History & Overview
The kibbutz (Hebrew word for “communal settlement”) is a unique rural
community; a society dedicated to mutual aid and social justice; a socioeconomic
system based on the principle of joint ownership of property, equality
and cooperation of production, consumption and education; the fulfillment
of the idea “from each according to his ability, to each according
to his needs”; a home for those who have chosen it.
The first kibbutzim (plural
of “kibbutz”) were founded some 40
years before the establishment of the State
of Israel (1948). Degania
(from the Hebrew “dagan,” meaning
grain), located south of Lake
was established in 1909 by a group of pioneers
on land acquired by the Jewish National
Fund. Their founders were young Jewish pioneers,
mainly from Eastern Europe, who came not
only to reclaim the soil of their ancient
homeland, but also to forge a new way of
life. Their path was not easy: a hostile
environment, inexperience with physical labor,
a lack of agricultural know-how, desolate
land neglected for centuries, scarcity of
water and a shortage of funds were among
the difficulties confronting them. Overcoming
many hardships, they succeeded in developing
thriving communities which have played a
dominant role in the establishment and building
of the state.
Today some 270 kibbutzim, with memberships ranging from
40 to more than 1,000, are scattered throughout the country.
Most of them have between 300 and 400 adult members, and
a population of 500-600. The number of people living
in kibbutzim totals approximately 130,000, about 2.5 percent
of the country's population. Most kibbutzim belong to one
of three national kibbutz movements, each identified with
a particular ideology.
Most kibbutzim are laid out according to a similar plan.
The residential area encompasses carefully-tended members'
homes and gardens, children's houses and playgrounds for
every age group, and communal facilities such as a dining
hall, auditorium, library, swimming pool, tennis court, medical
clinic, laundry, grocery and the like. Adjacent to the living
quarters are sheds for dairy cattle and modern chicken coops,
as well as one or more industrial plants. Agricultural fields,
orchards and fish ponds are located around the perimeter,
a short tractor ride from the center. To get from place to
place within the kibbutz, people either walk or ride bicycles,
while electric carts are provided for the disabled and elderly.
The kibbutz functions as a direct democracy. The general
assembly of all its members formulates policy, elects officers,
authorizes the kibbutz budget and approves new members. It
serves not only as a decision-making body but also as
a forum where members may express their opinions and views.
Day-to-day affairs are handled by elected committees,
which deal with areas such as housing, finance, production
planning, health, and culture. The chairpersons of some of
these committees, together with the secretary (who holds
the top position in the kibbutz) form the kibbutz executive.
The positions of secretary, treasurer and work coordinator
are, as a rule, full-time, while other members serve
on committees in addition to their regular jobs.
Making the Desert Bloom
For the founders, tilling the soil of their ancient homeland
and transforming city dwellers into farmers was an ideology,
not just a way to earn a livelihood. Over the years, kibbutz
farmers made barren lands bloom, with field crops, orchards,
poultry, dairy and fish farming, and-more recently-organic
agriculture becoming the mainstays of their economy.
Through a combination of hard work and advanced farming
methods, they achieved remarkable results, accounting for
a large percentage of Israel's agricultural output to this
Production activities of the kibbutzim are organized in
several autonomous branches. While most of them are still
in agriculture, today virtually all kibbutzim have also expanded
into various kinds of industry.
Although manufacturing a wide range of products, from fashion
clothing to irrigation systems, the majority of kibbutz industry
is concentrated in three main branches: metal work, plastics
and processed foods. Most industrial facilities are rather
small, with less than a hundred workers.
In many areas, kibbutzim have pooled their resources, establishing
regional enterprises such as cotton gins and poultry-packing
plants, as well as providing a gamut of services ranging
from computer data compilation to joint purchasing and marketing.
The contribution of the kibbutzim to the country's production,
both in agriculture (33 percent of farm produce) and in industry
(6.3 percent of manufactured goods) is far greater than their
share of the population (2.5 percent). In recent years, increasing
numbers of kibbutzim have become centers for tourism, with
recreational facilities such as guest houses, swimming pools,
horseback riding, tennis courts, museums, exotic animal farms
and water parks for Israelis and foreign visitors alike.
