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Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir

(May 22, 1913)

Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir is a Zionist-socialist pioneering youth movement whose aim is to educate Jewish youth for kibbutz life in Israel. Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir had its roots in two youth movements that came into being in Galicia (then a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) before World War I: Ze'irei Zion, which emphasized cultural activities; and Ha-Shomer, primarily a scouting movement (based on the British model). During the war, when many thousands of Jews from the eastern part of the empire took refuge in Vienna, the two movements merged and took on the name Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir (1916). At the same time a similar development took place among the Jewish youth movements in the Russian part of Poland.

The early years of the movement coincided with the immediate postwar period, which was marked by a national and social awakening among the peoples of Europe, the October Revolution in Russia, and the great hope of standing on the threshold of an era of peace and progress. The ideology of the new movement was also profoundly affected by the persecutions to which East European Jewry was exposed at the time (the Petlura pogroms in the Ukraine, the pogrom in Lvov, etc.). On a spiritual level, Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir drew its inspiration from the *Ha-Shomer in Ereẓ Israel; the writings of A.D. *Gordon, J.Ḥ. *Brenner, J. *Trumpeldor; as well as from the romantic aura surrounding the revolutionary anti-czarist underground and its heroes. Other influences on the movement are to be found in the Free Youth Movement (the Wandervogel) as it was first developed in Germany before World War I and in the new philosophy, literature, psychology, and pedagogy of the time, which called for a reevaluation of existing modes of life and thought. Thus, Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir sought to create a synthesis between Jewish culture and the rebuilding and defending of Ereẓ Israel, on the one hand, and universal cultural and philosophical values, on the other, and this was to become a characteristic aspect of the movement's ideology.

Educational Method

Another characteristic of Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir is its educational method, which provides for an organic combination of "training and study groups" with the independent culture and life of youth as practiced by the Free Youth Movement, and also utilizing the symbols and the discipline of scouting. The movement puts special emphasis on the training of the individual and the development of the personality (in its early years Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra was very popular in the ranks of the movement). The basic pedagogic unit of Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir is the kevuẓah (in which the sexes are not mixed), several of which, of the same age groups, combine for certain activities to form larger, coeducational units, such as the peluggah ("company") and gedud ("batallion"). There are three age groups – the young level (age 11–14), known as kefirim ("cubs"), benei midbar ("sons of the desert"), or benei Massada (sons of Massadah); the intermediate level (15–16), known as ẓofim ("scouts"); and the adult level (from 17 upward) known as bogerim ("adults"), as well as keshishim ("oldsters") and magshimim ("implementers, those who fulfill"). Each level has its own program, which is adapted to its emotional needs and intellectual capacity. A local branch is a ken ("nest"), and it is headed by hanhagat ha-ken ("ken leadership"); a district branch is ha-galil and is headed by hanhagat ha-galil; while a national federation is headed by hahanhagah ha-rashit ("chief leadership") and the entire world movement is headed by ha-hanhagah ha-elyonah ("supreme leadership").

Before World War II, the Warsaw headquarters of the movement published two periodicals, both in Hebrew: Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir, which served as the organ of the movement as a whole and its adult level, and Ha-Miẓpeh, which was the organ of the intermediate level. There was also a Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir publishing house in Warsaw, which put out books of educational content. The various national branches also had their own organs, either in Hebrew or the local languages.

Personal Fulfillment

Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir is also noted for its application of the principle of personally fulfilling the ideals of the movement. It fosters among its adherents radicalism in the original sense of the term – the search for the root of things and the demand for consistency of thought, analysis, and action; this leads to the principal obligation of the individual – that of personal fulfillment of ideals and conclusions. As a result, the movement took up the struggle against assimilation (including "Red" assimilation, i.e., the widespread phenomenon of Jewish youth and intellectuals being drawn entirely into communist or socialist movements, denying their Jewish identity, and abandoning Jewish values and their responsibility for the fate of the Jewish people). It fostered the use of Hebrew – as opposed to the local language – and created a pioneering Jewish atmosphere in its groups, a pedagogic measure culminating in the paramount obligation of its members – aliyah and life in a kibbutz. The strict application of the principle of personal fulfillment resulted in tens of thousands of young people passing through the ranks of Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir and being forced to leave the movement for failing to settle in Israel, failing to join a kibbutz, or failing to fulfill other demands put upon them by the movement. There were, of course, thousands who stood the test and settled in Ereẓ Israel in kibbutzim of Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir.

Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir insists on the organic continuity of its program, from the youngest level up to the personal fulfillment by its adult members in the form of membership in a kibbutz in Israel. The principle of personal fulfillment also accounts for the profound educational influence exerted by the kevuẓah leader. This derives not only from his way of life and the quality of his performance as their instructor, but also from the conviction on the part of the young members that whatever their leader demands of them, he is about to fulfill himself – settling in Israel and joining a kibbutz.

Beginnings in Ereẓ Israel

During the Third Aliyah, (1919–23) some 600 members of Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir settled in Ereẓ Israel. There was no institutional link between the various groups of these settlers or between them and the movement abroad. As a result, the strength of this first wave of Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir settlers was dissipated. They were dispersed all over the country and, to some degree, were not absorbed in kibbutz life. Furthermore, the removal of the most mature and most active members from the tasks they had fulfilled as instructors and guides caused a general slackening in the activities of the movement abroad. A severe crisis of "individualism" set in, known in the annals of the movement as "the great drift." It was not until 1927, when the Kibbutz Arẓi Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir was founded, that a permanent framework was established for the organized absorption of Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir settlers in Ereẓ Israel and for the guidance of the movement abroad. In the period of the Third and Fourth Aliyah (up to 1926), Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir evolved its ideology. Slanted toward Marxism, it represented a synthesis between Zionism and socialism, between pioneering construction and class war. When the *Histadrut was founded (1920), the Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir kibbutzim failed to find a common language with any of the existing parties, and, instead of joining any of them, they declared themselves an independent group. Apart from its tasks in the kibbutzim, in the settlement of newcomers, and in education, the Kibbutz Arẓi also became a framework for the joint development of political ideology ("ideological collectivism") and for joint political action in the Histadrut and the Zionist Movement.

The World Movement

The World Federation of Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir was founded in Danzig in 1924. It had been preceded by the establishment of Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir movements in Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, the U.S.S.R. (in addition to the existing movements in Galicia, Poland, and Austria), and by the initiation of efforts on the part of the kibbutzim in Ereẓ Israel to cooperate in the organized and concentrated guidance of the movement abroad. More branches were founded in the period between the First and Second World Convention (the latter also held at Danzig in 1927) in Czechoslovakia, the U.S., Canada, Belgium, and Bulgaria. The founding of the Kibbutz Arẓi greatly enhanced the influence of Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir in Ereẓ Israel upon the movement abroad. Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir in the U.S.S.R., Latvia, and, to some degree, in Lithuania, however, did not accept the independent political orientation of the majority of the movement, and members of the movement in these countries who settled in Israel found their way to the *Aḥdut ha-Avodah Party (which in 1930 merged with *Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir to become *Mapai), and did not join the Kibbutz Arẓi upon its establishment. When the Kibbutz Arẓi was in its early stage, there was still hope that the split in the ranks of the movement would eventually heal, and thus the Second Convention decided to regard the Kibbutz Arẓi only as the "principal path for the movement." The Russian-Latvian minority in Israel, however, not only failed to join Kibbutz Arẓi, but became one of the founders of *Ha-Kibbutz ha-Me'uhad (linked to Ahdut ha-Avodah and later to Mapai); disappointed in its expectations, the Third Convention (held in Vrutky, Czechoslovakia in 1930) decided that the Kibbutz Arẓi was now the only correct path for Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir. The Russian-Latvian minority responded by seceding from the movement and forming "Neẓah" (No'ar Ẓofi-Ḥalutzi – Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir – Scouting Pioneering Youth, see below).

On the Eve of World War II and the Holocaust

At the time of the Fourth World Convention (Poprad, Czechoslovakia, 1935), Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir had reached the height of its strength and achievements: groups in Hungary, Germany, Yugoslavia, France, Britain, Switzerland, Tunisia, Egypt, and South Africa had joined the movement, and there were encouraging beginnings in Latin America; membership totaled 70,000, with the majority about to go to Palestine or undergoing agricultural training, and with the adult members active in *Ḥe-Ḥalutz, the League for Labor Ereẓ Israel, the elections to the Zionist Congress, etc. The rising tide of fascism in Eastern and Central Europe forced the movement to organize itself for self-defense and for the continuation of its activities under conditions of semilegality or, if this should become necessary, as an underground movement.

When World War II broke out, large numbers of members seeking to escape from the invading German forces converged upon Vilna. A part of this Vilna group eventually joined other refugees in fleeing to the Soviet Union, where they fought in the ranks of the Red Army. Some succeeded in reaching Ereẓ Israel before the German-Russian war broke out (June 1941). Others, however, were ordered by the movement to return to Nazi-occupied territory, where they became outstanding activists of the Jewish resistance, the Jewish partisans, and the ghetto fighters. Mordecai *Anielewicz, the commander of the revolt in the *Warsaw ghetto, was a member of the Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir movement, and elsewhere in the Polish ghettos and in other countries under Nazi occupation the movement's members were among the leaders of the uprisings.

