibbutzim also industrialized due to pressure from the State of Israel. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s Israel had one of the world's highest trade deficit, the state was desperate to grow its exports and kibbutzim were asked to play a role.
The hiring of seasonal workers was always a point of controversy in the kibbutz movement. During harvest time, when hands were needed, was hiring someone permissible? Most kibbutzim compromised with practical exigencies and began the practice of hiring non-kibbutzniks when work was at its peak.
Hiring non-Jews was especially contentious. The founders of the kibbutz movement wanted to redeem the Jewish nation through work, and hiring non-Jews to do hard tasks would not be consistent with that idea. In the 1910s Kibbutz Degania vainly searched for Jewish masons to build their homes. Only when they could not find Jewish masons willing to endure the malaria of their location did they hire Arabs.
Today kibbutzim have changed dramatically. Only 38 percent of kibbutz employees are kibbutz members. By the 1970s, kibbutzim were frequently hiring Palestinians. Today, Thais have replaced Palestinians as the non-Jewish physical work element at kibbutzim. They are omnipresent in various service areas and in factories.
As kibbutzim branched out into manufacturing in the 1960s, they are branching out into tourism and services today. Kibbutz Hatzerim even has a law firm. Virtually every kibbutz has guest rooms for rent. Some of these rooms are spartan and are intended for travelling students, but Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim has a luxury hotel with a view. Several kibbutzim, such as Kibbutz Lotan and Kfar Ruppin, operate bird-watching vacations. They brag that a European visitor can see more birds in one week in Israel than he or she would in a year at home. It is not lost on the modern kibbutz movement that kibbutzniks today are working in occupations which the first kibbutz generation condemned.
Contrary to the predictions of classical economics, kibbutzim had no dearth of entrepreneurship. Many kibbutzim aggressively put money into building new enterprises, even playing the stock market. This borrowing spree caught up to the kibbutz movement in the 1980s, forcing kibbutzim to retreat from collective ideas. Today, most kibbutzim are at the economic break-even point, a dozen or so are very wealthy, and several score lose money.
Today, many people who live on kibbutzim have to work outside the kibbutz. They are expected to return a percentage of their earnings to the collective. One urban kibbutz, Kibbutz Tammuz, has no enterprises; all of its members work in the non-kibbutz sector.
Kibbutzim in the late 20th century
- For people to think and feel as they should in a life of complete equality and complete partnership, they have to be born into it, and for that to happen generations will have to pass. Many things that we cannot achieve today will be achieved by comrades who have grown up in the new environment of the kvutza (kibbutz).
Second- and third-generation kibbutzniks seemed as comfortable with egalitarianism as their parents had been. It was the generation that came of age in the 1980s, the fourth generation, that began to break with the old beliefs. Whereas Bussel had predicted that the fourth generation would be wholly devoted to equality, the fourth generation's desire was for materialism.
Although the kibbutz population would continue to grow in absolute terms until the 1980s, problems were apparent before that. In the 1960s, the secretary of Kibbutz Degania, Hezi Dar, conducted a survey of kibbutz youth who had elected to stay on the kibbutz. Dar discovered that the young kibbutzniks were staying on the kibbutz not out of ideology, but because they liked the way of life, they wanted to live by their parents, or because it was convenient. Dar's finding was especially troubling in light of the fact that he was interviewing the children who had liked Degania enough to live there as adults. If Dar could have interviewed all the children who grew up at Degania - including children who left - his results would have been even more pessimistic.
Prosperity of the kibbutzim ultimately hurt communal feelings. Once kibbutzim could afford to install kitchenettes in members' apartments, they did. Once members had kitchenettes, they ate fewer meals in the group dining hall. Buying individual televisions weakened communal feelings in the same way.
Kibbutzniks give reasons other than an increase in private time for why the communal feelings disappeared. The half-million non-Jewish Western European kibbutz volunteers in the 1970s and 1980s may have brought hedonism to kibbutz life (kibbutz volunteering went on the decline as Israel's image suffered from the intifada). Israel's wars may have done much to impact the innocence of kibbutz youth. Beginning in the 1980s it became common for Israeli youths to "decompress" by spending months touring the world after army service. Most of these youths never came back to the kibbutz, and many never even came back to Israel.
Veteran kibbutzniks say that kibbutzim failed in passing on socialist ideology because they assumed that children would see the examples of their elders and simply want to copy them. Kibbutz education had never had its students read classics of socialism and labor Zionism—no Marx, no Ber Borochov. Some kibbutzniks suggest if kibbutz education had incorporated deliberate ideological instruction, as Orthodox Jewish education does, then kibbutz children would be more likely to embrace kibbutz values.
