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Benei Moshe


BENEI MOSHE (Heb. בְּנֵי מֹשֶׁה; "Sons of Moses"), secret order of Ḥovevei Zion founded in Russia in 1889 to ensure personal dedication to the spiritual renaissance of the Jewish people and the return to Ereẓ Israel. Benei Moshe, founded on the seventh of Adar, the traditional birth date of Moses, was active in Russia and Ereẓ Israel until 1897. Its originator was Yehoshua *Barzillai (Eisenstadt), who returned from Ereẓ Israel dissatisfied with the situation of Jewish agricultural settlement and the general state of depression in the small new yishuv. Barzillai's views conformed with those of *Aḥad Ha-Am, as expressed in his historic article "Lo Zeh ha-Derekh" ("The Wrong Way"), then still in manuscript but known to a limited circle. Barzillai and Avraham *Lubarsky persuaded Aḥad Ha-Am to accept leadership of the order. In his article Derekh ha-Ḥayyim ("Way of Life," 1889) and its supplements, Aḥad Ha-Am outlined the aim of the association: the return of the Jews to their historic homeland, but with prior spiritual preparation. The name Moshe (Moses) was to serve "as a sign to all members ever to keep in mind this chosen son of our people," a symbol of humility and morality. In this spirit, the order attempted "to broaden the scope of nationalism, elevating it to an ethical ideal based on the love of Israel, and embracing moral values."

Benei Moshe chapters consisted of at least five members, headed by leaders and advisers. A member was initiated in a ceremony in which he vowed to adhere faithfully to the group's statutes. The language used was Hebrew, and knowledge of Hebrew was a prerequisite for membership eligibility. The minimal eligibility age was 20. Members were called "brothers." Despite its very small membership (about 160), the order exerted considerable influence on the Ḥibbat Zion movement, whose leaders were, in fact, members of Benei Moshe. However, it had many opponents, namely those who advocated the primacy of practical settlement work in Ereẓ Israel above everything else (among them Moses Leib *Lilienblum), as well as Orthodox circles that conducted a fierce campaign against what they regarded as the secular ideology of Benei Moshe (among them Jehiel Michael *Pines and Ze'ev Wolf Jawitz).

Benei Moshe's practical achievements were in the field of modern Hebrew education in Ereẓ Israel and elsewhere (e.g., the modernized Hebrew-speaking ḥeder called ḥeder metukkan); in helping to found the settlement *Reḥovot; and in the establishment of the Hebrew publishing house Aḥi'asaf. The order helped publish the Hebrew anthologies Kavveret (1890) and Pardes (2 vols., 1892, 1895) in Russia. In Ereẓ Israel they published Mikhtavim me-Ereẓ Yisrael ("Letters from Ereẓ Israel," 1893–94), edited by Barzillai under the pen name Beit ha-Levi.

In 1891 Aḥad Ha-Am left the leadership of the order, although he remained its spiritual guide throughout its existence. The Benei Moshe headquarters moved to Jaffa in 1893. The order gradually abandoned its secret form, and in 1895 Aḥad Ha-Am suggested that it become a political party. By this time, however, the order was embroiled in bitter controversy both with its opponents and within its own ranks. Neither changes in the statutes nor the opening of the association could remove the feeling of frustration and reinvigorate it, and in 1896 Aḥad Ha-Am himself suggested that Benei Moshe be dissolved. This came about naturally with the rise of political Zionism, particularly with the convening of the First Zionist Congress in Basel (1897), which gave a new impetus to the Jewish national movement. The aims of Benei Moshe were sustained in Aḥad Ha-Am's continued opposition to Herzl's political Zionism.


Aḥad Ha-Am, Essays, Letters, Memoirs, ed. by L. Simon (1946), index; Kol Kitvei Aḥad Ha-Am (1947), index; Aḥad Ha-Am, Iggerot, 6 (1960), index; idem, Selected Essays, ed. by L. Simon (1962); B. Halpern, The Idea of the Jewish State (19692), 26, 83f.; S. Tchernowitz, Benei Moshe u-Tekufatam (1914); Malachi, in: Hadoar (1955/56), nos. 37–42; Kressel, Leksikon, 1 (1965), 60–71; I. Klausner, Mi-Katoviẓ ad Basel, 2 (1965), index.

[Getzel Kressel]

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