A collective community in Israel.
The kibbutz (also kevutza ; pl. kibbutzim, kevutzot ) has long been the symbol and embodiment of socialist Zionism, which defined it as the most effective way to settle the land and build a new society. Never involving more than a small minority of the Israeli population, kibbutz members were promoted as the elite of Israeli society and the kibbutz was presented as the model of the new, egalitarian society. It became one of most effective fund-raising symbols among diaspora communities and has always been a priority sightseeing attraction for visitors from abroad. A prominent American Jewish social scientist once quipped that there were probably many more books and articles written about the kibbutz than there were actual kibbutzim. This is in large measure true and indicates the exalted status of the kibbutz and its members in a society whose political elite viewed it as beneficial to the country's development.
The first kibbutz, Deganya, was founded by a group of pioneers from Russia in December 1909, in the Jordan River Valley just off the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee. By the end of 1948 there were 177 kibbutzim whose population of 54,200 comprised 6 percent of the Israeli population. By 2000, only about 2 percent of the Israeli population, or 118,000 individuals, lived on its 270 kibbutzim.
The various streams of socialist Zionism devised different types of kibbutzim but at least originally all adhered to the basic tenets of collectivism, namely that all property was communal and the kibbutz provided for the needs of all of its members. Everyone worked in and for the kibbutz and all jobs were, ostensibly, of equal status. Members shared in the goods and services according to their needs as defined by democratically decided criteria. The kibbutz functioned as a populist democracy, with all members having equal voice in the operation of the community. Until the 1970s, kibbutzim were overwhelmingly involved in agricultural production.
The more ideologically socialist kibbutzim practiced strong age segregation, with adults and children—even young infants—living separately, not only during the daytime hours but at night as well. An original motivating factor for this type of living arrangement was to foster the notion that the kibbutz was more important than the family. Over time, commitment to this ideology dwindled and traditional family patterns, including that of children living with their parents, reasserted themselves in the overwhelming majority of kibbutzim.
Each kibbutz is essentially autonomous, both socially and economically. They do, however, belong to movements with political affiliations, which provide a wide range of services to them. In principle, the kibbutz is committed to accepting the decisions of its political movement, but there have been a number of exceptions.
The kibbutz movements themselves have undergone a variety of transformations. The vast majority are secular socialist movements. The Hashomer Hatzair kibbutzim federated into the Kibbutz Artzi movement in 1927. Two other kibbutz federations, representing somewhat different ideological commitments, were ha-Kibbutz ha-Meʾuhad and Ihud ha-Kibbutzim. In 1980, these latter two merged into the United Kibbutz Movement (Takam). In October 2000, a decision was taken to merge the United Kibbutz Movement and Kibbutz Artzi into the Kibbutz Movement, a movement which, in mid-2003, represented 244 of the existing 267 kibbutzim. Another, much smaller, secular federation contains the five kibbutzim that belong to the Zionist Workers (ha-Oved ha-Zioni) movement.
Eighteen religious Zionist kibbutzim also exist. Of these, sixteen are affiliated with the Religious
Kibbutz (ha-Kibbutz ha-Dati) movement, and two national-haredi (ultra-orthodox) kibbutzim belong to the Poalei Agudat Israel movement.
Since the 1980s, many of the basic tenets of the kibbutzim have undergone radical transformation, such as the commitment to agricultural production and the ban on employing non-kibbutz members. Kibbutzim are now heavily engaged in manufacturing, and some have opened large shopping centers.
The kibbutz population is aging. This is due both to declining birth rates and to the greater rate of younger people leaving the kibbutz. Between 1988 and 1998, kibbutzim witnessed a 30 percent decrease in the number of children below the age of four and a 10 percent increase in the number of members sixty-five and older.
The educational level of the kibbutz population continues to be higher than that of the larger Jewish population in Israel. In 1998, 47 percent of kibbutz residents above the age of fifteen had more than thirteen years of formal education, as compared to 39 percent of the Jewish population of Israeli society as a whole. Likewise, 20 percent of the kibbutz population have post–high school certificates, as compared to 12 percent of those in the Jewish population of Israeli society as a whole.
By 1990, industry replaced agriculture as the largest branch of employment on kibbutzim; agriculture is now the second largest branch and education the third.
A variety of factors lie at the root of the transformation and decline of the kibbutz. These include a growing desire on the part of parents to be the primary socializers of their children, increased educational aspirations for youth, and the increased industrialization of the larger Israeli society. Most significantly, as a result of the end of Labor hegemony within Israel with the election of Menachem Begin and the Likud alliance in 1977, the kibbutzim no longer retain the elite status they once enjoyed in the political economy of the country. This has forced them to become much more self-sufficient. Some of those that were not successful were forced to disband or reorganize in a noncommunal form.
Ben-Rafael, Eliezer. Crisis and Transformation: The Kibbutz at Century's End. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.
Spiro, Melford E. Kibbutz: Venture in Utopia, augmented edition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975.
chaim i. waxman
kib·butz / kiˈboŏts/ • n. (pl. kib·but·zim / kiˌboŏtˈsēm/ ) a communal settlement in Israel, typically a farm.
kibbutz: see collective farm.