Behar, Nissim

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BEHAR, NISSIM (1848–1931), founder of modern Hebrew education in Ereẓ Israel and public figure in Jewish life in the U.S. Behar was born in Jerusalem. He graduated from the *Alliance Israélite Universelle teachers institute in Paris in 1869 and taught in Syria, Bulgaria, and Turkey. He headed the Alliance school in Constantinople from 1873 to 1882. There he introduced the direct method of teaching Hebrew, "Ivrit be-Ivrit." In 1882 Behar initiated the founding of the new Alliance school in Jerusalem, Torah u-Melakhah ("Torah and Work"), and became its headmaster. One of the teachers there was Eliezer *Ben-Yehuda, and its first students included David *Yellin and Yosef *Meyuḥas. Its modern methods were eventually applied in Hebrew schools throughout the country. Behar was an outstanding leader of the yishuv, especially as a liaison with the Turkish authorities. He attempted, with the help of Baron Edmond de *Rothschild, to regain the Western Wall for the Jewish community, but failed because of rabbinical opposition. The rabbis' hostility to Behar resulted from his educational innovations, and he was eventually relieved of his duties as headmaster (1897) and sent to represent the Alliance in the U.S. (1901). In his attempts to organize the work of the Alliance in the U.S., Behar encountered difficulties from Jewish institutions which looked askance at the activities of a large, foreign Jewish organization. American Jewish leaders did not approve of his intense propaganda, public meetings, and protests. Nevertheless, Behar soon became a public figure in American Jewry. He expounded the idea that political organizations should speak for American Jewry, and in 1906 founded the National Liberal Immigration League, directing it until 1924. In 1908 Behar traveled to Europe and back in order to learn how immigrants to the U.S. were treated on the boats. He was one of the founders of the Federation of Jewish Organizations. Behar was active in the *Histadrut Ivrit in the U.S. from its beginning. He died in New York and his remains were reburied in Jerusalem a year later.


Z. Szajkowski, in ajhsp, 39 (1950), 406–43; A. Goldberg, Pioneers and Builders (1943), 188–93; H. Debrest, in: Jewish Forum (1928), 522–6; M. Ribalow, in: Hadoar, 6 (1925), 118; M.D. Gaon, Yehudei ha-Mizraḥ be-Ereẓ Yisrael, 2 (1938), 151–9; E. Cohen-Reiss, Mi-Zikhronot Ish Yerushalayim (19672), index.