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Odessa Committee

ODESSA COMMITTEE, shortened name for the Society for the Support of Jewish Farmers and Artisans in Syria and Palestine, the legalized framework of the *Ḥibbat Zion movement. It was founded in Odessa in 1890, with the permission of the Russian government, and continued the work of Ḥovevei Zion in Russia until 1919. Its official aim was to help Jews who settled in "Palestine and Syria" to earn their living by productive work, especially agriculture. Leon *Pinsker, Abraham *Gruenberg (from 1891), and Menahem *Ussishkin (from 1906) served successively as chairmen of the committee. It had an executive committee in Jaffa. When Jewish immigration to Ereẓ Israel increased, as a result of the worsening conditions of Russian Jewry, particularly after the expulsion of Jews from Moscow, the committee assisted settlement societies in the purchase of lands. Vladimir *Tiomkin, chairman of its executive committee in Jaffa, was active in organizing and planning the purchase of lands. When emigration from Russia was forbidden by the Turkish authorities, the purchases were discontinued and the Jaffa committee went bankrupt. The Russian Jews were discouraged and the income of the Odessa Committee decreased, but it gradually increased again, particularly when *Herzl began his activities and the Odessa Committee became the only legal Zionist body in Russia. The committee also received donations for special projects, such as supporting the Hebrew school in Jaffa and the workers' fund. In 1900, after the transfer by Baron Edmond de *Rothschild of the management of the supported settlements to the *Jewish Colonization Association (ICA), the Odessa Committee sent Aḥad *Ha-Am and the agronomist Abraham Sussman to investigate the situation. Their reports spoke of the harm caused by the paternalistic methods of the Baron's bureaucracy. A year later Aḥad Ha-Am took part in a delegation to the Baron, but his reply was not satisfactory.

Following the suggestions of the agronomist Akiva *Ettinger, whom the Committee sent to Ereẓ Israel in 1902, it ceased its support of individuals, encouraging private and public initiative instead. In 1903 a delegation led by Ussishkin was sent by the committee to Ereẓ Israel in order to organize the new yishuv. The settlers' delegates held several meetings in Zikhron Ya'akov and laid the foundations for an "Organization of the Jews in Ereẓ Israel" and the Teachers' Association. The former failed, but the latter developed.

The Odessa Committee maintained a network of information bureaus for immigrants in Odessa, Constantinople, Beirut, Jaffa, Jerusalem, and Haifa. It established moshavot and smallholdings for agricultural workers (*Be'er Ya'akov in 1908, *Ein Gannim near Petaḥ Tikvah, and *Naḥalat Yehudah near Rishon le-Zion). It aided in the establishment of the Carmel winegrowers cooperative and Geulah Company for land purchase and supported schools, book publishing, and periodicals in Ereẓ Israel. It gave the first donation for purchasing a plot for the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.


I. Klausner, Mi-Kattowitz ad Basel, 2 vols. (1965), index; Reports of the Odessa Committee (Heb. and Rus., 1890–1919).

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