ḤIBBAT ZION (Heb. חִבַּת צִיּוֹן, "Love of Zion"), the movement that constituted the intermediate link between the forerunners of *Zionism in the middle of the 19th century and the beginnings of political Zionism with the appearance of Theodor *Herzl and the First Zionist Congress in 1897. The adherents of Ḥibbat Zion, called Ḥovevei Zion ("Lovers of Zion"), were a widespread movement among the Jewish masses of Russia and Romania, but groups of Ḥovevei Zion also existed in Western Europe and in the United States. Originally, the declared aim of Ḥibbat Zion was not different from that of its predecessors, the forerunners of Zionism, and of the subsequent political Zionist movement, namely, to solve the problem of the abnormal Jewish life in the dispersion by a return of the Jewish people to Ereẓ Israel, settlement on the land on a large scale, and attaining the recognition of the major powers for this purpose (see, e.g., Leon *Pinsker and his program). But, in the early 1880s, when aliyah to Ereẓ Israel from Eastern Europe began, mainly in the wake of the Russian pogroms, and the first Jewish agricultural settlements in Ereẓ Israel were established, the Ḥovevei Zion concentrated their means and efforts in encouraging and strengthening the movement toward aliyah and settlement and not in the political field. Conditions in Russia did not permit open political activity and forced the Russian Ḥovevei Zion to engage in "practical" work only.
In Western Europe as well, where Jews were permitted more freedom in this field, members of Ḥibbat Zion were not prepared to carry on the political cause of Zionism, basically because of fears that their patriotism would be suspect. Thus the efforts of Ḥovevei Zion turned de facto into philanthropic activity of limited scope and with minor results. Were it not for the aid of Baron Edmond de *Rothschild, it is doubtful whether Ḥovevei Zion would have been able to maintain the first settlements.
When Herzl began his activities, he was not aware of the political Zionist idea that had originally inspired the Hibbat Zion movement, and at first he negated the value of the existent small-scale settlement activity that was carried out semi-illegally, against the wishes of the Ottoman regime, and referred to it as "infiltration." The Ḥovevei Zion in the West reacted with reservation toward Herzl and continued their philanthropic aid to both the old and the new yishuv by means of *Esra and other institutions. Ḥovevei Zion in Eastern Europe, however, mostly joined Herzl, but disassociated themselves from his negative approach to practical settlement work in Ereẓ Israel and continued to support the yishuv. This difference in approach was the source of friction during Herzl's time and afterward between the "political" and the "practical" Zionists, until the consolidation of "synthetic Zionism" after David *Wolffsohn resigned from the presidency of the World Zionist Organization (1911). Ḥibbat Zion was in effect the first mass movement to provide Herzl with wide popular support.