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Pin?as Rutenberg

Pinḥas Rutenberg (Piotr) was a prominent figure in the revolutionary movement in Russia, a yishuv leader, and pioneer of modern industry in Ereẓ Israel. Born in Romny, Ukraine, Rutenberg graduated from St. Petersburg Technological Institute and was first employed at the large Putilov metallurgical works. As a student he became active in the revolutionary movement (first as a Social Democrat and then a Social Revolutionary) and was imprisoned several times. He marched with Father Gapon on "Bloody Sunday," which ushered in the 1905 Revolution, and helped Gapon flee from Russia. A year later, when the Social Revolutionaries came to the conclusion that the priest was serving as a police agent, Rutenberg was instructed by the party to organize Gapon's execution. He spent the years 1907–15 in Italy, working as an engineer and specializing in irrigation. During the latter part of this period, he became interested in Jewish affairs, and after the outbreak of World War I he went to London to urge Zionist leaders to raise Jewish military units for the liberation of Palestine. When he learned of Vladimir *Jabotinsky's interest in the matter, Rutenberg contacted him to assure joint action and went to the U.S. in 1915 to propagate the idea. There Rutenberg became involved in the campaign for the creation of the first American Jewish Congress, which was to formulate Jewish proposals to be brought before the Peace Conference at the conclusion of war. While in America, he drew up a comprehensive irrigation plan for Palestine. He also published a Yiddish translation of a pamphlet he had written in Italy under the title The National Revival of the Jewish People and signed "Pinḥas Ben–Ammi."

With the overthrow of czarist rule in Russia at the beginning of 1917, Rutenberg left the U.S. for Petrograd, where Kerensky appointed him deputy governor of the capital in charge of civilian affairs. During the Bolshevik coup, on Nov. 7, Rutenberg, was among the last defenders of the site of the provisional government in the Petrograd Winter Palace. Some six months of imprisonment followed, after which he went to Moscow to work for the Center of the Russian Cooperative Organizations, and soon escaped to Kiev, capital of the temporarily independent Ukraine. At the end of 1918, he left for Odessa, where he joined a French-sponsored "White" Russian government that did not last long. By the middle of 1919, Rutenburg left Russia forever. When he came to the conclusion that there was antisemitism even in revolutionary movements, he went to Palestine (November 1919).

With some aid from the Zionist Organization, Rutenberg organized a survey of the country's water resources, mainly of the Jordan River, as a prerequisite to obtaining a government concession to develop the potential of these resources and supply the country with power. For practical reasons, stress was laid on the hydroelectric aspects of his planning, and the proposal was then brought before the first postwar Zionist Conference in London (1920). Together with Jabotinsky, Rutenberg organized the self-defense in Jerusalem at the time of the Arab riots in 1920; in 1921 he became head of Haganah in Tel Aviv and also served as adviser to the Anglo-French commission for the delimitation of Palestine's northern boundaries.

After he overcame great financial and political difficulties, Rutenberg established the Palestine Electric Company (1923), which was subsequently granted a concession to use the waters of the Jordan and Yarmuk rivers for the supply of energy (see Israel, State of: *Economic Affairs (Energy Sources). Initial successes enabled him to secure the services of outstanding personalities as heads of the company's board: Lord Melchett, Lord Hirst, Lord *Samuel, and Lord *Reading. Preoccupied with company affairs, Rutenberg could no more than follow, and indirectly influence, internal affairs of the yishuv, but in the crisis year 1929 he was called upon to head the Va'ad Le'ummi and use his considerable influence with the Mandatory administration. He left the Va'ad Le'ummi after the crisis had passed, but joined it again in 1939. In the 1930s he cooperated with a number of other Jewish personalities (including Judah L. *Magnes, M. *Novomeysky, Moshe *Smilansky, G. *Frumkin) in search of a program for Arab-Jewish understanding. Though he had the ear of King *Abdullah of Transjordan, nothing came of his efforts. Domestically, Rutenberg sought to remove the acute friction between the *Histadrut and the *Revisionists. Through his good offices, David *Ben-Gurion and Jabotinsky negotiated an agreement in 1934 which failed, however, to be ratified by the Histadrut. At the beginning of World War II, he again became president of the Va'ad Le'ummi but his health soon failed, and he died in Jerusalem. Before his death, Rutenberg addressed a special call for national unity to Jewish youth and willed his possessions to the Rutenberg Foundation for youth activities; his house on Mount Carmel subsequently became a large and active youth center.


Y. Yaari-Poleskin, Pinḥas Rutenberg, ha-Ish u-Fo'olo (1939); L. Lipsky, Gallery of Zionist Profiles (1956), 124–8; H. Sacher, Zionist Portraits and Other Essays (1959), 99–101; M. Sharett, Yoman Medini 1936 (1968), index.

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