Finally, some kibbutzniks simply say that the decline in kibbutz values was a reflection of changes in Israeli society. In fact, in every nation old socialist ideas have lost vigor in the past decades. Kibbutzim never tried to wall off the rest of the world, thus, their existences reflected broad global trends.
Kibbutzim have gradually and steadily become less collectivist in the past twenty years. Rather than the principle of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs," kibbutzim have adopted "from each according to his preferences, to each according to his needs."
The first changes to be made were in utilities and in the dining hall. When electricity was "free" kibbutzniks had no incentive to save energy. People would leave their air conditioners running constantly. In the 1980s kibbutzim began to meter energy usage. Having kibbutzniks pay for energy usage required that kibbutzniks actually have personal money. Hence returned private accounts.
The dining hall also was one of the first things to change. When food was "free," people had no incentive to take the appropriate amount. Every kibbutz dining hall would end the night with enormous amounts of extra food; often this food would be fed to the animals. Now most kibbutz dining halls are a la carte cafeterias.
Kibbutzniks see their neighbors more than most other Israelis, but they have begun to live private lives. Several kibbutz dining halls are no longer even open for three meals a day. Kibbutz families have DVD players and the internet like other Israeli families. Group activities are much less well attended than they were in the past. Instead of all-night discussions of cosmic issues, kibbutz general meetings are now infrequently scheduled.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of how kibbutzim have abandoned the principle of equality is the implementation of differential salaries. A manager of a factory would now receive a much larger personal allowance than a factory worker, or agricultural worker.
In the 1970s nearly all kibbutzim abandoned Children's Societies in favor of the traditional nuclear family. The reasons were many. Some kibbutzim believed that communal life for children led to psychological problems; some said that giving up one's children was too great a sacrifice for parents. The children themselves said that they remembered being fearful at night in the dark, away from their parents.
Although kibbutzim abandoned the Children's Societies, kibbutz children do not grow up like their non-kibbutz peers. Many kibbutzim give children their own apartments when they turn sixteen. Other kibbutzim still have Children's Societies for youngsters who are older than twelve.
Since the late 1970s kibbutzim have lost prestige in the eyes of non-kibbutz Israelis. The image of the kibbutznik has gone from self-sacrificing pioneer and guardian of the state's borders to that of a non-mainstream, idealistic subsidy consumer.
There are several causes of the loss of prestige. One reason is that as Israel’s Mizrahi (also called “Sephardic”) and religious populations have become larger and more assertive. For various reasons, kibbutzim never attracted large numbers of non-Ashkenazi Jews. By the 1980s, when virtually every other institution in Israel was full integrated between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, kibbutzim stood out as Ashkenazi bastions. Kibbutzim, nearly all of which are secular also have become respected has Israel has become more religious. In the 1980s kibbutzim were not allowed to participate in the absorption of Ethiopian Jews, as there were fears that the secularism of the kibbutzim would influence the religiosity of the Ethiopian immigrants.
Kibbutz industrialization in the 1960s led to an increase in the kibbutz standard of living, but that increase in the standard of living meant an end to the self-sacrifice which regular Israelis had so admired. In his 1977 campaign for prime minister, Menachem Begin attacked kibbutzniks as “millionaires with swimming pools” and was rewarded with the right's first ever electoral victory.
Finally, the need for government bailouts harmed the kibbutz image. In the 1970s and early 1980s Israel experienced hyperinflation– up to 400 percent per year. During that period kibbutzim borrowed excessively with the expectation that inflation would virtually eliminate their debts. When the Israeli government implemented an austerity program that brought inflation down to 20 percent per year kibbutzim were left with billions in debt that they could not repay. The ensuing bail-out by the government, banks, and profitable kibbutzim cost the kibbutz movement considerable respect.
Future of the kibbutz movement
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Although the kibbutz population is aging and shrinking, there are still areas of vibrancy in the movement. In the past three decades, several new kibbutzim have been founded in the Arava, in far southern Israel, by Eilat. One notable new Arava kibbutz is Kibbutz Samar .
Kibbutz Samar does not call itself an anarchist kibbutz, but in effect that is what it is. Instead of members being assigned to various tasks, members work where they feel they are needed, without any formal assignment. Kibbutz Samar still also has an open cash box. Kibbutz Samar maintains a trust among members that is seldom seen in other kibbutzim.
Kibbutzniks no longer expect to transform the rest of Israel, or the globe, into one large collectivist project, but they have not given up on changing the world in smaller ways. Kibbutzniks are prominent in Israel's environmental movement. Some kibbutzim try to generate all their power through solar cells. Kibbutzniks are also prominent among Israel's peace activists.
