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Ha-Po'el Ha-Mizrachi

Ha-Po’el Ha-Mizrachi was a religious pioneering and labor movement in Ereẓ Israel. Religious pioneers who settled in Ereẓ Israel in 1920–21 banded together and in April 1922 founded Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi, whose program stated that it “aspires to build the land according to the Torah and tradition and on the basis of labor, to create a material and spiritual basis for its members, strengthen religious feeling among the workers, and enable them to live as religious workers.” The new framework was a product of the Third Aliyah, which included many young people marked by their religious consciousness. They were pioneers and workers who viewed settling in Ereẓ Israel as a mitzvah, a religious commandment and task, but did not find a place in the existing labor community, despite the fact that socially they belonged to it. They opposed the prevalent view among workers in the 1920s that regarded religion as obsolete and adherence to the mitzvot as an obstacle to the building of the land according to socialist principles. The ideology of the new religious labor group was developed for the most part by Shemuel Ḥayyim Landau, Isaiah Shapira, Nehemiah Aminoaḥ, Isaiah Bernstein, Shelomo Zalman Shragai, and Shimon Geshuri. It was called Torah va-Avodah (Torah and Labor), after the saying: “The world stands on three things: Torah, divine service (avodah – literally, work), and deeds of loving-kindness” (Avot 1:2). The sources of this ideology also included ideas from Polish Hasidism and from the system of “Torah with Derekh Ereẓ” of Samson Raphael Hirsch.

The concept of Torah va-Avodah emphasized the demand for social justice and a productive life as an essential condition of the return to the homeland and as an integral part of a full religious life in Judaism. In view of the desiccation of Jewish life in the Diaspora, even greater emphasis should be placed on those elements which were practically excluded from Jewish existence outside Ereẓ Israel. The ideology proclaimed that complete Judaism is a synthesis of religious, social, moral, national, and political elements, realized mainly through personal commitment and creativity. All these aspects of national life must be inspired by the Written and Oral Law. Special emphasis was placed on the demand for social justice. “Only he who earns his living by his own labor is certain that his livelihood is free from the labor of others, from exploitation and fraud.” “Morality and justice are links in a long chain of sanctification and purification of life, which originates in the acceptance of the rule of God.” This outlook led its followers along the path of productivization and especially toward cooperative and collective agricultural settlement.

From its earliest appearance there were conflicts between Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi and Mizrachi because of the former’s socialist trends, though technically it was an organizational part of Mizrachi. On the other hand, it had differences with the Histadrut, because of Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi’s religious concept of the Jewish people, its opposition to the class struggle, and its demand for obligatory arbitration in labor disputes. In practice, it appeared as an independent element in the labor market. After an unsuccessful attempt to join the Histadrut in the 1920s, Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi acted as a part of the world Mizrachi movement. In 1925, however, it created a special body of its own in the Diaspora called Ha-Berit ha-Olamit shel Tenu’at Torah va-Avodah, which included Mizrachi youth groups and the pioneering Mizrachi movements in different countries. Thus Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi united an ideological movement, a labor federation, and a political party in one body.

As an ideological movement, Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi propagated its ideas and opinions in its organ Netivah (edited by Geshuri), in pamphlets and books in the Torah va-Avodah Library, and later on in Moreshet. It attracted to its ranks the religious kevuzot united in Ha-Kibbutz ha-Dati and established the pioneering youth movement Bnei Akiva, which later on founded the yeshivah high school under the initiative of Moshe Ẓevi Neriah. As a labor federation, Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi was active in the same areas as the Histadrut. It established employment bureaus and welfare institutions and was active developing Jewish labor, the Haganah, and the organization of pioneering and “illegal” immigration. It founded economic enterprises such as Bank Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi; a mortgage bank, Adanim; the financial tool of the settlements, Yaniv; the construction company for housing, Mash’hav; and several cooperatives, united under one roof, Merkaz ha-Mosedot veha-Mifalim ha-Kalkaliyyim shel ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi. It also organized young religious workers in Ha-No’ar ha-Dati ha-Oved and established the sports organization, Elizur. In 1935 its women members organized the Women’s League of Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi and later united with the Women’s Mizrachi Organization of the National Religious Party.