As Israel's population grew and urban centers expanded,
some kibbutzim found themselves virtually suburbs of cities.
Due to this proximity, many of them now offer services to
the public such as commercial laundries, catering, factory
outlet stores and child care, including summer camps.
The Work Ethic
Work is a value in and of itself, the concept of the dignity
of labor elevating the most menial job, with no special status,
material or otherwise, attached to any task.
Where Kibbutz Members Work
| Agriculture & Fisheries
| Industry & Quarries
| Tourism, Commerce & Finance
| Transportation & Communication
| Building & Utilities
| Public & Community Services
| Personal Services
Members are assigned to positions for varying lengths of
time, while routine functions such as kitchen and dining
hall duty are performed on a rotation basis. Each economic
branch is headed by an elected administrator who is replaced
every 2-3 years. An economic coordinator is responsible
for organizing the work of the different branches and for
implementing production and investment plans.
Although management positions are increasingly professionalized,
the kibbutzim have adopted various methods of administration
and organization to adapt their economic structure to the
needs of the times without losing a sense of mutual responsibility
and equality of work.
Women are equal participants in the labor force, with jobs
in all parts of the kibbutz open to them. However, in contrast
to kibbutz women two generations ago who sought to prove
their worth by doing “men's work,“ the majority
today are reluctant to become involved in agriculture and
industry, preferring jobs in education, health and other
services. Older members receive suitable work assignments
according to their health and stamina.
Most members work in the kibbutz itself. However, some
are employed in regional kibbutz enterprises, a few are sent
by the kibbutz to perform educational and political functions
under the aegis of its national movement, and others pursue
their own special talent or profession outside the kibbutz
framework. The income of these outside workers is turned
over to the kibbutz.
The occasional lack of personnel for factories, agricultural
tasks, tourism services and other jobs necessitates hiring
paid workers, although this practice is contrary to the kibbutz
principle of self-reliance in labor. Many kibbutzim host
young volunteers from Israel and abroad for periods of one
month or longer in exchange for work, thus partially solving
the dilemma of obtaining outside labor.
||Percentage of hired Workers
Source: Kibbutz Industry Association
Unlike former times when they lived in communal children's
houses, children in the majority of kibbutzim today sleep
at their parents' home until they reach high school age.
However, most of their waking hours are still spent with
their peers in facilities adapted specifically for each age
group. At the same time, parents are becoming increasingly
involved in their children's activities, and the family unit
is gaining more importance in the structure of the kibbutz
community. Thus the granddaughters of women who 75 years
ago insisted on being released from domestic chores are now
the leading force within the kibbutz for more parental involvement
in the upbringing of young children and for allocating women
more time at home with their families.
Children grow up knowing the value and importance of work
and that everyone must do their share. From kindergarten,
the educational system emphasizes cooperation in daily life
and, from the early school grades, youngsters are assigned
duties and take decisions with regard to their peer group.
Young children perform regular age-appropriate tasks,
older children assume certain jobs in the kibbutz and, at
high school level, they devote one full day each week to
work in a branch of the kibbutz economy.
Elementary schools are usually on the kibbutz premises,
while older children attend a regional kibbutz high school
serving several area kibbutzim, in order to experience a
broader range of academic subjects and social contacts. At
all age levels, accommodations are available for youngsters
with special talents or needs.
Some 40 percent of all kibbutz children return to settle
on their kibbutz after army service. The majority of kibbutz
members today grew up in the kibbutz and decided to build
their life there.
Meeting Individual Needs
Based on the voluntary participation of its members, the
kibbutz is a communal society which assumes responsibility
for its members' needs throughout their lives. It is a society
that strives to allow individuals to develop to their fullest
potential, while demanding responsibility and commitment
from each person to contribute to the welfare of the community.
For some, the feelings of security and satisfaction engendered
by belonging to a small, closed community are among the advantages
of kibbutz living, while others might find communal life
At first kibbutz society as a whole took precedence over
the family unit. In time, this priority shifted, as the community
became increasingly family-centered. Today, in the context
of a normal society of grandparents, mothers and fathers,
aunts and uncles, sons and daughters, the kibbutz still offers
a level of cooperation which provides a social framework
and personal economic security.
