MIZRACHI (term coined from some of the letters of the Hebrew words merkaz ruḥani, spiritual center), religious Zionist movement whose aim was expressed in its motto: "The Land of Israel for the people of Israel according to the Torah of Israel" (coined by Rabbi Meir Berlin – Bar-Ilan). Mizrachi was founded in 1902 as a religious faction in the World Zionist Organization. The name was first used by Samuel *Mohilewer, an early leader of *Ḥibbat Zion, to express the idea that the Torah should be the spiritual center for Zionism.
The Beginning of Mizrachi
Many religious Jews, including famous rabbis, joined the movement of political Zionism, which worked toward the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. Among the first to join was Rabbi Isaac *Reines, who responded to Theodor *Herzl's call and devoted his energies to spreading the idea of a national renaissance among Orthodox Jews. Reines believed that the Zionist movement must be dedicated exclusively to a political goal, and he led the fight against the inclusion of cultural activities in the Zionist program. After the Fifth Zionist Congress, however, when the strength of the "cultural" camp grew and official permission was granted to establish factions (federations) within the framework of the Zionist Organization. Reines decided to found a federation of religious Zionists. Toward this end, he convened the founding convention in Vilna on March 4–5, 1902, and it established the national-religious organization within the Zionist Organization. At the suggestion of Rabbi Abraham *Slutzky, the organization was called Mizrachi.
An outstanding participant at the founding convention was Rabbi Ze'ev *Jawitz, who was charged with composing the organization's first manifesto. Two groups clashed at the founding convention: the "political" faction, which called for the preservation of the purely political character of the Zionist movement and opposed the decision of the Fifth Zionist Congress (1901) obligating the Zionist Organization to include cultural activities in its program; and the "cultural" faction, which demanded that Mizrachi, as a "spiritual center," influence the Zionist movement and its work in the Land of Israel in its traditional-religious spirit. The Mizrachi program, which was accepted by the majority of the participants at the founding convention, stated that the Zionist Organization should not engage in activities that do not have a direct relationship to Zionism. and it was stated in the manifesto that Mizrachi should try "to gather around it all those Zionists who wish to purge practical Zionism of any alien element that is not directly related to political and practical Zionism." These decisions seem to reveal the victory of the "political" faction. Jawitz, however, who formulated the manifesto, succeeded in reflecting in it both viewpoints and thus satisfied both trends. An opening was thus created for cultural activities, albeit only in the framework of branches, "in line with local conditions and in the spirit of Orthodoxy."
A year after its establishment, Mizrachi's second conference was convened in Lida on March 22–24, 1903. During its first year, Mizrachi succeeded in building up 210 branches in Russia alone (which then included Poland, Lithuania, Courland, etc.). Mizrachi societies were also established in Galicia, Romania, Austria, Hungary, Germany, England, and Switzerland. First attempts were made to organize Mizrachi in Ereẓ Israel, and two-and-a-half years after it was founded, its branches also became active in Western Europe and in the United States. The first world conference of Mizrachi took place, with the participation of about 100 delegates, in Pressburg, Hungary (now Bratislava, Slovakia), on Aug. 21–23, 1904. The conference laid the foundation for the Mizrachi World Organization. Reines was the conference's chairman and delivered the opening address in Hebrew. Other speakers included Nehemiah *Nobel, among the great rabbis of Western Europe; Jawitz; Rabbi Nahum Grinhaus from Troki; and Rabbi Judah Leib Fishman (*Maimon). The movement's program was summed up at the conference as follows:
(1) Mizrachi is an organization of Zionists who follow the *Basle Program and desire to work for the perpetuation of Jewish national life. Mizrachi sees the perpetuation of the Jewish people in the observance of the Torah, Jewish tradition, and the mitzvot and the return to the land of its forefathers.
(2) Mizrachi will remain within the framework of the Zionist Organization, in which it will struggle for its opinions and views. However, it will create a special organization of its own for its religious and cultural activities.
(3) The purpose of Mizrachi is to realize its goals by employing all the legal means at its disposal to explain its ideas to all Orthodox circles, by creating and distributing nationalreligious literature, and by educating youth in the spirit of its ideals and programs.