While some kibbutzim lose money, kibbutzim are an integral part of Israel's defense apparatus, particularly those kibbutzim which lie in border areas. It is likely that the Israeli government will continue to support them for military as well as political and historical reasons. Kibbutzniks defend subsidies by pointing out that every developed nation subsidizes its agriculture.
In his history of Palestine under the British Mandate, One Palestine, Complete, the post-Zionist "new historian" Tom Segev wrote of the kibbutz movement:
- The kibbutz was an original social creation, yet always a marginal phenomenon. By the end of the 1920s no more than 4,000 people, children included, lived on some thirty kibbutzim, and they amounted to a mere 2.5 percent of Palestine’s Jewish population. The most important service the kibbutzim provided to the Jewish national struggle was military, not economic or social. They were guardians of Zionist land, and their patterns of settlement would to a great extent determine the country’s borders. The kibbutzim also had a powerful effect on the Zionist self-image. (Segev, 252)
Segev’s view might be cynical, but he is correct that the story of Tel Aviv, which, coincidentally, was founded in the same year as Degania, would be more representative of the yishuv experience than the stories of the kibbutzim.
Kibbutzim have been criticized for falling short of living up to their own ideals. Most kibbutzim are not self-sufficient and have to employ non-kibbutz members as farm workers (or later factory workers). What was particularly controversial was the employment of Arab labourers while excluding them from the possibility of joining the Kibbutz as full members.
In more recent decades, kibbutzim have been criticized for abandoning socialist principles and instead attempting to be competitors in the market. Kibbutz Shamir owns an optical products company that is listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange. Numerous kibbutzim have moved away from farming and instead developed parts of their property for commercial and industrial purposes, building shopping malls and factories on kibbutz land that serve and employ non kibbutz members while the kibbutz retains a profit from land rentals or sales. Conversely, kibbutzim which have not engaged in this sort of development have been criticized for becoming dependent on state subsidies to survive.
Nonetheless, kibbutzniks played a role in yishuv society and then Israeli society, far out of proportion to their population. From Moshe Dayan to Ehud Barak, kibbutzniks have served Israel in positions of leadership. David Ben Gurion lived most of his life in Tel Aviv, but Kibbutz Sde Boker, in the Negev, was his spiritual home.
Kibbutzim also contributed greatly to the growing Hebrew culture movement. The poet Rachel rhapsodized on the landscape from viewpoints from various Galilee kibbutzim in the 1920s and 1930s. The kibbutz dream of "making the desert bloom" became part of the Israeli dream as well.
Likewise, kibbutzim disproportionately affect the views that the rest of the world has of Israel and the image Israelis have of their country. One reason socialists were very supportive of Israel in its first two decades of existence was that kibbutzim represented socialism in its purest form. Books and movies about Israel, from James Michener’s The Source to Leon Uris’ Exodus, all feature kibbutzniks prominently. The stereotypical image of the kibbutznik—tanned and wearing a "zimple" sunhat with a fold-down brim—became the stereotypical image of all Israelis, even being used in anti-Zionist Arab propaganda. As for the image Israelis have of themselves, once, when asked what he proposed doing about the thousands of Israelis who did not have enough food to eat, Prime Minister Ehud Barak proposed that Israelis simply open their pantries to the hungry, as if Israel were one big kibbutz.
Since there are still over 250 kibbutzim in Israel, it may be premature to address the legacy of the kibbutz movement. However, although there may be hundreds of entities in Israel calling themselves kibbutzim, the collectivist impulse is gone. As the largest secular collectivist movement ever, kibbutzim arguably prove that the model itself is economically sustainable, while the ideological fervor is not.
- Collective farming
- Collectivisation in the USSR
- Commune (disambiguation)
- People's commune
- List of kibbutzim
- Baratz, Joseph. A Village by the Jordan: The Story of Degania. Tel Aviv: Ichud Habonim, 1956.
- Bettelheim, Bruno. Children of the Dream. New York: Macmillan, 1969.
- Gavron, Daniel. The Kibbutz: Awakening from Utopia Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, 2000.
- LaQueur, Walter. A History of Zionism. New York: MJF Books, 1972.
- Rayman, Paula. The Kibbutz Community and Nation Building. Princeton University Press, 1981.
- Segev, Tom. One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate. Metropolitan Books, 2000.
- Silver-Brody, Vivienne. Documentors of the Dream: Pioneer Jewish Photographers in the Land of Israel 1890-1933. Magnes Press of the Hebrew University, 1998.
- Official Website of the Kibbutz Movement
- Site on the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs about Kibbutzim
- Interview with Gary Brenner and Jo-Ann Mort on Kibbutzim in Israeli Society
- Comparison of a Wealthy and an Indebted Kibbutzim from HaAretz
- Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies
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