Jewish philanthropy, zionist culture, and the civilizing mission of hebrew education

Nirit Raichel, Tali Tadmor-Shimony

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4 Scopus citations


Different concepts about the direction of Jewish society and culture in Eretz Israel converged around the issue of education in the moshavot of Ottoman Palestine. Parents in the moshavot had three educational alternatives to consider and choose from: the religious-traditional, modern French-language, and modern-Zionist options. The religious alternative was a continuation of the heder or Talmud-Torah. The other two options were an expression of the desire to create a modern Jew. The one aspired to mold a modern, observant Jew with a Western cultural orientation. The other sought to forge a modern, Jewish, Eretz-Yisraeli society conducted in Hebrew. The community philanthropy provided by Baron Rothschild and the JCA allowed the modern alternatives to set up schools that operated alongside other community institutions. The schools in Ottoman Palestine, like those in some of the countries of nineteenth-century Europe, were major, vitally important institutions in their communities. They gave the younger generation a basis for their professional futures and dealt with public-socialcultural issues that no other public system handled. A notable example of this was the problem of hygiene. The moshavah school, like its European counterparts, predated the development of social work.86 It served as a substitute for hospitals, which were not easily reached, and took care of the entire juvenile population, including and mainly those without means. This process, set in motion by the advent of compulsory education laws, gradually spread throughout Europe and America, and transformed the school into a major, accessible institution. The modern-French language schools and the modern Zionist schools were easily incorporated into the communal philanthropic model. Community life in the moshavot, as in European farming communities, made the school's educational efforts-beyond those of teaching and expanding knowledge- easier. The schools in the moshavot of Ottoman Palestine that were funded by Baron Rothschild and the JCA were similar to those in the Jewish colonies of Argentina that were funded by Baron Hirsch and the JCA. The emphasis on humanist values along with the expansion of general knowledge, encouraging students toward gainful employment, and maintaining children's health, existed both in Argentina and in Palestine. In Ottoman Palestine, however, another ideology developed alongside these values, which was spread by groups of teachers: Zionist ideology that steered education in a new direction-the building of the nation. The desire to take part in the process of nation building added unique dimensions to the schools in Ottoman Palestine, the most outstanding one being the revival of the Hebrew language. Among other reasons, the teachers succeeded in these endeavors because of the full funding given to the schools by Baron Rothschild and the JCA. One of the conditions for receiving support was the ability of the school principals to create a dialogue with the senior and local administrators of the philanthropic organizations. This dialogue was facilitated by the overlapping of the teacher's and philanthropist's ideas in several areas, among them the acceptance of: nineteenth-century modernity; the need for children to read and write in their mother tongue and to have a basic Jewish identity; and the view of the role of the school as being concerned with the child's welfare, such as their personal hygiene. From the historical perspective it may be argued that Zionist education triumphed over the ethnic solidarity of Jewish philanthropy. This success may be attributed, inter alia, to the Hebrew teacher's ability to organize themselves and create an educational establishment that included uniform curriculum, teaching aids, and pedagogical standards. These teachers were able to take advantage of the educational philanthropy and emphasize the ideology they had in common with it while guiding the schools to develop a Hebrew culture and a modern, Jewish, Eretz-Yisraeli society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-85
Number of pages26
JournalModern Judaism
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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