From Crisis to Expansion
At the Tenth Zionist Congress, which took place in Basle in 1911, the question of cultural work was again raised, and a bitter battle ensued between its advocates and opponents. In order to establish its stand on the question, Mizrachi called a meeting before the congress and decided to light against the inclusion of cultural work in the Zionist program, but not by threatening secession. The majority at the congress, however, decided to include cultural work in the framework of the Zionist Organization's activities. Consequently, all the Mizrachi delegates walked out of the hall to demonstrate their opposition to the decision. The fifth world conference of Mizrachi was held in Berlin, immediately after the Zionist Congress, to formulate a stand on the decision of the Zionist Congress about cultural activities. The delegates from Russia and Poland were in favor of a struggle within the Zionist Organization using all possible means short of creating a split, for any schism would be a tragedy for the entire Jewish people and the national renaissance. On the other hand, representatives from the center in Frankfurt and some of the Swiss and Hungarian delegates were in favor of withdrawing from the Zionist Organization. The Berlin conference finally decided against leaving the Zionist Organization while conducting the struggle within its ranks. This decision brought about a rift in the ranks of Mizrachi, and a number of its leaders, including members of the head office in Frankfurt, left the organization. As a result the center of Mizrachi was moved to Altona, near Hamburg. Louis Frank was elected chairman and was later the second president of World Mizrachi.
During the term of the Hamburg executive, the central office of Mizrachi was established in the Land of Israel under the direction of Rabbi Fishman. Also during the Hamburg period, Rabbi Meir Berlin (Bar-Ilan) began working as the general secretary organizer of the Mizrachi World Organization. He left Lithuania for Berlin and there published the weekly Ha-Ivri. When Rabbi Berlin entered office, Mizrachi received a great impetus in its work and became a strong and influential factor both in the Zionist movement and among religious Jewry. Under his leadership, the first conference of Mizrachi to take place in the United States was convened in 1914, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and he succeeded in making the movement into an important factor in the lives of American Jewry and in the American Zionist movement. Rabbi Berlin was joined there by Rabbi Fishman, who had been expelled from Ereẓ Israel during World War i by the Turkish authorities and who added projects of his own and the atmosphere of Ereẓ Israel to the American movement. The first world conference of Mizrachi that took place after World War i (Amsterdam, Jan. 14–15, 1920) decided to transfer the seat of the world center to Jerusalem. Mizrachi was thus the first Zionist party to establish its center in Ereẓ Israel (and specifically in Jerusalem). In 1923 Rabbi Berlin, who was the leader of the movement and expanded its activities, settled in Ereẓ Israel. Some time later he was also elected president of the world organization and remained in this position until his death.
Mizrachi in Ereẓ Israel
After fundamental organizational preparation within circles of the old yishuv and organizational work that began in March 1918, including the foundation of branches in various areas of settlement in the country and the establishment of a "temporary center" in Jaffa, the foundations for Mizrachi were laid in Ereẓ Israel. Its first conference was held on Sept. 2, 1918, and since then Mizrachi has become a political and cultural force in the country. Among the founders of Mizrachi in Ereẓ Israel were Rabbi Ben-Zion *Ouziel, then the rabbi of Jaffa and afterward the Sephardi chief rabbi (rishon le-Zion), and Moshe *Ostrovsky (ha-Meiri), then the rabbi of the settlement of Ekron and afterward a member of the Va'ad Le'ummi. Rabbi Fishman participated at the second national conference (September 1919) after returning to the country from his absence during the war. Mizrachi reached the height of its development with the transfer of its world center to the country and especially after Rabbi Berlin settled there in 1923. During certain periods, Rabbi Berlin also served as the chairman of Mizrachi in the country.
As early as its first conference in Ereẓ Israel, Mizrachi raised the matter of establishing the offices of the rabbinate as one of the major points on the agenda. It subsequently devoted much effort to ensure the success of the conference to establish the chief rabbinate of Ereẓ Israel, which took place through the initiative of Rabbi Abraham Isaac *Kook in Jerusalem in February 1921. After great efforts, in December 1919 Mizrachi succeeded in acquiring the recognition of the Zionist institutions for its trend of religious education as a part of the educational system of the Zionist Organization.
With the end of World War i and the publication of the *Balfour Declaration, the Third Aliyah began to arrive in Palestine and brought with it members of Ẓe'irei Mizrachi, who strove to build up the land on the basis of pioneering labor and religious renewal. As young pioneers they called for "personal fulfillment," i.e., for religious Zionists to settle in Ereẓ Israel and build it in the spirit of the Torah. Their vision was expressed in the short motto "Torah va-Avodah," which became the basis for the religious labor movement and the establishment of *Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi in Ereẓ Israel. The idea struck roots in the Diaspora as well and became the slogan of the mass movement, called Torah va-Avodah, throughout the world. It was an active participant in the Jewish Agency prior to 1948 and was an active partner in Israel's government coalitions since the birth of the State (from 1956 as the National Religious Party; see below). Through the early 1980s it consistently polled about 10% of the total vote in Israel, but then dropped sharply to under 5% as less moderate parties to the right attracted many of its voters. (See *Israel, State of: Political Life and Parties.) The party was also active in the municipal level and was the main supporter of the chief rabbinate.
