(1824 - 1898)
Born into a rabbinical family in Vilna, Samuel Mohilever was also
a rabbi. Ordained in 1842 at the Volozhin yeshiva, he was offered
rabbinical posts in several communities in the Vilna area. In each
place, he became active in community affairs. An early member of the Hovevei Zion in Russia, he became one of the founders of religious Zionism.
In the 1870s, Mohilever was one of the rabbis who met with leaders
of the maskilim in order to try to bring the two sides together. He
was attracted to the concept and possibilities of settling mass
numbers of Jews in Eretz Yisrael. This desire led to the founding of
the Hibbat Zion.
In 1890, he led a group tour of Eretz Yisrael. In 1893, he
initiated the concept of a mercaz ruhani (spiritual center) which
became Mizrachi, the religious Zionist organization.
A member of the Zionist Organization, failing health prevented him
from attending the First Zionist Congress in Basle in 1897. He died
the following year.
His grandson, Josef Mohilever, followed in his grandfather's
footsteps. Having received a traditional Jewish and Zionist
education, he was also active in Zionist groups and was a
government-appointed rabbi. He moved to Palestine in 1920 and
settled in Jerusalem where he was deputy head of the Teachers
Seminary and then head of the Hebrew High School.
Rabbi Samuel Mohilever had the proper background for taking
stands on community affairs in eastern Europe in the early 1900s.
On the philosophical side, he worked on cooperating with leaders of
the more modern maskilim movement for the welfare of the Jewish
people as a whole. As pogroms swept through eastern Europe and
Russia, he approached both those who fled to Russia as well as the
philanthropists to try to convince them to encourage Jews to go to
Eretz Yisrael. These activities eventually led to the founding of
the Hibbat Zion (love of Zion) movement, and later to the founding
of the Mizrachi movement which joined the Zionist Organization in
1902. When other religious leaders withdrew their support of the Hibbat Zion because of their contact with the maskilim, Mohilever
did not join them. He encouraged Pinsker and Lilienblum who wanted
to organize the various local Hovevei Zion groups into one
On the practical side, he was one of the leaders who influenced
Edmond de Rothschild to help establish early settlements in Eretz
Yisrael, particularly Ekron, which was intended for Jewish farmers
from Russia. He also helped persuade Jews in Bialystok to settle
In 1883 he became rabbi of Bialystok, where his members granted him
time to continue his public works. He was honorary president of the
1884 Hovevei Zion conference, as well as chairman of their
conferences in 1887 and 1889. Under his influence, a board of rabbis
was chosen to insure that settlement work in Eretz Yisrael would be
carried out in accordance with Jewish tradition as much as possible.
He was one of the rabbinical sources who allowed Jewish farmers to
work their land during the shemitta year. One of the initial
speakers of the founding conference of the Hovevei Zion in Odessa in
1890, he then led a group tour of Eretz Yisrael. Upon his return, he
encouraged financial and physical support for settlement in Eretz
Yisrael. A result of this effort was his initiative to form a
spiritual to direct public relations and general information
activities among Hovevei Zion members. This effort became Mizrachi,
the religious Zionist organization. In recognition of his efforts,
an orchard called Gan Shmuel was planted near Hadera for his 70th
Mohilever and his colleagues continued their work, especially among
Orthodox Jews, and as a result, Mizrachi became the foundation of
the religious Zionist movement. In 1902, four years after
Mohilever's death, Mizrachi officially joined the Zionist
His last letter to the Jews of Russia before his death urged them to
work to achieve a deep attachment to the commandment to settle in
Eretz Yisrael, which he termed the foundation of the existence of
Sources: Joint Authority for Jewish Zionist Education.