As early as the 1920s the movement started its settlement activity. At first, the common form was the moshav ovedim, which seemed more suitable for the members of Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi than the kevu Ereẓah or kibbutz. Sedeh Ya’akov, established in 1927 in the western Jezreel Valley, was the movement’s first moshav. Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi had to overcome the opposition of the Histadrut and of the official Zionist institutions before it was recognized as an independent factor in settlement. Before 1948 eight moshevei ovedim were established, all in areas of regional settlement projects of the Zionist Organization. During the great immigration of the 1950s, Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi was allocated 20% of the settlement. In the course of five years, 40 moshavim of new immigrants, and later on, another 10, were added. In addition, four moshavim shittufiyyim were founded. All these were organized in the Iggud ha-Moshavim shel Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi, whose organ is Ma’anit (established in 1951).

From the early 1930s groups for collective settlement sprang up within Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi. These first religious kevuzot or kibbutzim were formed by members of Berit Ḥalutzim Datiyyim (Baḥad) in Germany, the trainees of the Mizrachi youth hakhsharah (“training”) in Poland, and later on, by the Ha-Shomer ha-Dati in Poland and in Galicia. They established Ha-Kibbutz ha-Dati in 1935. It established settlements from 1937, the first being Tirat Ereẓ Ẓevi (after Ẓevi Hirsch Kalischer ) in the Beth-Shean Valley. Ha-Kibbutz ha-Dati followed a policy of hityashevut gushit (“bloc settlement”), concentrating a number of settlements in one area in order to develop fully its social-religious ideas and its strength as a religious factor in society. This policy forced it to go to the farthest frontiers of the existing settlement areas. A bloc of religious kibbutzim was created in the Beth-Shean Valley, the Eẓyon bloc in the Hebron mountains, and another bloc in the vicinity of Gaza. Before the establishment of the state (1948) Ha-Kibbutz ha-Dati movement numbered 16 settlements, 10 already set up and the rest about to be settled. Because of their location on the borders of the yishuv, the War of Independence dealt them a severe blow. The Eẓyon bloc (including the three religious kibbutzim Kefar Eẓyon, Massu’ot Yizhak, and Ein Zurim) was completely wiped out, most of the settlements at the approach to Gaza were destroyed (Be’erot Yizhak and Kefar Darom), and the movement lost seven percent of its adult population. After the war, 12 of these settlements remained, and three became moshavim shittufiyyim.

The relations of Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi with the Histadrut developed after some violent conflicts in the late 1920s and the early 1930s concerning labor, settlement, and cooperation. In 1928 an agreement was reached on the distribution of labor and participation in Kuppat Ḥolim. The agreement did not fulfill the anticipated hopes, and Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi abrogated it in 1941. Despite the friction, more cooperation was achieved between the two federations after the establishment of general labor bureaus in the early 1940s. In the course of time, Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi joined the agricultural center of the Histadrut, its trade union department, and the teachers organization. However, the trend for a complete merger was never realized though its demand became even greater in light of the great religious aliyah after the establishment of the state. The majority in Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi preferred an independent framework. Ha-Kibbutz ha-Dati organized in the 1930s the religious sector of Youth Aliyah. It directs the activities of Bnei Akiva, absorbs Nahal groups, and maintains ulpanim for new immigrants.

Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi entered politics almost from its inception, at first mostly as a function of its labor activity and of its affiliation with Mizrachi. In the Zionist Organization it acted as a part of Mizrachi. However, gradually Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi developed independent activity in the yishuv institutions and also in the Zionist Organization. From the 19th Congress in 1935, it was represented on the Zionist Executive by Moshe Ḥayyim Shapira, who from that time served as head of Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi. It was represented on the Va’ad Le’ummi Executive by Shragai and later on by Zerah Wahrhaftig. In the last elections of the Asefat ha-Nivharim in 1944, Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi received 9.5% of the total vote. It became a major factor in the religious community of the yishuv. The relations between Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi and Mizrachi were tense throughout their existence as separate organizations, while they were united only in the world center of the body called Mizrachi-Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi. The antagonism between the two was particularly bitter in Ereẓ Israel, where Mizrachi belonged to the non-labor camp and Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi had an agreement with the Histadrut. But the increasing strength of Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi in Ereẓ Israel led it more and more to a takeover of Mizrachi instead of separating from it. This trend eventually led to their merger and the establishment of the National Religious Party.