After the crisis that overcame Russian Jewry with the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War, the revolution, and the pogroms that followed (1905), it was practically impossible to maintain the world center of Mizrachi in Russia. It was therefore decided to transfer the seat of its executive to Frankfurt, Germany. During the "Frankfurt period," Mizrachi activities became more systematic. Their most important aspect was the beginning of the educational work of Mizrachi in Ereẓ Israel. The world center decided to send Rabbi Fishman to study the situation of education in Ereẓ Israel and find ways to develop educational and cultural activities there. He laid the foundation for the establishment of the Taḥkemoni School in Jaffa, the first educational institution of Mizrachi in the country, which inaugurated Mizrachi's educational system based on a synthesis of "the people of Israel, the Torah, and Zion."
In 1920 an agreement was reached in the World Zionist Organization that ensured Mizrachi autonomy in the field of religious education in Ereẓ Israel. An educational program began to be designed, followed by the establishment of a network of Mizrachi schools, which included kindergartens, elementary schools, high schools, yeshivot, vocational schools, and teachers' seminaries. The educational network of Mizrachi continued to exist as a separate trend in Israel until the establishment of the State religious school system in the 1953/54 school year (see *Israel, State of: Education). The large majority of Mizrachi schools, which then encompassed more than 60,000 students and about 3,000 teachers, were integrated into the new framework of governmental religious education. The yeshivot have been the most outstanding achievement of Mizrachi education. In 16 high school-level yeshivot of *Bnei Akiva, students receive both a yeshivah and general education; in 12 girls' schools the educational program is parallel to that of the yeshivot. The network includes Midrashiat No'am in Pardes Ḥannah, "Torah and Melakhah" yeshivot, the agricultural yeshivah at Kefar ha-Ro'eh, and the yeshivah for higher studies at Kerem Yavneh. At *Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, which was established by Mizrachi in the United States, there were more than 7,000 students in 1970, with extensions in Safed, Ashkelon, and the Jordan Valley. In 2005 it had over 30,000 students. After the 20th world conference of Mizrachi (1962), the educational work of the movement was administered by the Center for Religious Education in Israel, affiliated with the world center of Mizrachi-Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi and the movement in Israel. In 2005 the Center provided supplementary religious education in 255 secondary schools in Israel. The Emunah women's organization operated 120 day care centers throughout the country.
Structure of the World Movement
From 1955 the world movement of Mizrachi and Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi constituted one united organization. Before the merger of the two movements, however, they existed as separate world organizations – Mizrachi as the Mizrachi World Organization and Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi as Berit ha-Olamit shel Torah va-Avodah. The activities among women and youth had also been separate. The world center of Mizrachi and Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi is the highest body of the religious Zionist framework and constitutes a common executive of the two movements. It is elected by the world conference of the movement, which meets every few years. Rabbi Meir Berlin served as president of the world movement for many years. After his death (1949), Rabbi A.L. *Gellman was elected chairman of the world center. At the 21st world conference (1968), Ḥayyim Moshe *Shapira was elected president of the world center and the world movement and Rabbi Ẓemaḥ Zambrowski was elected chairman of the world center. The world movement's financial instrument is the Keren Ereẓ Israel shel Mizrachi.
When Mizrachi and Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi united throughout the world, a common conference of the two organizations in Israel was held in the summer of 1956 and decided to found a united party by the name of the *National Religious Party (Miflagah Datit Le'ummit, abbreviated to Mafdal). At the second conference of the nrp and the 13th conference of Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi in Israel (1963), the responsibilities and tasks of the nrp and Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi were divided as follows: the party will deal with matters of policy, municipal affairs, organization of the middle class, religion and rabbis, public relations and publication of the daily newspaper Ha-Ẓofeh; Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi with organization, fees, immigration and absorption, labor and vocational affairs, housing, settlement, culture, pension funds and economic affairs, matters concerning free professionals, and departments for elderly members and development towns.