The Postwar Period

After the war, the surviving members of the movement prepared for aliyah and took an active part in the organization of the "illegal" immigration to Ereẓ Israel and the rehabilitation and reeducation of the surviving refugee children in the displaced persons camps in Germany and Italy. In the wake of the political developments in Eastern and Central Europe, the little that had remained of the movement soon dissolved. Henceforth, Ha-shomer ha-Ẓa'ir centered its activities particularly upon Latin America, and members from this area are to be found in most of the movement's kibbutzim in Israel. Branches of the movement continue to exist also in North America, Western Europe, South Africa, and Australia. The Fifth World Convention, held in 1958, was the first to meet in Israel, which had by then become the seat of the headquarters of the movement. Branch offices also existed in Paris, New York, and Buenos Aires. Their task was to direct the work of the emissaries of Kibbutz Arẓi dispatched to the various countries.

Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir in Israel

The Israel Federation of Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir naturally occupied a special place among the various branches. When the federation was first established (in 1930), the principles and methods applied by the movement in its work in the Diaspora had to be adapted to the conditions prevailing in Ereẓ Israel, where the problems of Jewish youth were radically different and where the kibbutz was not far away. The relative importance of the Israel movement in the World Federation and as a reservoir of manpower for the Kibbutz Arẓi grew from year to year, and it also played an ever-increasing role in the establishment of new Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir kibbutzim and the consolidation of existing kibbutzim. The first kibbutz founded by graduates of the movement in Ereẓ Israel was Nir David in the Beth-Shean Valley, established in 1936. (See also *Mapam.)


The movement was founded in North America in 1923. Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir has found it difficult to make headway in the American Jewish community, with its economic prosperity, its lack of a youth-movement tradition, and the philanthropic character of its Zionist movement. Nevertheless, there are a number of kibbutzim in Israel in which U.S. Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir graduates predominate (such as Ein ha-Shofet, Kefar Menahem, Hazor, Galon, Sasa, and Barkai). In the course of time, the American movement was also instrumental in the establishment of adult groups (Americans for Progressive Israel, linked to Mapam in Israel), made up of people who were attracted by the Zionist-socialist orientation of Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir. In the U.S. the movement had its own organ, Young Guard and maintained branches in Detroit, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and, in Canada, in Montreal and Toronto, as well as training farms for the specific purpose of preparing for aliyah and kibbutz life. In the early 21st century it had a few hundred members and ran camps in Liberty, New York, and Perth, Ontario.

Great Britain

The movement was founded in Great Britain in the late 1930s, by Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir members among the refugees from the continent, and by members of He-Ḥalutz and Habonim, who were attracted by Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir ideology. While it made progress during the war and the immediate postwar period, the movement has not succeeded in recovering the losses in its ranks caused by the aliyah of its founders and leading members (in the period 1946–1950), nor has it yet been able to reach the second generation, British-born Jewish youth. Branches exist in Manchester and in London. In Israel, Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir settlers from Britain are found primarily in the kibbutzim Ha-Ma'pil, Ha-Zore'a, Yasur and Zikim.

South Africa

Founded in 1935, the movement has branches in Johannesburg and Capetown. In Israel, South African Ḥalutzim of the movement have settled in Shuval, Barkai, Naḥshon, and Zikim.


Australian Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir was founded in 1953, with branches in Melbourne and Sydney. Its settlers in Israel are concentrated mainly in Nirim.


D. Leon, The Kibbutz (1964); A. Ben-Shalom, Deep Furrows (1939); I.L. Lindheim, Parallel Quest (1962); Israel Horizons (1953– ); Young Guard (1934; title varies); Hashomer Hatzair (Johannesburg, 1936–56); Labour Israel (1948–59); Sefer Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir, 3 vols. (1956–64); Sefer Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir, 3 vols. (1956–1964); Sefer Ha-Shomerim 19131933 (1934); P. Merhav, Toledot Tenu'at ha-Po'alim be-Ereẓ-Yisrael (1967); A. Ophir, Afikim be-Maḥaẓit Yovelah (1951); D. Horowitz, Ha-Etmol Shelli (1970), 73–152; A. Margalit, Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓair me-Adat Ne'urim le-Marxism Mahpkhani 1971).

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