From the 1930s, when political activity began to occupy a prominent place in Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi, three main factions emerged in it. The El ha-Makor group leaned to the right, supporting the strengthening of ties with Mizrachi (as opposed to attachment to the labor movement) and advocating political activism against the Mandatory regime. La-Mifneh constituted the left wing, demanding the strengthening of links with the labor camp, joining the Histadrut, and seceding from the Mizrachi organization. It demanded political moderation, in the spirit of Chaim Weizmann ‘s policy, and more concern for settlement and movement activity. In the middle was the “centrist” faction, which took a compromising stand on political questions in the yishuv and Zionist policy. The main struggle for leadership in Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi took place between the “centrist” faction and the faction of the left-wing La-Mifneh.

In 1937 Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi was among the opponents of the partition plan, though, on the whole, it was closer than Mizrachi to Weizmann’s leadership, stressing its loyalty to the Zionist and yishuv institutions and supporting the unification of all the forces of the country, including the dissident underground organizations ( Irgun Ẓeva ‘i Le’ummi and Loḥamei Ḥerut Israel ). Though its demands concerning religious matters, such as observance of the Sabbath and kashrut in public institutions, etc., were its political raison d’être, it took also an active stand on general questions, such as labor problems, immigration, defense, settlement, and social matters. With the establishment of the state, political matters came to the fore. Despite the foundation of the United Religious Front in the First Knesset, in which all religious parties took part (with the exception of Ha-Oved ha-Dati, which was represented by Mapai ), Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi maintained a certain independence, as, e.g., on the question of the conscription of women who were released from military service for religious reasons. In 1949 it defined its position by demanding to change the law of compulsory conscription of religious women to that of compulsory national service for them, and, as long as the law was not changed, it called on every observant young woman to be drafted into the religious units of the Naḥal.

Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi emphasized the need for religious Jews to participate actively in public life and deal with the general objectives of the people and the state, thus preserving a live connection between the religious tradition and public life, especially in legislation. Hence its approach to topical political questions (as, e.g., the integrity of the area of Ereẓ Israel after the Six-Day War ), appropriate legal arrangements affecting the entire nation (marriage and divorce), the public way of life (Sabbath law, observances of Sabbath and kashrut in the Israel Defense Forces), official religious institutions (the rabbinate, religious councils), and especially the securing of religious education for all who wish it. In the Knesset and the government, Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi acted as a compromising and unifying element both on foreign and domestic policy. It participated in practically all governments, twice causing a government crisis, first regarding religious education in immigrant camps, and again on the question of the items “religion” and “nationality” in the registration of population (known colloquially as the “Who is a Jew?” problem).

In 1956 Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi decided to merge with Mizrachi, both in Israel and in the Zionist Organization, and in July 1956 the National Religious Party was established. The unified party acted in accordance with Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi principles. Thus, it was an initiator of the Government of National Unity prior to the Six-Day War in 1967. It also demanded action on the Arab refugee problem by settling them in Judea and Samaria and flexibility in negotiations with Arab states.



J. Salmon, Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi be-EreẓYisrael, Kronologyah u-Bibliografyah 192028 (1968); Y. Raphael, Madrikh Bibliografi le-Sifrut Ziyyonit Datit (1960); N. Ammino'ah, Alha-Mabbu'a (1968); S. Don-Jechia, Admor-Halutz (1961); idem, Ha-Mered ha-Kadosh (1960); S.Z. Shragai, Ẓazon ve-Hagshamah (1956); Y. Bernstein, Ye'ud va-Derekh (1956).

[Moshe Unna]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.