Projects and Achievements
Mizrachi fought for the observance of the Sabbath in Israel and the preservation of the character of the Sabbath and Jewish holidays in the public life of the Jewish community. It initiated the establishment of the Ministry of Religions in the government of Israel and of covering the religious needs of the population from government funds and local authorities. Its efforts also led to the passage of the laws governing kashrut and Sabbath observance in the Israel Defense Forces, marriage and divorce, rabbinical judges, etc. Through the initiative of Rabbi Berlin, the Mifal ha-Torah Lema'an ha-Yeshivot be-Ereẓ Israel (Torah Fund for Yeshivot in the Land of Israel) was established whose publication of the Talmud and the Encyclopedia Talmudica is in progress. In the field of literature and journalism, the daily Ha-Ẓofeh and Mosad ha-Rav Kook, established by Rabbi Fishman and constituting the largest publishing house in the world for literature on the Torah and studies of Judaism, are worthy of mention. Since its foundation, more than 1,000 books have been published by the Mosad or with its aid.
Women's and youth organizations also hold an important place in the framework of the world movement. The women in the Mizrachi movement have taken part in the activities of Histadrut Nashim Mizrachi (Omen; Women's Mizrachi Federation in Ereẓ Israel) and Mo'eẓet ha-Po'alot shel Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi, which integrated into one movement called the National Religious Women's Movement in Ereẓ Israel, encompassing more than 50,000 members. This movement is active in the sphere of establishing kindergartens and day nurseries, the cultural absorption of new immigrants, the organization of agricultural and vocational training for its members, etc. Among the youth organizations centered around Mizrachi is *Bnei Akiva. Until the union of Mizrachi and Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi and the establishment of the nrp, the youth organization No'am (short for No'ar Mizrachi), which was founded on Ḥanukkah 1940 and established Midrashiat No'am in Pardes Ḥannah, existed separately. Other youth organizations are Ha-No'ar ha-Dati ha-Oved for working youth and Ha-Mishmeret ha-Ẓe'irah (The Young Guard), which encompassed thousands of students and army veterans. The world center of Mizrachi and Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi also established a special department for the young generation that centralized the activities of Ha-Mishmeret ha-Ẓe'irah around the world. Finally, there is the religious sports organization, Eliẓur.
The Mizrachi movement also established a series of financial and economic institutions including Bank ha-Mizrachi and Bank Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi, which united and established the United Mizrachi Bank, the fourth largest bank in the country; Mishhav, a company for construction and the establishment of religious quarters and suburbs; a center for the economic institutions and programs of the movement; the cooperative of Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi; pension funds; etc.
In the United States
Mizrachi of America was founded in 1911 with groups in New York and St. Louis. Rabbi D.B. Abramowitz was the first president. The organization did not become effective until 1913, when Rabbi Meir Berlin settled in New York and became the leader of the movement. Following a tour of the country by Rabbi Berlin, Mizrachi held its first annual convention in Cincinnati in 1914. The Mizrachi Palestine Fund was established in 1928, and in 1936 became part of the United Palestine Appeal. Its youth movement, Benei Akiva, was established in 1934. In 1951 Mizrachi merged with Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi, which had been established early in the 1920s. amit, the Mizrachi Women of America (amit), is involved in educational work, funding an educational network in Israel that includes 22 primary and secondary schools, four youth and family residential facilities, five youth technology centers, and seven technical training colleges.
M. Waxman, Mizrachi, its Aims and Purposes (1918); P. Churgin and L. Gellman (eds.), Mizrachi Jubilee Publication of the Mizrachi Organization of America 1911–1936 (1936); J.L. Maimon, History of the Mizrachi Movement (1938); S.Z. Shragai, Vision and Realization (1945); S. Rosenblatt, History of the Mizrachi Movement (1951); Y. Tirosh, Essence of Religious Zionism (1964); idem, Religion and State in Israel: The Religious Zionist Standpoint (1965); Mizrachi-Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi, The Length and Breadth of the Land (1965); B. Cohen, Religious Zionism – a Revaluation (1966); M. Berlin, Mi-Volozhin ad Yerushalayim, 2 vols. (1939–40); idem, Bi-Shevilei ha-Teḥiyyah (1940); idem, Kitvei… (1940); M. Ostrovsky, Toledot ha-Mizrachi be-Ereẓ-Yisrael (1944); I. Goldschlag, Mi-Vilna ad Yerushalayim (1954); Mizrachi Woman (1933– ); Mizrachi Outlook (1936–57); Jewish Horizon (1957– ).
"Mizrachi." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 20, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mizrachi
"Mizrachi." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved November 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mizrachi
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