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CHOVEVEI ZION (Lovers of Zion):

Associations, in Europe and the United States, of persons interested in agricultural settlement of Jews in Palestine and in the connection of Jews with the future of the Holy Land.

This movement, which was the predecessor of political Zionism (see Basel Congress), had as its sponsors a number of men living in different countries, but whose common interest in and observations of the phenomena of Jewish life, stimulated by the persecution of the Jews in Rumania prior to 1880, and more recently in Russia, led to the foundation of organizations like the Chovevei Zion Association of England, whose objects are:

  • 1.To foster the "national idea" in Israel.
  • 2.To promote the colonization of Palestine andneighboring territories by Jews by establishing new colonies, or by assisting those already established.
  • 3.To diffuse the knowledge of Hebrew as a living language.
  • 4.To better the moral, intellectual, and material status of Israel.
  • 5.The members of the association pledge themselves to render cheerful obedience to the laws of the lands in which they live, and as good citizens to promote their welfare as far as lies in their power.

The appeal from Palestine to Jews to settle there as agriculturists, made in 1867, went unheeded. But from 1879 on, there were active in the advocacy of colonization Dr. Lippe and Pineles in Rumania, Lilienblum and Leon Pinsker in Russia, a non-Jewish Syrian and Palestinian Association in London, and Laurence Oliphant. The idea of agricultural settlement in Palestine, tested first by the founding of the colony of Samarin by the Rumanian Chovevei Zion, was voiced in 1881 by N. L. Lilienblum in an article in the "Razsvyet" entitled "The Jewish Question and the Holy Land." The most serious objection to the new idea came from these who feared that resettlement in Palestine would mean the observance of the 613 commandments and the rebuilding of the Temple. Charles Netter, who subsequently became the leading exponent of the agricultural settlement idea, opposed the new movement—which had excited the enthusiastic interest of the Jews of Russia—on the ground that Palestine was unsuitable for colonization.

Baron Edmund de Rothschild having agreed to pay the expenses of six colonists to Palestine, the movement, initiated by Pinsker and supported by Rabbi Mohilewer of Byelostock, took practical shape. The Odessa Central Committee, which had been called into existence in 1881, and which was now recognized by the Russian government, went no further in the direction of active propaganda than to send Pinsker and Mohilewer upon a tour of private and public agitation throughout Europe.

However, the movement spread with the emigration from Russia. Various societies with a similar purpose were founded at Berlin (Ezra), Vienna (Kadimah), London (B'nei Zion, 1887), and America (Shove Zion in New York, Chovevei Zion in Philadelphia, 1891).

In 1890 it was recognized that some endeavor should be made to give form and coherence to these various movements, and Dr. Haffkine, with M. Meyerson, encouraged by the prospect of financial support from Baron Edmund de Rothschild organized the Paris Central Committee. The actual leadership of the movement, however, remained with the Odessa committee, which was well supported, and which kept in close touch with those who had already settled in Palestine. The movement, however, reached its zenith in 1893, when organizations existed in every country, except France, that had an appreciable Jewish population.

In December, 1892, the movement of Jews toward Palestine was checked by the Turkish authorities, who prohibited further immigration. Additional discouragement was caused by the difficulty of finding markets for the produce of the colonies, and also by the coloring given to the idea by such men as Colonel Goldsmid, who, at the head of the Chovevei Zion Association of England, with its military organizations, sought to give the movement a strong national tendency. In addition, the colonists were in constant need of support. The Hirsch Argentine Settlement followed, and affected the agitation in Western Europe. Though the colonies continued to find support, and though some new ones were founded the movement seemed, by 1894, to have spent its force.

Typical of the enthusiasm which the idea had once aroused was the mass-meeting held in London in 1892, on the advice of Sir Samuel Montagu, to petition the sultan, through Lord Rothschild and the British Foreign Office, for the right of settlement. A detailed plan was then worked out for colonization on a large and regulated scale.

The decline of the Chovevei Zion was consequent upon the suddenly created leadership, in 1896, of Dr. Theodor Herzl. Indirectly every Chovevei Zion championed, without formally adopting, his doctrine, and, indirectly, all were represented at the first Zionist congress. A more or less direct adherence to the Zionist movement, which had no sympathy for individual, sporadic colonization, was forced upon the old organizations by their members. But while they would not disavow the nationalist standpoint, they declined to become a medium of the new propaganda. A conference, the first of its kind in London, was held (March, 1898) in the Finsbury (Clerkenwell) town-hall, and lasting twelve hours; it decided upon reorganization, and accepted the leadership of the Vienna Executive Committee created by the previous congress. This was typical of the process of transition from a philanthropic to an avowed political movement, which continued until the Minsker Conference (September, 1902), when the Russian Chovevei Zion associations without exception accepted the platform of the Zionist congresses.

The literature of the movement is extensive, but scattered. A vast number of polemical pamphlets have been published, as well as brochures on colonization and propagandist literature and on the fostering of Hebrew as a living tongue, which must be included in the literary efforts of the Chovevei Zion (see Zionism).

Bibliography:
  • Palestina (organ of the Chovevi Zion Association of England), 1891-98;
  • Report of Proceedings Clerkenwell Town Hall Conference, 1898;
  • The Maccabœan, i., ii., and iii., 1901-02.
E. C.J. De H.
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