Compared to the past, kibbutzim today offer their members
a much wider range of individual choices. Members have more
latitude in all aspects of their lives, from the selection
of clothing and home furnishings to where and how to spend
their vacations. More opportunities are available to participate
in higher education, and the special needs of artists and
writers are recognized, with time given them to pursue their
own projects. Although no money actually changes hands, members
allot themselves a predetermined amount of credit each year
to spend as they wish.
Contributing to the
The kibbutz is not only a form of settlement and a lifestyle,
it is also an integral part of Israeli society. Before the
establishment of the State of Israel and in the first years
of statehood, the kibbutz assumed central functions in settlement,
immigration, defense and agricultural development. When these
functions were transferred to the government, the interaction
between the kibbutz and the society at large decreased, though
it never stopped completely. Besides active involvement in
the country's political life, the kibbutz has also carried
out various national tasks over the years.
A considerable number of kibbutzim run five-month study
courses for new immigrants, which combine intensive Hebrew
language instruction, in-depth tours of the country and
lectures on various aspects of Israeli life with periods
of work on the kibbutz. Participants who decide to stay in
the kibbutz may apply for membership. Some kibbutzim take
part in a project in which they accept youth from disadvantaged
families for their high school years. Some of these young
people choose to continue living on the kibbutz and become
Over the years, the kibbutzim have evolved unique ways
of celebrating traditional Jewish festivals and national
holidays, as well as personal milestones such as weddings,
bar/bat mitzvahs and anniversaries. Seasonal and agricultural
events, which were commemorated in biblical times, have been
revitalized through song, dance and the arts.
Cultural activity abounds, with films and professional
performances presented frequently in kibbutz auditoriums,
in addition to closed-circuit television several hours
daily, offering programs geared to the interests and tastes
of the members. Pooling the talents of kibbutz members all
over the country, the kibbutz movements sponsor a number
of professional groups, including a symphony orchestra, chamber
ensembles, modern and folk dance troupes, choirs and a theater
company, which perform regularly in Israel and abroad.
Museums which specialize in subjects such as archaeology,
nature, art, Jewish history and the development of the land
of Israel have been established by some kibbutzim, attracting
members and visitors in large numbers.
After years of declining
productivity and membership, Amnon Rubinstein
has noted the kibbutzim have been making
a comeback. In 1997, kibbutz production was
valued at NIS 20 billion. In 2006, the figure
grew to NIS 27 billion. During the same period,
the kibbutzim erased a collective debt of
NIS 700 million and turned a NIS 1.2 billion
pay was introduced into the kibbutz structure;
management has become increasingly professionalized;
and the community and business structures
have been separated,” Rubinstein
community has retained its ideology of
equality as much as possible, whereas the
business enterprise has operated according
to market-driven parameters. Today's
kibbutzim still manage their funds in such
a way that the weak, elderly and those
members unable to earn high wages are cared
Looking to the Future
The kibbutz is a social and economic achievement that grew
out of a pioneering society, prospered along with a rapidly
expanding economy and distinguished itself with its contribution
to the establishment and development of the state.
Today's kibbutz is the accomplishment of three generations.
The founders, motivated by strong convictions and a distinct
ideology, forged a society with a unique communal way of
life. Their children, born into the kibbutz framework, worked
hard to consolidate its economic, social and administrative
structures. The present generation, which grew up in an established
and prosperous society, is applying its energies and talents
to meet the challenges of modern life in the technological
Some fear that by adjusting to changing circumstances,
the kibbutz is abandoning many of its original principles;
others believe that this ability to adapt and compromise
is the key to its survival. Whatever lies ahead, as long
as the kibbutz maintains its democratic nature, and the spirit
of voluntarism, commitment and idealism continues to motivate
its members, it will have creative and compelling resources
with which to meet the demands of the future.
Sources: Amnon Rubinstein, “Return of
the kibbutzim,” Jerusalem
10, 2007); Israeli Foreign Ministry